Interview with Blag Dahlia of The Dwarves | By Ricky Frankel
The Dwarves recently announced that…
…we have the largest penises in show business. That makes me proud to know that I am in this band. These days a lot of people complain about that kind of thing, but we are still proud.
Well it is The Dwarves Take Back The Night. Although, I haven’t really been able to get people to do it that way because just Take Back The Night is such a strong phrase. But it is supposed to be like The Dwarves Are Young And Good Looking — you know, The Dwarves Invented Rock And Roll. The new full- length LP is on Burger Records. But there’s already an EP out with a couple of the songs from it and some unreleased stuff on there which is called Julio and that’s on a cool label out of LA/Brooklyn called Riot Style. So yeah, new Dwarves releases — you know we are the only old punk band that actually is good. We feel like once in a while we got to make a record and just remind everybody, “Hey you know there is still one band that can make a decent record.”
I noticed the album art is a little bit different compared to the last few.
Well this one has black people on it. I haven’t had a cover with black people, but people were screaming for diversity from The Dwarves and I said, “Well okay then, if that’s what the people want, we’re going to give them diversity.
I was going to say that there’s also a lack of nudity this time.
Not enough nudity. Yeah. This time we went for drugs because we just had this hilarious photo two people in a motel room and I love the photo so much because it’s like they’re starting this big pile of coke but it’s with a Costco card and singles. They’re snorting out of one dollar bills. I just thought it was so beautiful and then there’s a guy in the background with the MAC 10 and I just said, “I must have this photo. This this is brilliant.” I apologize for the lack of nudity, but it will be back on the next record I hope.
Do these slight changes just in the record (I haven’t heard it yet) signal some sort of change in sound or lyrical content? Invented Rock And Roll, I would say, was more poppy — will this one have more hardcore?
Well first of all I always thought we were poppy. I guess I was wrong because we didn’t sell any records. I suppose that would argue that we weren’t poppy. But I always thought of The Dwarves as a pop band. I think in a lot of ways it’s similar to Invented. There’s a really good kind of garage tune on there called called “Forget Me Not.” There’s a lot of interplay between me and Nick Oliveri singing together which we haven’t done as much. On the last few records it was sort of be like Nick would get a song or two. On this one not only does he have a couple of songs, but he and I really switch off a lot on this one. I love singing with Nick because I think I have more of a poppy voice and he has this great screaming, almost metal voice that I love. There are cool garage overtones on this record and then there are some just extreme hardcore. To me, at least for the last 20 years or so, that’s sort of what’s marked every Dwarves record. There are a few poppy tunes. There are a few really hard tunes and then there are a few experimental things always. So on this record there’s one called “Safe Space” which is more of an experimental one. Stacey [Dee] from Bad Cop/Bad Cop is on there. I always felt like The Dwarves touched on a lot of different genres. The very first Dwarves records were like 60’s garage records that were made in the mid 80’s. I’ve always been very big on that.
Was there anything different in the songwriting process or recording this time?
Yeah. Actually, this time this record came about very unexpectedly. I was working on some other things. We had made The Dwarves Invented Rock And Roll and I was pretty happy with that one and then I was trying to make kind of a lighter record. A few years ago, I made a record called Candy Now! that was more of the retro stuff I like — 60’s, 50’s country and the older genres. The Dwarves [focus] more on all the heavy genres and then the Candy Now! record has more of the genres. I was working on that, but I got a call from Josh Freese, who is one of the greatest drummers ever, and he said, “Man you know, I wrote a couple of punk songs and I think you guys should come in here and play these songs. Some have lyrics and some don’t. Why don’t you guys just come in and we’ll make a record. We can do it at my house.” And I said, “Well fuck, okay!” One of the cool things about The Dwarves is that really everybody in the group writes songs. So Fresh Prince Of Darkness had a bunch of songs, HeWhoCannotBeNamed had songs, Nick [Oliveri] always has songs, I had songs. One week there wasn’t even going to be a record and two weeks later we had the bare bones of a great record. I got sucked back into making a Dwarves record and we made the whole thing and I wasn’t even ready with a photo shoot or anything, but then I found that photo from Bob Colter and I just said, “I’ve got to have this.” Take Back The Night came about as a result of just a lot of people that loved The Dwarves and it out of grew out of that. It was a very organic deal.
