Interviews

Interview: Alex Dontre of PSYCHOSTICK

You had a busy holiday season with the release of yet another hilarious new Psychostick Parody, “Zombie Claus,” and your debut autobiography, Dichotomies: Lessons from a College Life on Tour. Tell us a little about both.

The parodies are becoming a bit of a holiday tradition in Psychostick land. It was never a grand plot or anything, but we have been recording and filming one song/video each holiday season for several years now. It’s very easy for me since the drum parts just need to be emulated. Maybe I’m just getting lazier!

As for Dichotomies, it’s a memoir of the six years I spent pursuing a college education while simultaneously touring all over North America and the UK. If you want to read about how to rehearse for a final presentation with your teammates while in a minibus bunk bouncing around on the English countryside with terrible Internet reception and then give the presentation the next night in an alley flanked by a dumpster and used kegs at 2 in the morning, this is the book for you.

Just for some background, how did you get into music, why drums, and how did you come to spend your college career on the road with Psychostick?

I got into music after the alien abduction. The aliens were from Andromeda, and they were nice enough to show me around their neighborhood. As you know, Andromeda is scheduled to collide with the Milky Way in 4 or 5 billion years, and they were eager to meet their new neighbors. Space travel can be a little tedious, so they showed me a bunch of cool Earth bands such as Primus. Not long after, I saw Primus at my first concert ever and decided I need to do that with my life!

As for college, I enrolled in 2011 once I realized the touring life wasn’t really a challenge for me any longer. It was still enjoyable, but I wanted to branch out and try something new. However, I wasn’t interested in giving up one goal just to pursue another, so I chose to do both at the same time.

In your book, you preface with the statement “I am not a rock star, I’m a musician. In my view, rock stars are those people you only read about in books or observe in astonishment in documentaries.” What would it take for you to personally identify as a rock star? Is or was that ever an aspiration for you?

I grew up identifying primarily with punk (and later, hardcore) bands. The culture just doesn’t mix well with being a pretentious rock star type. I have zero interest in being some untouchable rock god who has to wear tight pants and eyeliner just because my record label told me that’s what the kids are doing these days. What would it take to personally identify as a rock star? I don’t know, a head injury?

You list at the beginning a number of Hard Lessons pertaining to touring, do you have an analogous list for writing and publishing your first book? Did you look to previous biographies as a guide?

This is a great question! I’m going to think about it and come back to answer after I finish the rest of these questions…stay tuned.

All right, I’m back. There is a great book called Originals by Adam Grant (2016) in which he discusses the benefits of strategic procrastination. I wanted to let this question percolate in my brain while I was coming up with an answer. I don’t have any tough or drastic lessons, but I do have some general recommendations. Don’t wait for inspiration to magically plop into your fingers to conjure up your great piece of work. One thing I learned in grad school was to make it a goal to write just one page a day. Just one page. That’s not hard at all. The thing is, once you get about a page in, you have some momentum and inevitably want to write more. I have no idea why it’s so effective. I KNOW my sneaky tactic. I fully comprehend that I’m tricking myself, yet it still works.

Regarding previous biographies, I was actually reading a James Watson (2007) book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science, just before I started mine. Not only did it inspire my book’s subtitle, but in it he discusses how to compose what he calls a “readable” book. One of his tips was to start each chapter with a snappy sentence. That is exactly what I tried to do, which resulted in sentences like, “I know I’m in a comedy band, but this had to be a joke.”

What is most interesting about the book is that it’s not just a biography but almost a study of the economics and psychology of touring, including citations and detailed references. Did you set out with this approach, or was it a natural progression from the academic practices you had developed as a student?

