Dee Calhoun also known as "Screaming Mad Dee" is an internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter with four solo recordings on Argonauta Records. He is the voice of the Maryland/Virginia doom band Spiral Grave and was the last voice of the legendary doom band Iron Man. After dramatic voice work for the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society and served as narrator for the documentaries Metal Missionaries and True American Black Metal. He has written five books, countless lyrics or compositions for X bands, and much more.
Alan – Hi Dee. So just in a hurry, who are you, what kind of darkness is sleeping in you?
Dee Calhoun – I am a singer, songwriter, and author from Frederick Maryland, USA. I am a devoted father, a huge music and film fan, and an avid reader. These days, the darkness sleeping in me is brought on by the holidays, but that’s almost finished (laughs).
Alan - Before I ask a few questions about your latest work, let's talk briefly. You are a singer and guitar player. Which bands did you perform with? And not only from metal, if possible.
Dee Calhoun – Most notably, Iron Man and now Spiral Grave. I have been in a number of bands as a singer, as a bassist, or both. Joining Iron Man in 2010 was the move that really put me on the radar and a much bigger stage.
Alan - Writer, your books and what are they about?
Dee Calhoun – My books are dark fiction, with some elements of fantasy and science fiction in places. I’ve published five books; two short story collections, a novelette collection, a novella, and a full novel. I’ve begun work on my sixth book, which will be another novel.
Alan – You have also worked on films and documentaries. Who chose you and why? What pictures were they?
Dee Calhoun – I’ve narrated two documentary films for filmmaker Bruce Moore, who is based out of Richmond, Virginia. I first met Bruce while on tour with Iron Man in 2014. We appeared on his web show Brutally Delicious, which featured touring bands cooking while discussing their music. Bruce was working on a film called Metal Missionaries, which dealt with Christian metal bands. He wasn’t having much luck with finding a narrator, so he approached me and I ended up doing the film for him. I also narrated his film True American Black Metal, and performed a dramatic role in one of his podcast episodes.
Alan – Lyricist and composer. Who did you write the lyrics for? Or did he compose entire compositions/songs?
Dee Calhoun – I’ve been the main lyricist in every band I’ve been in that’s performed original music. In a band setting, I’m pretty much just a lyricist; with my solo work, I write everything. The first song on my first solo album was co-written with (Iron Man guitarist) Alfred Morris III, but since then it’s all been me.
Alan - Which band was the best for you to work with?
Dee Calhoun – Iron Man had the most camaraderie and best working relationship of any band I’d ever been in up to that point. It was so good that when Al passed in 2018, I figured that I would simply remain a solo artist rather than try the band thing again. I did end up helping put Spiral Grave together, and I’m very happy to say that our dynamic is exactly how Iron Man’s was; no drama, no egos, just four friends making heavy music.
Alan - Who were your best people to work with?
Dee Calhoun – Definitely my bandmates in Iron Man and Spiral Grave. Bruce Moore. Doug Benson at Commodore Recording, who does all of the mastering of my solo material. There are a lot of great people, from promoters to venue owners to other artists I play with. We have a lot of good people in the scene here.
Alan - Let's move on to your solo work. How many albums do you have? And what is the difference between them?
Dee Calhoun – I have four full-length albums on Argonauta Records, and an EP that I released independently. I think the main difference as you go through my albums in order is the progression of confidence. I never set out to record a solo album; I just started writing and recording songs for the fun of it, and things started to happen. As I kept writing, my confidence in composing and playing continued to improve, as well as my production skills. The themes in my music – whether they be from life experiences or simply straight-up storytelling – have remained the same. It’s the execution of the ideas that has and continues to get better and better.
Alan – The latest double album Old Scratch Comes to Appalachia, how and where would you rank it? Ono (you don't have to agree with me) it all seems to me musically dark country - epic rock - epic blues with a significant dose of rockabilly.
Dee Calhoun – I am as happy with this album – the songwriting, the performance, the production – as I am with anything I’ve ever been a part of. The material was written during COVID, and the darkness of that very strange time comes through in the songs. I had gotten way into unconventional instruments – cigar box guitars, shovel guitars, diddley bows – and their inclusion in the recording worked wonders to expand the soundscapes and the mood of the songs.
