Tropical Gothclub: “I never intended to make a record”

With a CV that boasts some of the 21st Century’s most illustrious rock titans, Dean Fertita spills on what drove him to pursue new ‘solo’ outlet Tropical Gothclub.

Dean Fertita’s CV boasts some of the 21st Century’s most illustrious rock titans. A member of Queens of the Stone Age and The Dead Weather, Dean has also collaborated with the likes of Karen O, Iggy Pop and Beck, gracing countless stages and recordings with his multi-instrumental prowess. How alien it was for him that, under the constrictions of lockdown, Fertita finally found the room to collate years’ worth of unused material under the new hard-rockin’ Tropical Gothclub project.

Why did you decide to start this new project? You’ve released ‘solo’ albums in the past.
Like the previous one [2009’s self-titled work as Hello=Fire], I never intended to make a record, and I never viewed it as a solo record. In both these cases, I went in with the intention that I was demoing a bunch of material that I thought would go somewhere else.

You know, it was a crazy set of circumstances over the last few years, that it felt right, along with the encouragement of some friends. that this felt like something I should just put out. That made the decision for me. There was so much time of uncertainty and not really knowing what was going to happen, where the next thing was gonna be… It felt good to move on from them, if that makes sense? “It’s done. This isn’t not gonna be what I thought it was going to be. Let’s let it live somewhere else.”

It’s good to just put something together and have it out as concrete.
Yeah! Creatively for me, to free my brain of my ideas was a wonderful thing. A lot of those ideas have been around for a while. A few of them were songs that were in this group of songs that I had: ideas that ended up on the last Dead Weather record. Some were started around the last Queens [of the Stone Age] record. So just odds and ends that I was able to make sense of.

So you recorded these demos during lockdown?
I was out with the Raconteurs in 2019. We finished in December. And in January, Alison [Mosshart] and I were texting back and forth because we realised we had a few months off and were both going to be in Nashville. Maybe we can work on some ideas, who knows? Maybe there’s room to do another Dead Weather record? She sent me a bunch of demos, and I sent her ‘Needles’, the first song on the record. She sent 15 songs that were little snippets of ideas. I went and recorded one of them, called ‘Street Level’. And that ended up being the B-side of the ‘Wheels [within Wheels]’ 7”. That just sparked the whole thing. That got me motivated to start working through some of these ideas and see what I had.

Then lockdown happened, a month and a half later. A month after that, Josh [Homme] was insistent that this wasn’t gonna be something that stopped us from working. [He said] ‘Everybody go through your stuff and see what you got!’

It was just a lot of things coming together at one time. I busted through that stuff in a few months, recorded it on anything I had available. Some of it was done on GarageBand! Like I said, I didn’t have the foresight to say, ‘I’m gonna make a solo record, man’, to put my band together. It wasn’t like that at all. It was very much, ‘use what you got around you in the moment and make something out of it.’

Do you think the circumstances of the recording affected the outcome in any way? Or was it just good to do during a very difficult time?
All is true. I didn’t realise how important it was till it was done that I needed to do it. The circumstances were everything really, because it was either ‘sit and wait for us to be able to work, or go work.’ I built a tiny 200 square foot room outside my house where I could set up my stuff and work wherever I wanted to. That was just the way I did it.

“[With Tropical Gothclub] There wasn’t anybody to tell me when to stop!”

Listening to the record, it sounds like you had a lot of fun making it. There are mad keyboard solos and guitar solos, big choruses, fat riffs… There’s a clear cohesive tone of something brightness and vibrancy running throughout the album. Was this always the plan?
No! It was fun in the sense that it was a release from the monotony of not being able to do anything; enjoyable to turn these ideas into something. I hadn’t worked like that for so long. What was it, 10 years, 11 years since the Hello=Fire record? That was a similar thing, I went in for two days recording demos. Sometimes it’s good to remind yourself how much you enjoy doing that.

And in addition for me, personally, it’s a way to stay sharp. So when I go to the other projects I’m involved in, I feel like I have something to contribute that’s ‘me’. I don’t get lost in the bigger picture of what I’m doing, but you have that time so spend figuring out what you bring to something.

Was it particularly refreshing to focus on a project where you were the main creative force?
I like the give and take of playing in bands. I really enjoy that, that friction. [With Tropical Gothclub] There wasn’t anybody to tell me when to stop! So I relied heavily on my friend Dave Feeny, who lives in Detroit. We’ve had a working relationship for a long time. I’ve known him forever. I could send him things in the worst condition ever, and he would revive them and bring them back to life. Or tell me, ‘We have enough here, don’t do anything else’. So that relationship with him was the closest I had to a band mate. I value it immensely. He’s so much fun to work with.

Obviously, Third Man is Jack White’s label. Was this a natural choice?
It does make a lot of sense, right? It was something I was very mindful of though, because I never would want our relationship to be like, ‘You did this thing, we have to put it out’. I was completely OK with making this and just putting it online somewhere and never doing anything with it. To be honest, it was his encouragement, and [the encouragement] of other people who work at Third Man that made me think about putting it out into the world. They motivated me, and I feel very lucky to have them, as another voice of encouragement, because everybody needs that.

So just to clarify, this isn’t really a solo album?
I came up with this idea that [the songs] were like ‘concept cars’. When I was a kid we would go to the Detroit Auto-show, and see these cars. They weren’t in production yet, but you could see what they were going to be.

Like I was saying earlier, if I went into this knowing it was going to be a solo record, I would have loved to have had a band together. I would love to have worked through the ideas more, even. A lot of them are first takes on things, and even lyrically; I don’t wanna say I didn’t not think about it, because I did think about everything a lot, but, I didn’t want to halt our progress. We had this little window of time to do stuff that I had been putting off for years, so I just wanted to barrel through everything and get every idea out so I was in a sharp, clear frame of mind for whatever was next. If I’d known I was going to do it like that, I would have maybe had a little more thought going into it than I did. But also that maybe would have stopped me too.

[The songs] are suggestions. I always think of these songs like, ‘It could go like this, it could go this way’, but in the end it’s the power of suggestion that wins out.

‘Tropical Gothclub’ is out now via Third Man.

Tags: Tropical Gothclub, From The Magazine

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