The Dwarves have just released their latest masterpiece- the sprawling The Dwarves Concept Album . The album finds the band dipping their toes in everything from punk to pop to dance to whatever the feel like. Yet again, it shows that they Dwarves are a band that just can;t be pigeonholed, all they while walking the line between camp and serious dissection of the modern American artist… or something like that. Punknews' John Gentile just interviewed Dwarves frontman Blag Dahlia and you can read his very deep thoughts below.
Hello Blag, I thought- I’m going to start this interview off by blowing my nose very intensely. This is for all the marbles.
[Blag makes noise resembling an elephant clearing its trunk… and then repeats that sound twice]
Well, you know, as a single it wasn’t earth shattering, but as a triple it was pretty intense. This is what happens. I get sick as a dog. It’s the drugs and teenage women.
The new album is called The Dwarves Concept Album. Is that concept as in The White Album where there is a thematic or artistic concept or is it more like Ziggy Stardust where there is a story concept? Ours is definitely more White Album I would say. I mean, that’s sort of like comparing Alalfa from The Little Rascals to Mozart. I thought of it as more of our White Album in the thematic sense. I’m not comfortable with that comparison, mind you. During the pandemic, everybody put together a bunch of material and when we came out and recorded it, it was like, “holy shit! We recorded 30 tracks in a couple of days! That was really exciting. When we realize how much stuff we had we realized we had enough for a double album… the problem with double albums is that they are not as good as single albums. We reluctantly shelved like seven tunes and we are going to make that into an EP with some remixes. There is a bunch of different shit on that record. There is Nick and my interplay on hardcore songs, there are real bluesey songs, and a ‘60s cover song, which we haven’t done in a really long time. Nut THIS album is a really sprawling work.
I’m surprised to hear you putting yourself down against the Beatles. I thought the Dwarves are the best rock band ever? I want to take that back. The Beatles are just some English dorks. We are the greatest band of all time.
To me, one of the most surprising things about the new record is how bright it sounds and how happy you sound on some tracks. How happy are you as a person right now? I mean I think for my baseline I’m pretty fuckin’ happy now. It’s that combination of still having friends and still being able to make a great record and sing a song and not giving a fuck any more. For those early records, we wanted people to hear it. For those interminable tours, we needed money and an audience and we needed a record label. We needed radio stations and magazine coverage. Now we are just completely untethered from reality. I don’t compare us to anything. I don’t care what any magazine or radio station has to say. Now it’s simply doing it for the history of the Dwarves. It’s self-contained. It’s all about topping things we already did and find new horizons. “Feeling Great,” off the new album, felt like a Ralph Champagne song [Blag’s singer-songwriter alter ego], so I thought it might be interesting to open with that song and have people feel, “oh they went poppy” and then go into “Voodoo” which is hardcore and then get to “Ages Ago” which is punk rock and then the album starts shifting and then it goes into downtuned metal stuff like “Do it all the time.” I do think in a way there is more optimism in in it now… that’s only because we give less of a fuck then ever
I think getting old is a great thing. It’s very underrated especially in rock in roll. Most people get old and run out of steam and get tired. But, when you get old you, don’t give a fuck and aren’t tied to notions of success. We were always shooting ourselves in the foot. We didn’t want a grammy, but we wanted to be noticed. Now, I just don’t give a shit. When someone tells me know they the Dwarves, I’m delighted. Back then I was bummed out when nobody seemed to know. But now its cool. People treat me like a legend once in a while.
”Kill or be Killed” has a certain non-moral Darwinian perspective. Does the best always rise to the top? The best doesn’t always rise to the top. That would imply a fair universe. It’s a more defused process than that. It takes people setting the stage for others to come along and cash in. Sometimes all the forces align like with Elvis or the Beatles, which really is the best and it reaches the top. But, usually someone toils in obscurity and some young guy comes along and just takes it and gets all the recognition. A Swedish guy figured out how to write the perfect pop song and along comes N’Sync, who sold more records than Marvin Gaye or the Temptations.
