Controversy is nothing new for The Dwarves. For three decades, theyâve been accused of promoting drugs, of promoting violence, of promoting misogyny. A brief glance at album covers and song titles -- naked women and tunes like "Smack City" abound -- does add credence to that proposition.
But, if you peer below the surface, it becomes quickly apparent that there is more than dick-driven punk rock going on here. And thatâs precisely what the bands new album, The Dwarves Invented Rock ânâ Roll makes clear. As the band strips away the layers of rock music, looking for a source or common thread in this great genre, the band also reveals their own underlying drives and strategies. Is the naked girl on the album cover just a picture of a good looking girl, or is she really a question about you and your reaction to her?
Because the new album is simultaneously one of the bandâs hardest-driving and peppiest releases to date, features editor John Gentile spoke to frontman Blag Dahlia about the LP, his underlying message and the Bible, of course.
Blag, to me, in contrast to the last album, this album seems to be more primal, more instinctual.
People seem to dig this one. The less work that I do, the more people like it. Iâm working too hard, John, I need to work less.
Thereâs something to be said for that. Sometimes the very best ideas are just the ones that the muses drop into your head.
That is absolutely true. Also, I had a lot of help from the guys in the band on this record. They just came with so many good songs. We finally got Chip Fracture in there to write some songs. The Fresh Prince of Darkness wrote some cool songs. HeWhoCannotBeNamed is in there. Salt Peter came back and wrote "Trailer Trash" which is a real classic. Iâm just super happy. Weâve done a lot of good stuff.
Iâm amazed that your willing to step away from the microphone and play a George Clinotn-type role. A lot of singers never let anyone else sing.
A lot of bands are just the ego trip of one main guy and certainly my ego is big enough to choke a horse. My vision was always to get some variety in there. You donât want to keep repeating yourself or hear the same voice over and over or the same bar over and over again. I think thatâs why most bands are boring. But, you pay a price for that, commercially. Always having the same voice. Always playing the same chord. That kind of predictability is kind of what most people want. Some bands havenât changed their style for over 20 years. That gives people a great sense of comfort. I just get bored. I canât do it.
That seems to be an angry statement. In fact, on the new album, the song "Armeggedon Party" has lyrics where you say that you canât wait for the end of the world. Blag, that seems to be very dark. I was worried!
I think itâs fair to say that I careen into a dark place once in a while. I definitely have one of those kinds of brains. But, that song mainly came from Chip Fracture who hadnât written with us before. That was cool, because it was kind of a different kind of song. A bunch of cool stuff happens in that song. I like the intro. Itâs the idea of band like The Dwarves remaining in obscurity. What do we care if the music industry self-destructs?
There seems to be some schadenfreude in that. The music biz didnât want you 20 years ago, and now youâre reveling in its destruction.
On balance, itâs a good thing. A lot of the people in the '80s and '90s probably shouldnât have gotten into music and been shoes salesmen. I wish I had been spared them during the glory days of the industry. Itâs a mixed bag. When there was more money and more resources cool things were happening. Getting money for being in a movie or whatever, a lot of that stuff has dried up. But it also scares off people who are lame and donât do anything. Who needs them around.
Are you holding a grudge against the music industry and other bands who got the big mils? I mean, I think that The Dwarves should be making Nirvana money.
Yeah, thereâs an element of that. The most important part is that we never spent too much of our time comparing ourselves to other bands. We knew that we were an underground band. The Nirvana and Green Day and Offspring thing was a confusing time. Because you have people like that, itâs hard to not feel jealous when they sell millions of records. But, anyone who thought that the music industry made any more sense the year Nirvana made a couple million dollars compared to when Guns N' Roses or Kajagoogoo made a couple million dollars, or anybody else, is fooling themselves.