Alan - I like darkabilly, rockabilly, psychobilly and other.......billy. Has this genre influenced you a bit?
Dee Calhoun – I can’t say that it has, at least intentionally. Those guys play guitar much better than I do (laughs). I think the rawness and attitude are very similar though.
Alan – Who do you have as musicians on the album? And do they play with you often?
Dee Calhoun – Louis Strachan (Iron Man, Spiral Grave) again handles bass guitar duties. My son Robert Calhoun plays percussion and sings lead vocals on two songs. My daughter Nadia sings harmony vocals on one track, and Benzotti Live Metal Radio’s Dave Benzotti sings some backing vocals on a track. Lou plays with me live when he’s available, otherwise I perform alone.
Alan – Your solo albums. Do you tour the States with them? Across Europe?
Dee Calhoun – Live gigging really came back strong for me this year. Between my solo work and Spiral Grave I kept very busy. No full-on touring, just regional stuff along the East Coast of the US. Before COVID I toured Europe and made my way into Canada with my solo work, and I’m very anxious to resume doing that sort of thing.
Alan - Globally/overall, what are people saying about your work? Very good for me - but that's probably also because I like Ski King and his reworked rockabilly songs.
Dee Calhoun – My work has been very well-received. The overwhelming response is that people like the honesty and heart in it. There is no bullshit or frills in my music, it’s very I playing is very simple, and I’m ok with that.
Alan - Recording the album in a crackling undertone. Why this intention? Again for me, I can only praise, it makes the album more interesting.
Dee Calhoun – I love sounds and soundscapes. I’m a big fan of old time radio, and I love the sounds and whatnot that enhance the stories. That’s how I approach my songs when I record them. I want the mood to be set before the lyrics/story even begins.
Alan – Lyrics are a form of story. Inspiration?
Dee Calhoun – Very much so, and stories can also inspire lyrics. My second book (Jesus, Devil, Deed) was inspired by the song Jesus, the Devil, the Deed (from Go To the Devil). I wrote the song, and when I looked at the story in the lyrics I thought that there was much more to the story. I wanted to know all of it, so I wrote the novella. There have also been cases where I’ve written stories and turned the narrative into song lyrics. The two things go very well together.
Alan – Text and music format focus? In what year did you want to root the idea of the album? Between 1860 and 1910?
Dee Calhoun – There is no set time overall; the song/story Old Scratch Comes to Appalachia is set very near the end of the 1800s. Some stories are set in the past, some in the present, and some in the future. The old-time aesthetic worked very well for Old Scratch.
Alan – We haven't covered musical instruments. Boxes, shovels, etc...
Dee Calhoun – My main guitars are of course regular acoustic guitars. During COVID I was watching videos and saw a video of a guy wailing away on a shovel guitar. I thought it looked fun, so I ordered one. I absolutely LOVE the tone, so dark and swampy. That sent me down a rabbit hole of homemade instruments. I now own two shovel guitars, four cigar box guitars, two diddley bows, and an oil can guitar. They’re fun as hell to play, and they add a whole other bit of flavor to my music.
Alan - The content also includes a CD2 bonus - an audiobook. Your work, your story, your voice?
Dee Calhoun – The audiobook is the story Old Scratch Comes to Appalachia. When I wrote the song and told my son about it, he suggested that I also write it as a story and release it and the album the same day. I thought it was a great idea, and that’s what ended up happening. The book is a collection of four stories, and Argonauta loved the idea of doing a two-CD set with the audiobook. I recorded it myself, and it was some of the most tedious work I’ve ever done. It’s been well-received though, enough that an author near me contacted me about recording the audio version of her new book. That’s something to look forward to in 2024.
Alan – We could talk for a long time, so maybe sometime next time, maybe for a sequel. Thanks for the interview and maybe we'll meet somewhere at a concert or a European festival.
Dee Calhoun – You are very welcome, thank you for having me! I certainly hope we run into each other sometime. Take care!