Dean Sabatino - 2002

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Dean Sabatino made a name for himself as the drummer for Philadelphia's ridiculously underrated punk-pop band The Dead Milkmen. Unfortunately, it was the wrong name! "Dean Clean" the chicks knew him as. Regardless, he played them drums and played `em well, lending his name to the killer driving tune "Dean's Dream" on their first album and contributing snazzy lounge guy vocals to "Chrystalline" on their last album. But what did he do BETWEEN these albums? Only Ronald Reagan knows the truth.

These days, I believe that Mr. Sabatino is a web site developer/computer programmer sort of person who also plays drums in Butterfly Joe, a really good Philadelphia band led by "Joe Jack Talcum." By all accounts, this is the first musical project of this "Joe Jack Talcum" figure, so I'd like to wish this young man the best of luck in his nascent musical career.

Dean agreed to an email interview because he's a good man. He runs the Dead Milkmen official web site (, shockingly), and is a good good man. You'll find my questions in bold and his answers in regular ol' normal text - although if you cut and paste them into a Word document, you can make his words in bold too. Or italics, if you're cockeyed.


I think you had more to do with the Dead Milkmen's sound than people realize, especially in terms of giving the songs a speedy punk rock kick in the ass. Did you INSIST that the tempos be kept up? Or was the whole band into the "high energy" style of playing?

I never insisted that the tempos be "full on" all the time. I definitely thought it was fun to keep it moving though. We all took turns making the set lists for our show (each night it was someone else's turn to be "Mr. Setlist". We never played the exact same show and never did a tour where we had a preconceived setlist for the duration of the tour.) So when I was the setlist maker, I was sure to give myself a rest after a few uptempo numbers - to catch my breath. There were some nights where I had to keep going and going because some evil bastard thought we needed to go fast, fast, fast!

It's assumed that you wrote "Dean's Dream" and "Chrystalline." Did you actually write a fair amount of the Milkmen music and/or lyrics? If so, what, where and when?

I was writing riffs early on and would show them to Joe or Dave. Joe did alot of stitching together and fleshing out of stuff. I would sometimes work with Dave too. I started to write more later on. I think I had most of the music for Jason's Head and Joe finished it. I think I wrote the words for "Man who Rides the Bus" I do remember spending alot of time working on stuff for the "Not Richard, But Dick" CD (one of my favorite CD's we did). We knew that Stoney's was going to be our last studio release and I dared myself to write and sing Crystalline. I wanted to sing at least one song before we called it quits. I'm not sure I could listen to it now though, without cringing...

I notice that you still play with Joe in Butterfly Joe, yet you don't still play with Rodney in Burn Witch Burn. Explain this obvious favoritism.

Well that's easy. Joe bribed me first!.

Who are the best drummers ever? Are you of the Keith Moon "crazy" school, the Neil Peart "gigantic drum kit" school, the John Bonham "hit 'em hard with big sticks" school, Tommy Ramone "I can't play at all, but I really like to" school or some other school altogether?

I went through several fazes as far as drumming idols go. In high school I was into prog rock like Yes, Genesis, ELP and Rush. Then I saw a documentary on TV one night about the "Punk Rock" that was happening in England. I saw the footage of the Pistols on the TV show taking the piss out of the show host, but really, the one band who really did it for me that night was the Damned. My friend and I decided to start a band. We were a duo - just guitar and drums and probably more New Wave than Punk, but that kind of switched it for me. I played in some cover band things early on. We tended to have female singers and did cheesy new wave covers mostly.

While the milkmen were going on, my favorite drummers were (and still are really) Clem Burke from Blondie, Pete Thomas from the Attractions. I like Bobby Schayer who used to drum for Bad Religion. I'll also plug old friend and great drummer Jon Wurster from Superchunk.

Was the Milkmen split amicable? Were there anger and tears? Or did everybody just get together and say, "Let's not do this anymore"?

We parted as friends. I'll say that I led the way. I was clearly not interested in the grind of touring anymore. I needed a rest and was interested in eating and sleeping in the same city for more than one night in a row. We'd do at least one lap around the country each year with lots of smaller tours in between.

The people in Germany are STILL talking about the time you were drinking beer in an attic dressing room, couldn't find a bathroom and urinated into the glass when you were finished. What ever happened to that glass of urine?

Well I hope no one drank it (though some of the beer I had over there tasted a little funny....hmmm...Rodney kept handing me glasses and saying "Try this one..hehehe"....) Actually, as far as beer goes in Europe, in my opinion, the stuff from Denmark was the best...

I see you're a web developer program web designer person. Has your job been affected by the downturn? I asked Joe this same question, but I think we all found his answer pretty disappointing, so I was hoping you could come up with something more dramatic.

