Dead Freddie

Please introduce your band

All members are from the greater Chicago area, ranging from Geneva, Elmhurst, Westchester and Prospect Heights. Our self-assigned style is Punk Pop Phenomena. We take the elements of Garage, Glam, Punk, Ska and Power-Pop then splice them all together to create a high-energy, yet melodic, sound that pays homage to these earlier genres then adds a modern edge.

Tell us about your lineup

The current members of the band are: Gintas Buinevicius on Drums, Guitar and Backing Vocals (Gintas has played in many bands since the early ‘90s), Gary Vacha on Guitar (started playing in the early 1990s, most recently with Headspins), Karl Sperling on Bass Guitar (started playing in the early 1990s in Philadelphia), Sam Steagerman on Trombone and backing vocals (gained experience in marching bands), and Donatas Ramanauskas on Lead Vocals and Accordion, the only member from the original 1980’s line-up.

How did the band meet?

The original members of the line-up of Dead Freddie Band, whose genesis dates back to 1978, were all children of Lithuanian immigrants who arrived in Chicago after WWII. As kids, we all learned to sing traditional and patriotic Lithuanian songs.

Part Two of the process really began in 2011, when Dead Freddie and Friends agreed to play at a fundraising event in 2012. After two more annual fundraising events in 2013 and 2014, the line-up came together and started working on legacy songs (1979-82) and original songs penned mostly by Gintas.

What's the story behind your band name?

Over the decades, there have been various versions regarding the origins of the band name. In one version, a friend of the bass player wanted to use this name for his own band, which never came together, so he gifted it to the original line-up. In another version, this friend said the name came to him in a dream that we should take the name because we were destined to do so.

Tell us about your influences!

Earliest musical influences in our pre-teen years were Lithuanian folk music. The next cataclysm occurred on a Friday night in 1977, prior to heading out to the clubs. Our friend Al pulled us into his room and told us to “just listen”. We listened to the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash. In addition to Punk, Power Pop energy merged the best of Punk’s rebellion with Chicago bar band swagger. Gary attended the University of Chicago, where he was part of the AV club that set up shows at the school. He caught many cool acts there and was inspired by some of them during his early days in The Farmers. He also caught the Punk bug in this period when he learned how to play drums (lefty) and guitar (right-handed) for Headspins. Karl Sperling loves the old pop, with a special place in his heart for the Beatles, but also loved the new wave bands of the ‘80s. Sam is all about the Ska as well as Pop Punk.

Could you describe your approach to songwriting?

The earliest songs of Dead Freddie were penned by Vainis Aleksa, with some contributions lyrically and musically from Donatas Ramanauskas. In the current line-up, Gintas has been the main songwriter. Once he creates a demo (on which he generally plays all the instruments and sings the vocals), he presents it to the band.

Describe your band's first big break

From Dead Freddie, Chapter 1

Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival 1980

On July 4, 1980, Dead Freddie performed at the Knights of Lithuania Hall on 44th St just west of Western Boulevard. All the dancers (over 1000) participating in the International Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival (happening two days later) were in town. To this day, this remains probably the biggest live audience for Dead Freddie.

From Dead Freddie, Chapter 2

Reggie's Rock Club, Chicago, March 31, 2017

The band was given a shot on a 4-band bill (Dead Freddie, Headspins, Rumjacks (Australia) and The Dickies, the seminal San Francisco punk band.

Tell us about some of your most memorable gigs - both good and bad!

In addition to the performances mentioned above:

Youth Dance, Chicago, April 8, 1980

This was the very first public appearance by the original Dead Freddie Band.

The venue was the Lithuanian Youth Center (5648 S. Claremont Ave., Chicago) in the Gage Park neighbourhood. Since this was an all-ages show, the turn out was excellent.

“Modern” Era (2012 to present)

American Music Festival 2016

The festival, held annually at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn is generally held around the 4th of July. After making numerous visits to the Tuesday night open mics in the Sidebar, Gintas, Leonas and Donatas were finally scouted by Kate FitzGerald (half-owner of the venue) and invited to perform as an acoustic trio.

Reggie’s Chicago, opening for Off-Broadway, 2019.

Dead Freddie was added as a fourth act to open for Chicago’s Power Pop kings, Off-Broadway USA.

A show that started as a disaster was at one of the Villa Park Punk Nights at O'Neill's Pub in Lombard, IL. We started our set almost an hour late, starting without a PA. It was very cool that the PA finally got set up as we continued playing our last few songs. It turned out to be a very memorable night after all.

What advice do you have to those who want to start a band?

Love your music, love your bandmates. Spend quality time with them even when you are not practising or playing a gig. Master your instrument and/or your voice as much as possible, so that when you come together with others, the pieces fit together nicely.

Best bits? Finally hitting the groove on a song. Interacting with an audience at a live performance. The joking around before and after practice. Lingering in the moments after a show.

Worst bits? Keeping the band together and what to do when someone leaves. Coming up with a consistent rehearsal schedule-you can be the best solo players in the world, but you still need to mesh. Securing performances, especially ones that happen at good venues and that might actually compensate the musicians(!). The hard, but necessary, work of maintaining a regular presence on social media.


What are some of the challenges you face being in a band?

Keeping the band together. Since 2015, Gintas and Donatas have had to recruit replacement players time and time again, ones that have a sense of what Dead Freddie is all about. During the in-between times, we continued as an acoustic duo, just to keep the ball rolling. As mentioned above, it has been a challenge to break into one scene (new punk) dominated by younger players. Since Dead Freddie is not a cover band, it has been difficult to get shows at more-established venues that are looking for a band that will please an older, drink-buying crowd with greatest hits. Finding that middle ground, playing our own music, continues to be a challenge.

