Glen E. Friedman at the D.C. Public Library

As part of the D.C. Punk Archive’s one-year anniversary celebrations, on October 25, 2015, renowned photographer Glen E. Friedman appeared at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. Alec MacKaye interviewed Friedman. The photographer also took questions from the audience.



As in the Sky — Interview from 2005

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“Goddamn — you got a lot of fucking questions.”                                                                           — Photo by Shintaro Doi

Ian MacKaye made a lasting impact at a very young age, and by keeping up the good work in the decades that followed he has inadvertently provided a guiding light for generations of idealists and iconoclasts.

Washington region recording wizard Chad Clark once told me that Minor Threat, the band the teen-aged MacKaye fronted in the early ’80s, is “kind of the punk rock ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ Every day there’s a kid who buys a Minor Threat record. It’ll be around forever and it’ll stand for what it stands for – forever.”

That quote describes my experience.

I was an eighth grader in a rural town. Everything was just dirt. My friend’s sister’s boyfriend was a high school senior who gave me a tape with Minor Threat’s complete discography on it, and a group that broke up shortly after I was born became one of my favorite bands. None of my friends liked it much at the time – it was too abrasive and raw (which was why I liked it) – but it was the next step beyond the raging alternative rock on my cassette deck, and I continued carefully venturing down the rabbit hole, and 20 years later here I am, writing to you via this severely D.I.Y. media outlet.

It was characteristic of MacKaye to take the time to do the following long interview with a college newspaper reporter in 2005.

I particularly appreciate this quote: “I think it encourages people to work, and to follow their hearts and really stick by it and to let it develop. I think you’ll find that if you follow your beliefs – really – whatever they may be – you’ll find that down the road they will develop in a way that they’ll come true. Things will happen. … Yeah, 25 years after the label started I’m in a good fucking position. But five years after I wasn’t. I was working three jobs, you know? I was working my ass off.”

Ian: So what are we doing [this interview] for?

The Hoya; Georgetown’s newspaper of record.
I know it.

I was wondering, actually – maybe we could start the interview by talking a little bit about Georgetown. I know you saw the Cramps in Walsh and you worked
It was called Hall of Nations, actually, back then. You mean the building on 36th Street across from the Tombs or whatever it’s called, 1789.

When I first started listening to punk stuff in late ’78, early ’79, there was a radio show on WGTB {Georgetown’s student radio station}, a couple of punk shows on there that were pretty legendary. They were pretty great shows.
I used to listen to a Doo Wop show that was on every Sunday morning – great show. Anyway, just around the time I first really started getting into punk stuff, as I understand it, this dean – I think it was Healy, actually, although I’m not certain what his relationship to Healy Hall was – but Father Healy, I think that he was very angry with the station. Have you ever studied the history of that station?

I mean, they were really radical, and I think they agitated the school a lot, and eventually, I think the school was looking for any way whatsoever to get rid of them, and, as I understand it, the straw that broke the camel’s back was that they ran an ad for Planned Parenthood, and Father Healy yanked their charter, or whatever, and sold the station to UDC for a dollar or something ridiculous, and there was a huge uproar and there was going to be a protest.
And I skipped school – I was in 11th grade at the time – I was going to Wilson, up in Tenleytown – and we came down for the rally. It was in the middle of the afternoon in front of Healy Hall. Is it called Healy Hall? Where the circle is.

It was pretty rambunctious. They set a fire, and they tried to get in the door and there were cops there. They were really angry about the station being shut down, and it was decided that they would have this benefit concert to raise money, I guess for the legal fees that would be needed to get the station back, and they had the Cramps come down.
I had heard of the Cramps. I didn’t really know their music at all – they only had one single out at the time.
We went down and it ended up being my first punk show. I had seen Ted Nugent before that, and Queen.
It was so incredible to see, because it was the first time I had ever seen the underground, the counter-culture.
It was like, “Oh, well, this is what I’ve been looking for.”
I certainly didn’t feel at home at the Capital Center – at the arena shows. I just didn’t like those shows.
I knew there had to be some kind of revolutionary or rebellious music, something that was challenging conventional thinking, and finding this collection of freaks and deviants made me feel right at home, because I certainly felt like a freak and a deviant as a kid, and I still do.
Coming into the room, they had regular, big folding tables, two rows of them perpendicular to the hall with maybe 10 tables with folding chairs around them, from the back of the hall to the front, and there was a low stage, which I think is probably still there.

