Interview: Tom Davis and Monty Messex of DFL Talk ‘My Crazy Life’ 30th Anniversary Edition

The 30th-anniversary edition of the raucous and chaotic debut from DFL, My Crazy Life,came out this past August via Trust Records. Meticulously put together by Trust and the band, the release includes the original record, which now, for the first time, is available on 12-inch vinyl (it was initially released as a seven-inch and also a CD), a B-side of a previously unheard live recording, and a cool old-school zine that features archival material from the band’s vault.

DFL’s line-up back then was vocalist Tom Davis, guitarist/vocalist Monty Messex, bassist Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz (of Beastie Boys fame), and drummer Tony Converse. Now, the hardcore punk band who started back in ’91, comprises Davis, Messex, drummer Jordan Jacques, and bassist Patrick Sullivan. Excitingly, they are currently working on a new record. It was a blast hearing Davis’s and Messex’s recollections about the original record, the reissue, the band in general, and their old days skating and discovering music in Southern California in the late ’70s/early ’80s.

I’ve loved this record since I was in high school in the ‘90s, so it’s so cool to talk to you about it.

Tom: Thank you.

Monty: I’ll speak for myself, I’m a big fan of New Noise, so I’m psyched to be talking with you, and I’m glad we’re doing this.

Personally, initially like I said, I was a teenager hearing it, but I loved the rawness and the intensity and chaotic feel, and it’s so crazy. When I first heard it, I had a used CD. I didn’t think I had the whole booklet inside, like it only had the front picture; I don’t know if there was a booklet included. (Laughs)

Monty: No, there was never. That was all that came with that. The CD was pretty basic.

I used to think it was live at a show. It definitely has the live feel.

Monty: Definitely. The way that record was recorded, it was recorded live. We just set up at G-Son Studios with guitar, bass, drums, even vocals live, and Mario (Caldato Jr., producer) just miked everything up, and then we just rolled with it. We got a take, moved on. Got a take, moved on, so it was done really live. I think we did a couple overdubs, maybe a guitar lead here or there or maybe some gang vocals. But it’s a very live record. Boom, just what you get is what you get.

And you mentioned the gang vocals. That was something that always stood out to me.

Monty: Yeah, a lot of those songs had those singalong kind of gang choruses where everyone can sing along, with it which is always super fun.

When you put the songs together, before you recorded, how long were you working on them?

Monty: Back in the day, not that long. The original couple songs like “Meter Maid” and “Pizza Man,” maybe “Think About the Pit,” I worked on those songs a little bit and then ran them by Adam Horovitz and we decided just to jam them over at G-Son and brought Tom in. I don’t wanna say we didn’t work on them, but the DFL vibe isn’t to work songs to death. We basically kind of shoot from the hip, and just try to make it as lo-fi and just raw as possible.

Tom: Yeah, I had a couple of days before to work on lyrics, and everything was definitely pretty live, and it wasn’t overthought. We wanted to keep things as raw as possible. We had an idea of what we were doing. Even though it seems really organic, it was a little thought out. It was raw and live.

Monty: And I know Mario and Adam wanted it to sound really lo-fi, the way they recorded it, the way it was mixed. I think the mic that Tom used was some crazy, old-school mic, and that’s what I really love about that recording and our other recordings is that there’s a real lo-fi vibe to it.

Yeah, even Proud to Be (their follow-up on Epitaph in 1995) has that feel.

Monty: And that record also was recorded at G-Son, but Adam Horovitz didn’t play bass, but him and Mario produced it. We kind of used the same playbook in terms of recording.

And then obviously My Crazy Life came out on Grand Royal. How’d you get with Epitaph for Proud to Be?

Monty: With Epitaph, Tom and I grew up in the punk scene in the early-’80s, so I was friends with Brett Gurewitz and with his wife at the time, Maggie, and (she) was friends with my wife too. And I think when the seven-inch came out on Grand Royal, Maggie called up my wife and was like, “Hey, Brett really loves DFL; he wants to talk with the guys about maybe signing them,” and we were like, “No, no, we’re with Grand Royal. We’re good. We love our label, Blah, blah, blah,” and then when we wanted to do another record, Mike D (owner of Grand Royal) wasn’t into doing another record with us, so I called up Brett, and I was like, “Hey, we want to come over to Epitaph.”

