August 12, 2020 Interview – Joe Cotela of DED
When they first came to our attention, DED was a misanthropic quintet who were anti-everything, but a lot has changed since they removed those white-out contact lenses. These days, they have taken massive strides, channeling their frustration into a matured, refined and diversified sound that promises a brilliant future. We know this because in March 2020 they allowed the world a glimpse into their latest music with the Mannequin Eyes micro EP, which goes bigger and bolder than 2017’s Mis●an●thrope.
With the world trapped in quarantine and DED, like so many other artists, seemingly stuck at a standstill thanks to COVID-19, Vocalist Joe Cotela sat down to chat about the new album, the evolution of the band’s sound, the 2-song micro EP, his Punk Rock ethos, and why you should wear a mask.
Cryptic Rock – What have quarantine and 2020 taught you about yourself?
Joe Cotela – Oh, wow. You’re starting out with a heavy one. I guess a handful of things. It’s been a time of retrospect, and it’s been a time of taking a step back. It’s put me in touch with my integrity and the things that are important to me: my morals and my ethics. It’s put into perspective how much I appreciate my family and my loved ones, and my love, my woman. It’s slowed things down so much, so it’s like you have to stop and smell the roses. I’ve been really focusing on my health and all the things that kind of become secondary when you’re busy all the time.
Cryptic Rock – That’s all very positive. Have you struggled at all with quarantine?
Joe Cotela – It’s a mixed bag. I think there’s been some very high highs, as far as really trying to fill my heart with gratitude. A lot of the things that you focus on when you’re busy, when you’re doing all your stuff, it’s these temporary things. I think I’ve really just stopped and appreciated a lot of things, and appreciated things that aren’t here anymore that I was taking for granted.
Some days you’re in the best mood and you appreciate having that down time, but you miss your passion. In my case that’s music, and I really like being productive and working on my goals and things like that. So it’s a mixed bag. I think one of the biggest keys to life is to know when to resist what’s happening and when not to. Resistance to what is is the cause of stress, so I try to just enjoy it for the most part. But I’m a person, so it goes up and down.
Cryptic Rock – That’s perfectly understandable. Now to talk about what we both love—music—you recently contributed vocals to “Hunting Grounds” on In This Moment’s new album, Mother. Your performance is outstanding and it really feels like you pushed and challenged yourself, vocally, which seems to have carried over into DED’s newest material. Have you been working on honing your vocal performance or is it just an organic growth due to touring?
Joe Cotela – Recording the vocals with Maria and In This Moment was my first time recording with Kevin Churko, which is a different producer from my first album which we did with John Feldmann. I’ve recorded with a lot of different producers in the past, but recording with a new producer in the environment of another band’s song, there’s a kind of freedom that comes with that. I don’t necessarily have to be representing DED.
I have so many different influences, so many different styles of things. I do think touring over the last three years I’ve added a lot of different elements and learned a lot of different vocal stylings and things like that. As an artist, I just wanted to do something that made me happy, and doing new things makes me happy; venturing into new ideas and not being too inside of a box makes me happy.
Cryptic Rock – Well, it worked because it’s a great song. And speaking of the new material, in March you released the Mannequin Eyes micro EP. Both of the tracks harness the raw anger and frustration from Mis●an●thrope but channel that into something more mature and further refined, musically. Versus when you recorded your debut, where are the band at mentally and spiritually right now?
Joe Cotela – Well, we’re in quarantine right now, so everyone is dealing with that in their own way. But as far as the music, I think the idea is what you’re saying. Thank you for recognizing that and interpreting the new music the way you did, because that’s what we wanted, to have that ferocity and the anger that comes with DED’s sound and vibe. But, again, we wanted to go into a new place and we wanted to make it bigger, sonically bigger, refine it a bit more, and add more dynamics to it. Obviously we have a piano part at the beginning of “Eyes Sewn Shut,” which is different for us. Although we did that on the first album too, on the last track.
It’s hard to describe exactly what your intentions are when you record something. We make it and if we like it and it makes us happy, then we use it. So it’s not really thought out, it’s just more from the gut. You get honesty when you do that.
Cryptic Rock – If you overthink it, you can ruin it. That said, “A Mannequin Idol” reflects on the lack of integrity in fake celebrities and hypocritical idols/leaders. In the acoustic version of the song, it becomes especially obvious that “A Mannequin Idol” sounds suspiciously like “American Idol.” That was clearly intentional.
Joe Cotela – Yeah. Although I’m not attacking American Idol or anything in particular, but I think it draws you into the idea of what I’m talking about. For me, it’s not my thing: somebody being popularized from Instagram or TV and not really having an artistic journey. For the most part I like someone that makes something in their room by themselves, or with their friends in a sweaty garage. Just something more authentic.
Really the song is more about, not necessarily my distaste for certain things, but more so to make people question what they consume, and what they support and what they back. Who are you listening to? What are they telling you? Are they feeding you a bunch of crap and you’re blindly supporting it? A lot of my lyrics are more so just to make people be conscious and cognitive of who they’re identifying with and what they’re behind.
