Discover more from TheFUSE — A Wichita Falls Arts & Entertainment newsletter
It Hurts to Be Dead: Dystopian Graffiti Live
The EP release party from a Wichita Falls punk band
There is a recurring theme I’ve noticed in the Wichita Falls music and entertainment scene. Many of the area’s best known entertainers have tasted success at the next level on the legs of their talent, only to have life deal setbacks and snatch away opportunities. Our standup comedian in-residence Mitch Burrow is one example, and Sean Snyder’s It Hurts to Be Dead could be considered another.
“Prior to the pandemic, we had been everywhere from Tulsa to L.A. to Austin already,” Sean said on the eve of the release of their new EP — Dystopian Graffiti.
There were some not so great times; pandemic-related opportunities lost and lineup changes. Brandon Mallonee, who previously played in a band with drummer Kevin Gilmore called Au Contraire, joined IHTBD on bass in 2022, and Nicole Welch (aka Polly Pocket) joined on keys, solidifying the band’s lineup with Snyder and Gilmore. Since then, they’ve been gigging and preparing a new release.
“We are about to release our 3rd EP Dystopian Graffiti,” Snyder said just prior to the show. “It's been in the works for 3 years and the songs have taken on a different life with the addition of our new members.”
I went to their EP-release show to get photos and hear the new material and I was blown away. The additions of Mallonee and Welch absolutely do add a welcome new dimension to the punk sound of IHTBD.
I asked Nicole about her contribution to the sound of It Hurts to Be Dead, both live and in the studio.
“I bring a lot of energy live. I’m practically bouncing off the walls… I’ve also heard a couple times I’m like the lead guitar player. That’s funny to process, but it comes from my love of monophony. On the same thread, for the recording of Dystopian Graffiti, I aimed to embellish mostly. I experiment with LFO, noise, and all kinds of modulations. I also pay homage to the theremin in Mollie Marie. The guys were incredibly open sonically to get weird.”
There are plenty of spots in the show when you hear those “weird” moments, too… the whoop whoop of an oscillating intro or the wash of Welch’s passing synth line as a transition between songs, but she also offered a healthy musical contribution. In areas where a guitar or backing vocals could have filled a melodic need, Polly Pocket’s synth lines carried the payload.
When I asked her if piano was her primary instrument she said it was, but with a qualification. “My passion is sustained by a synthesizer. Synths act as vessels for my authentic expression and conduits for exploration,” she said.
Welch’s list of equipment is impressive and extensive. “Right now for IHTBD, I play the Roland SH-01a boutique synth, Boss RC-202 for fx and sampling, Arturia KeyStep controller, with a beautiful purple Orange Crush Bass 50 Glenn Hughes Limited Edition amp,” she wrote.
They say the ideal partner is one who excels at the things you don’t, and Welch’s technical savvy makes her a great contrasting musical partner for Snyder, who loves to keep it simple. “I don't even use effects pedals,” Snyder says.
Bassist Brandon Mallonee, who grew up in Wichita Falls, also finds compliment in contrast. “I think I bring a different perspective to the plate,” he told me via DM. “I feel like while our music tastes overlap a lot, we also listen to some very different stuff. Pulling from those different influences can push or pull the process in different ways. [I’m] excited to see where things go next.”
In the live setting, Mallonee was impressive. I saw more than one moment in which he was just driving the performance with a propulsive bass line.
Drummer Kevin Gilmore’s role in It Hurts to Be Dead is large, from his skills as an incredible, physical drummer to his presence on the mic. Not only is Kevin a big player on backing vocals, he handles a lot of the banter with the audience between songs, too, sharing bandleader duties with Snyder, and the crowd loves him.
All night, It Hurts to be Dead drew on old favorites while showcasing Dystopian Graffiti’s promising new energy and sound.
When I listen to Sean’s IHTBD back-catalog, I hear Black Flag, Rancid, Sponge and some similarity to the more-progressive songwriting of the Dead Kennedys. Dystopian Graffiti is all of that, but better. Snyder’s semi-hollowbody Epiphone rings with a retro, jet-age fuzz tone that gets its punch from volume. The songwriting is tight and the songs are really good.
The leadoff track “The Roaring 20s” is straight punk attitude with a melodic theme carried throughout by Snyder’s gravel-shout vocals and a mirroring guitar line.
Track two, entitled “The Snake Oil, The Vodka, and The Silence,” explores sonic territory previously untouched for IHTBD, with Welch’s synths lending a retrofuturistic sound to a punk song that comes out sounding like a European art rock track from the late 20th century.
“This Writer Will Self-Destruct” is a personal favorite from Dystopian Graffiti for me, with a tight arrangement and a memorable, singalong melody. Truthfully, I enjoyed the entire EP. It is a triumph for Snyder and the members of It Hurts to Be Dead — an evolution in their sound but still unapologetically punk.
As IHTBD closed their show with the final track from Dystopian Graffiti, “Molly Marie,” I watched from the audience as everyone in the Iron Horse came to the stage and showed their faces to Sean and his band. From my vantage point at the back of the room, I saw a band in their element, putting on a show in front of silhouetted revelers with their phones in the air, capturing a moment for their memories. “Molly Marie’s” anthemic chorus, coupled with hands in the air from the crowd, gave the finale the feeling of a New Year celebration in July.
I asked Snyder if Dystopian Graffiti was a rebirth of sorts for IHTBD.
“I hadn't really looked at it that way so much as, that we have entered into a new chapter of what this band is. Some of these songs have been a part of our live set for a long time. The past year was more or less dedicated to finishing this recording and getting our live set sharp. But we have been writing together as well. We are definitely proud of how the e.p. turned out and can't wait for people to hear it.”
Punk fans, get a copy of Dystopian Graffiti as soon as you can (I don’t see it available online yet, but I’ll update you) and go see It Hurts to Be Dead before they rocket off to stardom.
Follow It Hurts to Be Dead on Facebook
Follow theFUSE on Instagram
All photos by the author, © FallstownFUSE.com