Medieval Times: Being Dead in an Era of Cruelty and Despair
The story of a real band and a fake band in two acts
"It... sounds... like... SHIT!"
The band hasn't even finished sound checking and they're already being heckled. The voice – booming and deliberate – comes from the back of the bar. There, at a cocktail table, a man sits alone except for the two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon keeping him company.
It's an early October night at the Sahara Lounge. Juli Keller and Cody Dosier are onstage, but not under their usual banner of Being Dead – the lovably strange art-pop garage band that's become a modest attraction in Austin over the last four years. Instead, they've booked the show as their mysterious alter-ego, Zero Percent APR, which has released two lo-fi concept records in the last seven months.
Where Being Dead has fans, Zero Percent APR has an enemy.
"Let the other Cody play guitar!" he bellows, after someone in the crowd announces that he's also named Cody.
The loudmouth giving Keller and Dosier shit is wearing a gray T-shirt that reads "Zero Percent APR Is Just ... Being Dead Light" – the final three words worked into a graphic resembling a can of Busch Light. He's a plant – a showbiz term for an associate of the performer working undercover in the audience. It's the kind of routine Andy Kaufman employed in the Seventies, when his writing partner Bob Zmuda would sit amongst the crowd saying his punchlines to drive the comedian into an apparent rage.
The schtick's obvious enough to most of the three dozen people hanging out at the eclectic Eastside music shack, but for those who don't get it, things are getting heated. A physically imposing fellow in overalls who's been doing some sort of interpretive dance in front of the stage charges to the back of the room to confront the heckler. Except it's the entirely wrong table: a group of rowdy soccer fans in for a post match drink.
The volunteer politeness-enforcer explains that it's the venue's 10 year anniversary and that they're being rude by heckling the band. When the group stiffly denies it, he orders them to "point out who was yelling at the band." They refuse to narc out the man sitting in the table directly next to them, stifling a smile as he looks down at his phone. After another patron comes in to diffuse the situation and the man walks away, the heckler and soccer fans share a laugh.
"We didn't give you up!" they say, cheers-ing beers.
Onstage, with Dosier on a baritone guitar and Keller on a child-size drum kit (both sing and they frequently trade instruments), Zero Percent APR play a song from their recently released medieval-themed album Gilgamesh II. Dosier, with his trademark He-Man haircut, is singing about "blood and gore and families burned" before their voices unite in a cartoonishly mousy octave for the hook: "Dragons come at midnight!"
While they can come off instrumentally primitive, the vocals of Being Dead – or Zero Percent APR – are unassailable. With loads of character, Dosier effortlessly oscillates between a childlike upper register and an exceptionally low range that sounds like slowed-down tape. Keller's voice is sharply melodic and keen to complementary notes. Together they flex a harmonic cohesion that can feel eerily psychedelic. Later they cover "I Like the Christian Life" by another magical close-harmony duo: Fifties country gospel Kane-and-Abel the Louvin Brothers.
"Why don't you write your own fuckin' music?" the loud voice in the back deadpans.
At the peak of the show, Keller kneels in front of the stage, spreading flower pedals over the warped floorboards and singing the motherly "Moon Silver," which intones a quality akin to medieval Mazzy Star.
Hairs on the back of all our necks stand up until the bar's pregnant hush is broken by the heckler.
"That one was actually pretty good."
The room explodes into laughter and applause.
"We want to come clean," Keller tells me as I sit down at a picnic table outside Epoch Coffee on North Loop for a scheduled interview with Zero Percent APR. She and Dosier look at each other and take a deep breath.
"We are actually Being Dead," they say in unison.
I try to muster some shocked expression.
"This is a formal apology to everyone for lying," adds Dosier in a guilt-ridden tone. "We're really sorry to everyone we hurt."
I've been a fan of Being Dead since summer 2018 when I came to see them play at Beerland after they'd sent me a couple strange emails. At the time, their stripped-down music and catchy, distinct-from-one-another songs reminded me of a weirder, rougher Violent Femmes. Their show included a part where they touted a great new musical invention: It was a 9-volt battery on a string, attached to a headband and they'd place it on the key of a synthesizer to play one sustained note, then Cody – wearing the headband – would, at a certain point of the song, jerk his head away to make the note cease.
