An Interview with Jesse Dayton
WW: Your directorial debut, and first feature length film, Zombex, premiered here in Austin on August ? What’s the reception been like so far?
JD: Zombex was released on Aug. 18th in theaters. It’s done better than any of us thought it would. #1 horror film on Amazon for 2 weeks. Doing well on XBox rentals w/ the kids. It’s a different world out there now as far as film distribution. Itunes and pay-per-view and on-demand mean more than they did say, even 5 years ago. The only films really staying in theaters for any length are the multi-million dollar super hero films. It’s hard to even get a drama film made these days. We’ve been lucky…but then again, a zombie film w/ Malcolm McDowell is a good combo.
WW: You also wrote the screenplay for Zombex. What inspired the story?
JD: I was driving thru Austin one day listening to Alex Jones. This is a guy who I agree w/ about 20% of the time and the rest of it is pure entertainment…he’s a conspiracy theorist political radio DJ. He said “don’t you people realize that Big Pharm companies are turning you all into zombies?” Bam. Pulled over on the side of the road and wrote a treatment. Then took it on tour w/ my horror rock band Capt. Clegg & the Night Creatures who was then opening for Rob Zombie on 40 shows and finished the script.
WW: Upon completion of the screenplay, at which point did you decide to go ahead and direct Zombex as well?
JD: I had always wanted to direct after doing so many music videos for myself and other musician friends. I figured if I surrounded myself w/ a solid crew, some good producers and a more forgiving subject matter like zombies, I could get the 1st one under my belt without too much of a learning curve affecting the film. lol! ha! Looking back, there’s no way to dodge that learning curve, but I still ultimately got what I wanted on the final cut.
WW: How did you fist hook up with Rob Zombie and how influential has he been in your career? What was it like working with RZ? Which of his films have you worked on?
JD: I met Rob Zombie thru my friend actor friend Lew Temple. Rob wanted to do a fake 70’s country soundtrack for the Devils Rejects movie called Banjo and Sullivan, two of the lead characters in that film. That started my relationship w/ Rob. That soundtrack did well and then I worked on Halloween 2 where I actually had a part as Capt. Clegg, (a psychobilly vampire band leader), and did that soundtrack as well. Then I did music for Rob’s animated film Haunted World of El Superbeasto as well. He and Sheri are the coolest. Very inspiring to work with and be around.
WW: Before the Zombie films, had you ever worked on films before? Do you have any special training?
JD: I’d had a lot of my own music in films and TV shows….over 45 licenses all together. Everything from Justified, to Sons of Anarchy to True Blood soundtracks. I’d always been a film nerd at heart. Lot’s of useless information up in my noggin on horror, exploitation and gangster films! I had written a couple of other scripts before Zombex, one called Balmorhea that I actually got licensed in LA. As far as camera work, just lot’s of music videos. When I did the Capt. Clegg videos for the Rob Zombie film I would send Rob these rough cuts and he would write back “more blood….bring the lighting down”. So yea, that was my film school, besides reading every book about film making I could get my hands on.
WW: What’s the biggest obstacle you had to overcome when making the film? Did you learn anything the hard way during the production process?
JD: Hardest thing to learn was getting the money people out of the creative process and letting you do what the script needs. Everyone’s an expert. They all want credit regardless if they had a true hand in whatever it is their pursuing. Movie folks are hands down no where near as much fun as music biz folks when it comes to money. That’s probably because the film budgets are a lot bigger and there’s more at stake risk wise. One thing I learned the hard way is on my next film I will personally hire everyone from the star to the Director of Photography down to the lowest van driver. No money people are hiring friends again. You have to have people who work for you….not the coffee drinkers.
WW: What was the most gratifying experience about the creation of Zombex?
JD: The most gratifying experience w/ Zombex was actually seeing it on a huge screen at Alamo Drafthouse w/ a sold out audience. Whatever happens after that is really out of my hands, but at the end of the day I can say I made a horror film w/ some stars in it, got a distribution deal and went to the movies and saw it on the silver screen.
WW: How did you go about acquiring actors like Malcolm McDowell and Lew Temple? What was it like working with those two?