You always want to believe things are getting better. All of it is just a change in demographics. Some people got a little older and got a little more power, and now 20 years later after punk, they put a punk band on the charts and acted like they discovered something. Iâm always glad to see anyone who is good get some money and recognition, like me, but the industry stinks. It stinks from the inside out. It stunk the entire time, it stunk when I got into it, it stunk in the middle and it stinks now. To me, I was always trying to figure out how can I make what sounds like a big money, well-produced record without tons of money. That was always the challenge for me.
I know I can put on a great punk rock show. Iâve got great songs, a great band, great guitarists and I can knock it out. Making those records was always very difficult. I could hear the records I liked and no one would spend money on us. I was like "fuck" and I had to figure out how to do it with no money.
There are various ways to do it. At the beginning of our career, we made stuff like Blood, Guts and it was all coming from the that -- cheaply done, cheaply recorded and we just knocked it out. As we got deeper into it, and we wanted to make this kind of a record or that kind of a record, it became more difficult.
I think what really comes through on the new record is how much you guys love rock and roll. I caught a Van Halen reference here, a Screaminâ Jay Hawkins reference there.
Those are all over all our records. Thatâs one thing people kind of missed the boat on all throughout our career. Those records are full for references to garage rock and rockabilly. But, if you do a job convincing people that youâre a caveman, thatâs what they believe. But, we always dropped references to things like literature, philosophy, the Bible and things that weâre interested in. So thatâs always part of it.
Bringing in those influences -- thereâs an obvious way to do it. [In announcerâs voice] "Social D covers Johnny Cash!" Thatâs the most obvious shit, but people respond to it. Right now if you go into a country bar and play "Achy Breaky Heart," people will respond to it, even if you arenât very good. For me, itâs can you go for the cultural touchstones and do it in a meaningful way, and not do it in a predictable way? Can you turn these things around and make something interesting happen?
That goes to one of rock musicâs very greatest tenets -- taking what came before you and warping it into something new. Along those lines, Blag, who did invent rock and roll? Was it Chuck Berry? Bo Diddley? Elvis? You?!
I come down very strongly on the Elvis camp purely for historical reasons. His first record came out in January of â54, so itâs very funny when you hear people sayâ¦ someone like me, I listen to mostly what you would call "black music." Thereâs a strain in rock and roll where people say "Elvis Presley ripped off Chuck Berry!" Well, Chuck Berry hadnât made a record yet. Chuck Berry wouldnât make a record for two years before Elvis did. Neither did Bo Diddley. Neither would most people who people associate as the starters of rock and roll.
You can find some pre-Elvis rock and roll records, and they tend to be black R and B records, like "Rocket 88," or "Drinkinâ Wine." These obscure songs that play like rock and roll songs. If you listen to them, theyâre really R and B songs. They have horns, they have keyboards. What Elvis really invented was a combination of the beat of R and B records, like the ones I just named, with bluegrass timing -- Bill Monroe kind of stuff. Elvisâ first record was Arthur "Big Boy" Crudupâs "Thatâs Alright Mama" which was originally more R and B blues, which Elvis did in a country style, backed by a country song, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" that he did in a rock and roll style, in 4/4 time. It really is "what happens when you synthesized white Americana country music with black R and B music?" To me thatâs what rockabilly is and rockabilly is the beginning of rock and roll.
Itâs weird how it breaks down that way, but I canât think of any rockabilly records before Elvis. And then by â56, â57 youâve got Elvis making more commercial records with keyboards and horns and it all comes together again and rock and roll sounds like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. So, you have these guys saying, "Well, the white guys ripped off the black guys." But, itâs not that easy. Itâs always more complicated than that. If you go back on the R and B records, you see a lot of white producers, songwriters and session musicians. Even if you look at soul records from the '60s, that are completely associated as a black soul record, youâll see guys like Steve Cropper, names that come up over and over again, playing bass or guitar. Itâs very hard to trace out who invented rock and roll. Thatâs why I say I invented it. It must be me.
