Iconic Flat Duo Jets guitarist wouldn’t choose to play in duos
His influential underground band was bred by scarcity of resources
Published: June 11, 2014
THE DEX ROMWEBER DUO with the Woolly Bushmen, the Wildtones
8 p.m. Tuesday, June 17 | Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave. | willspub.org | $10-$12 | 18 and up
To a Carolina native, Florida does not have much of what would typically be referred to as countryside, so when Dexter Romweber, the underground legend behind Flat Duo Jets, thinks about our state, he thinks primarily of drugs and crime. But don’t buck at this judgment – having spent a chunk of his childhood here, he has the requisite fondness of any Florida native and wishes he had more time here to explore his early roots laid along Florida’s Gulf Coast.
But if we had to send Romweber on an adventure, it wouldn’t be into the swamps or out to the prairie to hear the songs of the endangered grasshopper sparrow, but instead to encourage him along his never-ending journey through the varied discographies that inform his intense musical talents. Raised in the ’70s, he was drawn early on to Led Zeppelin, followed by a period in the ’80s when he and his sister Sara (the other half of his current project, the Dex Romweber Duo) thought KISS was “the bee’s knees.” And while these flashy rockers gave him plenty to tool around with on his first guitar – a Teisco Kimberly, though most fans know it was his later acquisition, an outerspace-speckled Silvertone 1448, that generated his best material – it’s likely his penchant for rockabilly and roots music that had the most lasting impact on his music.
His most recent release (which he says might be his last), Images 13, leads the listener through countrified crooning, surfy instrumentals and bluesy punk, bridged together by covers of influential songwriters like Pete Townshend and Jackie DeShannon. Romweber says the songs he and Sara cut for Images 13 were difficult to flow together because they are so diverse, so they turned to the deep abyss of music that forms their influences to root out the album’s missing pieces.
Romweber is notably influential himself, of course, with Jack White endlessly championing his music alongside country-leaning contemporaries like Cat Power and Neko Case. Case (who contributed vocals along with Cat Power on the Dex Romweber Duo’s 2009 debut, Ruins of Berlin) was quoted in the Romweber documentary Two Headed Cow expressing awe at the mysterious quality that makes Romweber’s songs so fascinating that you’re compelled to return to solve their riddles through repeated listens.
Flat Duo Jets – a band bred by scarcity of resources (there simply was no one else to fill out the drum-and-guitar project and no money to pay musicians) – inspired the current crop of evolvingly commercial, in-demand duos like the White Stripes and the Black Keys. Although Romweber respects these bands, he actually prefers the sound of a fuller band, and if he and Sara had their way, the Dex Romweber Duo would include an organ and maybe even a saxophone. Not to forsake his place in iconic duo history, but as he puts it plainly, the music he writes is based on the music he likes, and those bands are more akin to the trippy multidimensional ’60s sounds of the Monkees or the Yardbirds than to the rawer rock of bands stripped down to drums and guitar.
Many fans are disappointed to learn that Romweber doesn’t tour with his Silvertone (preferring a ’90s Danelectro reissue for the road), but to that, he quotes Carl Perkins (who never owned a pair of blue suede shoes, despite his popular song) and says that really any pair of shoes will get you where you’re going. A motivated, manic musician like Romweber, for as long as he can remember, will play just about any guitar he can get his hands on.
> Email Ashley Belanger