I was out of work last fall for about 3 months - not fun. I managed to ride the wave a little longer than most but even I went through layoffs at the place where I worked and then trouble with paychecks bouncing etc. I'm not sure what you're looking for as far as dramatic. Lots of stupid people got other stupid people to give them lots of stupid money and now they all went away. It'll be a long time until that kind of growth comes around again in the type of work I do. I hope it's based on better plans and sound business decisions next time.

It's been several years since the Dead Milkmen broke up -- as far as you can tell, are you still making new fans and selling your back catalogue? If so, what do you credit this to?

There's a bunch of crap out there! As we always said. The world needs more "butt music" and "scruff rock"...whatever the fuck that is. Seriously. I don't know what we can credit it to. I'm continually amazed that I still occasionally get recognized or that somebody knows who we were.

Were there ever any times you just wanted to kill the other members of the band? If so, what weapon were you planning to use and how close did you get to doing it?

"You are no match for my 'Crane Style Kung Fu'!!!! AAAAAEEEEEIIIIIIHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!....ouch. We usually got along well enough that no one got hurt. A few beers later and after the hang-over the next day we forgot all about any ill will.

I keep asking everybody about September 11th, 2001, presumably because I'm still trying to get a handle on how people who don't live in NYC reacted to it. Since I asked your two bandmates, I wanted to ask you as well. How did you react?

While reading or hearing news and commentary about it, I still find myself clenching my fists and muttering under my breath "those fucking bastards!". I was on vacation at the New Jersey shore that week. We had a TV in the house but we not really watching it. It took a phone call from my Aunt telling us to turn on the TV that morning. The rest of the week was a waste. We were all in a daze. I think it really effects me mostly in regards to my 4 year old son. He'll have this raised level of awareness and terror that I didn't have growing up.

I'm 29. I would guess you've got to be about 40. What have you learned about life? What is truly important? How important is music in the grand scheme of things?

Hmmm.... the 'ol meaning of life question....One should look with open eyes at things and try not to judge too quickly, yet first impressions are usually right. Try to stay in the moment and deal with exactly what you're up against, yet always plan for the future and learn from the past. Is that confusing enough for you? The important things in life are your friends and family. Music is great for entertainment and fun, but usually isn't fun and entertaining when its trying to be educational or prove a political point.

Do you have a favorite Dead Milkmen album and/or song?

I think there are some good tunes in our oeuvre. How about: I Hear Your Name, Jason's Head, Big Deal, Surfin Cow, Labor Day, Plumb Dumb. Nutrition, Tacoland, I Walk the Thinnest Line, If I Had A Gun, Peter Bazooka... I'm a fan of the Not Richard, But Dick album like Rodney is...I like Stoney's too.

Would you like to continue playing music indefinitely? Or are you more interested in art? Computer design? What are your main interests at this point?

I don't play as much music as I would like to these days. I have no room in my house to put the drums up and play. Computers are a big part of my life now. I'm a great fan of the web, and the Internet is one of the most amazing things to happen in my lifetime. The vast amount of information that is out there is staggering.

How is working with Butterfly Joe different from working with the Dead Milkmen?

Well for one thing, with Butterfly Joe, I'm just a player in a rock'n'roll band. No songs to write or worry about. I just play the tubs. I do get some input as far as what I think the drum part should do, but Joe and Andy Bresnan are really the guiding forces behind the music. I just love to get a groove on back there with Gummy Joe the bass player. But you know, with Joe in there, we still play songs about death, gloom and sadness....

Do you have any other bands or projects going on right now?

Just the Big Mess Orchestra which is dormant most of the year and then we do a big show usually around Christmas.

What were your favorite bands growing up, and who are they now?

As I mentioned before I was into the prog rock crap in High School. The punk stuff of the late 70's through the 80's. One band that's been a favorite for all this time is XTC - I have almost everything they have put out over the years. I do like some of the newer stuff that's getting attention like the Hives, Vines, Strokes. My wife introduced me to the greatness that is Robyn Hitchcock. We have most everything he's released on the CD shelf. The new Softboys CD is great. Nick Lowe. Replacements (I just replaced my copy of "Stink"). I wasn't a real grunge fan in the 90's and while Nirvana had some good songs, I'm still wondering what the whole Kurt Cobain fuss is all about.

I ran across an article you wrote about the book "Venus on the Half Shell." Do you do a lot of writing? I wasn't able to find anything else online! If so, what topics do you like to write about?

I haven't done alot of writing to date, but have been thinking more and more about it. I have a few ideas and might try to flesh them out soon. Some short things - that might be pulled together into something more substantial some day, some way.

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