Will Dexter Holland of The Offspring be on this record? How did you get him on so many of your records?
You know I still don’t get it myself. Dexter is such a nice guy and. There are certain people who I really like the sound of my voice with their voice. He is one of the great high octave punk singers and it just sounds great for us to sing together or for him to sing on his own. Nick has the screamy thing I like and then Dexter has that higher end sound. He’s a great harmony singer. He’s just a very talented guy. Years ago I had met him back and I had a song called “Salt Lake City” and I probably should have just done it in a different key that was higher for me. I liked the key it was in, but I didn’t like where my voice was sitting. I said, “Dexter, if you come in and sing this chorus with me it would just be so great.” I also had him sing the bridge because why waste it when Dexter’s there? We did the same thing on this record. I had him sing on the song “Julio” and he sings the bridge on the album version. Dexter sings a bunch of harmonies and then he sings lead on parts of “Julio.”
It’s funny, after recording I asked, “You need a ride?” He said, “Yeah, can you give me a ride to the airport?” I drive him to the airport and he says, “No, pull in this way.” And I’m said, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “No, over here.” It turns out Dexter doesn’t really go to the airport like most people. He’s got his own plane. You drive on to the tarmac there and drop him off in front of his plane so it was like, “Oh man!” you know it’s cool. Every time I look at him I think you know, my career could have gone very differently… (laughs)
Speaking of “Salt Lake City,” what was it like being in that scene in ‘SLC Punk! 2?’
Well I knew James Merendino, the director of that film. I helped them with the trailer (‘SLC Punk!’) because I just happened to be around. A friend of mine Elmer Weber does post work in Los Angeles and I just happened to be around and they hadn’t made the trailer and he wanted to do some things and I was just sort of “Johnny on the spot” when that movie wrapped. Then like 20 years later I hear from him and he said liked my song “Salt Lake City.” So, of course, it’s perfect for ‘SLC Punk! 2,’ right? I said, “Great! Of course, you can use it.’ And then he said. “Well we’re doing a live concert scene.” I was talking a lot then to Ben from Screeching Weasel, so I got them to do it, too. It wound up being a pretty cool show. You know it was like a couple kind of cool vintage punk bands and it was a fun way to go to Salt Lake City which it’s hard to find a fun way to go to there.
You talked about the Julio EP which was released in late 2017. A few songs will end up on the new record. Who is Julio and why dedicate a whole song and EP to him?
You know some songs you write consciously and you sort of know what they’re about. And then some songs are just sort of stream of consciousness. It was during the course of some kind of immigration discussion and I can’t remember who said it but that line came up somehow like, “some dude named Julio” is the complete line and I just for some reason that line really stuck with me some, “dude named Julio.” I just made up this very random song like he doesn’t about anything and it is just “very stream of consciousness.” On every Dwarves record there’s one sort of Ramones tribute song because they were such a huge influence on me and I always wind up writing one and so on this record “Julio” is kind of the Ramones tribute song. Usually that doesn’t get to be the single, but in this case, it was it just seemed like a cool song to use for the single.
Invented Rock And Roll ended up having a bunch of B-sides — like alternative versions of other songs. Will that happen with Take Back The Night?
This one doesn’t have as many. The Julio EP has a good hardcore song called “Down And Dirty” that is not on the record. And then there’s another record creeping around with a song which hasn’t come out yet. It is called “The Giver” and the music was written by Fresh Prince Of Darkness and the vocals are trade off between me and Stacy Dee from Bad Cop/Bad Cop. During the chorus, I’m singing, “I gave you the dick.” And she’s singing, “I gave you the clit.” To me it’s like a women’s empowerment song, but I don’t know if people will really take it that way. It’s kind of funny, too because now Bad Cop/Bad Cop are seen as great feminist icons. Now people bother her and ask, “Why are you friends with Blag?” and “Why are you singing songs with him?” I guess if there’s something I don’t like about the modern punk scene it would be that. People like Stacey are really talented and great and you want to work with those kind of people. So I don’t like it when people want to frown on that make people nervous about it. Everybody should be working together. That’s how we get to some kind of place of kindness and equality. You don’t get there by everybody being separate. Stacey has been a great help to me and my songs. She is another great harmony singer and just has a very cool voice and sometimes you need those female vocals. She did “Sluts Of The USA” with me on the last record and I think she caught a lot of flack for that. I’m glad she still works with me because she’s great and I really like her fans.
