The Bullets (L to R): Jason Dotson, Derek Dietzen, and Jim Prenner
Thurs. Feb. 2
301 King St.
"We never really mapped anything out when we put our music together," says Derek Dietzen, lead singer and guitarist of local rock trio The Bullets. "We just kind of dove head-first into it all."
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Dietzen moved to Charleston in 1990 from New York City where he attended St. John's University. Already a seasoned writer and sculptor, he started playing guitar only five years ago. Soon thereafter, he found a couple of like-minded local musicians who dug the same off-kilter UK art-punk and old-school punk bands. Bassist Mike Dumas (currently of The Defilers) and drummer David Bies signed on in 2002.
"It was more of like a gang to get into," Dietzen remembers. "Sometimes things are better expressed and not so introverted when you're with a band. Jim hadn't played in a long time, but we were such good friends already that it happened easily. Being in a band is camaraderie. It's gotta start out with some sort of wild hunger. David Bies and I never played before. We used to practice all the time in the mad heat and the crazy cold. We just put in the time. It's hard work. I hope it came across.
"A lot of what we did was a reaction against Charleston in a lot of ways as far as the conformity and the cover bands go," he adds. "It seems like it's so marginalized around here. If anything kind of deviant or out of the ordinary comes up, it's automatically suspicious. It's almost like a fast-food music scene where people want what they expect. In a lot of ways, I never understood that about Charleston because I though of it as more of a rebellious city that went its own way and didn't follow the current."
In early' 04, the band buckled down and assembled a 12-song collection titled Shadow Opera. Recorded at Secessionville Studio by engineer Chris Oplinger, the album established the band in town as a serious act with a mysterious, reverb-drenched sound — topped with Dietzen's Iggy-meets-Peter Murphy vocal style.
"The album really had lots to do with Charleston and its history and proximity to the water and its old ghosts," says Dietzen. "And it was also a reaction to the Bush administration [laughs]."
Upon its release in late '04, former City Paper music editor Lorne Chambers called it "ominous and powerful ... the kind of music that gets your heart pumping and makes you want to rip some shit up or at least punch a wall ... sharp and jagged, and sometimes unsettling."
By that time, unfortunately, the original lineup began falling apart. Dumas stepped aside to concentrate on his work in local trio The Defilers while Bies split town to get his act together elsewhere. Dietzen pressed ahead as a duo with drummer Jason Dotson, a Louisiana native who'd never pursued musical work as a serious endeavor before. Things clicked between them and they gradually reassembled as a trio in '05 with guitarist-turned-bassist Jim Prenner (ex-All Rights Reserved), a local with his own long history of artsy new-wave and underground rock musical experiences.
"There's a darker side of Charleston that we try to convey through the music ... the ghastly, ghostly side," Dietzen says of the current band. "I don't mean that in an evil or malevolent way, but more of an energy that people are missing out on. The place can become such a postcard city, and sometimes there's not enough reaction against that."