When the Student Out-Shreds the Master

Ben Katzman interviews his former guitar student/band member, Deo Budnevich.

I always say Deo Budnevich — my former student and current band member — is the Rhandy Rhoads to my Ozzy. A young kid hungry to play guitar and experience the world… and myself a metal loving madman hellbent on spreading the shred. I first met Deo as my student when he was 15 and on one crazy day, I asked him to join my band for one show, and it has led to a fruitful couple years of melting faces, playing around the country, and getting to make this killer new record Transcendental Shreditation! So here we are asking each other a couple questions. Hope you enjoy! 

PS — Deo can outshred me on the solos any day… and that is a FACT.

Question 1:

Deo Budnevich: When did you have the idea to grab a 15 year old to play with you?

Ben Katzman: I started teaching Deo through the rock band program at my job. It was clear this kid was hungry to not only excel at his instrument, but also to be on stage and perform. To be honest, something about him just reminded me of ME at 15. It wasn’t even the Mötley Crüe shirts, or his extensive collection of sick axes. Deo is extremely serious about what he does, and even at his age it’s hard to not find that inspiring. 

Funnily enough, I think at the time I asked Deo to join the band… the people I was playing with were kind of just turning music into a hobby or checking out altogether. I was always hiring people who weren’t really into metal or just looking for a good time, but what I really wanted was people who wanted one thing in life — to grind their axes and really rock their absolute hardest! It was a nice jolt of electricity. Something about having Deo in the band definitely has become a full circle moment for me. 


Question 2:

Ben: What was your first impression of me as a teacher? Platinum Chiller, super dork… or?

Deo: My first impression was that I had found a guy who shared my music taste. My first ever winter recital, I walked in with a Mötley Crüe shirt, and you pulled out your Mötley Crüe wallet. From then on I was like, Yeah, this guys gets it.


Question 3:

Deo: How has taking a protege under your wing taught you more about yourself and your instrument?

Ben: To be honest, the thing it has taught me most is to shut all the extra non-musical crap out and just focus on the rock. The older I get or the longer I try and stay in the business, I get wrapped up in promotion, making content, booking tours… all necessary stuff, but things that distract me hard from being able to focus and be present on whats most important — aka, the riffs. There is something pure about having Deo around which is just, “Let’s do what we love…SHRED.” All the other stuff is secondary from being present in the riffage. 

And if anything, that right there is my favorite contribution Deo brings to the band. He’s always prepared, always eager to learn/write/record, and always gives 100% by being himself. I know for a fact he always inspires me to bring the best version of myself to the table whether he knows it or not.


Question 4:

Ben: As a Scorpio teenager who has to deal with an adult group of knuckleheads chasing their rock fantasies, what is it like being part of the ride getting to tour, hit the studio, create, and express yourself?

Deo: I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. We have created a tight brotherhood that holds a lot of value in my heart. Chasing my dream with my brothers who are chasing the same thing has helped me mature as a person and musician. I am still a kid, but it feels like I’m one of the adults in the band chasing our collective dream to rock.


Question 5: 

Ben: What is your favorite memory playing in the band?

Deo: My favorite memory has to be when we finished playing in either St. Pete or Tampa, and with only a one hour break, we booked it back home. Sleeping in the van watching Johnathan and Harry lead the charge on this insane adventure feels like a fever dream.

Ben: The worst thing about having kids in the band is rocking hard at an out of town show but making sure they are back for their student recitals first thing on a Sunday morning.


Question 6: 

Deo: Whats the story behind my dad giving you custody to take me on tour?

Ben: If this situation wasn’t School of Rock enough… one of the wildest things that ever happened is we got booked for a few shows in the Northeast right after finishing the new album, and I didn’t think twice about saying yes. The problem is, you’re a kid so I can’t willingly take you on the road without adult permission, but also, I’m not going to play a full band set and not have the Rhandy Rhoads to my Ozzy with me. We had to go through a couple hurdles, but luckily Deo’s dad is the ultimate supporter of everything we do. 

Shoutout to Deo’s dad, Illich Budnevich, for always being at the shows, encouraging us to go harder, and just being a good friend in this crazy world of rock. But yes, Illich granted me permission to be legally responsible for Deo, which was absolutely nuts and terrifying to think I’d have to be responsible for another person’s life, let alone a teenager. But that’s the thing about Deo — he doesn’t make trouble ever! Plus, I think we did a pretty good job of feeding you Lunchables and getting you to bed on time while we were on tour.


Question 7: 

Ben: What do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a guitar player?

Deo: My biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that silence is perfect. The lesson to learn from this is that whatever you do to break the silence must be so valuable to you that you must break the silence to get it out to the world. In this way, I am more conscious about how I am playing and what I am playing. I always ask myself, if what I am about to play is worthy to break the silence, with Degreaser, the answer is always yes.


Question 8: 

Ben: What message do you hope to share through your craft?

Deo: I hope to share me, if that makes any sense. I don’t have a message to the world or a duty to spread a specific message. I just wish for people to hear me play and feel my passion for what I am playing, no matter what I am playing. I wish for my instrument and music to be an extension of me and my heart and soul, and I hope that people can feel that when I play. I hope people can feel me through my music and the music I play.

Ben: I think it’s very much the same for me. Music is an energy and an outlet for the stuff we can’t easily put into words. It’s why I love playing live so much — especially in this incarnation of the band where the rest of y’all have mega energy and epic hair — we bring it as hard as the hair bands of the ‘80s do. I just hope people enjoy hearing us, seeing us, and hopefully relate to that message about pushing yourself as hard as humanly possible in your craft and being as true to yourself as one can be. 

Channeling 50 years of hard rock heritage, Ben Katzman’s DeGreaser deliver heavy shredding and posi vibes. Currently based out of Miami, they’re dedicated to spreading the shred worldwide.

Formed in 2014 amidst the dirt and frenzy of Boston’s electric DIY community, DeGreaser is the unruly lovechild of one Ben Katzman (previously of Guerilla Toss), a self-trained shredder with deep roots in Miami’s metal scene yielding an undying love for KISS, Van Halen and the Ramones. Playful yet earnest, DeGreaser celebrates the rock and roll ethos, but with a dedication to the core belief that you can only be cool by being yourself. Mix in an obsession with astrology, cults, soaring guitar solos, and all things John Travolta, and you have yourself a potent cocktail of rippin’ good times.

The band has toured and played shows across the U.S. with La Luz, Mannequin PussyColleen Green, Tall Juan and countless other fellow shredders. Their new album, Astrology 101, is out now on Starburns Industries Press.

(Photo Credit: Leeanne Drucker)