Indie-punk quartet Ask the Dead may be a relative newcomer to the PVD music community, but the players have been kicking around and making noise for quite awhile. ATD's 2012 debut EP, Signal to Noise, is a concise, thumping fistful of tracks worth looking up (just $4 for the five-song download at askthedead.bandcamp.com). Hell, when a band lobs one into my wheelhouse by billing itself as "Hüsker Dü covering the first Foo Fighters album," it damn well better exceed expectations. And it does. Four months following its official release date, Ask the Dead will present the official Signal to Noise release party next Friday at the News Café in Pawtucket.
Lead singer/guitarist Alan Hague left his former outfit, Prayers for Atheists, late last year. He provided the riffs and vocal shrapnel alongside acclaimed spoken word poet/activist Jared Paul. PFA released two albums and caught the attention of Sage Francis and his Strange Famous Records, which picked up distribution for their self-titled EP and 2011 follow-up, New Hymns For an Old War.
"It was a difficult decision, but at some point I just kind of realized that I wanted to go in a different direction that wasn't along the same lines of where PFA was or was headed," Hague told me earlier this week.
"I'm a musician much more than an activist."
Then again, when asked about the origin of the band name, Hague revealed it comes from an Ernest Hemingway quote: "War is a crime. Ask the infantry. Ask the dead."
"So much for not being political!" cracked Hague. "But I love the starkness and directness of the name, plus it can be interpreted in a number of ways."Hague is joined by veteran musicians also steeped in fast-and-furious punk revelry, with former Lie Becomes Legend drummer Dan Guedes ("A total powerhouse with immense energy on the kit, but plays with some serious finesse," offered Hague), current Mazlow guitarist Brandon Perkins ("really creative and plays guitar like a fucking phenom!"), and ex-POW! bassist Steve Ellis ("He has this really original, jazz-like approach to rock bass; very expressive and an incredible knowledge of musical theory").
More contemporary ATD reference points could include Against Me! and the Gaslight Anthem. Hague's raspy vocals ride the dual-guitar riffs and beastly bashing from Guedes throughout Signal to Noise. "So It Goes" and "Get Through" open the EP with vigor; on the vintage-punk number "Vampire Hours," Hague comes out firing with "Well, being here just bleeds the life right out of me," and his socio-economic side comes up for air while playing the role of tyrant boss on the two-minute gem "Human Resources": "What's the hold-up? Time is wasting/I don't pay you for complaining/Got a million precious snowflakes like you itching to take your place."
The last song on the EP, "Song for Jesse," is an uptempo, alt-radio ready jam Hague dedicated to friend Jesse Cook, who died unexpectedly last year.
"I looked up to Jesse more than I ever expressed to him — he inspired me to get serous about songwriting," he said. "I am still deeply saddened by his passing."
I dropped a line to my pal Roz Raskin, who recently shared a bill with Ask the Dead.