The following year, Being Dead's vision crystallized with Fame Money Death by Drive-By, a four-star EP thriving on the contrast of foreboding lyrics and sunbaked psych pop. Gradually, their delightfully odd performances – sometimes resembling the work of an improv troupe – became well-attended and the addition of live bassist Nicole Roman-Johnston added sonic power. A forthcoming batch of songs, tracked with Jim Vollentine at White Denim's Radio Milk studio, stands as the group's most impressive work.
Still, Gilgamesh II makes the argument that Dosier and Keller's tossed-off, home-recorded, just-for-fun material is as enjoyable as any Being Dead recordings.
Their alter ego band's first release, April's Halloween-themed full-length Halbum, flew under my radar, but months later, Gilgamesh II blew me away. The title alone tickled me, positioning itself as a follow-up to humankind's oldest notable text. Typically, the longer audiences have to wait for a sequel, the worse said sequel is. Take, for example, how the critically disemboweled Dumb & Dumber To (an apt analogy because Keller and Dosier own a comedic chemistry akin to Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels) came out 20 years after the original. Gilgamesh II now arrives approximately 4,121 years after Epic of Gilgamesh.
With its utilization of organ and mini skits, plus an overall homemade feel, the 16-track collection somewhat resembles a Daniel Johnston pre-studio cassette – except replacing love with a ludicrous theme. Gilgamesh II begins with the pair recording a walking podcast when they trip into a portal and travel backward through time to an era of cruelty and despair. "The Royal Three" serves as silly theme music for a trio of overlords who like to – respectively – torture, kill, and drink wine, while "Will You Storm the Castle with Me and My Horsey?" searches for a soulmate to overthrow the feudal system alongside. The most magical moment, though, is Keller's plaintive anti-prayer "God, It's Us," which actually sounds like it could've been written in the late Middle Ages.
"I live a tattered life/ My world's in shatters/ I rarely speak a word of good/ I rarely pray.
"But if God is really up there/ But if God is who to blame/ What's the point in living good if living's all the same."
"We had to write these songs, then invent electricity to make a time machine," explains Dosier, as if the premise of the album were a real-life occurrence. "Well, we made the time machine and then we were like 'Let's make a tape machine now while we're here.' So we decided to record a couple songs. Which was tight."
Nearly everything they say to me during the interview is a lie. Even the simple question of "How did you two meet?" elicits extreme deception. At different times they claim: A) They're foster siblings. B) They met at a video store. C) They came together on the randomly pairing, often-masturbatory video chat site Omegle. None of the above are true so I turned it into 20 Questions.
Were you childhood friends? "No."
Did you meet in college? "No. I've never been to college," Dosier elaborates. "I don't play that shit."
Did you meet in the context of two people trying to start a band? "No."
Did you meet as lovers? "No."
In 54 minutes of overwhelmingly unusable interview tape, the only factual information that I could plumb was that Dosier grew up in North Austin and Keller is from the Washington, D.C., area. At one point, they were both in an act called Creepo, which dissolved into Being Dead, and the reason they called it that is because "It's the most metal band name we could think of."
Oh yeah and that they're real-life best buds: the kind that can create together without a spec of inhibition, the kind where you know exactly what the other person's thinking, the kind that will always look out for each other.
"We're best friends," says Keller. "Cody's got a heart of gold so you have to protect that. He gets picked on by people – it's actually a thing."
Dosier nods, "I get adult bullied."
"I call him 'The Lamb' because people will pick on him for the way he is," she continues. "They can tell he's a tender, gentle guy."
"I think there's a thing about being a tall dude where people want to fight you," Dosier reasons. "I guess I just exude that energy."
Keller steps in front of her bandmate: "So I'm there to protect The Lamb."
"Yeah," says Dosier, lighting a smoke. "She's my protector."
Being Dead – not Zero Percent APR – performs at Hotel Vegas for Levitation Fest on Thursday, October 28 with Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band, Pearl Earl, and Post Animal.