Monty Messex on Dead F-cking Last's 'Proud to Be' reissue
by Interviews

Dead Fucking Last's second LP, 1995's Proud to Be , has always been out of time. Released during the '90s pop-punk boom, the record bore more in common with Wasted Youth and Minor Threat than Green Day. But, despite the bands lo-fi charging, the album seemed to stand on its own, influenced by other time periods, but not a retro record. When punk rock was getting more radio friendly, DFL brought back a grimy edge.

Well, now Epitaph Records and Burger Records are reissuing the '90s classic. So, Punknews' John Gentile spoke to band founder Monty Messex about the LP, his history and the band's future.

I believe you got into punk rock by going to those early, early West Coast gigs.

Yeah, actually, [DFL vocalist] Tom and I grew up in the southern California punk scene. My first show was a punk show with Germs and Black Flag with Keith Morris singing. Germs were headlining and Black Flag was opening. It was October, 1979.

It blew my mind. I was like “I’m home! I’ve found my people!” I just remember that it was at this club in downtown Los Angeles called the Hong Kong Café and Keith Morris was wearing this little kid’s Spider-Man costume and he was crammed into it and he was screaming at the top of his lungs and rolling around on the ground. My mind was blown. I was about 16.

I was kind of a messed up kid on the inside. It just sounded as raw as I feel. I‘ll put it that way. I connected immediately. We started going to shows every night. ’79 was the beginning of the Adolescents and LA’s Wasted Youth and all the bands that were our age. It was awesome. And there were bands like Fear and Germs. It was an amazing time.

People talk about those early LA punk shows in mythical terms. But, media has also portrayed those shows as being exceptionally violent. Were the shows really as great as documentaries say, and were they really that violent?

They were pretty violent. There were people there that were pretty violent people. The skinheads were pretty violent. The police were pretty violent. But, there are violent people now. Go to a show today and you’ll see people getting their asses kicked. I don’t think they are any more violent than shows today. But, there were some pretty nasty people.

The one thing about it then as opposed to now, is that it really was underground. It’s not really an underground scene now. But, the difference is now, people will say “punk is dead,” but I’ll go to punk shows now and the spirit is there. Kids really pour their hearts into the music. It’s not underground anymore, but it still has the same feeling, which is one reason that I’m really psyched to be playing music. When DFL gets out there now, eve though it’s not underground and there are big bands, there is still a lot of that same spirit there. Otherwise I wouldn’t be into it.

Now, DFL didn’t start until 1991, so what were you up to between say ’81 and ’91. Were you in any other bands?

I was in another band in the early '80s called the Atoms. It wasn’t really a hardcore band. It was more like a punker band. We were a Hollywood band and played the Café Degrade and the Florentine Gardens with the Misfits once. We hung out with Sean Kerri who drew all those amazing flyers for the Circle Jerks. He did that amazing D.O.A. record cover, War on 45.

It was a crazy time. There were a lot of drugs -- lotta drugs.

The early punk scene was famous for drugs. Do you have a stance on drugs? Is it cool? Is it bad? Is it to each his own?

You know, I see a lot of people waste their lives with drugs. I’m a sober person and I did a lot of that in my teens and got my shit together in the 20s. It can really cause people to pay a high price. You can’t tell anybody well “don’t do it!” or this or that, but if you see someone that’s a young person and they lose their life and they have so much life ahead of them, and you think about the family, it’s such a bummer. You just wish that person would have lived to get past that part of their lives. It’s sad and is a bummer.

When you were in the Atoms, was that with Izzy Stradlin of Guns ‘n’ Roses?

Yeah it was, actually! Izzy was in the Atoms. Izzy and I were friends. But, he wasn’t Izzy then. He was Jeff. His name is Jeff Isbell. He played drums with us. He played in our first couple shows. Then, Jeff went on to become a rock dude and we didn’t want to be rock dudes. Then, we saw him in one of the first Guns ‘n’ Roses shows at a frat party at UCLA and they were soooo good. It blew our mind.

He was friends with Axl -- but I knew him by his first name, Bill. He was all rock-dudded out and I didn’t recognize him and he had these cop glasses on. He lifted them up and was like, “Monty! Monty! It’s me, Bill!” And I was like “Bill! What the fuck happened to you?!” They were really good.

So, DFL forms in 1991. Earliest on, you had Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys in the band.