Tell me about this song this song called “Safe Space.”
I mean that whole idea of safe spaces — it came about over the last few years. The idea was that these very sensitive college students at these hyper liberal colleges were starting to picket everybody who has any opinion that’s different than theirs. This new kind of feeling came up on campuses that free speech is bad if people are saying things that make you sad. The Dwarves have always been persecuted by that kind of shit. For example, people say, “Hey you know your message is sexist!” or “You’re wrong!” ”You’re bad!” They want to try and shut you out and shut you up and it’s starting to happen now, not just with us, but with a lot of bands and with a lot of just intellectuals and people who study basic things like biology. But then something they say really runs afoul of a sort of liberal mindset that upsets people. And again, like I’ve always been a liberal or considered myself one, but I don’t really consider myself that anymore not because my politics have changed, but because people are so ultra- sensitive and silly on the left now in one of these concepts that came up was the idea of a “safe space.” If someone was at the college. I mean these are adults. If someone is at the college speaking but they upset you they set aside a little room where you could go if you felt upset and literally there was shit in it like Play-Doh and crayons and stuff for kids and bubbles so that you have a safe space to feel good and it’s just things like that are the opposite of intellectualism and the opposite of education. They’re also the opposite of art and music. Art is not a safe space. My records are not a safe space for you I hope they make you upset and that they make you cry. I hope you slit your fucking wrists. I’m not here to make a safe space for you. I have a responsibility as a human being to try and be a decent person, but as an artist I say whatever the fuck I want whenever I want to and I’ve never back down it at all ever. And now more than ever I just had to lampoon that concept of a safe space. All it is like the worst kind of one chord punk song, but then interspersed in it is just this noise and various voices repeating, “This song is a safe space. This is a safe space.” And then the lyrics come in and they’re just not safe at all and it’s just like bad punk. Put it this way, it’s the fourteenth song on the record so I’m not exactly throwing it up front. I like to do experimental stuff. Punk can be a very boring genre so I like to do things with it.
Tell me about the song “Everything and Moore” and why is “Moore spelled with an extra “O?”
“Everything and Moore” is about Rex Everything (our bass player Nick Oliveri) and Vadge Moore our original drummer and it was spelled “M-O-O-R-E.” So “Everything and Moore” is about our old drummer and our bass player and together they were quite a team especially back in the day. The kinds of things they would do is very extreme behavior. In fact, they’ll still get up to some pretty extreme behavior especially if they’re together. Oddly enough I didn’t write that song at all. That was Josh Freese and he wrote not only the music, but also the lyrics. It’s very funny. Josh has this career — like right now he just got back from Kuwait with Sting and shit that. He is a real big- time player that everybody respects. He’s an amazing musician, but he’s always been a Dwarves fan. We’ve been friends for decades and he really he likes what I do and respects it. So he really became a part of the band starting with ‘The Dwarves Must Die.’ He came in and played on it. He wrote that song as a tribute to my guys. In the middle we had a guitar solo and it just wasn’t making it. I called up Vadge and I said,”Vadge, give me some of your bullshit Satanist stuff. He’s real into Satanic Haitian Voodoo and all this stuff for real. He read me this diatribe and then I edited it into that. The song is a real basic kind of punk tune, but then right in the middle you get this weird Satan dissertation.
What was it like recording that that song “Do The Sponge” for the show Spongebob Squarepants and how did that even come about?
