In August of 2014, John Di Nunzio (drums) got a job at a liquor store. It was here, stocking shelves and selling booze to South Jersey housewives, that he was introduced to Zachary Tyler (guitar). In a meeting that can only be described as kismet, the two quickly bonded over a love of The Rolling Stones and as summer came to a close, decided to start a band. In the following weeks, Tyler returned to Rutgers University for the fall semester and enlisted Mike Parry (vocals) and Matt Szkaradnik (bass). By January, the band was ready to record. Parry and Szkaradnik actually met Di Nunzio, the only member not attending Rutgers, during their first recording session.
In the years since their formation, The Dead Flowers, named after the famous Rolling Stones' song, have played shows in every basement in the New Brunswick area. They've established a residency at Kelly's Korner, a dive bar in their neighborhood and have also played live on Philadelphia's Radio 104.5. They're currently in the semi-finals of the Stone Pony's Rock to The Top contest.
The Dead Flowers never play the same set list twice. The songs are selected 20 minutes before the show, huddled around a phone, this time in the back of The Bowery Electric passing around beers from guitarist Tyler's backpack. This is the first time the band, originally from New Brunswick, has played in New York City. After a flurry of rhythmically ambivalent cymbal crashes and misplayed notes from the openers followed by tepid applause from the audience, The Dead Flowers took the stage.
From the onset, the room wasn't sure how to respond to the group's in-your-face, classic rock inspired style. Bassist Szkaradnik's crowd work and Tyler's wailing solos were a far cry from the mumbling apathy infecting much of today's indie scene. While a few rock n' roll enthusiasts stepped forward from the timorous mass gathered at the bar, the majority of the people there didn't seem to understand what they were watching. Tyler, donning reflective sunglasses and an oversized tie, was jumping on speakers and playing behind his back. The entire band was ear shatteringly loud and the songs bled into one another with an uncompromising energy. The entire spectacle was a flailing, thrashing mess, completely devoid of self-consciousness. In short, it was rock n' roll, a throwback to an era of music unencumbered by irony.
That being said, The Dead Flowers don't rely on volume and gimmicks. These aren't a bunch of noisemakers that can't play their instruments. Di Nunzio and Szkaradnik were rhythmically locked in on drum and bass and Parry didn't miss a note. Every song was remarkably clean and punctuated by one of Tyler's incredible solos. While many bands would have let the crowd's lack of energy bring them down, The Dead Flowers kept playing harder and harder, continually extending the olive branch as if to say, 'hey, it's okay to scream along. Stop thinking so much.' Eventually, as the band played their most recently recorded song, Roses in the Road the audience's white-knuckle grip loosened and they let themselves slip, screaming along with the outro. As the performance came to a close, the crowd burst into applause.
Before the show, when I asked about the band's goals, Tyler responded, "it's all about having a good time", Szkaradnik adding jokingly "We're not making much money right now, might as well have a good time." The Dead Flowers are simple. There's no grandiose artistic or aesthetic aim. The point is for the audience to enjoy themselves and The Dead Flowers deliver, following a time-honored rock n' roll edict: play every show like you're in an arena. If they keep doing what they're doing, eventually they might find themselves in one.
Left to Right: Parry, Di Nunzio, Szkaradnik, Tyler