Today we are pleased to present an interview between Punknews' Michael Dauphin and Patrick Costello, better known as Paddy, of Dillinger Four. The Minneapolis band has just released their fourth album, C I V I L W A R, and recently wrapped up a North American tour with NOFX. The band continues to be one of the most celebrated melodic punk bands in the genre, providing both catchy hooks and socially charged lyrics.
One thing that, I think, can be said about D4 is that you’re not trying to re-invent the wheel with every album you release.
Yeah, we’re actually kind of proud of that.
At the same time, I think there are songs on Civil War where you travel into areas you haven’t explored in the past—it seems like you employ more pop sensibility. Would you agree?
I think the aspects that you’re probably talking about are more of the songs that Eric wrote, but I would agree. I think it’s kind of how we recorded it too. We actually recorded this album similar as we did with Versus God. It would take forever to explain it and it’d be really fucking boring. It was the method of recording where we recorded everybody separately so shit sounds different.
A lot of the songs on Situationist Comedy were as poppy as songs on the new record, but we recorded [Situationist Comedy] more aggressively. And in doing that we ended up singing more aggressively -- the sound is dirtier. And also to be perfectly frank, for all rights and reasons, Erik Funk is no longer a smoker anymore. If that makes sense.
It’s been six years since you released Situationist Comedy. This is the longest you guys have gone without releasing a full-length. Having said that, what would you say was the biggest challenge going into Civil War?
To be honest, the bigger challenge was actually what has been our biggest challenge for the last 6 years, which is time. We never really stopped playing and we never stopped practicing. At this point, everybody has so many other things going on. I know it sounds stupid from an outsider’s standpoint, but it’s just been impossible to ever nail down even like, “ok, do we even have three weeks where even sporadically we could record and get a record down?” And even more importantly, “Do we have 1-3 months that all four of us could leave at the same time and tour for a new record?” And it really wasn’t even until a year ago -- and I was on tour with the Arrivals at the time -- that Erik called me. They would get together and practice without me when I would be out on tour. And we had talked about it and we were like, “It’s been like fucking five years -- we have to make a record! This is ridiculous.” And I was like, “Absolutely.” And it literately took us six months to try to create a specific period of time where we’d have time to actually track a record and have time to go out and tour for it.
Yeah, it seems like all of you guys have a lot of fires burning.
You know, it is specifically more Lane and Erik. Lane is a psychiatrist and he owns several clinics with a partner, so that takes up a lot of his time. Erik owns the Triple Rock and that takes up much of his time. Billy and I are in the service industry so we have nothing but time, which is how I end up whoring myself out to about a million bands. Also, Lane just had his first child so we really just had to get all of those ducks in a row before we could really hunker down.
I think most fans of D4 do one thing immediately after purchasing your albums: open the booklet and read the lyrics. What is your favorite D4 lyric that you have written?
Oh jesus. Ever? Wow. I really don’t know what my favorite lyric would be that I’ve personally written because all of them are fucking brilliant.
But it’s kind of funny, I recently saw a t-shirt while we were on tour out east. It was technically a Barack Obama shirt. The back of it had this American flag and it was kind of tattered. And on the shirt it said, “It’s not that system is broke. In fact, it’s working all too well.” And I saw that and I was like, “Wow that’s really cool. I wish I would’ve thought of that.” And I was talking to my friend Jay and he reminded me that it was actually a D4 lyric. And I hadn’t even thought of it but it’s a lyric that Erik wrote for a song called “I Coulda Been a Contender” off of our second seven inch. And it was funny because I didn’t even see this at one of our shows—it was just some guy I picked out of a crowd.
So I don’t know if I have an actual favorite lyric. I think in terms of lyrics in general, we churn out pretty good lyrics.
I understand that you come up with most of the song titles. Considering the time lag between albums, did he have way more ideas making it harder to settle on titles?
It’s kinda funny because “the word” has always been that our titles sometimes don’t actually have anything to do with the song. I like to look at what the song is actually about -- not specifically or literately -- but as a theme. I feel like I’ve had ideas over the last several years because we are always around one another. So I knew what has been sort of trickling around Erik’s head, and all of our heads. I had been thinking about how individually so many crises in America have been coming down to individuals in particular. And that’s why we called the album Civil War. You almost have to look at it from an individual standpoint. Like it’s a number of bizarre things happening to all Americans.
And over the last couple years I kind of knew I wanted to have a title that had to do with clown cars (“Clown Cars on Cinder Blocks”) because that’s a metaphor he uses all of the time. Just about how sometimes you just feel that your life is a clown car with a ton of people crammed together trying to get shit done. And I knew I wanted to use Paris Hilton’s name in a song title (“parishiltonisametaphor”) because she does symbolize an entire aspect of American culture that I think is shitty and it’s a modern phenomenon.
This may be a better question for Erik but “Gainesville”, on Civil War, seems to be about hanging out The Fest. True?
It’s funny because I can totally answer that one. Truth be told, when I read the lyrics I said to him, “Jesus, did you just write some mildly optimistic song?” And I thought it was extremely weird because I don’t know if we’ve ever had a song that was just like, “Fuck it dude. I feel great today and I’m having a great time!”
We had kicked around ideas for the song title and we were in the studio and it came time to come up with something. I told Erik that I really didn’t have anything in mind. I had a bunch of goofy ideas like, “Erik Funk’s Happy Fun-Time Song,” but that was almost too ridiculous.
