Rock is Dead? Theory’s Tyler Connolly Says ‘Long Live Rock’ (Part 2)

Continued from Part One

Connolly says that “Dinosaur” builds on that kind of thinking. “I was playing on the human emotion of misery and the pessimism of the future things to come.” But in the same breath, he suggests that – just maybe – he’s not irrevocably convinced that we’re all going to Hell in a hand basket. “I think everything’s going to be fine,” he says with a chuckle. “I don’t think we’re going to go out like the dinosaurs. [The song] is just a sentimental take on the glass-half-empty perspective.”

When it comes to lyrics, Connolly isn’t afraid to include something to amuse himself. “Dinosaur” features a snippet of lyrics, “20, 24 hours to go,” a direct lift from “I Wanna Be Sedated,” a classic from punk heroes the Ramones, featured on their breakthrough 1978 LP Road to Ruin. That inside reference is likely to be lost on many Theory of a Deadman fans. And that’s okay with Connolly. “Sometimes it’s fun to do stuff like that and see who catches it,” he says. “You’re the first person to mention it.”

Sometimes, Connolly says, fans of his band know the words to songs that he wouldn’t expect. He recalls a gig in Russia, years ago before that country launched its current war of aggression upon Ukraine. “We were just playing our normal set of songs,” he says. “And when we came back for the encore, the crowd was chanting: ‘Say goodbye! Say goodbye!’”

At first, Connolly and his band mates wondered what was going on. Was the crowd encouraging them to leave? But then they realized: “Oh, ‘Say Goodbye.’” The song was a deep album cut on Theory of a Deadman’s second album, 2005’s Gasoline. Save for a promotional-only CD, the song was never released as a single. But it had caught on in Russia. “It was our big song over there,” Connolly says. “This was before streaming, so we couldn’t even [track] what our popular songs were.”

Unfortunately for the Russian audience, Theory didn’t play the song for them. “We couldn’t,” Connolly explains, the embarrassment still stinging all these years later. “It had different [guitar] tunings.” But he made a note, and the next time the band played in Russia, they made sure to play “Say Goodbye.” “And they were really happy,” he says.

The group’s lineup has been constant since 2009, featuring Connolly and two founding members – guitarist Dave Brenner and Dean Back – plus drummer Joey Dandeneau. But being in a rock band in the 21st century is about more than writing and recording songs, releasing albums and touring the globe. The economics of making music are such that those activities don’t necessarily generate the kind of income required to sustain a group. So merchandising – something that’s been a part of the mix since the dawn of rock and roll – plays a larger role.

The label definitely wants to try to expand the band as much as possible with syncs,” Connolly explains, referring to licensed “synchronized” use of Theory music in film, television, advertisements, games and other contexts outside traditional albums and streaming. Connolly notes that a Theory song was recently played at a New York Knicks game. “That stuff’s really cool,” he says.

He points to Kiss as the musical masters of merchandising. “They’ve got Kiss coffins, Kiss pinball. And I think that as we get older, that’s turning into our model. As we have a core fanbase now, we’re starting to do [those sorts of] things.” He mentions Deadman’s Brew, a branded coffee, and says that the group is working on coming out with a Theory-branded alcoholic beverage. “Just like with the music,” he suggests, “we’re doing things to try to get ourselves out there.”

And a quarter century after they started, the four members of Theory of a Deadman are committed to staying out there, playing their brand of 21st century rock. “Some bands actually broke up during COVID,” he says. “They weren’t making money off streaming or sales.” Connolly emphasizes that he’s grateful that his group has a body of work that continues to sell. “Hopefully forever,” he says with a good-natured laugh. “We’ve been lucky. And I hope it will just keep going that way.”