Speaking of the history of rock and roll, now this is my bias, it seems to me that the youngest generation of kids donât care about the history of music. They donât seem to care about the Sex Pistols and the Ramones and the Germs. Do you agree with that?
Thereâs two sides to that. First of all, music is for anyone who enjoys it. I was raised listening to musicals through my parents or listening to John Philip Sousa marches through my dad, or listening to obscure jazz records through my brother. I never had the idea that music is tied to a generation or to young people. If you go back 100 years ago, every house had a piano in it and grandma would be playing the hits of the day with the little kid. Everybody kind of knew the music. Then, the music industry kind of exploited this generation gap, which is a big load of shit. Everybody loves music. The music industry said the only people that buy and consume music are young people, so they must be "important."
I would say young kids now know more obscure shit than I did. Because of the Internet, they know a bunch of records I donât know. When I was doing it, you had to find them in garage sales, or antique stores, or weird record stores or though trading them. What you get now that everything is available. Itâs a more superficial but larger pool of knowledge. Younger people know more stuff, but are exposed to more stuff. But if you have to earn it, and go find it, or see it live, or write to the band, your appreciation is deeper, but you donât know as many different things.
Something like the Ramones, which means so much to you and me, to a young person now, is just content. Itâs content they like or donât like. It doesnât have the significance like it does for us. Thatâs a part of why even music itself doesnât have the significance that it used to have. When I was in high school, if one of your friends would get a new record, everyone would flip out and go to their house and listen to it together. Now, music is just the background of a video game. Peopleâs lives donât revolve around it anymore. And if you notice, people who are the big stars now, are always sort of these multimedia people, so you know them from their video. Look at a guy like Drake. He was a sitcom actor and now people take him seriously as a rapper. It boggles the mind. At this point, itâs just all content. It doesnât have the same cultural resonance that it had for people our age. That doesnât mean that you canât still make great music, it means that it wonât have the same resonance.
Who would have expected such a thoughtful, measured response from Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves!
Yeah, Iâve been waxing on and on. Letâs talk about drugs, pussy and death. Letâs talk about violence. Letâs talk about sex with young women. These are the things that the fans want to know about.
Letâs do that. "Love is Fiction" is on the new album. Do you really think that love doesnât exist?
Again thatâs the bizarre mind of Rex Everything, aka Nick Oliveri, one of the all time great Dwarves. I canât speak for everybody. My love life couldnât be better. Iâm an old man and I get my dick sucked and itâs just beautiful. I would suggest that if you love in rock and roll, just waking up at noon, getting your dick sucked, and living life to the fullest is the greatest. I recommend it.
You know that flies in the face of the Buddhist idea of moderation and balance. What is the secret to a long, happy life?
If I knew the secret to living a happy, long life. I would probably just fuck it up. Itâs happy because I want it to be happy. Thereâs a way to look at it where it could be pretty miserable. But, I feel sorry for someone who feels like they have to exercise discipline over every aspect of their life as if you get a gold star or check mark at the end of your life. Talking about missing the point of Buddhism right there. If ever there was an idea that one should live in the moment and people pervert. "I must wake at this hour and go to bed at this hour and accomplish this much." You might as well get a nine to five. People might call it discipline, but I call it a very boring, circumscribed existence.
So, that suggests one of two things. On "Get Up and Get High," you portray this manic junkie character. Is that you positively exorcising your negative feelings, or is it your repressed, angry side?
Wow! You know, "Get Up and Get High" doesnât feel like it has that much rage to me. It sounds more like a pathetic person accepting how pathetic their life is. Itâs like, "wake up and get high with me/you didnât come here to sleep/voices in the radiator told me you could stay up later/get up and get high with me!" This is a person who is very pathetic, who has nothing to look forward, so all they do is get up and get high. Iâm not recommending it, but it comes off as though I am.