So I asked him where this song even came from? He just said that he was at The Fest and having a really good time it occurred to him that he was having fun with 1,000 people and everything’s great. Then you have to get up on stage and sing songs about how much shit sucks. He said that in situations like that he wanted to have one song where you felt enthusiastic and party-time asshole as the situation actually is. At first I was just like, “Fuck it, let’s call it The Fest.” Then that seemed a little too vague. Then I suggested that we call it “Gainesville” because that’s kind of how we feel every time we play there.
What’s the excitement like going into this year’s Fest?
Well, from the point of view of being in a band, or playing in a few bands down there, you really have to get your regimen in order. It’s very easy to show up and get trashed after your first two hours there and stay that way for three days.
Which I’m sure you’ve never done, right?
(Laughing) Yeah, a couple years ago I spent a solid six hours taking a nap next to the Side Bar. And by a nap I mean blacking out and passing out on top of red fire ants.
But I’m really excited because we just found out that we’re playing a show with Municipal Waste, Paint it Black, and None More Black and a bunch of other bands that are good friends of ours. I like to not actually inquire about a schedule and just get the list of bands and map out a -- dare I say -- Dungeons and Dragons module to follow.
I heard a lot of chatter about some dude leaking Civil War. Apparently, leaker-dude, Scott (from Altenrative Press), Mitch Clem and someone who worked on the album all had something to say about it. I never actually heard anything from you guys. What’s your take on the whole situation?
I’m glad you asked. It’s kinda funny because by the time we found out, I guess it had been going on for days and we had no clue. I can probably speak for all four of us because we actually talked about it last night. But our whole take on it is that we’re not dumb. We knew it was going to leak. Anyone who doesn’t think an album is going to leak is a fucking idiot.
I guess the only thing that kind of bummed us out is that we knew that the version that people were hearing was not the version that we were going to put out… I think the fact was that some guy just flipped it and turned it into mp3s. And I read things where you have some guy saying that the vocals aren’t loud enough, or the guitar is too loud, or the drums are buried. And we knew that the record didn’t sound like any of that. I started playing the record at the bar I work at just so my friends could hear what it really sounded like.
It’s not even that, to tell ya the truth. The whole situation with scene politics, the legality of the leak, and the situation with the guy -- I don’t think any of us have an opinion on that or particularly care about it. But Billy jumped online that day when he heard about it and I checked it out that night and most of the shit we read was really positive. So that was nice.
So we really didn’t know most of it was going on. And I felt bad that it was out there on a public forum. And I feel bad that everyone can read that thread. And people are like, “Davey G sounds like a whiny baby” and, “Mitch Clem sounds like a dick.” And I don’t think that represents either one of them.
I have read interviews where you have said that you guys have a policy to not play shows unless it’s something all of you would pay to see. Are there any other rules D4 implements?
Well, the show one is the only one on record that has been a definitive rule just because it’s the only one we have had to outright say. And we had to come up with it after like the seventh show we played when we were offered to play a somewhat big show. And we all debated about it and finally we were just like, “Fuck it. None of us would pay to go see this show so let’s just make this a rule from here on out.”
Aside from that, the only real rule is to always try to keep things affordable. The underground economy has just changed so much over the last 10 years. Especially when we do Minneapolis shows and we try to hook up with our friends. With the way gas prices are now, we can’t just keep the price at $5 because it’s just not fair.
And also, no fucking eyeliner. Ever. And no gloves with the fingers cut off and skulls all over them. That can get you kicked out of the band.
Who worries you the most about breaking those rules?
Billy. I blame Billy for everything. He would absolutely be the first to person to show up with eyeliner and fingerless gloves with skulls on them. And when he reads that, I can guarantee he’s going to throw a couple beer bottles at my head. But I have to tell the truth, man. It’s all about the truth.
I’ve seen quite Hold Steady interviews where they bring up D4. They’ve also referenced you guys in a couple songs. Can you explain your relationship with them?
Yeah, it’s kinda funny because in a weird way it’s somewhat of a trifecta with us, Hold Steady and Atmosphere (hip hop group from Minneapolis). We all three came up at the same time in three different scenes. We will be the first to admit that Hold Steady and Atmosphere have gotten light years bigger. They’re institutions in their own. Hold Steady obviously started as Lifter Puller -- at least a few of the dudes went on to form Hold Steady.
There was a period in the late ‘90s where we all started drawing people and kind of became the big shows in town -- as corny as it is to say that. But all three of us had been playing for years and we didn’t expect to be massive, it’s just sort of what we did.
Just from hanging around, we ended up meeting each other and hanging out. D4 and Lifter Puller actually shared a practice space for years. Their drummer was neighbor of mine. Craig became a good friend of mine before Lifter Puller. He used to come to shows at this house I booked shows at, the Dead End Alley. He sings about in the Hold Steady song “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night.” And he was the dude who was into hardcore and had just moved back from Boston. Tad (Hold Steady, guitar) bartended at the Triple Rock for years -- before he moved to New York. It’s not really industry shit; it’s dudes shit.
So you guys are about to play some shows with NOFX for a couple weeks. Both you and NOFX have a reputation for on-stage, and back stage, debauchery. Considering this, how do you think it will play out on this tour?
I really don’t know. We have certainly partaken in some debauchery with NOFX before, but never as part of a show. We played with them in Vegas for Punk Rock Bowling. To tell you the truth I was half in the bag and TSOL was also on the bill. So I was following Jack Grisham around waiting to see if he beats someone up.
Aside from that, we like to party. Once we know the merch is set up and the equipment works, I think we’ll collectively behave to a level of gentlemen that has come to be expected from a little army of knuckleheads.