Reverend Elvis and the Undead Syncopators

Reverend Elvis utan maskReverend Elvis (and the Undead Syncopators) is an artist from Chemnitz, Germany, see website and the first European artist in this articles series, which is quite an achievement. My assessment is that it will be very few artists under this header. There is no lack of European artists in the “gothic country” genre or any lack of skill. There is a lack of authenticity. However, Reverend Elvis is the real thing. The good Reverend started out in 2003. Reverend Elvis (and the Undead Syncopators) are not very known. He and the band has an obscurity level of 94 percent according to the Obscurometer, see link. The Reverend’s real name is Andreas E. Freier (hence AF). There's also a additional moniker name: Reverend Elvis the Undead Preacher. Reverend Elvis is a perfect name for an artist in the “death country” genre and the name fits the music perfectly. The story behind the moniker name Reverend Elvis is simple. AF is a devout Elvis fan since the age of nine and people liked to call him Elvis when he grew up (despite the fact that he didn’t like the nickname). “Reverend” is always a good and useful title. Some clarifications are in place. There are at least two Elvis “impersonators” out there in the world who call themselves Reverend Elvis. But, don’t worry - there’s really no risk of any confusion. You know when you have found the right one. A second clarification concerns the different shapes of Reverend Elvis. Reverend Elvis is a solo act (vocals and guitar). Reverend Elvis and the Undead Syncopators is a band with a revolving lineup of musicians with D. Shadow (upright bass) as a constant and reliable member. In an email AF writes about the main similarities and differences: "The main difference is as Reverend I play alone and as Reverend Elvis and the Undead Syncopators I play with my band. Undead Syncopators are more live orientated but they are also a good studio band. As Reverend I don't play much shows but I can develop the songs at the studio – with US is more action (we recorded the LP "PunK“ in only one day with only one mic..) it’s more powerful than the rev. stuff. The rev stuff is my reverence to the old time music..." Reverend Elvis writes all the songs and is, of course, the creative force. This article deals with both constellations. Reverend Elvis mission statement is "Gospel of the Underground". In the e-mail AF elaborates: "I guess it’s a good term (i use a lot of such terms) to describe my mission in music. Gospel has two meanings (for me) one the one hand it means "I have something to say“ (Death Country, same as Black Metal loves to work with this Christian topics) and on the other hand it shows my passion for (Southern) Gospel music. Very intense music. From the Guitar evangelist and the so-called Quartets in 40ies and 50ies to the new punk gospel movement (poor bastards, Reverend Beat Man, oblivians and so on...) I really love this music...And Underground? I'm underground ;)"

 

Reverend Elvis skidmaskReverend Elvis and the Undead Syncopators is labeled "death country", "psychobilly", “garage trash”, "hellbilly”, "satanic gospel”, “dark roots” and “hell blues” among others. Reverend Elvis and the Undead Syncopators belong to the “death country” branch. Reverend Elvis makes both covers and original songs. Similar to artists like Uncle Sinner it’s not covers in a traditional sense. Reverend Elvis makes his own (and highly subjective) interpretation of them which gives the songs a new shine and deeper content, for example in “13”, “Angel of Death”, “I Cast a Lonesome Shadow”, “Knoxville Girl” and “Highwayman”. In the e-mail AF explains on what basis or by which process he selects the songs: “I only cover songs I really love. And there are so many good songs in music history...great songs! I never would be able to write such a song ... so I cover it. I love old time music – Blues, Hillbilly Rockabilly, Gospel, Garage and stuff but II also like Punk, Metal, Psychobilly …that’s my base.” However, Reverend Elvis best songs are his own compositions, for example “Baby Bye Bye”, “Darkness On My Mind”, “In The Mood For Hate”, “I Go My Way”, “Die Alone”, “You Are Dead Before You Died” and “Mournin’”. Most artists/bands in the “gothic country” genre follow to a lesser or greater extent a standard formula when it comes to their creative process, for example idea/theme first, then lyrics followed by arrangement/chords. In the email AF describes how his songwriting process looks like: “Normally I (or the band) write some chords/riff a harmony line with no melody or lyrics. My head is filled with music I have tons of such tunes in my head then I play this chords and invent a melody and decide lyrics who will fit to this song (normally the idea of the lyrics still invented but I have to fit it to the song... I like contradiction, some catchy tune with some evil lyrics .. something like that :))” In the email AF develops his views on the creative process when it comes to finding themes, moods and expressions: “First: I listen to music.
Very important for every musician is to listen to music. I have a huge vinyl collection from early Jazz to Hardcore Punk and I listen to it all the time. Second: we live in a sick world … this world makes me sick!!! I have to scream it out, you know!

