Everything seemed to be going perfectly when keyboardist and part-time vocalist James Dewees was on tour with his typically goofy side project, Reggie and the Full Effect a handful of years ago. The veteran musician had just released No Country for Old Musicians to relatively positive reviews. He had enough time for a lengthy tour, and even had his next stretch lined up on keys for his primary gig in the Get Up Kids and then recording former My Chemical Romance bandmate Gerard Way’s 2014 solo record, Hesitant Alien.
“Reggie’s always been something that I’ve just done for fun,” Dewees says. “I’d been too busy for Reggie, but I was always writing the whole time I was doing Get Up Kids or Gerard’s stuff. I always know when I write a Reggie song because they’re either silly or they just don’t fit in anything else. Once I got to a certain point where I had enough songs to do another Reggie record, my mom got sick with cancer and then my mother-in-law at the time got sick with cancer as well, so everything got put on hold.”
Fast-forward a year, and Dewees had lost both his mother and former mother-in-law to cancer over the course of a month. After spending months flying back and forth between his home in New York and his familial obligations in the Midwest, the comedic artist had experienced the tragedy and brutality of illness and death in a way he’d never known before — and it helped shape the tunes on his newest record, 41.
“Music was my way of dealing with the grief, so I started writing more lyrics and changing the music,” Dewees says. “There are songs on the new record that are a little more serious than most Reggie releases, but it’s just me writing lyrics about my mom. They’re songs for her, songs for my dad and what he was going through, and songs for my brother and for me, and what we were going through. They’re songs for anybody who’s had a relative or a friend going through that.”
Aside from being some of Dewees’ most mature work lyrically, 41 continues Reggie and the Full Effect’s growth musically as well. As per usual, the experienced pianist and drummer called in the help of friends new and old to record the tracks, including the continuance of his tradition of teaming up with his former My Chemical Romance bandmates by having Ray Toro track virtually all of the album’s guitars. Of course, no matter how evolved and complete the seventh Reggie record may sound compared to their earlier works, one of Dewees’ favorite aspects of the band will always be that he doesn’t have to take it too seriously or worry about moving massive amounts of records.
“Now that we’re all older and make a living off of being musicians — even for bands that say ‘We won’t compromise our art for people’ — you always have bills to pay, so you can’t Frank Zappa everything and expect all your fans who liked your previous releases to hop on board with you on this musical journey,” Dewees says. “You still need to write things that people can relate to and that people will enjoy, because otherwise people won’t see you on tour, and then you won’t have a career.”
Since Reggie’s been around for long enough and isn’t a full-time thing, the hardcore Reggie fans have been nice enough to accept the music and accept Dewees for being a goofball with it. “We can literally write a song about chicken and not have to worry about it,” he says.
In celebration of 41’s release, Dewees and the rest of the Reggie crew is kicking off their tour with Senses Fail and a couple of other bands at the Observatory on February 27. It’s a nice opportunity for the Buffalo-based artist to tour with some of his local friends — although anyone expecting to see the keyboardist and his backing band perform even a semi-serious set clearly don’t know what they’re getting themselves into once Dewees takes the stage.
“It’s more like a stand-up comedy show with some songs, because I try to pretend like I don’t have things to say — like I’m just going to get up there and be this stoic presence and just sing — but I always get up there and talk about something so dumb at every show,” Dewees says. “I don’t mean to, but sometimes I tend to carry on. Sometimes I think I talk more than I actually perform music.”
Reggie and the Full Effect performs with Senses Fail at The Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. (714) 957-0600, www.observatoryoc.com. Tuesday, February 27, 7 p.m. $19, all ages.