Interview: Blag Dahlia Talks Past and Future

Blag Dahlia has been crafting music for decades, since his first official release in 1985 as The
Suburban Nightmare, a band who would later adopt the name Dwarves after a move from Chicago to San Francisco. Dwarves were never a band that had a huge commercial reach, even though they have had considerable significance in shaping both hardcore and melodic punk.

They never had the marketing, budget, or push that a band on a major label would have, but that was never a goal.

They would bash through their, at times, dangerous live sets and create their art of their own discretion, flipping the finger to anyone that tries to tell them what to do. As he celebrates his 38 year of being an active musician, he takes the time to ruminate on the influence that he has had on many generations of people, especially punk rockers.

How would you describe the influence that you have had throughout your musical

The people with the biggest influence are generally those with the biggest reach: the most
marketing, the biggest budgets, the most media exposure. We never had much of that stuff, so
on society at large, I’d say our direct influence is minimal. However, we have influenced a lot of
bands from the very beginning and many of those bands went on to have great influence on
everyone else.

In the first 10 years of our existence, people from bands would often walk up
after shows and kind of marvel that we didn’t give a fuck about putting nudity on our records so
they couldn’t be sold, using profanity and transgressive themes in the lyrics so they couldn’t be
played over the air, telling everyone from club owners to label heads to promo people to critics
to go fuck themselves when they didn’t deliver on what they promised (which was almost all
the time), and often getting kicked out of venues for reacting to or even inciting violence.

Let’s put it this way—In the summer of 1989, the Dwarves went to Seattle, where Saltpeter wore a pair
of panties and a bustier, and I jumped into our drum kit at the end of the show.  Within a couple
years, the formerly frowny and flannel-wearing Kurt Cobain was on MTV jumping into a drum kit
with a dress on. And so it goes…

People have been listening to your music since the 1980s. Have you ever thought about
where the people that grew up listening to The Dwarves may be now and the impact
your music has had on their lives?

I hear from Dwarves fans all the time that tell me how much this or that song or record meant
to them or how much a certain line or title or photograph influenced them. That’s the best part
of making records and playing shows, knowing that even when it seems like you’re all alone and
no one cares, there are people listening and responding in their own way trying to make
something new.

Describe your legacy up to this point. How do you think Introducing RALPH Champagne will affect that (if at all)?

Introducing RALPH Champagne record really means a lot to me. It isn’t often that an artist,
especially an old punker, has a renaissance in his mid-50s and winds up making a record that
manages to be a complete 180 from his usual style, but that still makes sense in context.

I’d been listening to various kinds of roots music since I was a kid, all kinds of blues, country,
rockabilly, pop, lounge, and novelty songs, but that “fuck you” aggression of punk rock had
always been the guiding force behind almost all of the records I made. It felt schizophrenic
sometimes playing hardcore, punk, thrash music, but only listening to old musicals or hip-hop
records or old Frank Zappa pieces. Ralph Champagne is helping me to integrate what I actually
enjoy listening to into a style I can get old and die with without feeling like I’ve tarnished the
Dwarves’ punk rock legacy.

Do you think Introducing RALPH Champagne will influence people differently from
Dwarves albums?

Very much so, but it still has that combination of “too dumb meets too smart” that the Dwarves
have always trafficked in. The listener wonders if we really mean this shit or if it’s all just a gag.
Often, both are true at the same time.

People have a tendency to grow apart from bands they listened to while growing up. What would you say to any former Dwarves fans to convince them to give your music another listen?

The Dwarves are still the best band ever!

How do you think future generations will feel about your music?

They tend to know what is marketed at them, so most of them won’t know a damn thing. But
we did it for the heads, the ones who can’t be force fed music and try to understand it on its
own terms. There will always be people who can decipher our music, even though most folks
will never get it at all. One thing that cheers me is that we sell more records than we ever did
before, and that’s just a fraction of the people who hear it streaming. Because we never got
that big, we keep getting bigger and staying relevant while a lot of the dipshits who I watched
get rich quick have long since petered out.

How have you changed since you first started writing music?

I tend to write fewer songs now, but still do a lot of hunting and gathering with my friends to
make a cool record. Also, I’m fatter now, and it takes longer for my dick to get hard.

Looking back at your life experiences, what advice would you have for younger generations? This doesn’t have to be music related.

Most musicians censor their own material before anyone gets a chance to hear it. Let yourself
go; let your music be a conduit for how you really feel; don’t worry about who is going to like or
approve of it. Those who take great pains to tell you how moral and honest and sincere they
are through their music are very rarely moral, honest, or sincere.

Photo courtesy of Alan Sodengrass

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