The rent is due on the first of the month. A few days later, Already Dead have something to say about it.
The Massachusetts punk band led by songwriter Dan Cummings releases its new single, complete with an official music video directed by Berto Media. As acoustic as it is raw and primal, “Landlord” is a barroom folk-punk track that feels traditional based on its sing-along nature, but is solely rooted in problems of the modern day. It follows Already Dead’s Labor Day release of their punk rock version of strike hymnal “Bread and Roses,” and carries forth the band’s working class ethos first established on last year’s debut album My Collar Is Blue.
Perhaps most importantly, the arrival of “Landlord” is timely. According to a CNBC report in June, roughly 61 percent of all Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck, while 72 percent of citizens don’t feel financially secure, and more than a quarter don’t believe they ever will be. “Landlord,” with the traditional passion and storytelling prowess of Shane McGowan and the acerbic commentary of Frank Turner, sparks from the speakers as a cautionary tale for the innocent.
“I guess you could say ‘Landlord’ is all about a feeling,” says Cummings. “The feeling of just getting by in life, with the looming knowledge that you’re one bad month, or even week, from falling behind. I’ve certainly lived with this before. Bills are paid, life is stable, but you still know that if you take any type of hit – financial, personal, whatever – it could still fall like a deck of cards. But you keep pushing, and keep those lights on.”
“Landlord” furthers Already Dead’s growing legacy as New England’s independent punk rock voice for the working class. Over the summer, Cummings grabbed his acoustic guitar and performed his songs outside a Massachusetts UPS facility as its workers made headlines striking for a living wage. Last month, the band plugged in and performed “Bread and Roses” during the opening remarks at the annual festival of the same name in Lawrence.
And as working class issues dominate the news cycle, from the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike in Hollywood to the rising United Auto Workers strike at production at plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri, Already Dead’s message resonates far beyond music fans. It’s music for the people by the people, and a reflection of who the band is: Cummings is a Boston union pipefitter; bassist Brandon Bartlett is a Boston union ironworker; and drummer Nick Cali is a CDL operator.
“Unfortunately, I think the literal lyrics are timely for 2023,” Cummings admits. “The story of someone who is caught in between the rising cost of living and an unethical wage gap. Forced to make choices between bare necessities so they may pay for rent somewhere that raises the price year after year. It really is a feeling I’ve had during different periods of my life, and to be honest I still do, sometimes worse, sometimes better. A lot of people are stuck in situations where they feel they’ll never get ahead.”
Cummings wrote “Landlord” in an act of creative spontaneity. He was cleaning out his garage one day while listening to a podcast, and the person being interviewed mentioned they grew up always living “one step ahead of the landlord.” Cummings grabbed his guitar, used that line as a launching pad, and the rest came together that night. He added some polish to “Landlord” in the studio, teaming back up with longtime collaborators: It was recorded at the Bridge Sound and Stage in Cambridge; engineered and mixed by Jimmy Corbett; and mastered by Alex Allinson. “Landlord” was co-produced by Cummings and Corbett, with the single’s visual art done by illustrator Mark Saffie.
The video drives home the track’s themes, finding a young man (played by Ronny Camara) working in the kitchen of a local pub, only able to afford a few bucks of gas, only to come home to an empty residence, greeted by a pile of bills and collection notices. Finally off work, he heats up a Hot Pocket, cracks open a beer, and takes solace in a drawing made by the son who loves him. But the stress of reality is clear across his face, and the crush of debt means there is no time to relax and enjoy the moment. The clip was filmed on location at North Reading’s Sports Spirits and Steaks, and the Kilpatrick homestead.
“The storyline of the video just lines up perfectly with the lyrics, and overall vibe of the song,” Cummings says. “It tells the story of one person’s day, struggling to earn for basic needs. After we brainstormed a bit, I left the video completely in the hands of the director, Berto Media. He absolutely crushed it. The storyline is subtle, but by the second half you are invested and actually give a shit about the actor.”
While an amplified, full-band version of “Landlord” may appear on the next Already Dead album, right now it exists as an acoustic piece of music, the pain and passion in Cummings’ weathered voice acting as much an instrument as his guitar and harmonica. Cummings has been playing the occasional acoustic gig around town when his Already Dead bandmates can’t make the show, and this – as well as spring single “Don’t Wake Me,” a hip-hop collaboration with BOS the Rapper – shows another side of the band.
But whether plugged-in with all the piss n’ vinegar of punk’s usual fury, or sing-shouting along with his acoustic guitar, the message from Cummings and from Already Dead is clear: There’s a message in the music, and that message is unity.
“Music is such an effective way to get a message across and out there to the masses,” Cummings concludes. “A song can contain a whole history lesson. You can learn so much from Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, KRS-One… the list goes on. Also, it can spark interest for people; it can reach a teenage kid on a level a history book may not.”
And right now, history is all around us.
SOURCE: Official Bio