Actually, I started the band with Adam Horovitz. I was living in Echo Park with my wife. We had a son who was probably 18 months old or so. Adam moved to LA and he was dating our friend Ione Skye. We were friend with Ione and her brother Donovan. We were all friends. Adam came and jumped into our social circle. The Beastie Boys were on top of the world at the time. Super nice guys.

Ione was really good friend with us. Ione and Adam would babysit my younger son while my wife and I were out doing things.

One day, Adam and I were doing something and I told Adam, “Hey, I wrote some hardcore songs. Do you want to hear them?” And he was like “Yeah.” So, I was joking and said, “We should start a hardcore band.” And he said, “Yeah, let’s do it!”

So, I showed him some of the earlier songs, like “Pizza Man” and “Meter Maid” and said the band should be called DFL because I had been in Maine and heard a sailing term about a boat at the end called Dead Fucking Last. So, I just wrote hardcore songs that were based on Minor Threat and early Bad Religion and Wasted Youth.

So, we got Tom to sing, and Tony to play drums, I think Mike D drummed once or twice, and we got Mario C. to record it. I wrote some songs. I write all the music for the band. We just recorded it and it was like a joke -- not a joke -- but messing around, and they released it on Grand Royal as their second release, My Crazy Life.

The early' 90s were an unusual time for punk, especially since hair metal was ruling the roost. What was the punk rock scene like in the early '90s in Southern California?

It was really not that happening. Not that I know of. If you talk to some guys like Tim Armstrong, they were probably grinding it out in Berkeley. But there was not one that I know of in LA. But, like I said, I kind of had a problem with drugs and was out of it for a big part of late '80s also, to be perfectly honest. I don’t remember there being that much of a punk scene at that point.

That’s why I kind of went back to my roots, the early '80s. What was it like being at Fleetwood and listening to Bad Religion or the Adolescents. What was it like when I heard Circle Jerks or Black Flag open a song? Those were the kind of songs that I tried to write for DFL -- and those are the kinds of songs that I’m trying to write now. What I wanted to hear when I was a kid. The kind of music that just grabs you and drags you to it.

I think Proud to Be has elements of that, but it doesn’t sound like a retro record. It sounds vibrant and current to me.

Thank you! I think that’s why maybe 20 year later and it strikes a vibe. I put it on and I think it still sounds really good.

When you put out Proud to Be did you have a plan or did you just bang out some songs and watched what happened?

We just wanted to do a hardcore record -- do our thing. Adam Horovitz, who produced it as did Mario C., was very adamant that the bass had to be up in the front. It had to be low-fi and unpolished. I love that and have never argued with that at all. We would record it and put it on a cassette and listen to it in the car. If it sounded good in the car, it was good. What I made was something that I wanted to hear as a kid at the Fleetwood. But, I wasn’t trying to make an early '80s hardcore record. I just wanted to make a good record.

Now, after the release of that record, you went on tour with Sublime on their last tour. What was that like?

Sublime, they were a lot of fun. I think their audience got us -- some more than others. Some of their songs were kind of reggae and kicked back kind of songs, but some of their songs were hardcore songs. But, we got along really well with the guys in Sublime.

I hit it off with Bradley. He was struggling with drugs and alcohol at the time. Even back then, I had been sober for a while. I don’t preach to anybody. I had a chance to talk with him about what was going on with me. After the tour, his guy from the record label sent me a letter saying that Brad appreciated our talks and that meant a lot to me. I was just devastated when I heard that he OD’ed and died. I was devastated. For me being a person that struggled with drugs and alcohol, I was like, “Why him? Why me?”

Then, they thanked us on the record and used our logo on the record itself. I think they put our logo on the face on someone in the airplane. That was cool and very nice of them. It was a really bummer that Bradley died.

What’s the future for DFL? New records? Touring? Live shows?

Yes to all of the above! I think we are stoked to have the reissue come out. We got a great response from that. Brett Gurewitz at Epitaph was great. Burger Records was great. Tom and I, and the new guys, Bigg Nick and Nick Manning, we’re working on some new songs. They’re in the same vein. We’re going to do what we do. Hopefully we’ll get out there in the world and play some shows. Maybe in 2016. I’m psyched. I am psyched. We took some time off, but punk rock is alive and well and we are stoked to be doing this.