Wilmington goth duo revels in sonic darkness, even when the cops get called

It's not rock 'n' roll until the cops show up.

At least that's how it went down earlier this month when Wilmington goth/darkwave/synth pop duo Dead Cool shot a video for its latest single, "Stranger Kind," in a cookie-cutter Wilmington suburb.

Video director Rick Badger and cameraman Bradley Pearce of Greene Badger Productions wanted to mirror the song's lyrics about seeking out one's own tribe of like-minded goths and punks. So they went for a vibe inspired by such movies as "Suburbia" and TV's "Pleasantville," assembled a couple dozen tattoo-covered extras wearing black leather and marched them en masse down the middle of an otherwise unremarkable street.

The neighborhood association had been alerted in advance, but one alarmed woman didn't get the memo and called 911. A deputy from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office showed up, but was put at ease when he saw that the video shoot was nothing (too) malevolent.

Angela and Johnny Yeagher of Wilmington synth/goth duo Dead Cool, shooting their video for new single "Stranger Kind."
Angela and Johnny Yeagher of Wilmington synth/goth duo Dead Cool, shooting their video for new single "Stranger Kind."

"I knew it was going to happen," Dead Cool singer/songwriter/synth player Johnny Yeagher said, chuckling over the instance of life imitating art. Basically, suburban squares being freaked out by the "stranger kind" the band sings about is the theme of the video.

Where Johnny was amused, his wife, Angela, who's also his musical partner in Dead Cool, was slightly offended and peeved that some "Karen" was trying to get them in trouble.

No matter. Outside of the Wilmington suburbs, and of Wilmington itself, Dead Cool has attracted an audience for its darkly catchy, retro songs about alienation and obsession, getting thousands of views for its videos (19,000 for "Rotten Mind") and exceeding 1,000 listeners per month on Spotify, a decent number for a Wilmington band.

Now, after selling out downtown Wilmington's Opera Room a few weeks ago, and building an audience by playing regional shows around the South most every weekend this year, Dead Cool is heading to Europe for a month-long tour later this spring.

"Coming up to 2023, we didn't really have too many plans," Johnny said, sitting in a back room at Angie's Hair Salon, the Wilmington business he and his wife run together, specializing in outrageous hairdos and wild colors. "We kind of felt like we might have dropped the ball. And it's just, I feel like the floodgates have opened."

In some ways, Dead Cool's retro sound captures the zeitgeist by appealing to a generation who sees so much darkness in the world around them, from the pandemic to political and environmental turmoil.

Angela and Johnny Yeagher of Wilmington synth/goth duo Dead Cool. (Photo: MORGAN ELIZABETH)
Angela and Johnny Yeagher of Wilmington synth/goth duo Dead Cool. (Photo: MORGAN ELIZABETH)

Old-school goth and dark synth pop, "That scene is huge," Johnny said. "There's a lot of new bands that are coming out doing that style of music. Which we, you know, when we started this band, we really didn't know."

"It's a really inclusive scene," Angie added, one that accepts all kinds, the freakier the better.

The Yeaghers have been making music together since meeting in Virginia Beach in the early 2000s. They've been in Wilmington since the late 2000s, and previously played together in the up-tempo garage punk band Zodiac Panthers, with Johnny on guitar and vocals and Angie on drums.

But the couple has always had an affinity for old-school New Wave and goth stuff, from Depeche Mode to Gary Numan and The Human League.

"Even when we were first dating, we talked about, 'Yeah, it'd be cool to do, you know, a band like Sisters of Mercy,'" Johnny said. "We'd kick around that kind of stuff."

Then the pandemic hit and, like everyone else, the Yeaghers had nothing but time on their hands.

"During the pandemic we got really heavily into this," Johnny said. "We couldn't do our regular band, couldn't get together. We started with electronics, you know, analog synthesizers, and just really kind of fell into that and really got, you know, obsessed with that sound."

And while Dead Cool sounds totally different from the punk rock the couple played in Zodiac Panthers, themes are similar: A feeling of disaffection and alienation, of feeling apart from society. The lyrics to Panthers song "Outside of the World," would fit pretty well in a Dead Cool song: "I walk the darkest streets/ I dance to a different beat/ I know who I am/ I am the forgotten man."

"It's the same kind of formula," Johnny said. "Short, catchy songs. (It's) basically just punk rock with synthesizers ... The music is kind of upbeat, but dark all the same."

Angela and Johnny Yeagher of Wilmington synth/goth duo Dead Cool.
Angela and Johnny Yeagher of Wilmington synth/goth duo Dead Cool.

Live shows have a visual flair, with moody lighting and a fog machine, with both Yeaghers playing synths and singing — Johnny gruffly, Angie spookily — to programmed drums. The couple is often clad head to toe in black, which is petty much how they dress in real life.

And while songs like "The Last Time" might have such lyrics as, "The future's so black I cannot see," there's also a playful side to Dead Cool. It shows up in their videos, with a cute little white fluffball of a dog trying to bite Johnny as he strolls around Greenfield Lake in "Until Death," and in their wickedly dark cover of "Send Me An Angel," the 1983 synth-pop anthem from Australian band Real Life.

The couple may share a dark view of the world, but that would not, it would appear, extend to their relationship. Not only do they work together in the salon, but they make music and tour together as well. They come across very differently — Angie's a talker while Johnny's more reserved — but they agree on the important things.

"We're married, but we're also friends," Johnny said. "We have all the same common interests."

"We're two," Angie added, "But we're like one."

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Wilmington NC goth darkwave duo Dead Cool gets noticed for dark sound