JD: Lew Temple and I are old friends. I’ve known Lew since I was playing guitar for Waylon Jennings in the mid 90’s. Lew slept on my couch in LA until he got an agent. We write together. We’re very close and I consider him my best friend. Now he’s kind of a big deal after the Rob films, Walking Dead as Axl and the Denzel co-star film. I had been in Halloween 2 w/ Malcolm, so he kind of knew who I was and my producer Karma Montange helped me send his manager the script. Once Malcolm agreed, I got the money. Hardest thing ever is raising money for a film. My heart goes out to any film maker for what they go through. Malcolm is a genius…there’s only a few like him left on the planet, those old school British thespian types who’ve really made it big in Hollywood. I didn’t have him that long so I figured if I could get him to read the script, just off camera between takes, recording the audio, I could use his voice as the voice over for the film to increase his involvement. It worked. I also had Corey Feldman, Sid Haig, John Doe from X and Tom Araya from Slayer in the film…it all magically fell together.
WW: Who produced the film? How did you go about raising money for it? What was the budget?
JD: Karma Montange produced the film. The other producers we’re not as close to me as she was. There was one executive producer that’s a really cool guy but the rest of them I didn’t really “work” with. She was the 1st one who believed in me and let me make my own mistakes and triumphs. We’ll be working together on the next one. Can’t really say what the budget was for Zombex but there is a reason it looks like a million dollar indie film!
WW: Any plans for another film? Would you ever do it again?
JD: I’ve got a new script ready to go. I’ve rewritten it 5 times and now it’s flushed out. It’s about a Pentecostal preacher in E. Texas who becomes possessed. Planning on starting filming Dec. 2015. Already have a major star attached but can’t say who yet til the ink is dry.
WW: Normally, we know you as a musician first. What’s going on in your musical career these days?
JD: My music career has still been goin’ but has definitely been on the back burner while I was directing Zombex. Now that the film is out, I’m recording a new record for release Jan. 2015 and will be on tour non-stop. I just did a tour w/ John Doe from X and we we’re on David Letterman together. It was great meeting Dave and Paul. Dream come true. Ready to get back on tour. Tired of hanging out in Austin, (it’s a great place but I gotta traveling jones), doing film stuff…ready to hit the road and shred on my guitar every night.
WW: I’ve heard rumors that quite the all-star rock cast is contributing to your latest musical endeavor. Is there any truth to these rumors? Are there any guest appearances we should know about?
JD: Man, I wish I could say whose appearing on my new record, but just can’t yet. We’re still recording it and while a lot of my friends have gone onto having quite the big names now, I’m really about just doing what feels right for the song and not leaning on them for exposure. I know what it’s like when people ask me to play on something, I usually don’t do it unless it makes sense musically…it’s gotta feel honest. Just found out after my last NYC show I’ll be doing a late night TV talk show in 2015 so pretty excited about that. The new record is sounding balls out cool. More guitar on this than my past country fiddle/steel stuff. More raw, stripped down. After recording w/ everyone from Waylon to the Supersuckers, I’m not here to promote a genre, I’m here to promote my songs…great songs are all that matter to me now.
WW: When is the album slated for release? How would you describe it…in 5 words or less?
JD: How would I describe the new record in 5 words? Guitars, Sex, Hillbilly, Rock, American.
WW: You have worked with such greats as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson…How were you initially brought to their attention? How did working with musicians of that caliber affect you both musically and creatively?
JD: I was on a square country music talk show in Nashville and didn’t really fit in. Kristofferson was on that night. We ended up hanging out, smoking pot behind the Opry. The next day I’m getting ready to fly back to Austin and Waylon calls me and says “hey hoss, saw ya on the show last night w/ Kris…cut my hand cooking w/ Jessi last night, wanna come down and play guitar for me?”. I got to Woodland Studios and Johnny Cash opened the door and said “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash….we’ve been waiting for you”. There’s some footage that was just released on youtube of all 3 of us from that 1st day. That opened a lot of doors for me.
