Joe Jack Talcum—also known as Joseph Genaro—is a man best known as the guitarist and singer for the Dead Milkmen (DM). Playing a humorous style of punk since 1983, not only were DM funny, they were smart. They played a dose of punk that didn’t take itself so serious, as heard in “Punk Rock Girl,” which received a good bit of airtime on MTV, and “Bitchin’ Camaro,” an underground college radio hit. Dead Milkmen represented alternative rock before there alt rock was a genre.
In 1992, DM’s sixth studio album, “Soul Rotation,” wasn’t really taking off. And life and decisions that come with growing up were enveloping the band. They disbanded in ‘94 after members in the group wanted to follow other passions. Drummer Dean Sabatino wanted to start a family and go back to school. Vocalist/keyboardist Rodney Linderman and bassist Dave Schulthise went back to school as well. Joe Jack Talcum was the only member who stayed musically active.
In 1996 Talcum began working for a video marketing company, packaging VHS tapes, which eventually led to a promotion dubbing tapes. During this time, he scored a record deal for his four-piece band Butterfly Joe. Yet, he was still enamored by the growing Internet age and started creating websites.
“One thing led to another and before I knew it I was sucked in the tech thing,” Talcum says. “A few years later I got hired by my old boss’ new company and became a website developer for it, which is the company I still work for today and I enjoy it.”
Today, he continues his career in website development but still fuels his passion for musicmaking.
The Dead Milkmen reunited in 2004 to pay tribute to bass player Dave Schulthise, who committed suicide in early March 2004. He’d been suffering from depression after his mother passed of cancer. But it wasn’t until 2008 when DM met up again at an invitation to play at the Fun Fun Fun Fest, an indie music and comedy festival in downtown Austin, Texas. The reunion went over well, so they continued playing live off and on, even recording two new albums, “The King in Yellow” (2011, self-released) and “Pretty Music for Pretty People” (2014, self-released).
A self-taught guitarist for the Dead Milkmen, as well as a keyboardist in groups I Think Like Midnight (whom he plays with fellow Milkman Dean Sabatino) and Mohawk Town, Talcum has worked with recording project The Cheesies since 2003. “I like to stay busy,” he told encore in a phone interview last week.
Though Talcum first learned guitar by playing acoustically, it wasn’t until 2004 he played his first acoustic live show. While DM focused on sounds that were electric, fast, grungy, scratchy, and loud, the stripped-down, Talcum didn’t want to lose the cheekiness, attitude and energy of his roots. So her merely pared it down to a rawness that is easy to follow and fun to watch.
When he first started playing solo, his setlist comprised mostly tracks from his solo double-disc, “Home Recordings: 1984-1990” and “1993-1999.” After a year, he added Dead Milkmen tunes. Today, he pulls from the hodgepodge of groups he’s been a part of. Audiences will hear everything from The Cheesies’ “Alcohol” to DM’s “In Praise of Sha Na Na,” “Watching Scotty Die” and “Dean’s Dream.” However, they won’t hear new music from Talcum.
“Writing isn’t as quick as it used to be,” he admitted. “It’s different. When I was young, I think I had a different motivation for writing songs: I thought songs were needed. Now I don’t have that same motivation because I have a repertoire I already play. It seems people are more entertained by hearing songs I’ve already written than new ones, but I’d like to think they want to hear new ones.”
At a show in a bar in Virginia last year, a lady asked Talcum to play an untitled song from the end of Dead Milkmen’s “Metaphysical Graffiti” album. She called it “The Sausage Song,” which Talcum didn’t recognize. After the show, the lady was devastated.
“I feel bad if I can’t remember a song,” he said. “But I didn’t know any of the words, or how to play it . . . I don’t know what she was thinking.”
Though Talcum isn’t necessarily taking pen to paper for his acoustic shows, he’s still writing music for I Think Like Midnight. “The process is still basically the same,” he explained. “I have a more fragmented way of working than I used to, but that’s also due to circumstances in life. When I was younger, I could block out time and it made sense to write. I will write music first, and that gives me an idea for lyrical theme, and I think of how that evokes emotion.”
Inspiration for Talcum comes from all angles. He even will listen to the radio when he can stand it. Aside from picking up random CDs at local record stores, Talcum depends on friends to introduce him to new sounds. “Like most people, I like novelty and what’s new,” Talcum said. Just as well, he turns to the nostalgic comfort of music he’s been enjoying since he was a teenager and young adult in college. In fact, at a recent house concert in Delaware, he was surprised by what twentysomethings were listening to: late ‘70s, early ‘80s music. It left an impression on him.
“This music is popular by people 30 years younger than me,” he expressed. “Is that where music is going—backwards, in a circle? Or is that just with a certain demographic? I don’t know, but I hear young bands playing punk music that’s very similar to that as well and it makes me wonder.”