Isolation Drills: Dean Sabatino (Dead Milkmen)

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Sabatino: The Dead Milkmen had big plans for this year. In January we began writing and rehearsing new songs for a full album and were getting ready to record the first batch. We also wanted to do more with our languishing YouTube channel. The latter turned out to be fortuitous, because by mid-March, all rehearsals stopped, and we went into stay-at-home mode.

Before quarantine, we had started a YouTube series called “Big Questions With The Dead Milkmen.” We took turns posing a “big question” to each other and filming our answers during rehearsals. They would go up on YouTube on Saturday mornings. We were building our audience. When COVID hit, we began using Zoom meetings to keep it going.

We have a call on Thursday nights and have kept up posting new episodes this whole time. Some weeks, we do song challenges. We challenged each other to do a solo cover of one of our own songs and, most recently, to write a song based on an instruction manual. We also must make a video for these, and that has been a learning experience. 

The Dead Milkmen also just released a seven-inch single of our cover of the Heaven 17 song “Fascist Groove Thang,” plus a new original on the flip side. This single was actually recorded two years ago with Joe Nicolo in his Joe’s Garage studio, but we were denied permission to release it by the songwriters because we had tweaked the lyrics to mention Trump instead of Reagan. We decided to drop our changes, and now—right before the RNC convention—it’s finally out.

Me personally—I miss making music with my friends and playing live shows. I have a home studio and released an EP of my own electronic music on Bandcamp back in June. I like to cook, and my wife and I sit out on the deck for meals as much as we can. A strange factor in all this is that I had already been working a “day job” from home for a few years. I still get up and have coffee and “go to the office”—in my own house. I just can’t go out to a show or meet with friends for a drink anymore.

I try to take naps and walk in the neighborhood. I’ve done some home-improvement projects and tried to clean out the basement. I just signed up for an online film-scoring class. I try not to scream at the locals not wearing masks. I want this to be over, but unfortunately, I think we still have a long way to go.