Rock isn’t a genre known for having many gay musicians, but that’s not stopping Filthy Rebel. This Atlanta group made it clear that queer married hard rock and put the genre on the city’s gaydar. Filthy Rebel, led by openly gay vocalist Jeff Dean, took third place in the Georgia Voice 2017 Best of Atlanta awards. Georgia Voice sat down with Dean and guitarist Chris Nichols to chat about their upcoming EP and what it’s like to blaze a trail for LGBT rockers.
Before I called you, I was thinking about who in the hard rock community is gay. All that came to mind was Rob Halford from Judas Priest.
Dean: And Freddie Mercury. That’s pretty much it. There’s not a lot of us.
So what has your experience in rock been like, trailblazer?
Dean: My favorite album of all time is “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns N’ Roses. When it came out, I remember being in awe of them and I was so conflicted. I knew I was gay at an early age, but these guys got all of the women. I was like, “I don’t want to get all the women!” [laughs] I have auditioned and been turned down by bands because I’m gay. But now, luckily, people are starting to care less.
Chris, when you started playing with Jeff, was it ever an issue with you or the band that he was gay?
Nichols: No — not at all! We did have some guys come in who were auditioning drummers who were not cool with it, but they just didn’t get the gig.
We all know that women go crazy for guys in bands. Jeff, is that a burden for you?
Dean: I love it! I eat it up. There’s only been a couple of times where a certain female has been really aggressive. I find it very flattering. Lots of beautiful women come up to me at my shows.
Do you write songs about men?
Dean: Two of the songs off our EP are written about an ex that cheated on me. I try to make my songs very universal. I want it for straight people as much as I want it for my gay fans. So I don’t have to use pronouns like “she” or “him.” But if I wanted to, my bandmates are some of the coolest guys ever. Most everybody across the board knows that Filthy Rebel’s lead singer is gay.
Nichols: At the end of the day, love is love. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. I grew up in a small Georgia town called Mansfield. I come from a very traditional Southern environment, but even I know that it doesn’t matter what your sexuality is — when you love someone, you love them and there’s nothing wrong with it. Everyone understands those emotions so everyone can connect with the music.
Where did you come up with the name Filthy Rebel?
Dean: I’m from just outside of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but was living in Chicago. I had this girl that I used to hang out with. Sometimes, we’d be out together and a guy would pass by and I would say something inappropriate about him to her. She would say, “Oh my God — you’re such a filthy rebel!” I ended up getting it tattooed on my back. Then, it became the band name.
As a hard-rockin’ chick, it warms my heart to talk to a fellow queer rocker. I feel like an island, sometimes. It seems like everyone in the lesbian community loves women folk singers and the LGBT community as a whole is into musicals or “It’s Raining Men” type of music.
Dean: Yes, and I feel that way, too — like an outcast in our community. That’s another reason that being nominated for the Georgia Voice Best of Atlanta awards was so encouraging. I know that not a lot of gay boys listen to hard rock and metal. It was like they were saying, “He’s doing something different and it’s really good.” My community is finally paying attention and I appreciate it.
Who inspires you musically?
Dean: Gosh — there are so many! Klaus Meine from the Scorpions. Of course, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. David Coverdale from Whitesnake. I think you can hear them all in my vocals. Ann Wilson of Heart made me want to start singing. I’ve been called the male version of Pink — she inspires me as a person.
Nichols: I’m a mood music listener. I’m all over the board. I can listen to older things like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, but then I can go weird ‘80s stuff like The Cure and The Smiths, or current bands like Pop Evil, Seether and Shinedown.
Tell me about your new EP.
Nichols: Jeff and I, plus two of the original members, each picked a song that we wanted to put on it. After we parted ways with the original drummer, I decided to put “You” on it. That was the first song I wrote with Jeff. It’s such a powerful, inspirational song. It can be emotional on so many levels. It can be about losing someone through death or a break-up.
When I heard it, I connected with it immediately. It’s so powerful, both lyrically and musically. Jeff, your vocals are intense.
Dean: I wrote that about an ex that cheated on me and fucked my heart up.
Yep, that’s the part that I connected with! So where can people hear it?
Nichols: We’re on sites where you can digitally download music. Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, any of those places.
Jeff, asking for thousands of my gay friends. Are you single?
Dean: Yes! And tell them that I have a huge beard fetish.