"Eighties rock was, and for some still is, the epitome of vicarious hedonism. Whiskey. Pussy. Motorcycles. Latent homoeroticism. Put on some headphones, and you were a modern-day Caligula." These two isms and one Roman history reference are coming from a guy with Jagermeister dripping from his stubbly chin onto his naked chest. Royce Flaneur looks a lot like the kind of guy we've all seen, and mocked, at places like Gasoline Alley or Killian's Rock Cafe. Dressed in tight leather pants and cowboy boots, he could very well be The Fan That Time Forgot. But a second glance reveals something more, an intangible sense of the larger than life. With his over-the-top sartorial bent and distinctive Andy-Warhol-with-a-mullet coif, Royce Flaneur doesn't look like a rock fan, he looks like a rock star. And he may soon be one. Despite having never played out locally, Flaneur's cock-rock revival band Dedwagon was signed to Hollywood Records nearly a year ago, and their debut album, Bringing Out the Ded, is set to drop on May 28, the day after Memorial Day.
"Build a local buzz?" the vocalist snorts derisively. "Kiss my national ass. The street teams? The independent sales numbers? It's all window-dressing. It's all generated from hype-marketing dollars.
"It's a facade, a plan. And in my case, the money men and I planned the "exploding from nowhere' approach instead."
Flaneur knows a thing or two about facades — he freely admits to being one, sort of. Until about two years ago, he was Mark Snodgrass, ardent '80s metal fan and pudgy, shorthaired, trust-funded Tulane University postgraduate law student. Then, in May of 2000, he was diagnosed with Cumulative Mitocystular Necrotesis Syndrome, or CMNS, a degenerative condition that erodes the vital organs' walls and will probably kill him before he reaches the age of 35. Snodgrass/Flaneur refuses to talk about his condition, other than to say that it was coming to grips with his own mortality that inspired him to become his own rock 'n' roll fantasy. After a weeks-long bender during which he was arrested seven times (he's now unable to obtain a driver's license in any state), he dropped out of school, hit the gym and came to Tampa for a little help in building the Royce Flaneur persona.
"It just seemed like the place to come, you know?" he laughs. "Tampa's pretty backwoods, culturally speaking. It's a stronghold of the completely passe. I'd go see Ratt and LA Guns play for 15 people in New Orleans, and after the show they'd talk wistfully about the amazing receptions they get here."
While getting his Flaneur act together, the singer began meticulously studying the glam-metal era's most popular acts and their songs, searching for clues as to why certain bands, and certain tracks, so completely enthralled the Cock-Rock Nation. He claims to have found several key common factors, and to now know exactly what will and won't make for the perfect monster ballad or arena anthem. Flaneur believes Bringing Out the Ded will yield no fewer than nine Top 10 singles, "as long as the majors time the full-scale resurgence scheme just right." When asked if such a calculated approach is at all artistically rewarding, he sprays Budweiser all over the bar in a combination burst of laughter/coughing fit.
"This isn't about art at all, man. It's about the entertainment industry. Period," he explains when the spasm subsides. "Personally, I'm more into the underdog bands, Leatherwolf, Smashed Gladys, shit like that. But they never became icons, so they've got nothing to teach me."
Early warning signs of Flaneur's "full-scale resurgence scheme" abound, at least in the Bay area. Here at South Tampa's The Brickyard — a brand-new joint more than vaguely reminiscent of Dale Mabry's long-gone Rock-It Club — bikers, outmoded music fans and NCOs from MacDill fill the bar four nights a week. Former Sunset Strip heroes draw nostalgic sell-out crowds to St. Petersburg's Jannus Landing. And when the time came for Flaneur to flesh out Dedwagon, he auditioned more than 40 applicants before solidifying the lineup with guitarist Wiley Peters, bassist/vocalist Rick Bacchus and drummer Stacy Lane. Apparently, it took quite a bit of looking before he found the right combination of appearance, and, uh, looks.
"So many fat old bastards — I don't know what the hell they were thinking," he says.
Once Dedwagon was complete, Flaneur financed a nine-track demo recorded at Tampa's famed Morrisound Studios, then flew out to Los Angeles on his own dime to harass major-label A&R personnel. Couch-crashing and cold-calling by day, he spent his nights haunting the clubs and spending money freely. By bribing DJs to drop his tunes into their nightly mix and paying various hipsters and hotties to insert the band's name into every conversation possible, the singer managed to secure a call-back from Hollywood Records' Jonathan Stills in five days' time. After that, says Flaneur, it was easy.
"He was of the opinion that the sleaze-rock thing was ready to come back anyway," Flaneur says. "I said, "Look, we're whores. We'll be whatever you want us to be. I'll pay for the album, and you can hold me accountable for expenditure, but we want it all. Busses, babes, the eye-popping video.' And when he saw I was completely serious, he made the deal happen."
The Dedwagon demo doubtless helped. Flaneur's tunes are exactly what they're supposed to be, and precisely what's missing from modern-rock radio's current blend of angst and anger. Huge, ballsy paeans to booze, guitars and illicit sex, the songs' obvious contrivances are actually pretty well offset by sheer infectiousness; the simple, ass-shaking backbeats recall AC/DC or the Stones more than Motley Crue, but the aesthetics are sheer Sunset Strip circa 1986. Two power ballads, "End Of The Road" and "She," are so archetypal it's scary — "More Than A Feeling," "Sister Christian" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" all rolled into one.
"What's huge now? Classic rock. Nobody with an income wants to read from some good-looking kid's journal of supposed insecurities," says Flaneur. "They want escape, adventure, airplane-bathroom blow jobs."
With so much confidence, and a debut album already in the can, one might wonder why Flaneur and Dedwagon are bothering with their upcoming Tampa Bay debut at all.
"It's a shakedown run," he says. "Gotta get into the rhythm."
So is he worried about how the band will work out?
"Not at all. I'm not talking about the music," he leers. "I'm talking about groupies."
Music critic Scott Harrell can be reached at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or e-mail him at [email protected].