Thatâs the weird thing. Like with "Dominator," which has always been one of our most popular songs, the song is "Iâm a dominator and you should respect me because thatâs the best thingâ¦" or is it "Iâm a dominator, what a stupid thing to be?" People just assume that weâre endorsing it instead of commenting on it, like, "this is what some people are like."
I think thatâs because the way you play the characters in your songs are so convincing, or, they represent the nasty side that a lot of people have and want to act on.
Yeah, I would say Iâve indulged in a lot of those kinds of things. There is a way you can look at it and say you are endorsing it. But for me, the mere act that Iâm writing a song negates the act of doing it. If all you really do is get up and get high, then you donât write a song about it. Why would you? If you feel that love is actually fiction, why would you bother writing that sentiment? That very act of writing a song or making an album is a statement. Then, you have to look it over and think what it means.
Or, you just donât read the lyrics at all. I talk to people -- and I labor over every lyric, where the words are placed -- and people just go, "Oh, I donât read the lyrics ever!" Iâve been fanatically studying lyrics my entire life and I talk to people all the time and they have no idea what lyrics say. To me, just playing rock and roll and just make peopleâs ears happy is enough. It doesnât really matter what the words mean. Thatâs another level of the game. Thatâs for people like me.
The new album has naked women on the cover which some people saw as sexist. But, I donât think just picturing naked girls in of itself is sexist. Itâs not like were Amish or under the Taliban.
Well, thereâs two answers to that. Number one, rock and roll has become extremely PC and bullshit, just in the time that Iâve been involved I it. And Iâve always felt that it was pc and bullshit. Really most musicians censor themselves, they donât need any outside censor, because theyâre just too afraid. Thatâs why I sing about sex and drugs and violence, because those are the things that interested me my whole life. Iâve always felt that people were too conservative or Amish about the whole thing.
Itâs a similar thing with sexism and racism, too. I used to feel like I knew that those words meant. I used to think, "weâll Iâm not one of those people, because I donât believe in that. I donât do overtly racist things towards people, so there, Iâm not a racist." I donât believe that Iâm a sexist. I wouldnât pay a woman less than a man to do a job. I wouldnât assume that a woman canât do a math problem or anything else. I have women that are very close friends. I always have.
So to me, being a sexist or being a racist is a bad thing. The problem is, with todayâs generation, theyâve defined those words out of existence. They donât mean anything anymore. Everything is sexist. Everything is racist. If you mention any minority group, you are racist. If youâre white and youâre trying to help people, youâre still a racist because of some unconscious racist bias. If youâre a man, and youâre heterosexual, then you are inherently sexist and against gay people and all of this other stuff.
Iâve been labeled a misogynist, homophobic and all these things -- and Iâm not. The only conclusion that Iâve come to is that these words have been overused to the point where we just shouldnât use them anymore. They donât make any sense anymore. Itâs one thing if a guy is starting a KKK chapter. Well then, heâs racist. If guy thinks women are inherently weaker then men, then fine, heâs sexist. But, that describes so few people. But for some people, Iâm sitting here in my white skin and penis and Iâm supposed to be sexist and racist. So, Iâve never worried about those labels because I felt that music was supposed to transcend that.
Now, I feel that people are trying to bend over backwards to prove that they are not sexist or not racist, but itâs pointless, because youâre going to be labeled that anyways. The modern way of approaching is basically like white people equals bad, men equals bad, heterosexual equals bad. And weâre supposed to be like, "Ok, youâre right, weâve disenfranchised all of you. You got our number!" For somebody like me, itâs just a joke because Iâve been against convention my entire life. I donât care if people think Iâm sexist or racist, because Iâve seen this incredible shift. Those words have no meaning anymore.
The new album is the first one without Bobby Faust, the famed little person, on the cover, in a long time, due to his untimely passing. Was that a difficult photo shoot?
We dedicated this album to Bobby Faust. It was very sad to make the cover without him on it. But, we had to move forward and I had to do something for the fans. So, we got JR Doty the photographer, who did an amazing job -- a great female photographer incidentally. I picked her because she is a great talent and has a great style.