I showed the cover of the album to my mother and had a debate about it. Sure, there is a naked woman on the cover… but how is it different than a Michealangelo reissuance era painting? That was always the essence of the Dwarves. Blood, Guts and Pussy had this nasty title and blood and nudity. So. All the compositional factors were supposed to be stupid pornography. But the photo that Michael Levine took vaulted it to the next level. I think at our best that’s what our covers represent. They kind of transcend the nudity in the title and become works of art.
The cover for Concept Album was done by F. Scott Shaefer, who does celebrity stuff and model stuff. I had a feeling that he would be the right guy. There is a certain lightness to his work that doesn’t suggest what might be left by a lesser photographer. Levine was more like New York CBGBs or Alphabet city art, whereas Schaeffer was LA commercial art. They both did a brilliant jobs at creating these things.
More and more, as I do this, it occurs to me that the two things I do best is writing and casting. Everything else is done by other people. I don’t know how to take a picture or play a drum kit or play a guitar… well, anyway… but when I palm it off to my friends who are amazing, it becomes what I envision. Look at Julia Lofstrand, who has taken live photos for us. You get these cool things. In the studio, letting guys like Andy Carpenter or Nick Oliveri and Josh Freese do their things and you plug in the younger guys like Snupac- he’s an interesting character. He is in his mid 20s and he plays drums for us and he’s been in the band for 15 years! The first time we met him, he was 12 at Punk rock Bowling and he got up on stage and started singing with us. I recognized this guy’s talent early. Snupac plays thrash, so there’s thrash on the album that wouldn’t be there without him. I write things and I come up with ideas and throw the right people at them.
We got Frank Meyer for a video and we threw Madd Lucas from Sik Sik Sixks. It was like, “holy fuck, these were ideas I had that I wouldn’t be able to execute. At a certain point, I became like a movie producer rather than a record producer. It’s all about getting these people to do interesting things. All these people were in reviews are like, “fuck I didn’t know this band sounded like this.”
It’s interesting that you are comfortable with the George Clinton approach- letting everyone in the organizations shine and have some spotlight, rather than, say James Brown, and firing anyone that gets a little too prominent in the act. Being compared to James Brown or George Clinton is a tremendous honor to me. I thought of the Dwarves for the past 30 years as the Wu-Tang Clan of punk. That’s part of what makes it interesting. there are all these disparate personalities. But when it comes to commerciality, that affects things- people want the same thing. I think over the years heavy metal is more adventurous and daring and less afraid to offend people. Punk rock hit a cul-de-sac where there is a lot of cancel bullshit or PC bullshit or bands that sound exactly like Pennywise. Is it really so impressive that some bands sound EXACTLY like Pennywise or Bad Religion. But… Pennywise already did Pennywise. Bad Religion already perfected Bad Religion. You’re jut cookie cutter. Metal is a more interesting place which makes me sad because I’m a punk rocker for life. Sometimes I look around and say, “when did punk rock get so… safe?!”
I agree that one of the best virtues of punk rock is that it’s not safe and that it is edgy and that it does, or is supposed to, question EVERYTHING, even its self. But, when you are an edgy or dangerous act, you do have to be careful to not get lumped in with the meatheads and get portrayed as a reactionary or causing offense simply to cause offense. It very much is that Spinal Tap thing- there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. People have been lumping us in with the stupid al la long. You look at the cover and people say, “its sexist because it has a pair of tits.” I guess that’s the admission price for dealing with Dwarves. The lead single, “we will dare,” is buried in the back so you have you work through the whole album. The chorus is “don’t let them cancel our love,” but in the video we mock ourselves for being old. The song is retro 90s which is very in, and the male and female are equals in the video, but if you look at the song with this beautiful singer and there’s lumpy old me… so instead we made fun of the age of the band and the youth of the signer and made a comment about modern culture.
It’s on every artist to be clever and get out of these traps. It’s not rocket science. You should be able to not look like fucking troglodyte and still make interesting art and challenging people’s thought process. And that’s what the Dwarves are all about.