The lack of references is painfully conspicuous in modern life. Just think for a moment how many times a day you might hear someone regurgitate some pseudo-scientific factoid that is probably a bastardization of the original study. So yes, it was absolutely a natural thing to do and I felt it was vital to include in my book. I say a lot of controversial things! I defend divorce, I defend using animals for medical studies, I make fun of flat-Earth idiots, I explain why it’s stupid to deny global warming, and so on. I have been anticipating some big backlash about some of the stances I take in the book, but so far, that is not what’s happening. I believe that could be because I explicitly include my sources like any respectable academic would. However, you are absolutely right about these practices being developed as a student. The research skills I developed in college have changed my entire outlook of the world. In my view, it’s not only important to provide references to defend your work, but also to allow your readers to look into it more if it’s an interesting subject. Most of the books I read I find in reference sections of other books!

Overall, which was harder, touring and taking classes or touring and writing a book?

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Touring and taking classes—hands down. I had the whole story pretty much in my head when I set out to write the book. Plus, I wasn’t on tour at the time. I blasted through the first draft in just 10 days, then sent of rough copies to a bunch of people to collect blurbs for the back of the book. It was an intentional tactic, actually. I wanted to make sure that I would go through with completing the manuscript and put the damn thing out. When a bunch of my good friends and professors I admire read it and started giving me feedback, there was no way I could chicken out and give up on releasing it.

If Psychostick wasn’t a metal-comedy band, what kind of music would you be performing? Did you have different musical aspirations prior to age 15?

If not comedy metal, I would be playing either hardcore or punk music, most likely. I like playing fast, two minute, get-in-get-out kinds of songs. In fact, I have released a few other projects over the years. One band was Evacuate Chicago (2010) featuring Rob and Josh from Psychostick. It’s basically what Psychostick would sound like if we were really pissed off all the time. I also did a crazy death metal (hardcore?) record with my friend Turff who used to be in Screaming Mechanical Brain. That band is called Debtors, and we put out an album in 2018. Way back in the day I was even in a rock ‘n roll band called the Stuttering C-Cowboys. We had great fun with songs like Cadillac’s Got Trunk Space for the Dead.

You recently posted that you’re going to be joining Dog Fashion Disco on their upcoming tour, how did that opportunity come about and how do you approach learning such different material from Psychostick?

It’s funny, I was confused when Todd (DFD singer) asked me to play with them. It was via text and he asked about my availability. I thought he meant Psychostick and I was super hesitant. I probably said something like, “I don’t know what we’re doing next summer. We don’t plan to tour too much in the new year.” He responded with, “No man, I meant YOU. Would you like to play drums for DFD?” It made me laugh. I asked him to give me a day to get my things in order and talked to all the relevant parties (i.e., band mates, girlfriend). I confirmed the next day and promised not to sing. I meant “sing” as in “spill the beans about the tour announcement before they were ready,” but I don’t think my message made any sense at all. I had just watched some mafia movie and it was in my head, but I think Todd just thought I was trying to steal his spot as the singer. This is why it’s better to just call me if it’s important!

You’re facing a horde of zombies, who are you with and what’s your weapon of choice?

I’d be content with a squirt gun filled with the antidote.

Finally, anything new to share with fans from either the music or the literary sides of your world?

I’m all set to record some new Psychostick songs this weekend, so we’ll see if I can remember how to play after not drumming for a month while away for the holidays. Also, I’m teaching a bunch of psych classes online at Franklin University (where I got my master’s), so feel free to join in the bookish nerdiness if you want to talk BRAINS.

Purchase Dichotomies: Lessons from a College Life on Tour

Purchase Online:
Hardcover & Paperback
United States: PsychostickAmazonBarnes & Noble, & Powell’s
Canada: Amazon.ca &Indigo
Mexico: Amazon.com.mx
Brazil: Amazon.com.br
United Kingdom: Amazon.co.uk & Blackwell’s
Netherlands: Amazon.nl & Bol
Germany: Amazon.de
Denmark: Saxo
France: Amazon.fr
Italy: Amazon.it
Spain: Amazon.es & Agapea
Australia: Amazon AU & Fishpond
New Zealand: Fishpond
Japan: Amazon.co.jp
Singapore: Amazon.sp
United Arab Emirates: Amazon.ae

eBook
Amazon
Apple Books
Barnes & Noble Nook
Kobo

Links:
https://www.psychostick.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Psychostick/

https://www.instagram.com/psychostick/

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