I’m not trying to make music that is easily digestible. I want some sense of art, just some sense of an openness; where it’s interpreted rather than being a direct “I hate Jim Smith” or whatever it is. Art should be a bit more open-ended for you to have to dive into it. That’s what’s great about art: it can be interpreted in a million different ways.
Cryptic Rock – On “Eyes Sewn Shut,” you’re exploring the abundance of willful ignorance in our world. These are important discussions—Are they indicative of where the band’s collective head is at right now and what fans can expect from your sophomore LP?
Joe Cotela – There’s a lot of different topics. When the album does come out there are a lot more different topics than the first one. The first one was really just my distaste and my disappointment in humanity. The whole Mis●an●thrope album—a “misanthrope” is someone who hates people. I don’t hate people, but especially at that time I was just really frustrated with humanity. I still am in a lot of ways. But this time I didn’t want to be inside of that box again.
You have that time to play those songs and say, ‘Okay, cool. That was where I was at then and this is where I’m at now.’ I open it up to a wide array of things on the new album, but definitely the idea of making people think. A lot of the lyrics are kind of introspective, I think. They can be about my anxieties, my downfalls, and I’ll sometimes give them titles or refer to them in different ways. There’s all kinds of things on the new album.
And on the next album, who knows what I’ll want to write about? It’s the same thing I said before: there’s no tension, there’s no ‘I’m going to write about this!’ Oftentimes when I’m writing I come up with a hook line or a lyric, and I don’t know where I’m going to go with it. It starts defining itself and then I see, okay, this is what I’m talking about. I don’t really know initially, usually. Once I kind of get the idea and the theme, then I write around that.
It’s never really, ‘I’m going to write a song about basketball.’ I don’t ever really intend to do that: I’m not going to write a relationship song or a political song on purpose. I try to do that exercise where you just take a pen and you just write on a piece of paper—people do that in therapy a lot. I think that’s one of the best ways to really hear what’s going on in your soul.
Cryptic Rock – Some of the best material is when you sit down with no intentions whatsoever and just write down whatever comes out. But back to the upcoming album, there are some conflicting reports. Is it done and do you have a title or are you still fine-tuning it?
Joe Cotela – It is done, but we don’t have a release date yet. We’ve fine-tuned a couple things because time has permitted us to do so now. We’re figuring out how to release it. It’s just such a weird time. I know I’ve talked to a handful of other people—I talked to Jasta from Hatebreed about a month ago, and he was saying the same thing; they have a new album done. Deftones are doing the same thing.
You want to release it and you want to get it out there, but at the same time you spent money, time and everything on it, and you want to give it a real shot with momentum. It’s such a strange thing, but you can only hold off so long. So we have intentions of figuring out how and when to release it as soon as possible.
Cryptic Rock – It really is such an odd time. People are sitting home and they have the time to listen, so in some respects it’s a great time to put something new out. But you can’t tour and support it to give it that momentum, so what do you do?
Joe Cotela – Correct. And we’re still a newer band. With only one album out, we don’t have ten years of full albums behind us. So a building process is happening, as far as I’m concerned. You know, everything counts. We want to make sure that we do everything the proper way.
Cryptic Rock – This really feels like it’s poised to be a very pivotal album for the band, as you’re refining your sound, pushing new boundaries, and there’s even been some aesthetic evolution, as well. Mis●an●thrope established DED as an important new band to watch for, what is the goal with Album #2?
Joe Cotela – The goal is to write great music that makes us feel something, because if we feel something then someone else will probably feel something. We’re all kind of made up of the same thing, and frequencies and vibrations flow through us; we’re all people, we all experience life. So really the goal is to just put out music that is going to affect people, that we love—first and foremost that we love and are proud of.
Another goal would be for a lot of growth, and to go above and beyond where we went with the first album. I guess that would be the goal, although I haven’t really thought about it. It’s more so that I really love the songs. Once we have the songs recorded and I’m excited to send them to my friends and get their feedback, and they love it, then I’m ready to send it to the rest of the world. It’s like the very first band I was in: you want to record with your friends and you hope that your peers and your friends love it. Then, hopefully, the rest of the world loves it beyond that.
Cryptic Rock – That’s very sincere. So many people would and have said something like world domination is the goal. (Laughs)
Joe Cotela – Yeah, world domination is cool—if we got real big and blew up. That’s cool, but it’s not the point for me. I’m into it if it happens. (Laughs) But it’s not the point.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, so we briefly mentioned the acoustic version of “A Mannequin Idol” earlier, which came out phenomenal. That leads me to wonder what would be the most challenging and inspiring song from another artist for the band to record acoustically?