And he was cool. He just wanted to talk with Mike D to make sure everything was kosher and that everyone was happy. Then we went over there, and like, I said, Adam and Mario produced and we recorded again at G-Son, and it was definitely still lo-fi and everything like that, but we had a little bit more time to work on those songs than we did for My Crazy Life which was done really fast.

About the reissue, it came out amazing. How did that process happen? Who got the ball rolling?

Monty: That one, the backstory is, Grand Royal went bankrupt in, I think, the early-2000s, some time or another, and then some random company bought their whole catalogue except for the (Beastie Boys) stuff stayed with Capitol. So always in the back of my mind was our record being with these randos, and so when DFL got back together, I got in touch with them and was like, “Hey, I’m with DFL, and I wanna buy our record.” And they were super nice, these people, and they had all the masters and all the old analog tapes and some other stuff and I bought all the stuff from them. And then I was just shopping it around, and I actually talked with (Circle Jerks guitarist) Greg Hetson, and he told me that Circle Jerks were going to do something with Trust, and this was before it came out, and Greg Hetson put me in touch with Joe Nelson from Trust.

That was just before the pandemic hit in 2019. And Joe and I hit it off, and then we pretty much worked on the whole record during the pandemic, writing the oral history, and Mario remastered stuff, and also there’s a live side of stuff that also those people had, when I bought the tapes, they had a live, unreleased tape that I bought from them. And then we brought in Bryan Ray Turcotte to do the packaging. So, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but they all seemed to come together. I’m really happy with the way it came out, with the zine and everything like that. And Trust is a great label. Those guys, Matt Pincus. And Joe and Sammy, they’re all really great guys.

And then about getting back together, that was 2013?

Monty: Something like that, around then.

When did you start playing out live again?

Monty: Probably I think we’ve done shows off and on since 2013. It seems like we’re playing more often now, but we’ve been playing since 2013, 2014, something like that.

Have you been writing?

Yeah, we have a record of new stuff we put out in 2021 on this label called SBAM, a record called YRUDFL. SBAM was super lo-fi, super DFL vibe. If people have a chance to check it out if you like our old stuff, I’m pretty sure you’d be into the new stuff.

What about like you said you’re playing a lot, does it feel any different—I mean, I had to double check myself like My Crazy Life came out 30 years ago?! You know what I mean?

Monty: Isn’t that nuts?! (Laughter) What happened? It’s crazy.

Do you have a different feeling when you play live?

Monty: I’m older for one; we’re all older; Tom and I are both older, so it’s a little different but still just try to give it all we got, give it our fuckin’ heart and soul, and try to do justice to the songs. What do you think, Tom?

Tom: Yeah, we definitely are doing that: doing the best we can, staying positive. The crowd and the scene of what it was like in ‘92, ‘93, when we got started, things are really similar. The scene is really the same. Kids are hungry for really loud, raw music. We’re just trying to give you punk rock as what it was like when we were kids on our skateboards growing up in the 1980s, which was some of our most favorite hardcore punk music. That’s what we were doing in the ‘90s, that’s what we’re doing in 2024.

Monty: Somebody called it “classic hardcore” the other day. (Laughs)

That’s amazing because you guys were there at the forefront of it right?

Tom: We weren’t really there going back to the Pistols and The Clash and The Stooges and that kind of wave, but we were there in the ‘80s for the Black Flag original and The Germs and L.A. hardcore. The Misfits, early Bad Brains. Minor Threat. We were there and going to all of the shows.

