Ded Bugs: Four Desoto Dorks With Weapons of Music Destruction

Local punks-who-should-be-kings Ded Bugs’ ascent to the top of the St. Louis rock pile has been anything but overnight. This same group of friends have been playing together (musically and throwing bottle rockets at each other) since they were all uncool monster-movie and Ramones-obsessed “teeny-blitzkrieg-boppers” terrorizing the playgrounds of DeSoto, Missouri, in the early ’80s. Twenty years on, their metallized Ramones riffs have evolved into super-tight punk-informed power-pop, and from the evidence of their fifth and best release, 2004’s giddy-with-hooks Stop and Smell the Stinking Corpse Lilies, they’re doing it better than anyone in town—not to mention on the radio.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter (and former member of local pop heroes The Finns) Matt Meyer describes the band as “Four DeSoto dorks…with weapons of music destruction,” and when these “dorks”—including guitarist/singer Jeff Bergeron, bassist Dave Midgett, and drummer Dennis Willliams—are onstage, their bond is palpable, and it’s easy to imagine what they must have looked like as kids back in DeSoto, strapping on their crappy first guitars and hammering along to their favorite Ramones records, thinking how cool it’d be to play in a badass punk band.

Indisputably the creative driving force within the group, Meyer’s had a busy 2004, commuting for weeks at a time to Lafayette, Indiana, to work under renowned pop/punk producer Mass Giorgini (who helmed their last two records) at his Sonic Iguana Studios, while simultaneously promoting Lilies regionally and making a hilarious high-concept video for their new-wave instant (should be) classic, “Band on Tour.” No stranger to ambition—this is the guy who brought you the punk-rock documentary STL2000 a couple years back, amid collaborations with St. Louis filmmaker Eric Stanze—Meyer’s looking at finally taking Ded Bugs on the road in 2005. Oh, and he’s also re-teaming with a former Finns bandmate on a pure-pop side project. Whew.

Any plans for 2005?

Thinking seriously about touring next spring/summer. The Briefs—the band, not the underwear—will be running around the U.S. like crazy bananas. They’ve been friendly and would be a perfect match for us, so we’ll try to hop on a leg with them. Or we may team with another established local and head east toward NYC. And personally, I’ll be diving into the long-awaited Summer Camp project with friend and former Finn, Joe Thebeau. It’s a one-off, studio-only project, strictly sugary pop songs, and with any luck it’ll sound nothing like Ded Bugs or The Finns.

2004 high points?

Releasing the new album! Out of the five albums we’ve released, this was the easiest to record, but the most difficult emotionally. I always think of albums as a snapshot of a particular period of a band’s life, and Lilies certainly captures that period. Filming the video for “Band on Tour” was quick and insane fun.

What’s up with your current studio production gig in Indiana?

I work at Sonic Iguana Studios in Lafayette, Indiana, a few weeks at a time. It’s mainly known for being a great pop-punk studio. I’m there to do whatever Mass (Giorgini, studio owner and producer) wants me to do—whether that be cleaning up tracks on a DAW, automating a mix, eating at gala luncheons, or attending roller rink parties. Ha. It’s a lot of fun and I have a little experience in this audio production junk from recording bands at my own basement studio in DeSoto.

Your favorite STL band?

Oh, wowza. Any band that does their own thing and isn’t too concerned with being trendy. Trip Daddys, The Cripplers, The Pubes, Sibylline, Corbeta Corbata, Syntax Error, Copyrights, Thee Lordly Serpents, Femme Fatality, and Ultraman are just a few that come to mind.

What was your favorite show from 2004?

How about my favorite show I missed in 2004? That would be April March in Chicago last January. Ug, Charlie Brown! I could have died. Turned out to be a recurring theme. I also missed the Pixies in Columbia. Return of Ug. Then I also missed another one of my faves, Holly Golightly in Chicago just last October. Bride of Return of Ug. Of the shows I did see, Peelander-Z was fun—they did, indeed “bowl with humans”—and finally seeing The Hives was a thrill ride. Who’da thunk the best live rock ’n’ roll band would come from Fagersta, Sweden? Dirt Bike Annie was pretty cool. That was just a little shindig in Farmington, but registered high on the rockometer.

Where does the title of the new record come from?

It’s inspired by a Television Personalities song, “Stop and Smell the Roses.” We twisted the expression to include our favorite flower, the stinking corpse lily. We had a little help from the great and historic DeSotonian, Harvey Bimmelstein, who wrote: “I stood at the top of the hill and saw a panoramic view of our once-beautiful town. The railroad cars had rusted and squealed with fierceness into the muggy afternoon air. The stench of mold and limestone mixed with the sour smell of the Joachim. Such a lovely view, but I could only see sun-scorched browns and the green foliage that overtook the town and choked its beauty. I turned to her and related my troubled vision and that I saw no violets. No carnations. No roses. Certainly no roses. She picked up her suitcase and as she began her descent, her whisper brushed my ear, ‘…and when all of the sweet flowers of the world have perished, what is there to do, my love, but to stop and smell the stinking corpse lilies.’” —Harvey Bimmelstein, 1878 (courtesy of the DeSoto Public Library)

How is Lilies different from the last DB’s record, Planet of Blood?

