Damien Gutierrez, the lead singer and guitarist of Homestead rock band Cannibal Kids, swears the band’s new album, Deadheads, has nothing to do with Jerry Garcia.
“A lot of people approach me and ask, ‘Is this a Grateful Dead tribute?’ I had no idea Deadheads was what they called Grateful Dead fans,” Gutierez admits.
The thoughtful 23-year-old says he stumbled upon the term in, of all places, a botanical dictionary.
“I like to get lost in concepts,” he says. “Deadhead is a term gardeners use when they cut the flower off the stem so it can bloom again. Since our first album was called Bloom and this was about growing and moving forward, it seemed to fit.”
While a botanist’s dictionary seems an unlikely place for musical inspiration, Gutierrez comes by it honestly.
“I’m Mexican-American, and a lot of my family are blue-collar workers who worked in fields and nurseries. Growing up [in Homestead], I worked in nurseries,” he explains.
For the cover of Cannibal Kids’ first record, the trio posed amid palm trees from Gutierrez’s uncle’s plant nursery. They also branded the album with a bloody hand icon as a tribute.
“When you pay attention to people’s hands, you can see where they come from,” he explains. “The bloody hand shows how much work [agriculture workers] have to do.”
Cannibal Kids got their start when Gutierrez met guitarist Dustin Diaz in middle school. Not much later, the band added drummer Luke Faulkingham.
“We’re all big music fans — hardcore, punk, folk, indie rock, electronic music,” Gutierrez says. “We were into finding new weird music and sit and talk about it. It didn’t matter the genre. We loved getting lost in the music.”
As teenagers, Cannibal Kids were gigging all over Miami, and by 2016 they toured outside the state for the first time. The band quickly signed with Shaemax Records and released its debut album, Bloom, in 2017. Gutierrez described it as guitar-driven punk music, but listeners might find similarities to early Vampire Weekend.
With Deadheads, Cannibal Kids strive to do something a little different.
“The new album is straight bedroom pop, more electronic-based,” Gutierrez says before reconsidering his words. “We’re less concerned about genres. It’s more about developing our sound into something identifiable.”
Having released Deadheads in February, the trio had planned to tour in support of the album before the pandemic forced everyone to stay home. Before the shutdown, Cannibal Kids did manage to get through a quartet of coheadlining shows around Florida in late January with the Polar Boys.
“Can I curse?” Gutierrez asks. “The shows were a fucking smash. We sold out nearly every show. We performed songs that hadn’t been released yet. When we played Orlando, we had Miami fans drive up who had already memorized the new songs word-for-word. People were resonating with it and ready to see the new songs live.”
The band remains hopeful the tour can resume later this year, and to that end, the trio is working with venues to reschedule dates. In the meantime, they’re conducting the Bedroom Pop Tour via the band’s YouTube channel.
“While the music industry is halted, we said,’Fuck it, let’s tour Dustin’s house,'” Gutierrez says. “So we’re doing acoustic versions of the songs on the album from different places in his house: his bedroom, his living room, the backyard.”
It’s a venue where Cannibal Kids won’t have to worry about any confused hippies screaming requesting they play “Sugar Magnolia.”
Not that they’d mind.
“I’m learning to love and appreciate them,” Gutierrez says of the Dead. “I’m glad we now have something in common.”