The Flat Duo Jets appeared on “David Letterman’s Late Night” show in 1990 to roaring audience approval. A fluid mix of blues, surf-rock, rockabilly, proto-rock ‘n’ roll, and garage rock came from the dexterous and nimble fingers of frontman and guitarist Dex Romweber. Letterman coined Romweber “dangerous,” as the musician’s arms and legs pulsated while he flung his guitar here and there and yelled into the mic.
After 15 years with the Flat Duo Jets, Romweber still brings grit, yet has narrowed it down to a two-man band. Partnering with his older sister, Sara, on drums, they founded the Dex Romweber Duo. The two will play a free show at Carolina Beach Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar on June 19th at 7 p.m.
Based out of Chapel Hill, NC, the band recently released their new album, “Images 13,” on Bloodshot Records. The duo solicit pure raw rock ‘n’ roll; it’s obvious how little they are influenced by what is trending or popular now.
“We live raw,” Romweber tells encore. “I’m not even sure how we do it, really; it just happens. The Ventures were a big influence of mine, and they always talked about how it is all in your fingers, and that is how you find your sound. If you do that, then who you are as a musician is going to come out pretty easily.”
For a quarter century, Dex Romweber has trolled the dark shelves and haunted thrift stores of Americana ephemera. He’s honed an extraordinarily idiomatic sound born of underground rock legends. In fact, he kickstarted the resurgence of the rockabilly genre.
“I think rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly can incorporate everything,” he explains. “I listen to an old rockabilly singer and can hear where it is almost classical, with a touch of Spanish, too. That’s what is so awesome about old rockabilly—it incorporates jazz and blues, and just so many other genres. So when I say ‘rock ‘n’ roll,’ I mean jazz, country, blues—everything. I think that is what drew me in; you can hear so many influences.”
Over the past 29 years, Romweber has released nearly 20 albums, nine with the Flat Duo Jets, six solo records, and four with Dex Romweber Duo. Each record has a chunk of indescribable energy. He brings a certain essence of “DEXness.” Like any “band-family,” the siblings have their fair share of struggles, but they remain close to hone in on a cohesive flow of sound.
“Sara and I actually get along great,” Romweber notes. “We have a lot of respect for each other, and we know what it is like to fight, and we try to keep that at a minimum. We got a lot of work to do with this new record, at least for now, so we are just trying to get out there, work and have fun. It really isn’t too bad playing with my big sister. Actually, it has been a lot easier than [with] some that I have played with in the past.”
First with the legendary Flat Duo Jets and now with his duo, Romweber has distilled the punk ethos of less-is-more to the essential guitar/drums template. Left in the wake of his lecherous and slithery Silvertone guitar were early acolytes like Jack White, Neko Case and the Reigning Sound, as well as a current crop of the indie pack, like Ty Segall, No Age, Japandroids, and The Black Keys. They all owe an unclaimed pawn ticket of debt to his sublime and spine-tingling sound.
Romweber is a live wire back to the murky and always unpredictable headwaters of real rock. Jack White publicly acknowledges Romweber multiple times in the documentary “Two Headed Cow.” He explains that he loves how little Romweber seems to care about what others think of him. “It was about energy and attitude and soulfulness—nothing fake about it,” White claims.
“Me and Jack still run into each other sometimes,” Romweber adds, “and you know he has always been really nice, promoting me in his interviews. Me and my friend, Sam—who I was playing with before Sara, and goes by the name Crash LaResh—we warmed up for the White Stripes in Boston about seven or eight years ago. Sara and I also opened for Jack in New York City when he was backing Wanda Jackson, which was a really cool show. He also had us come into his recording studio, Third Man, to record a live album with him, which was nice.”
Romweber listens beyond the rip, roaring riffs of rock. He adores classical music, like Chopin and Bach, as well as classics from the ‘60s.
“The Rolling Stones and some of the Beatles—I love Elvis’ stuff in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” he says. “I was influenced by a lot of other stuff, too. Benny Joy’s a pretty obscure artist who recorded a lot of rockabilly music back in the ‘50s. G. Benson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, The Ventures … you also can’t forget people like Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery.”
Romweber’s sound is pure, hardcore Americana. With his whip-wristed sister, they take listeners through neon-lit alleys, full of pulp-fiction juvey rock, sci-fi theme songs and greasy, denim hipster jive. They’ll troll the pier of Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar on Thursday to play songs from “Images 13.” Recorded at Rick Miller’s (Southern Culture on the Skids) Kudzu Ranch studio in North Carolina, the album provides a slice of regional pride that will be a body-shaking experience, for sure.
Dex Romweber Duo
Thursday, June 19th, Free
Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar
1211 South Lake Park Blvd.
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