Monty: And I think in the ‘90s when we started doing this music, there wasn’t really anybody doing this type of hardcore anymore, and not that that was the reason for doing it, but it just was—I think we just wanted to play that lo-fi hardcore, the lo-fi, fast songs with, like, a mosh in it or something like that kind of hardcore. And now they’re calling it “classic hardcore” ‘cause I guess there’s a lot of hardcore out there that’s new. There’s new hardcore bands out there blazing their trail, playing their version of hardcore, which is cool. I’ve actually been really stoked that there’s been bands like us, or 7 Seconds is playing a lot; they’re on Trust. Circle Jerks, they’re on Trust. They’re doing their hardcore stuff that Tom and I grew up on. But then there are newjack bands like Gel, for me at least, who I really like, and they play a whole other hardcore, which is really cool.

Tom: Drain is one of those bands that’s really good.

Monty: Yeah, Drain playing their version. Young guys like the Gen Z people. Probably My Crazy Life came out before they were even born.

(Laughter) Yes, it’s so true.

Monty: Which is awesome. I love that the scene’s—like Tom said, there’s still people out there that are hungry for aggressive, crazy music or bands like Section H8 and Rotting Out and all these new bands out there.

Back to the reissue, so Mario actually remastered it?

Monty: He remastered it from analogue, so the record side he didn’t remix it—We could have; we had all the raw tracks, but that was mixed by him and Adam at G-Son, so we just left all that alone of course because that’s really amazing. And the thing that he remastered was off of there’s quarter-inch tape, go from a two-inch tape to quarter-inch tape mixed down to a quarter-inch analog so I have that also. And he remastered that. I don’t know how much difference remastering makes on a lo-fi hardcore record.

Also, it’s the first time any of that stuff had been released on 12-inch vinyl. So, that was really cool that we were able to do it on 12-inch vinyl format, and it’s kind of like the CD version because we had the seven-inch; then when the CD came out, we added three or four more songs. So, some of those songs, I didn’t have the raw material for it, so we had to tack it on and do the best we could with it.

Actually, I had the raw tracks but not the mixed tracks, so anyway, and then the other side of the record on the Trust release is a live party we did. We recorded the (My Crazy Life) seven-inch in one day, I think it was in April and then the next day April ‘93, we just left everything set up in the studio. At G-Son there was like a stage and we just had a party. And then Mario just recorded this live set which had never been released, and I thought it was gone until I bought the stuff. And the people had this two-inch tape of this live show that was recorded on April 23, 1993, and that one Mario had to mix and master. So, that was really cool that Trust allowed us to do an A-side B-side thing because obviously that’s not the way the original is, but they were flexible and let us do our thing.

Also, how (Trust) did that whole booklet. They do a really good job.

Monty: Yeah, the zine, when I bought the record, and then we hooked up with Trust, I think Tom, the one thing he really wanted was there to be a zine, like an old-school zine to be included with the release. And Trust did booklets for Circle Jerks; I think 7 Seconds also had a booklet, but we wanted it to be, like, a separate zine. And then the guy that did the layout of everything and did the repackaging, this dude Bryan Ray Turcotte and his partner Art (Aguilar). And Bryan, when I told him we wanted to do the zine, he really wanted it to have that feel of the old Slash magazine, where they use this kind of funny, three-color offset printing.

So, I just gave him a shitload of stuff, the old archive stuff I have for DFL, and he and Art just put it together and made this really cool zine. And then this other guy, John Gentile, which is one of the things that was really a lot of work and turned out really well, and hopefully people have a chance to check it out, is John wrote this 10,000-word oral history that accompanies the release. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stick it in with the zine because everything got—the packing was too thick with it, but Trust still has it and was putting it in, I think, when people bought the record online. Hopefully people have a chance to read it because it’s a really cool oral history, and John did a great job of telling the story, not only just of like, “This guy likes DFL,” there was a real arc to the story that John wrote and got some cool people involved.

Tom grew up with all the Pennywise guys, with Fletcher (Dragge) and Jim (Lindberg), they were just really great and gave a lot of their time to John in terms of doing interviews. And he interviewed a lot of the other people from the release, Max Perlich, Mario. Ione Skye, who was married to Adam Horovitz back in the ‘90s. So, it was really cool.

