By Austin Kaus
From 1998 to 2011, J. Waylon Miller led The Reddmen. They became one of South Dakota’s favorite punk rock bands and ended up with national acclaim that included having a song featured on Grey’s Anatomy. Now, Miller is back on the national music scene with garage pop group Friends of Cesar Romero. The band will be headlining the first show hosted at new record store/venue Total Drag in downtown Sioux Falls on May 2. In preparation for the show and the release of their new single “The Hold,” Miller talked with Austin Kaus about songwriting, South Dakota, and the joy of the 1960s Batman series.
AK: Did you grow up in Rapid City?
JWM: I guess you could say I grew up here. I moved around quite a bit when I was younger, then I moved to Rapid City from MT in 1992 and formed The Reddmen in 1995. I lived in Albuquerque, NM, for a hot minute circa 1999/2000, but I was on tour most of the time. I’ve been a SD resident on and off for the last 22 years.
AK: How did you get from The Reddmen to Friends of Cesar Romero?
JWM: After The Reddmen disbanded in 2011, I retired from rock and roll and moved to Phoenix to play golf and sip iced tea. I came out of retirement two weeks later, started writing songs again and decided to start Friends of Cesar Romero.
AK: Describe the sound of Friends of Cesar Romero.
JWM: ‘60s garage pop from a kid born in the ‘70s inspired by ‘90s underground aesthetic.
AK: I spent a good chunk of today listening to the Friends of Cesar Romero discography. You can hear a sort of gentle shifting in sound. How do you think things have changed sound-wise for the band since its inception?
JWM: In retrospect, I’ve noticed my songwriting has become more focused as time goes on. I purposefully record on 4 and 8 track cassette tape to challenge the listener. We have gotten so used to the work of appreciating music being done for us through high fidelity and other production techniques (like auto-tune and digital editing), I want the musical aspects of the songs to carry them, not the recording quality. I want to challenge listeners to discover these nuances through and beyond the sound quality. Pop music is usually thought of as a glossy, shiny complete sound but, when I think of pop music, I think of songs from the ’60s with a lot going on behind the mix. (They are) songs that might make you cringe sometimes because of their sound quality, but the melodies are still there. On a stylistic level, I thought this whole neo-garage movement was safe to gravitate towards because I have always loved the Girl Group/British Invasion stuff, and mainly I really dig the lo-fi thing. It’s not rock and roll unless it has tape hiss! Everyone has moved on in the mainstream, and now that garage rock has been swept under the rug, it’s ok to play minor and seventh chords again, instead of disco beats.
AK: I have a Batman villains poster hanging above my turntable, so I appreciate the Cesar Romero connection. [Ed. Note: Cesar Romero played The Joker in the 1960s Batman television series.] How did you end up with the name?
JWM: Nice! I remember growing up watching the ‘60s Batman TV show when I was kid in ‘80s, so I have fond memories of that. As an adult, I got hooked on Batman again by watching old TV shows on one of those throwback networks that would air old shows like Hogan’s Heroes, The Addams Family, Seahunt etc. Being older now, I can appreciate how campy Batman was. The writing was really good too, but those cliffhangers were the best! I thought the thugs like The Joker and Penguin were underappreciated. Here are these blue collar thugs just trying to make a living, hoping one day to make it up to crime boss. Then I thought about this elaborate concept: Every time we’d play, we’d dress like these thugs with the sweater vests, masks, nice slacks, generic nickname across the chest, an alter ego rock thing kinda like The Mummies or KISS did. I trashed that idea but Friends of Cesar Romero stuck. Hopefully, the estate of Mr. Romero is cool with us … if they know about us.
AK: Do you have a favorite Cesar Romero moment?
JWM: A few, but when The Joker and Batman had a surf off, that one’s hard to beat.
AK: Did you consider his appearance in The Golden Girls?
JWM: No, but I have now!
AK: How does it feel to come back to South Dakota?
JWM: It feels like home, The West side is the best side!
AK: How do you feel about playing the first show at Total Drag?
JWM: My interaction with the owners has just been through e-mail, but they seem like pretty standup peeps. Our state can always use more cool venues and good tour stops, so hats off to them for another potential community builder. My longtime broski Hunter from Lucas with a K tipped me off about it. Since it’s (Lucas with a K’s) second-to-last show, it should be a blast. We’ll christen her good!
AK: What do think the future is for the band?
JWM: The near future: A new single on Snappy Little Numbers (and) maybe a double album. Long term? Here’s what we’re looking to avoid: whiteout blizzards on I-90, any and all lawsuits, appearances on Maury Povich, cassette tape shortages, Weird Al covers, El Vez impersonators and calls from Ric Flair.
Friends of Cesar Romero (friendsofcesarromero.bandcamp.com) will be headlining the first ever show at Total Drag at 307 E. 12th St. in downtown Sioux Falls. Damn Your Eyes, Lucas with a K, and Sons of Sans Arc will also be on the bill. The show is all ages with a $5 cover.
Albums to check out…
Friends of Cesar Romero – The Hold b/w Teisco Telstar Stomp
The latest single from the gorgeous garage pop of Friends of Cesar Romero is both a far cry and logical transition from front man J. Waylon Miller’s former band (and South Dakota punk rock staples) The Reddmen. The production and songwriting is made for oldies radio, but the heart–like any truly classic song–has universal appeal for anyone with working ears. The single (and the rest of the band’s excellent discography) can be found at friendsofcesarromero.bandcamp.com.
Favorite tracks: Both of them
Samuel Locke Ward & The Garbage Boys – Hot Garbage
This live recording from a show in The Mill Restaurant in Iowa City, Iowa, captures perfectly the psychotic pop perfection that is Samuel Locke Ward. Warning: This album is likely to make you sing “the swastika’s in your eyes” while driving straight into the sun. Download the album at samuellockeward.bandcamp.com.
The Meatmen – Savage Sagas
The first album from the group in nearly 20 years shows that they still remain unapologetic about their lyrics, savage punk rock riffs, and general state of being. They haven’t lost a stumbling step or throbbing fist swing. Play this while changing your tire and you will beat up your car. Play this for your parents and you’ll never be invited back. The album will be available on May 27 at selfdestructorecords.com.
Favorite tracks: “The Dwarves Are the 2nd Greatest Band in the World,” “They Just Don’t Make Em’ Anymore”