"I'LL PROBABLY ask you more questions than you ask me," says Rodney Linderman. "That's just the way I am." The Dead Milkmen's vocalist/keyboardist—perhaps better known as Rodney Anonymous—is talking on the phone from Philadelphia.
The band that Linderman co-founded more than 30 years ago is embarking on its first West Coast tour in three years, but that seems almost incidental to our hour-long phone conversation. Not for any lack of enthusiasm for the Dead Milkmen on Linderman's part—their legacy as sardonic punk-rock originators remains central to his focus. It's his digressive tendency to rant, in fact, that's one of the main ingredients of the Milkmen's catalog of pop-culture skewering, leftist weirdo-ism, and downright funny outsider rock.
The Milkmen grabbed a ray of the spotlight in 1988 when the video for the single "Punk Rock Girl" caught the attention of MTV and launched the spiky-haired wet dreams of a million nerdy adolescents. Their classic 1985 debut album, Big Lizard in My Backyard, has just been recently reissued, and 1988's Beelzebubba receives similar treatment this month.
The band took a long hiatus beginning in 1995, and the period that followed saw the tragic suicide of original bassist Dave Schulthise in 2004. The remaining Milkmen played two memorial shows for Schulthise in Philadelphia, but the band didn't properly reunite until 2008. In 2011, they recorded The King in Yellow, and in 2014, the band released their 10th studio album, Pretty Music for Pretty People.
Pretty Music is an angry-sounding record, in which Linderman imagines an alternate-reality rock 'n' roll museum. The title track contains vitriolic nursery-rhyme nightmares full of carnival-esque instrumentationvia the crackpot team of guitarist Joe Jack Talcum (Joe Genaro), drummer Dean Clean (Dean Sabatino), and bassist Dan Stevens—and laments the deficiencies of the music industry.
"In this alternative reality, you would see what would happen if Sgt. Pepper's had bombed but the Velvet Underground record was the biggest record ever," says Linderman. "I was going back and forth between a world where the good guys win, musically, and the bad guys lose."
The harsher elements in the album are indicative of Linderman's distaste for the separation of outsider art and underground music as it relates to mass consumption. "I go to websites and publications and they'll have these great political stories, left-leaning things about how we need to raise the minimum wage and the terrible income inequality. Then you'll see the music reviews and it's the most innocuous bands," he says. "I have nothing against the people that make that music; I just don't like the lopsided nature of my friends who can't play the huge places and these bands can."
As we talk, Linderman's pontifications include citing his allegiance to TV shows like Project Runway ("For underground musicians, Project Runway is this big secret thing. Everybody watches it and nobody admits to it") and his obsession with electronic and industrial music. The Portland bands [product] and Reactor are name-dropped more than once, as is his insistence that Canadian industrial crew iVardensphere's new album Fable is "a work of absolute genius."
It should be noted that the Milkmen's latest material, while perhaps containing more pointed finger wagging, still sounds like a Dead Milkmen record. Switching gears from hardcore to new wave to electro-inspired songs like the uncomfortably satirical "Anthropology Days"—with lyrics inspired by various horrific and ridiculous forgotten factoids from history—they're still some of the greatest architects of observant punk rock.
"You'd think things would get better, but there's just such a plethora of idiocy at this point," says Linderman. "It's almost like people are handing you things to make fun of."