This might be a stupid question. Is that who’s shouted out before “Pizza Man”? Max Perlich? I don’t know who that is.

Monty: (Laughs) Yeah, Tom shouts out to Max: “This is for Max Perlich.” And Max is a close friend of ours; we’re still a friend of Max. But at the time, we were all just hanging out together all the time, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, doing everything together. And Max is an actor, and in the ‘90s, he was doing pretty well with his acting. I think he was in Drugstore Cowboy, wasn’t he Tom?

Tom: Yeah.

Monty: He was in a bunch of stuff. I think he’s still acting these days. But he was part of the crew.

And then a couple of other things you say on the record, “Crazy Tom, Crazy Monty, Crazy Adam, and Fucked Up Tony!” Why was Tony so fucked up?

Tom: (Laughter) I love that you asked that. Tony is a very elite individual. I think it was a spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff, derogatory shoutout to Tony. He really wasn’t crazy; he’s very intelligent and very mysterious, so I think that was my way of presenting it in a present with a bow.

(Laughter) Oh man. And also that you guys were so tied with skateboarding. I don’t know if you wanna get into that a little…

Monty: Actually that’s a good question. That’s how Tom and I met, is we were on a bus going to I think Reseda Skatercross out in the Valley, but it could have been Marina Del Ray (Skatepark); I can’t remember the bus. But we met skateboarding. Do you remember the bus?

Tom: We were on the Ventura.

Monty: Reseda Skatercross. And you wouldn’t see a lot of people skateboarding back then, so if you saw somebody on the bus with a skateboard, you’d go and talk to them or act weird around them. (Laughs) We became friends, and then we were skating, and we had a friend Drew Bernstein, who passed away a few years ago. He was part of that crew, the early crew of skating at Skatercross, another friend of ours, Taz Rudd, who also passed away a few years ago. We all skated together, and we’re talking ‘78 I wanna say, early days of skateboarding or at least when it started to go into pools. And we just hung out tight, hanging out at Marina Del Ray Skatepark; I used to go sleep over at Tom’s house. His dad lived out in Malibu, and we’d take the bus to Marina Del Ray, and we just skated like crazy, like, all the time. That led to the early days of punk rock too because we were all hanging out together and going to shows together as well.

And in the zine that comes with the record, like you mention how it goes hand in hand.

Monty: It still does, right? I think in the zine, there’s a picture of me actually skating at Marina, the snake run, like the early days of skate parks. Like one big snake run. I was watching just recently Punk in the Park, and I think it was at Punk in the Park this weekend, I can’t remember, maybe it wasn’t, but that they had the dude from Vans, (Paul) Van Doren, introduce I think Pennywise or something like that. So skating and punk rock still keeps going together, 40 years later.

What about both of you, individually, when you were younger, what got you into music in the first place?

Monty: For me, even before punk rock, music just always spoke to me. You hear a song, and it just hits you, whether it was Zeppelin—I grew up in the ‘70s, and Zeppelin or Sabbath or Aerosmith would just grab you. And then when I got into punk rock, it was even more. The music just hit me where I live. Not to mention the whole lifestyle. I’m kinda kidding, but I went to my first punk show and I was like, these people look as fucked up as I feel. And I was just home. How about you Tom, how were your early days with music? What got you into it?

Tom: I would say my early memories of music were from my parents, who were stoners, and they would have backyard parties with bands playing, so I was watching live bands, and that sparked an interest. And then I had older siblings; they were always playing records; they were playing ‘60s and ‘70s music and just kinda grew up on that. And one thing turned to another. Music was just always around. It wasn’t just always in the back seat of the station wagon with your parents. Live music was around and exactly what Monty was saying, with punk rock and music came together because our friends would end up playing in these bands, and it was introduced to us really early. We were very lucky to be a part of that.

It must’ve been so exciting at that time.

