Flat Duo Jets
“We were just a hungry bunch of rats that somebody threw some meat at.”
For thirteen years, the Flat Duo Jets — guitarist/singer Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow, have been pounding out a primal, ferocious brew of rockabilly, surf music, and jazz that comes together in a form of rock and roll that revels in its simplicity. So it comes as sort of a shock when the needle touches vinyl (laser hits plastic just doesn’t have any romance, does it?) on their major label debut Lucky Eye and strings appear, horns blare, and you can actually hear the words. This is FDJ on steroids. Produced by Scott Litt (REM) and Chris Stamey (the dB’s), this record showcases the classic Jets sound while adding a fullness that before only existed in Dexter and Crow’s heads. From the pop sounds of “Hustle and Bustle” to the blues bomp of “Boogie Boogie,” this is a great record. But hardcore fans should not despair – they still play surf music, and sing about aliens with a voice that sounds like Dexter drinks Lysol. We caught up with them before a show in Atlanta.
What sort of response has the record gotten so far?
Dexter: Well, it only came out yesterday, but the people we’ve played it for liked it.
How did you end up on Outpost, Scott Litt’s Geffen offshoot?
Dexter: We had finished up our contract with Norton, and we were shopping for a new label. I got tired of my friends bugging me [about why] we weren’t on a bigger label, and our manager kept pressuring Scott, and Scott owned Outpost, so there you are.
What’s the difference between being on a major after years of indies?
Dexter: Well, there’s stuff like we get to have hotel rooms some nights, a really nice touring vehicle, money up front — it’s all gone! [laughter]. I mean, we were just a hungry bunch of rats that somebody threw some meat at. [Pauses] That sounds really bizarre.
The record is your best-sounding yet. The songs are fuller, for one thing.
Dexter: That’s the production. I mean, I was sorta bummed, so I went to Aaron’s house, our bass player on the tour, and said “Play the record, play the record!” and I cheered up.
Did you write the songs any different than in the past?
Dexter: Well, they were supposed to have strings and stuff. All our stuff has, at points over the years. But the songs for this record were composed before the deal went down. I didn’t think we’d be able to do the strings and stuff, but they paid for it.
Some of the songs have a real cool ’50s New York vibe.
Dexter: Definitely. It’s great to hear that on record instead of just in your head.
Watching Athens GA Inside/Out recently, you notice that out of all the bands on it, only REM, the B-52’s, and you guys are still going. Why do you think that is? What’s made you last so long?
Dexter: I don’t know. Being a performance artist is strange, and I’m very proud to do it, but like before this interview, I was laying around on this floor for several hours. But once we start playing, I enjoy it. I’m sure I could do other things, but for now, this is what I want.
[At this point Crow enters.] What sort of stuff did you listen to growing up?
Crow: My dad has a large collection of jazz, folk, and blues stuff. In fact, my parents played together in a folk type band before I was born. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz and blues. What got me started on the drums was when I heard Gene Krupa on Live at Carnegie Hall with Benny Goodman.
I can tell the jazz influence, you seem to have a lighter touch to drumming.
Crow: Well, yeah. What I love about playing, these days, is playing with Dex, getting to hear him play every night. I feel it’s my job just to kinda keep up with the guy!
Thinking of the stuff you grew up listening to, is there any song or album you wished you had worked on?
Dexter: It would be Rock on the Moon by Jimmy Stewart.
Dexter: He was a producer, and when the whole rockabilly thing came out, he wanted to make one perfect 45. Just a killer little song. When he did it, he was finished. He knew he had reached it.
You recorded Lucky Eye at Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. Any ghosts of Sticky Fingers about?
Crow: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s a great studio, I mean, the Stones, Aretha Franklin – “Chain of Fools,” “Respect.” All that stuff.
There seems to be a recurring theme on your records…
Crow and Dexter: UFOs.
Dexter: It’s just a very strange, weird thing. It’s a funny American phenomenon, out of the ordinary.
Crow: But seriously, we’ve always been interested in weird stuff, and we’ve both had our own experiences with them. Which I won’t go into.
Dexter: We’re abductees.
Crow: I feel that artists have something in common with aliens — they don’t necessarily fit into society.
Dexter: I just think the earth’s an alien project. Out of control.
On that note, the interview adjourned. The next night, Dexter and Crow went out yet again and tore the place up. The new stuff fit right in. Dexter growled, and Crow matched him step for step. Will success spoil the Flat Duo Jets? Hell no. They’re aliens.