Death formed in the early 70's by Bobby, David, and Dannis Hackney, three brothers living in Detroit during the height of Motown. Inspired by Alice Cooper and The Who, the Hackneys played punk music in their spare bedroom back when the idea of punk music barely existed. Detroit's United Sound Studios recorded a seven song demo reel for Death during the summer of 1974. However, label after label rejected Death after perceiving their band name to be too aggressive and finding their sound confusing for a band of black teens growing up during the emergence of disco. With no other backers, the band self-released 500 copies of a 7" featuring their songs, "Politicians in My Eye" and "Keep on Knocking." But after years of constant rejection, the band broke up in 1977.
Three decades later in 2009, after finding their original pressing, releasing it digitally, and seeing its popularity spike over the internet, Drag City Records released …For the Whole World to See, an LP featuring all seven of the songs Death recorded back in '74. Later that year, the brothers reformed Death to play three shows with guitarist Bobbie Duncan filling in for the late David Hackney. And this year, filmmakers Jeff Holett and Mark Covino are touring the world with their independent documentary A Band Called Death which chronicles the band's success decades after they'd broken up. Tomorrow, the Brattle is showing the Boston premiere of the film along with a Q&A with its directors. The Media had the opportunity to chat with Bobby and Dannis Hackney about Death, Detroit, and how the Internet helped the resurgence of their music careers.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WORD PUNK BEING ASSIGNED TO YOU IN CONVERSATION SURROUNDING THE FILM?
You know, the historians call us punk. We have said many times that when we were making this music back in the 70's, in 1973-1975, if you said the work punk to anybody, those were fighting words. And you usually got a bloody nose. We didn't know that we were creating punk music. We just thought we were playing our own Detroit rock and roll. We just tried to maintain our identity in a community that thought that we shouldn't be playing the kind of music that we chose to play.
SO DO YOU ALL REJECT THAT LABEL?
No, I mean, we embrace it. We thank the musical community for acknowledging it. We never thought that we were playing punk music, to us punk came at the end of the late 70's, early 80's with bands like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash, Patti Smith, you know? But every once in a while we would hear that stuff and me and Dannis would nudge each other and say, 'Hey, this reminds us of some of the stuff that we did in Detroit in the 70's.'
DO YOU FIND THAT PUNK MUSIC TODAY IS STILL AS RACIALLY CHARGED AS IT WAS IN THE 70'S?
I don't know if it was racially charged. I know that we liked the Clash and we liked what they were doing. My brother Dannis likes the Sex Pistols and he liked what they were doing. We were angry, but we weren't angry against each other. We were angry against the Vietnam War. We were angry at the system. We were angry at a government that wanted to suppress the freedoms of young people and people from all walks of life. I was hoping that would have been the same goal, the same idea, that all the punk rockers were into.
DO YOU STILL HOLD SOME OF THOSE SAME RESENTMENTS TOWARDS THE GOVERNMENT AND TOWARDS THE WAR TODAY?
Well, today, maybe that's the reason why people like our song "Politicians In My Eye" so much. Just look at the political system today and I won't say any more.
SO HOW HAS GROWING UP IN DETROIT SHAPED YOU AS A BAND? IT SEEMS LIKE YOU REJECTED A LOT OF THE DETROIT MUSIC IDEALS FOR THE TIME?
It wasn't that we rejected them. We loved Motown. We loved everything about Detroit. You see, Detroit has two names. It will always be known as Motown Motor City. But it will also be known as Detroit Rock City. We always knew there was some awesome rock and roll going on at the time. We had Iggy and the Stooges, we had the MC5, we basically had Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, The Rationals, Grand Funk Railroad. Alice Cooper had adopted Detroit as his native town. The Who adopted Detroit, too. We loved it. When The Who would announce concerts they would refuse to play unless Detroit was in the schedule. We embraced all the music of Detroit. It was just wonderful, you could turn the dial from left to right and you would find anything on the Detroit stations, any thing that you wanted. It was really like a big smorgasbord of music for us growing up as kids.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ENGAGING IN A CULTURAL MOMENT WHERE THE INTERNET PLAYS SUCH A BIG ROLE IN CONNECTING PEOPLE TO MUSIC THAT ISN'T SO MAINSTREAM?
With Death, we have a worldwide Death team that keeps us connected socially, that keeps us connected on the Internet. That was another one of our brother David's predictions, he said that one day musicians would be doing everything for themselves. And lo and behold, here we are. Say what you will about these bands, but these social networks have given these musicians power that we only dreamed of years ago.
HAS THIS NEW DIY RESURGENCE CHANGED YOUR IDEAS ABOUT CORRUPTION OF THE OLD SCHOOL MODEL?
Anything is corrupted. That's the problem. You have to sort out the bad and the good and for the most part I enjoy the freedom that musicians and artists are enjoying now. Even book writers now can publish their own book. You're in control. A lot of control has been given to the common person. I hope there's more stories like us. More music I might have missed because some bureaucrat figured it wasn't right for the people. This new era has given the people the ability to chose what is right for the people.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING ABOUT THE INTEREST IN DEATH?
That people love this music. That people from all walks of life have approached us. At that time in the 70's, you have to understand, we went through so much rejection, even now, we are shell-shocked warriors. When we're going through, like, the airport, and people ask, 'What's the name of your band?' Even now, we kind of tighten up before we tell them because we were so used to so much rejection. That's the most surprising and yet the most rewarding thing for us.
WELL, THANK YOU SO MUCH.
Thank you for bringing back Death!