If a woman takes that picture, and then I use it, who is the sexist? If I paid the women for the shoot, and they enjoyed it, and unlike most of the shoots they are on, no one is trying to fuck them or manipulate them, am I still a sexist? The product is supposed to be sexist because there are naked people there, but if you go to a museum and there are naked people, but its from 2000 years ago, so itâs "ok?" This whole argument about what is right and what is wrong is just a non-argument to me. I just donât give a shit. In this day in age, especially with the Internet, I think women are catching up and objectifying men as much as men objectify women, and I think thatâs fine. When you stop objectifying each other you have a problem. Thatâs when you just donât care anymore.
If you have a couple that have been together a long time and their sex life is not happening anymore, itâs because they are not objectifying each other. You must objectify each other in that context if you want to have a good time. I think women have to objectify men as much as men objectify women. I think lesbians have to objectify women. I think gay men have to objectify men. Welcome to the human race, you know.
Where do you get the girls from? Are they models? Are they strippers?
Back in the day it would be like peopleâs girlfriends that were toying with stripping. I think the original Blood, Guts girls were strippers. Sometimes the photographer would get them and theyâd be more like fashion models. Sometimes the girls would be more like fetish models. I think with this batch, one of them does pornographic movies. The other two were just models. Generally, if you have a few hundred dollars cash, there is a girl that will take her clothes off. The thing that I have to fight against is them not looking cheesecake. Getting them not to do the "come hither" stare. Thatâs the hardest part to get my kind of shits. I like art photos and try to get my photos to look that way. The hardest thing that I have is dealing with people who are too stripper-y and do the bump and grind stuff. It doesnât work towards my aesthetic.
You mentioned earlier in the interview that you were interested in the Bible. I found that very surprising.
Itâs funny. I just read a bunch of it on the last west coast tour. We toured with the Queers, Masked Intruder and Atom Age and it was a great tour. I forgot to bring a book with me. When you forget to bring a book, itâs hard for me to find magazine that I can read. If thereâs not a copy of "Harper's" or something, I donât want to read it. I donât read bullshit. Thereâs only one book in the hotel room and itâs the Bible, so you end up reading it. Iâve read it extensively. Iâm interested in it. Iâm not Christian. Iâm the antichrist.
What interested me is how much of it contradicts itself, how much of it is written by men, and how much it is just a really silly mockery of the truth. How much empty gibberish is in it. It couldnât possibly be less inspiring than the Koran. I would suggest that anyone thinks thatâs silly, pick up a copy of the Koran. A sillier, less inspiring bunch of shit I donât think Iâve read in my entire life. Thereâs so little in it, it is mind boggling. The fact that one billion people follow it, walking around like mindless zombies is ridiculous.
Blag Dahlia coming down hard on the Bible and Koran! Isnât there anything good in those books?
Ummmâ¦. You could say, "yes," but the thing is, everything that is good in the Bible is very obvious. Donât hurt people. Donât attack people. Donât hate people. Everything that is good in it is obvious and has been obvious since the beginning of time.
Donât take your friendâs crayons. Donât be jealous and hateful. Whatever they say, itâs like, "of course." Whatâs funny to me is that all the additional stuff that is supposed to be wisdom is imparted from the metaphorical. But, itâs all gibberish. The funny thing about the Koran, theyâll say something good like "You should be kind to widows and orphans and show them charity." Oh, this is good and nice. Then, the next sentence is, "if you donât your head will be cut off, your tongue will be cut out and youâll be dragged through gravel."
Wait a second, why am I supposed to do this? Because itâs the right thing or because Iâll get hurt? Whatâs the meaning? Is there anything worthwhile in there? Sure, but if you eat a whole box of Apple Jacks you get some vitamins out of there, too -- along with so much sugar and other crap itâs probably not a good idea.