In an era of unparalleled stupidity, political dysfunction, and societal collapse, couldn’t we really use a new Dead Milkmen album? After nearly nine long years, that wish has been granted.
This summer, the Dead Milkmen will return with their long-awaited 11th studio album, Quaker City Quiet Pills, to be released via Philadelphia-based independent label The Giving Groove on June 9. Written over the tumultuous three-year span of 2019 to 2022, the album marks the legendary satirical punk band’s first new LP since 2014’s Pretty Music for Pretty People. Fans will be happy to find it steeped in the trademark mix of energized punk hooks, irreverent humor, and biting social commentary that has animated this group since their historic arrival on the punk scene 38 years ago.
“To me, it’s like a greatest hits of all our styles put into one album,” says guitarist/vocalist Joe Jack Talcum (a.k.a. Joe Genaro). “It checks all the boxes of things that fans have liked about us since our first album. It has political satire. It has the funny lyrics, the simpler punk songs like we started out with. But it also has room for some weird studio fun, like the song Dean contributed, ‘Melt Into the Night.’”
“If anything, the album makes me think of our older material, going all the way back to Big Lizard in My Backyard and Eat Your Paisley!” says drummer Dean Clean (a.k.a. Dean Sabatino). “We were writing songs like ‘Violent School’ and all kinds of things that are still in the news today. We take both the serious and the lighthearted and we combine them.”
The lengthy gap between releases was never the plan. After performing at Laurel Hill Cemetery in September 2019, the Philadelphia-bred group decided to ramp up their songwriting efforts for a new album to be released in 2020. Soon they had half an album written and demoed. “Literally, we started writing the songs right as things started to lock down,” recalls Dean.
While COVID put a multi-year wrinkle in their recording plans, the band kept busy under lockdown with a weekly YouTube series, “Big Questions with the Dead Milkmen,” as well as a 7” single, a spirited cover of Heaven 17’s classic anti-fascism anthem “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” Finally, in fall 2021—then again in 2022—the band entered Sine Studios in Philadelphia to record their 11th album, which they decided to call Quaker City Quiet Pills (a play on the viral Reddit mystery “Lake City Quiet Pills”).
All four members had a hand in the songwriting. The results are as eclectic and twisted as ever, running the gamut from the BDSM nightmare “Philadelphia Femdom” to the jazzy hipster sendup “The New York Guide to Art” to the fantastical “Astral Dad,” written after singer/keyboardist Rodney Anonymous (a.k.a. Rodney Linderman) challenged Joe to write a song about astral projection. Meanwhile, Rodney turns in some of his most unhinged material to date. He unleashes his frustrations with indecisive take-out customers on “How Do You Even Manage to Exist” (“I’m making fun of myself there—I get angry at everything,” Rodney explains), provides ingredients for an incantation on “Hen’s Teeth and Goofa Dust” (“If anyone is doing a spell in the future, they should use that,” Rodney says), and plays a brain-poisoned, white supremacist lowlife on “We Are (Clearly Not) the Master Race.”
“I wanted it to be a lot angrier originally,” Rodney says of the album. “Originally, what I had in mind was just a pure sine wave with somebody screaming ‘Fuck!’ on top of it for like 45 minutes. But I don’t know. I think that would be a tough sell. Maybe the next album can be a companion album or a musical that’s just a pure sine wave with someone screaming ‘Fuck!’ on top of it.”
Plans aside, Quaker City Quiet Pills is politically charged from its first breath, relentlessly lampooning the absurdities, hypocrisies, and all-around dread of dealing with right-wing fascism in the post-Trump age. That’s clear from the merciless, uncomfortably catchy first single, “Grandpa’s Not a Racist (He Just Voted for One),” which mocks the mental acrobatics of defending a Trump-loving grandparent. (The single is accompanied by an original illustration by Joe.)
“People were getting angry because people had relatives who were doing racist things and they were defending them: Well, my granddad’s not a racist or whatever. He just has old-fashioned ideas and he’s just taking time to learn,” Rodney says. “I’m like, I know plenty of granddads who aren’t racist and they’re from the same era! I was just watching people defend some of the most horrible things imaginable. That’s why that exists. It’s kind of like therapy for me.
“I don’t understand why there’s not more stuff like that out there at this time. Everybody else, in times of strife, likes to write about flowers,” Rodney adds.
The song is complemented by “We Are (Clearly Not) the Master Race,” an outlandish standout that parodies the beliefs of alt-right conspiracy mongers and features a back-and-forth segment between Rodney and Joe, who plays the character’s mom. “I was making fun of all the things these crazy, alt-right people were saying. I thought, if you put them all into a song and you parodied it, people would see how absolutely crazy it was,” Rodney says. “Joe really brings some life to the mother character.”
The Dead Milkmen formed in Philadelphia in 1983 and have been delighting and shocking audiences with their melodic brand of humor-driven punk for more than 30 years (give or take a 13-year break). The band’s lineup consists of Rodney Anonymous (a.k.a. Rodney Linderman), Joe Jack Talcum (a.k.a. Joe Genaro), Dean Clean (a.k.a. Dean Sabatino), and Dan “Dandrew” Stevens, who joined the group following the untimely death of original bassist Dave Blood in 2004.
“Now we’ve stayed together longer than our hiatus with the new formation of the band,” says Joe. “I think it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Dan Stevens. And his bass playing is the best it’s ever been.”
This year marks the group’s 40th anniversary, a symbol of longevity which few of their peers in the ’80s college-rock underground have reached.
“I’ve been in the band since I was 17,” says Rodney. “So I’ve been in the band for 43 years now, and I think I quit like every week. It never took. I probably just never got around to writing the letter and officially quitting. I’m pretty busy. You sit down to write, you always wind up writing a song anyway.”
The Giving Groove operates under a unique revenue model in which it pays artists 50 percent of all after-tax profit and donates the label’s remaining 50 percent to a music-related charity they select alongside each artist. The Milkmen have chosen to direct that revenue to Rock to the Future, a 501(c)3 organization that equips Philadelphia youth with life skills to support current and lifelong well-being through free, student-driven music programs.
“Our organization recognizes the immense value that The Dead Milkmen bring to the local community, and we are proud to contribute to their efforts to support young musicians,” reflects Giving Groove CEO Matt Teacher.
Jessica Craft, the CEO and founder of Rock to the Future, wrote: “Support from The Giving Groove has helped us expand our free music programs to serve hundreds of additional young people in under-resourced Philadelphia communities. Access to learning, creating, and performing music is life-transforming. The Giving Groove is helping Rock to the Future bring this opportunity to hundreds of additional Philadelphia youth.”
The Dead Milkmen Quaker City Quiet Pills
The King of Sick
We Have Always Lived in The Compound
We Are (Clearly Not) The Master Race
How Do You Even Manage to Exist
God Wrote Cum Junkie
Hen's Teeth and Goofa Dust
Melt Into The Night
The New York Guide to Art