Well what happened was the first season of Spongebob, like any show in its first season, the budget was very low and nobody knew if it was going to be a success. The guy who did that who did that cartoon a guy named Stephen Hillenburg. His wife was good friends with Salt Peter, who was the original bass player in The Dwarves and a good friend of mine. They didn’t have any budget for songs and they wanted a low-budget kind of weird four-track sounding songs. He approached his wife’s buddy who happened to be Salt Peter. And he said, “I want a song like The Cramps, but I can’t really call Lux Interior. We don’t have any money and I don’t know what to do.” Salt Peter wrote the song and then he called me and said, “Hey can you do a Lux imitation?” I said, “Shit, that’s what I’ve been doing all along.” I’m a huge Lux Interior fans. They have always been one of my favorites. I went in there and busted that thing out in 10-15 minutes I think. Then the show became a tremendous success. I wish they would have had a recurring character for me or something that would have been nice. I always wanted to do like voiceover on cartoons and stuff I’ve done some. That’s something I really enjoy a lot. I’m just tickled to be on the show. It’s probably the thing that most people know about me more than anything else probably. That’s the odd nature of entertainment — that you would spend your entire life playing punk rock and almost nobody would know about it and then you go in one day to do a favor for a buddy and it winds up that more people know that than anything about you.
In 2015 Fat Wreck Chords reissued Leftover Crack’s ‘Fuck World Trade.’ A few songs that didn’t make it onto the original Alternative Tentacles release were added to it. One of the songs called “The Christ” featured you. How did you get involved in the recording of that song? What was it like recording with Leftover Crack at that time? Do you know why the song didn’t make the original release?
I don’t know any of the background of it. I became friends with Leftover Crack I think when I was at Epitaph and they had a different group (Choking Victim) at Epitaph, but we were not close. I was not like close buddies with those guys and then we played a few shows and Sturgeon and I became friends then. I was called onto that thing many years later. They were just overdubbing on some old shit. So it wasn’t like I was there for the original recording of that. They were in San Francisco at Motor, which is Fat Wreck Chords’ studio and they wanted some additional voices and some different stuff on there. I got called in to do that many years after they had recorded that song. That’s how I’m involved.
On Radio Free Dwarves you guys released the cover of “That’s Not My Name” by The Ting Tings. Why did you just use that song?
So what happened was we were at a radio station in Europe and that song was getting played a lot — “That’s Not My Name” by The Ting Tings — which I thought was a really good song. We were going to Manchester the next day and we were kind of thinking about them and thinking about the song. The single that we had out at that time were one of the big songs from The Dwarves Must Die was called “FEFU” and we couldn’t do that song obviously because of the lyrical. So we thought that maybe we could do a cleaned up version. But if the song is called “Fuck, Eat And Fuck You” you can’t really do a cleaned up version. So I said, “Well what would happen if we just play that music, but then I’d take these Ting Tings lyrics and rewrite them? We can we just do that.” Then we wound up with this weird song “That’s Not My FEFU.”
What does the future have in store for The Dwarves? Since Nick Oliveri is also in Bloodclot, can we expect a Dwarves/Bloodclot tour?
Wow! I would love to do a Dwarves/Bloodclot tour. You’d have to ask him on that one. I don’t know. You know, Nick is so good and he can play any kind of style of music. There’s a lot of love for Bloodclot so I’d be stoked.
Blag, thank you so much for doing this. Is there anything else the you would like to add?
It’s my pleasure. First of all, you have got to go to TheDwarves.com, but that goes without saying. I’ve got a podcast that I do with No-Name Nelson from KFOG in San Francisco and it’s called ‘We Got Issues’ and it’s kind of a straightforward advice show where people write in with their issues and we answer them. It’s me and him and Heather Harmon who’s a DJ on KGO. This was all happening in San Francisco so the kind of exciting thing is we’ve been doing this podcast over the last year and now I guess KFOG is going to actually start playing it on commercial radio so everybody should go to we got issues in the podcast section of iTunes and subscribe because it’s a funny show and it’s a good time and I want to get rich doing radio. It ain’t going to happen with my music so I have to do it this way — talking shit.
Photo by Alan Snodgrass