Joe Cotela – “Bohemian Rhapsody” would be pretty hard to do. That’s pretty difficult. I’ve been jamming a lot of acoustic stuff recently, I’ve been playing all kinds of different things—some Sublime songs and some Filter songs. Some Punk Rock—some Rancid songs. We just have fun with acoustic things. But the most difficult song that I can think of off the top of my head to do acoustic would probably be if we tried to do “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I think that’s just one of the most difficult songs to sing. That would be a monumental undertaking! (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Okay, be more serious, we are obviously living in very troubled times. Recently I read an article that suggested that influencers promoting social distancing and wearing a mask are far more effective at reaching people than the president or top scientists saying the very same thing—which, in some ways, relates back to the discussion in “A Mannequin Idol.” As musicians are, in a sense, influencers, do you feel there’s a responsibility for bands to speak up and influence fans to do the right thing?
Joe Cotela – Yes, I definitely do. Maria [Brink of In This Moment] and I both try to do that. We try not to beat people over the head with it, but I just posted a picture today of her and I in our masks. We were posting a lot about it, initially, but especially with it resurging now. And even the police brutality, the racism happening and the disgusting things that are happening in the streets. We went out and protested, as well, and I made sure to let people know where I stand with all that.
It’s a weird time—you’re just trying to be your best. But we both talk about that, and I see people that I respect do it and it makes me want to do it more. There’s a chain of command, in that sense, but it could be anybody who can influence somebody else. So stand up and say the truth and what’s good! It’s important for everybody to be an example, because you never know who’s watching you. The most powerful thing that we have is our voice and us being the best version of our self for ourselves and for everyone around us.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. I actually haven’t seen any artists promoting not wearing their mask or not social distancing, but if I did I would lose such respect for them that it might actually ruin the band for me.
Joe Cotela – Yeah, that can happen. It’s a bummer when that happens. The music is one thing and the person is another thing, but there have been a few bands for me where I lost interest because of the way the person was acting outside the music. I think community is important. I definitely grew up in Punk Rock and community is huge there, and saying things of importance for the community is everything.
You know we play a more Alternative Metal/Rock sound, but that never goes away—I always bring that Punk Rock ethos into things. You need to say things of importance, you can’t just have your lyrics be “I love to hate you because you love to hate me”—which is half the songs on modern radio right now. You have to talk about something and say something. Be important. Kids are listening to you, adults are listening to you—all kinds of people are listening to you. Use your platform and you can save lives. I don’t like to make myself feel too important but wherever you can make a difference you should make a difference.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. That said, what can fans do to support DED right now?
Joe Cotela – Well, you can wear a fucking mask! (Laughs) We can get this thing under control, and go back out and start touring again. Everybody wins that way! Wear a mask, spread the word that whether you believe in it or not it’s real. It’s gonna happen, so just wear the mask. If you can purchase some merch, I know it’s hard times, but if you purchase merch that’s good for us. It’s huge. Spreading the word is awesome, tell a friend if you’re feelin’ it. All that kind of stuff.
But really it’s so hard to put our band in the light right now, because the world is more important. I’m not really worried about the band. Be a good person, do the right thing. Let’s get things back to the way they should be, as well as improving a lot of social issues with police brutality and racism and all that. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time with all of that, but it’s imperative that we do those things as well as getting everybody healthy. Then we can all go out, play shows and flourish like we know we’re meant to.
I understand times are tough. Different bands are at different tiers; certain bands it’s harder because they don’t make as much money. We definitely aren’t in the top tier or anything, but there’s a human responsibility that is innate. I can’t put myself at the forefront. I don’t even want to post photos on Instagram like I usually do. A photo of me right now, who cares? At the same time, maybe some people do and it makes some people happy. But it really is about focusing on ourselves, using this time to better ourselves
Talk about following people, look at the president. I don’t want to get all political about it, but what a whacko, man. We were talking about who you identify with and who you support, all those things. It’s a time to take a step back and focus on rebuilding ourselves as the human race. There’s nothing more important than that right now, so don’t buy my merch. Give to charities for Black Lives Matter. Give to charities for COVID, for doctors and nurses. That’s really what I would like people to do.
Cryptic Rock – And vote, definitely. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?
Joe Cotela – I love both! I think I like Horror a lot more, but they really do hybrid well together. Right off the top of my head, Maria and I just watched all the Alien movies, the whole series. We also watched Prometheus (2012), as well, which I had actually never seen and it was fantastic.
We just watched all four Jaws movies—Jaws (1975) is my favorite. The first one is my favorite movie of all-time. I love sharks and that movie has a brilliant cast and brilliant writing. We just watched The Shining (1980) the other day. All the Stephen King stuff has a little bit of that Sci-Fi twist to it, so I love Stephen King. We’ve also been watching the Friday the 13th movies.
The older stuff is so embedded in my DNA, I’ve watched it my whole life. But as far as more modern stuff, again, I love sharks, so I enjoyed 47 Meters Down (2017). Oh, we just watched that Kevin Bacon movie where he’s out in a house—You Should Have Left (2020)—that was a really cool flick. And we watched a movie called Sea Fever (2020), which was a really cool kind of Sci-Fi ship movie.
I love The Strangers (2008), that’s one of the most horrifying movies that ever came out. Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses (2003) is up there for me. I really loved It Follows (2014), that was a fantastic movie. I could probably keep going on, but there’s a bunch of them.