One time I interviewed Dave Brockie of GWAR and asked him if it frustrated him that a lot of people missed the social commentary and artistic nuance of GWAR, and only enjoyed GWAR for its shock and blood. His response surprised me. It was basically, “it’s not up to me to tell people how to enjoy my art.” How does your view point connect or contrast with Brockie’s? You can put me on Brockie’s side. R.I.P. to Brockie who was a great visionary. We played with GWAR the first time we went to Seattle in 1989. Watching that guy labor over his project and whatever money he made that went into this great production- in one sense it was opposite of the Dwarves, but on the other side it was similar. They weren’t taken seriously at first and weren’t taken as part of the metal genre and now they are emblematic of both, and that had a lot to do with where metal wound up going.
To answer the question, art doesn’t belong to the artist. It belongs to everyone else. I’m always fascinated by people that do art and then don’t put it out there because they are “real artists.” Are you really more legitimate if you sit and home and pluck a mandolin? Whereas if you’re like me and are trying to sell a record it’s not “real” art? No, actually, it’s the opposite. Art is for people to interpret their own way. If the Dwarves come on and its loud and obnoxious and it pushing your brain, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. Someone comes along an only listens to grindcore and Dwarves are too pop or someone else only listens to Taylor Swift and Dwarves are too harsh- people’s interpretations of art are so different that they bear no relations to each other.
The only time art makes sense is if you put it out there and someone looks at it. If you paint a painting and it hangs in your living room and no one sees it- want is it? I don’t know what the fuck that is. Art is not art until it’s out there. That’s a tough nut for people to swallow and people can’t take criticism. But, for me, I love to hear what people have to say.
I brought the Ralph Champagne record and Dwarves Concept Album to my oral surgeon. He’s an audiophile guy. He says to me, “Blag, why do you do that screaming bullshit when you can obviously sing?!” I’m thinking, “I was thought I as singing on the Dwarves record…?” But for him, I guess I wasn’t. It’s very subjective. Other people’s opinions are equally valid. What makes it interesting is that when you have another interpretation. If you shoot two people fucking on a couch, there’s not a lot interpretation. if you paint a sailboat, there’s not a lot to take from it. But if you make a dense art, you get a thousand perspectives.
There are a fair number of love songs on this record. That’s interesting for the Dwarves who have so many songs about fighting and freaking. In general, I think that’s true off all tough guy music. You have guys in the hood that are shooting each other over disrespect and you have rappers that don’t do any of that. Half of the time I just trying to watch tv and eat ice cream. So, the people bluster the most are—At this point, I don’t need to go out and live that stuff as much. There is a degree of it. There is visual confirmation of blood and fights and eyewitness accounts of people getting their head knocked open. You can’t hide from your art. The stuff you write are things in your life. It’s physical pain, it’s mental pain, it’s the pain of ruined romance-- songs like “ages ago,” there’s nothing yielding or romantic about it. But no, “it ended ages ago, I don’t want you no more!” it has that Ramones quality of total bitterness and it comes from a true place.
Do you miss the decrease in violence, or was that part of the excitement? There’s not as much in the scene in general. To me, that was always a part of it. I have mixed feelings. It’s tough to come back from some things. I’ve been stabbed. I’ve bene beaten. I have had real damage to me, so on that level I don’t miss that stuff. But, when you take sex and violence out of rock and roll you miss a lot. There has to be possibility that there might be a fight in the parking lot. You might get your dick sucked tonight. That’s the catalyst that makes rock n roll for me. You see these bands where a guy wants to introduce to you his wife or kid or talk about all the morally right things he does… Look at Anti-Flag. They talk about all the morally upright things they do and years later comes the dirt behind the daydream. Maybe if you had some sex and violence in a healthy dose instead of preaching it wouldn’t have bene this way. With the Dwarves, what you see is what you get. If you are flirting with disaster sometimes you get some. I hope we never lose that. That doesn’t apply to every kind of music- Native folk music or klezmer music or any other form of music. But when it comes to rock n roll and violence and to a lesser extent the drugs and danger, you are losing an essential element of it and it becomes this form to keep trucking bus companies in business and agents and managers in business. Well, fuck all you people. This isn’t what I want from this.