We used the same producer and we’re still a bunch of down-to-earth DeSoto goofballs, but internally the album is much different. Certain personal events caused the world to spin much too quickly under my feet, and the stars to swirl much too quickly around my head. So the pen moved faster than normal this time. I really could not control it. Gives me a brain-jolt to think what can happen in just a couple years’ time. Things can really change for a fella. You wake up one morning and your town is leveled, or your cat suddenly falls ill and dies staring you in the face, or someone you’ve known all your life has suddenly decided she is Shania Twain’s clone. So even though we still have loud, warped pop-punk songs, internally and lyrically it’s much more personal. And I really don’t know what to think of that at the moment. The album is still very new. Ask me in a few years and I’m sure I’ll have a better perspective on it. This was a much easier record to make. We had more songs to choose from. The band was well-prepared and in top form. And the method of recording was completely painless—we’d each run through the song a few times and we were finished. No punch-ins.

Tell me about the “Band on Tour” video. Why make a video?

Anyone who’s glimpsed music vids is familiar with the melodramatic, over-the-top portrayal of a band on tour. You know, you’re supposed to feel sorry for these rock stars. The screaming fans, the media attention, the jet lag, the dope, the booze, the groupies. Having everyone else do your wash, set-up your gear, and tune your guitar. Those poor souls. It must be an awful existence. So we flipped that idea on its head, spoofing those vids.

As for making a video, why not make a video? It was fun! I’m a DIY guy and a firm believer in following inspiration. A few of the new tunes would translate well to video and “Band on Tour” just happened to be first out of the box. It also helps to have Eric Stanze as your friend, who’s made quite a few indie films and is extremely easy to work with. I could see a few more videos happening from the album. But that depends on how the ideas flesh out and if we have the money. A few years ago, I wasn’t so much into the idea of a punk video. It just didn’t seem like the payoff was good enough. But lately, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve learned to be a poor businessman. If the ideas are there and it’s fun, make your art, do your best, and move on to the next idea.

What’s that intro to Lilies’ “Watch Me Squirt” about?

Small town kids do silly stuff for entertainment. On that particular evening, I was at Jeff’s making a comp tape for a friend. We were just goofing off with Jeff’s shitty old microphone that sounds like a ’70s radio interview mike and we had my friend Jim Wirt play the role of a punk singer for an interview. It’s funny, because you never know where the germ for a song will land around you, and Jim’s response was the beginning of that song. Anyone who doesn’t know me well will think “Watch Me Squirt” is a completely perved lyric a lá [The Knack’s] Doug Fieger. And that’s a wonderful thought. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I’ve flipped gender and it’s actually about a certain female companion who was/is quite the nymph. I would always tell her, “It’s a good thing you weren’t born a guy, or you’d be one busy fella!”

Did your former day gig inspecting land titles inspire “The Lacy Family Cemetery”?

That song’s based on the Lazy Boy Furniture store on Manchester, which was built over an old cemetery. Of course, all of the signed affidavits stated that the caskets were disinterred and reburied in another spot with proper respect, but an affidavit is merely someone’s statement, y’know. I remember reading somewhere in the affidavit that they only dug “x” number of inches before they stopped and basically decided, “Welp, no body here!”  So yeah, it was very creepy and much like “Poltergeist.”  

Who still lives in DeSoto?  And who lives in which towns, for that matter?

We all grew up lower middle-class, at best, in DeSoto and went to DHS [DeSoto High School], except for Jeff, who was an army or air force brat, moving around from base to base with his folks. They ended up settling in Arnold, MO, though he’s hung out so much in DeSoto that he considers it home. He’s always said DeSoto would be a great town to make a horror movie in. It’s an old railroad town with lots of big hills and spooky trees. Currently, I have the house in DeSoto—where the bugs have always rehearsed—and Dennis just moved out of his parents’ house in DeSoto and bought a new house there. Dave and Jeff now live in Barnhart, Missouri.

When did you start playing music together?

Late teens, except for Jeff who’s a few years older than us and was in his early twenties. We were always hanging out. First thing I remember us doing what could be considered Ded Bugs was a four-track tape of just Jeff and me—this was around August of ‘89. I played drums. We both played guitars. And he did most of the singing. It was just a goofy tape and I think we played four Ramones songs. I remember one of the tunes was “Death of Me” and at one point he was exaggerating Joey’s style of singing and it was cracking both of us up. Rather horrible stuff, really, but good entertainment for a couple of deranged kids.

Brian McClelland is the Live Music Editor for PlaybackSTL.

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