Tom: You know, it was exciting, but we didn’t even know how valuable those memories would be until recently. Looking back, it’s an unbelievable life that me and Monty have had, sharing music and skateboarding together for 30, 40 years. We’re just really grateful. We’re really, really happy to be a part of this whole culture.

So, like you said earlier on the bus, you met through skateboarding.

Tom: Well, we had a mutual friend Drew Bernstein. And I was friends with Drew and Monty was friends with Drew. And one day, he was like, “Let’s go to the skatepark, Monty’s going to be getting on the bus in about 10 stops,” and sure enough Monty got on the bus. And that’s where we met and we were friends this whole time. We actually separated a little bit because I ended up going back and hanging out with a lot of the beach guys and Monty ended up with a lot of Hollywood punks but we’ve always kept a very close friendship.

Right, and Monty, how did you pick up guitar?

Monty: I’ve always been into music, always been touched by music. I bought a bass—I grew up in Hollywood, and I bought a bass from—There used to be this thing, obviously before the Internet, called The Recycler, a paper where people listed stuff they wanted to sell. I remember one of the first songs I learned was “Smoke on the Water” and then “Shut Down” by The Germs. And then I bought a guitar just to learn how to play. I was in a band in the early ’80s called The Atoms, and I was the singer, but I wanted to learn how to play guitar so I could try to write songs. And I still have that guitar that I bought in the early ’80s and actually used it for every single DFL recording, an old Les Paul Junior. I wouldn’t classify myself as being a great guitar player, but I can write good hardcore songs.

Were you two the main songwriters?

Tom: Yeah, me and Monty are like a writing team. He writes the guitar parts and comes up with a lyric or two, and I’ll match it with another lyric, and we’ll agree upon it real quick, not a lot of overthinking. We try to keep things tongue-in-cheek, not very political, mostly about positive stuff. We write songs about pizza; we write songs about meter maids; we write songs about why are you DFL, just fun stuff. We’re not using our music as a soapbox; we’re just using it as something to have fun with. Music is fun and full of energy.

Monty: I think if you find somebody you can write music with and do something creative with, don’t take that for granted. If you find that person, it’s a rare thing in this world, to find people you can fuckin’ click with and write songs or write a fuckin’ script or whatever. We’re working on a new record, and we’re working with some really great guys, Patrick Sullivan and Jordan Jacques, and Patrick’s been writing some songs that are really cool. We’re hashing out a new record, and hopefully we’ll get it out in the next year or so. And it’s still using the same formula where I write the music, and Tom weighs in and says, “Put this there,” or, “put that here.”

I’m pretty good at writing choruses, so I can come with silly choruses like “Pizza Man” and then Tom writes really good verses. I don’t think he gives himself enough credit. He’s a real poet. If you listen to some of those lyrics he writes are pretty cool. And (we) kind of open(ed) the door for Patrick to write some stuff and he turned out a couple cool songs, so we’re still in the writing process, and we’ll see where everything lands as it comes together. The next record, hopefully, I mean we don’t have a date or anything for it, but hopefully next year or so, it’ll be out on SBAM Records.

We recorded some stuff with Eddie Casillas from Voodoo Glow Skulls, and then we’re going to record some more stuff with Mario C. I think he’s going to do the vocals, some of the guitars, and definitely he’ll do the mixing and put his stamp on the record. We’re really excited, especially at this point in our lives, to still be able to play this music and to still be in the punk scene, which in some ways is bigger than ever. It’s worldwide, and we’ve been able to travel the world playing this style of music, which we’re really grateful for.

I like what you’re saying about the lyrics, it’s not political, it’s just fun. We need that now.

Monty: Yeah. We try to stay away from that. If anything, it’s just tongue-in-cheek, silly stuff but also some serious stuff like be grateful, be yourself, like the importance of being true to yourself. But try to stay out of the political lane. We definitely have strong political views, but when it comes to DFL, we’re a neutral zone, so to speak.

The 30th Anniversary edition of My Crazy Life is out now from Trust Records. Follow DFL on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Sophia Coppola

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