WW: Who / what first inspired you to pick up a guitar and play? Was it your first instrument?
JD: My 1st instrument was piano, then drums, then I met an old black blues player named Mack Minor from E. Texas. He was the cousin of Lightning Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb but when I met him he had become a pretty bad alcoholic. I have footage of us playing 12 bar blues together on a porch in E. Texas that I need to convert to digital. It’s pretty amazing. He’s playing the opening-droning E string style that Mance played. I eventually took him to a gig w/ me in College Station, TX at Kay’s Cabaret and he opened for me. He died soon after that.
WW: When did you make the move from Beaumont to Austin? What do you love about Austin? Dislike?
JD: I’ve been in and out of Austin since I graduated in Beaumont. I’ve always knew I’d live here. Houston was a big part of my career as well. I got singed to my 1st real record deal in Houston at the Sattlelite Lounge. I had a record deal in LA for awhile and had a place out there, but eventually did what would be a smart investment and bought a house in S. Austin 13 yrs. ago. I was doing 200 shows plus a year up until the film so I never really “lived” anywhere. I’m sad to see Austin change, but I’m not a hater like some, I’ve got a whole lot of new fans by people coming and seeing me for the 1st time here. I say brang it.
WW: I read that you have also tried your hand at acting. What’s your primary focus? Or do you just want to do it all? How do you balance your numerous endeavors and family life?
JD: I’ve acted in a few films and TV things. Acting is very hard. People who’ve never done it have no idea what kind of concentration and dedication it takes to hit your mark and tell the truth. I love actors and I think it can be a very noble way to make a living. I had a part in this cool film called Two Step that doing well right now on the festival circuit. I played a biker…big stretch, huh? lol But compared to musicians, it’s way harder to make a living. If you’re a good musician you can always go get a gig and pay your rent, might not be a big deal show, but you can make $. With actors, you HAVE to be asked. You HAVE to audition. It’s tough, but the real ones figure it out, just like in every other profession. My girl Emily Kaye is a very accomplished actress and model w/ Whilhemina. She’s somehow figured it out and is always camera ready 24/7 ready to take off at a moments notice. She’s been on TV shows, in films and has done a hand full of national TV commercials and print ads. She’s on a big billboard here in Austin for some company and she’s on planes all the time for work. We support each other and try not to sweat the small stuff.
WW: What is your definition of success in rock-n-roll?
JD: My definition of success is anyone who can pay their bills doing ONLY what they love to do. I’ve gone up and down my whole career…what did Jerry Reed say? “sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re not”. I’ ll get some high profile thing where a bunch of people see me and bam, it’s hot…I’ll go thru times when I’m doing something that I need to do for me, personally, and it might not connect with as many people. One things for sure, I’m a 10,000 hour guy…I’m not in it to be famous, I’m in it for the love of playing and writing and creating. I’m not for everyone and that’s ok with me.
WW: Upcoming Jesse Dayton shows this year?
JD: Upcoming JD shows this year are limited. Doing a big Halloween show w/ my Capt. Clegg band Halloween night w/ the F-1 Fan Fair show in downtown Austin. Lot’s of one off travel shows til the end of the year. Then I hit the road w/ John Doe from X in Jan. then w/ Scott Biram the next month, lots of tours for 2015.
WW: Final words of wisdom to fans and aspiring filmmakers / musicians out there?
JD: Words of wisdom? We live in an era where kid are being taught that it’s not about your craft, it’s about being famous and that’s total bullshit. Put in your 10,000 hours on it is whatever your into. Put the work in. Don’t try to do shit just to be popular or wealthy. That’s a by-product of being a total badass of your chosen expertise and money never makes you happy, if anything, it just creates more problems. I live pretty simply. In fact, the older I get, the more of my shit I end up giving away. How many cool cars and motorcycles and guitars have I had? It’s all just stuff. What really matters are family & friends & your work. My old man used to say “don’t worry too much about what other people think, cuz if it’s raining on the day of your funeral half of those bastards won’t show up anyway!”. Hard words, but funny and true. Thanks Wendy! x
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And Jesse Dayton on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/jessedayton