 

Reverend Elvis liveskidmask mörkIn the work of writing articles I have come across many artists whose life are filled with music, but I have never come across a person who lives and breathe through music like Reverend Elvis. It’s hard to imagine what he would do without music. In 1999 he started a record store with some record junkie friends. Having your own record store provided good opportunities to listen to music all day. However, it was a commercial disaster and the store was closed down. The former store-owners started to promoting and releasing their own and others music in a small scale. Gradually Suzy Q Records has established itself as a small but well-known label. With your own record label you avoid a lot of nonsense. Reverend Elvis is also a DJ, arranger and visual artist (under his real name). In his spare time he posts music videos with both known and obscure artists on his Facebook-page in cyber-attack intervals. How shall I describe the music? Well, Reverend Elvis could be placed in a three-dimensional diagram, with the axis of country, blues and rock. Within the borders of this broad definition Reverend Elvis bounce unconcerned around. The characteristic that makes Reverend Elvis so interesting is the combination of respect and disrespect. Reverend Elvis has full respect for the music, but total disrespect for how it’s perceived by purists. The style of Reverend Elvis can be characterized as breakneck shifts between genres, styles and tempo. In addition to this, take a considerable amount of punk attitude. In an interview on the website No Depression Reverend Elvis states: “I’m underground. As an artist it is great to be a part of the underground. It’s freedom. It’s a good network of people and mostly everything is possible. On the other hand, underground shouldn’t become a ghetto.

 

Reverend Elvis liveskidmasknyMany artists have a strong preference for writing/creating or performing. Reverend Elvis enjoys both ways of expression. On stage Reverend Elvis plays guitar and operate a kick drum with his feet (the kick drum has the name “Metronome” written on it), while D. Shadow fiercely plays the upright bass. When playing live he and D. Shadow appear in black ski masks. The reason for this is a nod to other “mask bands” and the direct effect of playing masked. Reverend Elvis thinks the music becomes more aggressive and provocative with masks. In an interview for Trebuchet Magazine Reverend Elvis stated: “There are two kinds of gigs. Normal gigs and weird gigs, I hate normal gigs.” Reverend Elvis has a diversified singing voice ranging from high-pitched and nasal to dark and clear depending on the particular song. The songs are simple constructed with plink-plonk sounding guitar and supporting bass lines. The arrangements are minimalistic. No unnecessary instruments or additional dubbing on the albums. The lyrics are brilliant. A good example of this is “You Are Dead Before You Died” which is about the hells of being a part of the “Rat Race”. 

You work from 8 to 5, it don't matter if there sun or rain
You work from 8 to 5, watch TV and eatin' your own brain
No one cares what you do, no one cares if you alive, ohh you feel so cold inside
You are dead before you died
You are dead before you died
You think you are the power cause your rich and your skin is white
You think you are the power but when you die no one will cry
Cause no one cares what you do, no one cares if you alive, you so cold inside
You are dead before you died
You are dead before you died
You can treasure your wealth your diamond and your gold
but my friend it won't save your poor wicked soul
When no one cares what you do, no one cares if you alive, yes you feel so cold inside
Cause you are dead before you died
Cause you are dead before you died
Yes you are dead before you died

Another good example is “Darkness Of My Mind”, a catchy murder ballad that guaranteed will stick on your cerebral cortex. 

 

I walk down this lonely street an only think of you,
hoped you always by my side - hoped you always true, 
I love with all my heart no matter where I go
But there is a little darkness on my mind since I lost you
I lose my mind and I go insane and I don't i know what to do
Met this troublemaker told me bad things about you
I kill him with my switchblade knife – yes my love is true
But there is a little darkness on my mind since I lost you
I spend with a little girl she said she loves me so 
but there is no other no rigorous love without you
I kill her when the sun goes down cause she was not you
Yes here is a little darkness on my mind since I lost you
They take me to a prison tied me with the ball and chain
They call me Psychokiller but for me there is no shame
I love you girl with all my heart all I do I do for you
But there is a little darkness on my mind since I lost you
Yes there is a little darkness on my mind since I lost you
I'm not a Psychokiller I'm still in love with you

   

  

Reverend Elvis (and the Undead Syncopators) have access to a studio through their record label. I asked how his recording has evolved over time when it comes to equipment, working methods and time spent: "Moon Studios are a part of Suzy Q Records and we record some of the Suzy Q Bands there...but not everybody like that way to record their songs. Like the name says "Sun Records“ is my ideal!! the best record company ever!!! I try to do it the same way... sometimes we record with only on mic... it’s a very special sound with a lot of "Room“ in it ... very specific. And the band has to play the perfect song – no overdubbing or midi or whatever. So you got a lot of raw power...with my solo projects I go a different way, there are a lot of tracks and overdubs and voice-doubling and stuff. At "Soon One Morning“ I sing all 4 voices... isn't possible with only one track recording ;)Reverend Elvis has a fairly open contempt for mainstream music industry, but a relative optimistic view when it comes to the future for musicians/bands in the “death country” vein. In the email, AF writes: “I guess it will keep staying in the darkness like it did the last 10 years … we had a big underground country revival the last 10 years...but death country and southern gothic thing is still very small... unknown. It's okay, it's underground! I like it underground everybody stick together no moneymakers and rockstars around … yes I like it ;)”