What does it take to be successful as a band?

Attitude is where it starts. Love of music gets things going. Great songs played well matter. So does being NOT boring-moving around on stage, interacting with the audience and bandmates makes you more interesting. Having a good team around you to help with social media, merch, photo/video and street-teaming are critical behind-the-scenes activities that help the band. Networking whenever possible, talking to everyone, including venue owners, bartenders, audience members as well as members of other bands. Support other bands and they (sometimes) will support you. Don't give up too easily-have a Plan B when things don't work out the way you planned.

How important is music theory?

You need to know enough music theory to know how to play your instrument or follow a tune that’s a given. If you can afford the time and money for lessons, do it. If you can't, there are plenty of episodes on YouTube that can help. Most importantly, in the early going: practice, practice and practice! What you lack in hard-core music theory you will pick up with practical experience.

Tell us about the releases you've put out to date

Bricktop Studios, Chicago, 2016. Recorded a 6-song EP, titled “If I Knew What I Wanted”

Sonic Palace, Oak Park, IL, 2018. Recorded a 12-song LP, titled “Dead Freddie”

Pete Grossmann is the owner/operator of Bricktop and acted as the sound engineer and producer for the EP, released on both vinyl (translucent blue) and CD, 300 of each were pressed. The six songs were recorded in just two 8-hour sessions, with mixing done (without the band present) on the third day. The translucent "Dead Freddie Blue" vinyl EP was pressed in Nashville, TN at United Record Pressing and the CD at Rainbo Records.

Matt Mercado is owner/operator of Sonic Palace. He was the sound engineer and producer for the LP, also released on vinyl (custom purple with white splatter) and CD. The 12” vinyl was pressed at Third Man Pressing (owned by Jack White of White Stripes) in Detroit with a limited 500 piece custom edition.

Big Takeover Magazine_Issue #87_November 2020

By Jack Rabid. Editor/publisher

Big Takeover Magazine, 356 4th St, 2nd fl., Brooklyn, NY 11215

This Chicago pop-punk band is rooted in that town’s original late-’70s punk scene, even before Strike Under, Effigies, Naked Raygun etc., but somehow, have only been releasing records more recently. Their sound is full of the Windy City’s over-the-top-hard-punk-with-melodic-undertow tradition and rarely strays from said formula. That said, it is just plain great, then as now, and it’s fun to listen to these two records just to see how they’ve grown. The IIKWIW six songer features material from their 1979 set–all of which smokes!—and DF follows in its predecessor’s footsteps. Great!! (

What has been your band's biggest achievement?

Gintas and Donatas often have the conversation that starts with the sentence "If Dead Freddie were to end today, think about how much we've done!" When we had an important band meeting in early 2015, we set out some goals for ourselves:

Dream BIG:

Record Dead Freddie originals and release on various physical formats

(Yes: EP, LP, CDs)

Release digitally on I-tunes, Bandcamp, Spotify, Soundcloud and other down-loadable formats (Yes: Bandcamp, Spotify, Soundcloud)

License music

(Very minor success using Music X-Ray)

Dead Freddie music gets played on the radio

(Yes: twice on SiriusXM, numerous times on local Chicago-area and national college and public radio)

Perform at great Chicago/Chicago area venues with other great bands

(Yes: FitzGerald's, Reggie's, Cigars & Stripes)

Dead Freddie hits the road for limited weekend tours outside of Chicago

(Yes: Cleveland 2016, Detroit 2020)

Dead Freddie performs at major music festivals (Riot Fest, Pitchfork, etc.)

(Not yet, but Yes on smaller festivals in Illinois and Wisconsin)

Dead Freddie video(s) go viral on YouTube, internet

(Yes: four "Official" song videos and MANY live performance videos on Facebook and YouTube)

15 minutes of fame ;)

(Remains elusive and depends on how you define fame)

Break-even on expenses (ha ha ha)

We've checked off quite a few of these boxes to one extent or another, with some big ones still remaining. After all is said and done, however, the biggest achievement remains feeling great when we play music together.

How do you view the current state of the music industry?

2020 started great for Dead Freddie, with a handful of shows through early March and some key dates booked for later in the year. And while there is finally a hint of light at the end of the tunnel with a COVID vaccine on the way. It will still be months until live venues are back in full swing. Looking forward to that day! Less hopeful is the music-selling side of the band's business. While people love listening to our music on various platforms, very few pay for a download or purchase a physical product. Our greatest hope of creating income, for now, is having our songs licensed for movies, TV, commercials, podcasts, etc.

What are you working on right now?

COVID times have created an opportunity to write new material. Gintas and Donatas each have a handful of songs in various phases of completion. Donatas is learning how to use music scoring software to capture his ideas. Also, another big job is organizing content (photos & videos) that will, in turn, be pushed out on to social media on a regular basis.

What is your focus for the year ahead?

Priority One is for everyone to stay healthy and get vaccinated! We are looking forward to starting garage rehearsals sometime in March (hoping for an early thaw!). Once the full band gets back together, we want to work up the new songs that have been percolating, plus add to our catalogue of interesting cover songs. Until venues open up, we will pick up where we left off last October with Facebook livestreams from the garage and/or outdoor lounge, socially-distanced, of course. We are considering returning to the studio to record some new songs, plus some older ones not yet captured on vinyl. Shoot a couple of videos to support the new songs and post on social media. Drop new releases as singles or as a full album release, depending on how things progress. Be ready to come out with musical guns blazing once we get back to the clubs!

Thank you so much for dropping by the WeJam studio! Where can we follow your progress?

Contact: Mr. Donatas Ramanauskas

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