Interview: Jack Underkofler of Dead Poets Society By Todd Stevens
Meet Jack Underkofler, the lead singer and guitarist of hard rock band Dead Poet Society. Jack is 22 years old, he’s from Hampton, Virginia and has been in Boston studying guitar at Berklee School of Music. I had the opportunity to meet Jack and interview him before his show at The Red Room at Café 939 in Boston. The show was at the very beginning of the Dead Poet Society’s 2016 US/Mexico tour.
TODD STEVENS: Who are your musical influences?
JACK UNDERKOFLER: Growing up I listened to a lot of Bob Dylan. I went through a heavy Bob Dylan phase, then it kinda changed over to this band called Alter Bridge which is like on the other side of the spectrum. And then I went through a huge Coldplay phase and I love literally all of their albums.
TS: When did you start playing an instrument?
JU: I started playing when I was 12 years old. I took about three years of piano lessons before that. And then that ended with me crying and begging my mother to not make me do that anymore. Then I was like immediately ‘I want to play guitar,’ then I kinda had to beg her. (laughs)
TS: What is your musical background?
JU: I’ve pretty much had about 3 years of guitar lessons, a couple lessons in high school, of course there’s been a few guitar lessons at Berklee here. But most of the technical stuff, I wouldn’t say that I’m a great technical guitarist even though I go to Berklee for you know… guitar, but its much more of a focus on songwriting.
TS: Do the other band members go to Berklee, too?
JU: Actually Jack, the other Jack, and Will just graduated and Nick goes to Wentworth for engineering.
(He was referring to guitarist Jack Collins, drummer Will Goodroad, and bassist Nick Taylor)
TS: How did the band get discovered?
JU: So, we’ve been a band for about a year and we’ve done a few tours on our own and recorded 2 EPs and this is actually our second music video and we hired this guy Teo Karakolev and shot a video with him. We were sitting in our room trying to figure out how are we going to market this thing. He’s like we’ll put it up, we’ve already announced the release date and everything, I guess we can put like $200 worth of Ad words on it, maybe $100 bucks just to get it out there maybe. So we searched around where could we get the largest reach for our buck and it happened to be Mexico. We wanted to make sure that a certain amount of people could see it. We put that on and over the next few days we would check it every once and a while and be 50 likes, 52 likes, I’m like oh that’s actually pretty good. Then I remember one time walking back from the Prudential Center and I refreshed the music video and I was 250 likes, I refreshed it again and it was 300 likes. I was like this thing is broken. I put it in my pocket, I got home, I looked it up and it was like 50,000 views and all this kind of stuff. You know that kind of stuff is kinda superficial but all of a sudden people start messaging us.
TS: It feels good doesn’t it?
JU: Yes, it was really awesome. And we traced it back to this guy named Joe Treble who runs a YouTube channel called Pepe Problemas. He found our video, I guess through Ad Words maybe I don’t know, we’ll ask him when we go on tour with them but he’s in a band too and that’s who we’re touring with when we go down there. But that’s how we got all our fans down there and I mean if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have all those people. So it’s been cool, really nice.
TS: Do you write your own songs?
JU: Yes we do. It’s pretty much a four way split when we write. Its like someone will bring an idea to the table or a half written song or so. Then we’ll be like, do you guys like this? And if its like ‘Yeah’ then we go with it. Then we change things we don’t like, and it pretty much has to pass everyone’s standard before we put it out as a song.
TS: What comes first, the lyrics or the tune?
JU: I would say probably melody and structure kinda come first, then we ask ourselves what do we want to write about? How does this feel, maybe someone will accidentally spit out a line, and we’re like ‘ooh that feels awesome, lets write something off of that.’
TS: Projects past, present, and future…
JU: We have 3 EPs out right now. The first one was Haviland, when we recorded it we were just starting out as a band, we really didn’t know each other too well or anything. Then before our first tour we wrote our Weapons EP which was 4 songs and that was the first time we really sat down as a band and were like whoa! this is awesome we can write together, ya know. Our most recent one, Sound And Silence – I was talking about before with the YouTube video came out last July. So we have 3. And then, in the present we are working on a new song called “Low Air,” it’s pretty much finished as far as production-wise. We’re just editing together the video, so we’ll release the single first and the video will come a lil bit later and we’ll work on the new EP that the syndicate put our asses in gear with that one. They’ll be like ‘you have a new EP coming?’ and we’re like ‘sort of?’ and they’re like ‘ok cool, can you get us track listings by the end of the month’ and we’re like ‘yeah’. So we’ve been basically writing non-stop the last 2 weeks and we have half of it done.
TS: What are your previous albums?
JU: Axiom, Haviland, and Weapons.
TS: Tell me about the new album…
JU: This one… we’re getting a little weirder, its still very musical, but it’s a little strange. Its not strange, we’re diverging a lil bit, we’re still very heavy, it’s like still our stuff, but a little more interesting.
TS: Who are your favorite bands?
JU: So just a preface – everybody’s favorite bands in this band are completely different. My favorite bands right now would be Highly Suspect, Royal Blood, Coldplay, Alter Bridge and Muse.
TS: Is there anybody that you’d like to jam with?
JU: Conan O’Brien (laughs)
TS: Do you or any other band members have any tattoos or piercings?
JU: I don’t, but Nick’s pretty much tattooed from head to foot, our bass player. And he used to have gauges, and occasionally he’ll go in and out of the gauge phase but he’s getting a new tattoo like every week. And Jack doesn’t have any, but Will has a couple tattoos. Yeah, his are really interesting, they’re nice…so are Nick’s. Nick has a Majora mask from Zelda on his arm and it’s pretty cool.
TS: What kinds of jobs have you had?
JU: There’s a smoke shop down the street called Boston Smoke Shop. Pretty much everybody in the band has worked there for some period of time.
TS: Is it a head shop or a cigar shop?
JU: It’s a head shop slash cigar shop ,yeah but we all worked there. I’ve worked at Boston Burger Company down the street and at Apple for a year. Just quit that one.
TS: Hey Jack, thanks for taking some time out to sit and chat with me, I really appreciate it!