The key to the Jets was their sheer abandon — stripped of cultural signifiers, their music was never really retro, even though it was based so much on the past. But that didn't prevent them from getting lumped in with any throwback craze that came along, whether it was the Stray Cats–led rockabilly trend of the '80s or the inexplicable swing-band mania of the early '90s. "You know, a lot of those rockabilly guys didn't come to our shows, because we were just a little too weird! We were never part of that scene. I kind of went through that whole neo-rockabilly thing really young, when I was 14, 15 — and then I promptly got out of it!"
Unfortunately, Dex got out of the Flat Duo Jets as well, when the band flamed out acrimoniously in the late '90s. He spent the next decade trying out various solo guises, among them a fascinating phase in the mid '00s when he put out Piano
, an album of solo-piano originals inspired by classical romantics. For the last few years, however, he has had his act together. The Dexter Romweber Duo, comprising himself and his older sister Sara (who drummed for early-'80s new-wave notables Let's Active and Snatches of Pink), has seen Dex busier than ever. Last year the Duo released their first album, Ruins of Berlin
(Bloodshot), a powerful collection that showcases Dex's darker lyrical bent as he mixes his trademark traditional stomp with a wistful pre-rock crooning style.
"I guess, with my voice, I've always been just under the influence of different times. But now I'm just trying to be Dex, whatever that is, you know?" Part of being Dex is finding inspiration in the dark and insane aspects of his world, both external and internal. "I'm influenced by old places, old streets, Robert Mitchum movies, churches, out-of-the-way places, smoky-nightclub music, saxophone, stuff that's sort of hard to find nowadays. But I'll tell you, when you stumble along these American streets late at night, after a gig or something, you really are back in that place, either in your head or the way the whole town looks at that hour. And that feeling, that way of seeing things, it's something that hasn't left me." Here's hoping it never does.
DEX ROMWEBER DUO + JITTERY JACK + THE COBRAMATICS | T.T. the Bear's Place, 10 Brookline St, Cambridge | June 30 | $10 | 617.492.BEAR or ttthebears.com