 

Reverend Elvis myspace7ggr

 

Reverend Elvis (and the Undead Syncopators) have released five full-length albums. The first album “Legend of the Undead” was released in 2004 on Suzy Q Records. The second album “Death Country” was released in 2008 on legendary but now defunct Devil’s Ruin Records. The third album “PunK” was released in 2009 on Suzy Q Records. The fourth album “Desperation” was released in 2013 on Suzy Q Records. The fifth album "I Hate People" was released in 2015 on Suzy Q Records. Readers of this article series may have noted that cd is my preferred format. In the last couple of years two major changes have occurred. The expanding formats are vinyl (which means moving back in time) or digital download (which means moving forward in time). I’m stuck in twilight zone with physical discs. I changed format many years ago when I (literally) ditched all my vinyl and went for cd. I'm not going to change format again. Reverend Elvis offers an interesting and very affordable compromise with his two latest release, “Desperation” and "I Hate People",  namely LP+CD (€13 which is approximately $17). The cd is unpretentious without jewel case and album cover, but you can print the album cover from Bandcamp. A glimmer of hope has opened up that could make me survive the above-mentioned vinyl-digital download conspiracy. And suddenly I’m the owner of three vinyl LP’s again (“Desperation”, “PunK” and "I Hate People"), which brings back a familiar but strange feeling. In 2016 Reverend Elvis released "Desperation" and "I Hate People" as a double CD limited to 100 copies. I got no 15.  

 

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The album covers are very different from each other. The album cover on the first album “The Legend of the Undead” makes you think of a ska album (2 Tone, that is) if it weren’t for the skulls that decorate the frame. The album cover on the second album “Death Country” qualifies for top ten (maybe even top five) “best gothic country album cover art ever”. In the e-mail AF reveal its origin: “Like the most covers I designed it by myself… for me it’s a mixture of the mid 80 provo-punk cover and classic 50ies cover… a little bit dilettantism and a little bit provocation. The picture is historical photo from 2. world war … sick world I say!” On the physical disc there’s a humble nod to legendary Sun Records in form of an almost identic label print (but with the label name “Moon Records”). On the third album, PunK, we meet D. Shadow and Reverend Elvis in their classic black ski masks, while the latter makes a popular but obscene gesture. The upright bass, guitar and the “Metronome”-kick drum in the foreground and the Confederate States of America flag in the background. The album cover exudes attitude, bad attitude. The album cover on the fourth album “Desperation” is classic black-and-white and minimalistic. A picture of Reverend Elvis (in ski mask) in half profile placed in a classic oval frame with bat wings (and the title “Desperation” depicted in stylish letters below). The album cover on the fifth album “I Hate People” is congenial. A nod to the aesthetics of the 1950s but with an album title that has obvious anarcho-punk influences. The good reverend is a complex man.

Reverend Elvis has contributed with a song (You Are Dead Before You Died) on one of the four compilations (Rodentia I) in Devil’s Ruin Records series "The Best Of Dark Roots". That in itself is a mark of quality. The song “Die Alone” is represented on “Compendium”, another compilation from Devil’s Ruin Records. The song “People Hate Blues” is represented on "Yells From The Crypt", a weird compilation from Gravewax Records. Below is a suggestion for a CD compilation.

 

No

Song 

Album

1

Midnight Train

The Legend Of The Undead

2

13

The Legend Of The Undead

3

I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

The Legend Of The Undead

Baby Bye Bye

The Legend Of The Undead

People Hate Blues

The Legend Of The Undead

6

Darkness On My Mind

The Legend Of The Undead

In The Mood For Hate

The Legend Of The Undead

8

Love & Hate

Death Country

I Go My Way

Death Country

10

Die Alone

Death Country

11

You Are Dead Before You Died

Death Country

12

Strange

Death Country

13

Going Down (Straight To Hell)

Death Country

14

Surrender

Death Country
15

Dead Before You Died

PunK
16

Country Heroes

PunK
17

I Cast A Lonesome Shadow

Desperation
18

Jezebel

Desperation 
19

Knoxville Girl

Desperation 
20

Highwayman

Desperation 
21

Mournin'

Desperation 
22

Ghost of Hank Williams

I Hate People
23

She Never Done Me Wrong

I Hate People
24

Ramblin' Man

I Hate People


 

Best album:The Legend of the Undead or Death Country or Desperation (can't decide). PunK is over-the-top even by my pemissive standards.

Best songs: 13, Baby Bye Bye, Darkness On My Mind, In The Mood For Hate, I Go My Way, Die Alone, You Are Dead Before You Died, I Cast A Lonesome Shadow, Jezebel, Highwayman, Mournin', Ghost of Hank Wiliams

 

 

 

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