It’s a pretty tiny room, actually.
Yeah, in my mind it was massive. I felt like there were 900 people in there or something. There might have been, because that thing was so

They might have remodeled it.
Maybe. It was so, so big.
I actually played there when I was in Embrace and it was the same size.
I remember walking in and it was about as big as this room (his dining room) we’re sitting in right now, which was shocking, because in my mind’s eye it was giant, but I think you’ll find as you get older, you go back to the first gigs you saw and the experience was so profound that it made the actual setting seem much larger-than-life.
So the room was just packed, so if you can imagine it, people were standing on chairs and on the tables, like wall-to-wall. You can imagine: You have the one row of people who are standing on the floor, and you have a few people standing up on chairs, so they’re a little bit higher, then a whole row of people, maybe 8 or 10 people per table, standing on the tables, and they were all higher.
And the show was so packed and over-sold that people started breaking in through the windows, and the windows were on hinges, so people would pop the window – they opened horizontally, sort of, so the top would open and the hinge was on the bottom and people would squeeze through.
It was mind-blowing.
Then people started dancing and the tables started to collapse. So you’d see these 10 people who were all higher than the crowd and the whole thing would just drop into the crowd. That’s the way I remember it.
This is actually of the show [shows photo]: The Cramps at Hall of Nations.
… Anyway, it was epic. He threw up on stage. He’d apparently been sick. They were doing two sets that night. He threw up, they cleaned the stage, then they came back out and did the second set.
It was fantastic. It was an incredible night.

It seems like you have kind of a love/hate relationship with Georgetown. I read “Our Band Could Be Your Life.”
I never read it. What did I say in there?

In there you said you worked at the Hagen Daas and on Saturday nights it would be time for all the idiots to come down.
Yeah, but why is that about Georgetown University? Are you talking about Georgetown, the area?

Oh, I thought you were talking about the students out of Georgetown.
It’s funny, I don’t think of the kids hanging around in Georgetown as necessarily Georgetown students. It’s just the cruise strip. I actually had way more problems with Marines then. They’re the people that were most problematic.
You gotta remember: I worked down there for many, many years. I also grew up there. I grew up in Glover Park.
I actually quite liked Georgetown. It was a freak scene in the ’70s. It’s very hard to believe how crazy that area was.
You know Fruits de Mer, at the corner of Wisconsin and Dumbarton? I don’t know what it’s called now; it’s probably a clothes store or something.
When I was a kid it was called the Bar and Grill, and it was the most hardcore gay club. It was a slugfest – a brawl there every night. It was so jacked-up down there.
Georgetown’s been through a lot of changes. For years it’s had sort of a boutique-y quality to it. We’re talking about not the university, but the area.
My boss at the Georgetown Theater – which is now the Jewelry Center, that place, it used to be the Georgetown Theater – I worked there for five years … My boss down there, the guy that owned it, grew up above Nathan’s – at that time Georgetown was a really bad neighborhood, really rough. You know, it was a black neighborhood for the most part, and it was also full of immigrants, a lot of Greek kids – just a tough, tough, tough neighborhood.

It’s hard to believe.
Yeah. Even when I was growing up in the ’70s there was a glue thing down there. They used to bring rendered horse parts down to K Street and they would melt them down there. It’s insane, the way Georgetown used to smell so bad. They had a train that would come up and down K Street all the time to get to the coal factories – there were a bunch of factories down there. It was a really different place.
By the mid-’70s there were so many burned-out hippies and a really crazy street scene going on down there.
I’d say in the ’80s, for the punks, we were the Georgetown punks.
You see, all of this, I just don’t think about the university. It’s not connected really, to me. I understand it’s “Georgetown University,” but them students tend to stay over there by 37th St., you know?
I don’t think about them so much. There is the quintessential university student, which is not necessarily from Georgetown or GW or AU, but just that kind of roving pack of students: They were a problem, period.
You gotta remember that in my mind in 1979, 1980 and even ’81, the opposite of punk rocker was college student. You go to college or you went to punk.
Obviously that’s changed immensely.
By the time Fugazi was touring around, it’s fair to say that college students were our fans.
But early punks, I think the college students wanted to hand the punks a beat-down all the time.

Guy went to Georgetown, right?
Yeah, he did.

Did he graduate?
Yeah. He went to Georgetown, Jenny Toomey went to Georgetown – a lot of kids went to Georgetown.
I don’t really have a relationship with Georgetown University other than I got 21 stitches in my knee at the hospital there.
I’ve played the Hall of Nations, but that wasn’t really the university. Georgetown University is kind of, actually all the schools here, they’re kind of – it’s almost by design – they kind of close off to local culture it seems like. I remember AU had a series of shows.

They still do.
This is a long time ago I’m talking about.
We actually had a police-riot with AU police in 1981 at an S.O.A. show. You know, it’s hard to say – we’re talking about two different eras here.
I know that there are shows – AU’s been having a pretty good series of shows in the basement up there. I like those shows a lot, up at that chapel basement. I’ve seen a couple of gigs there. They’re weird. Sometimes they’re in that food court area and that’s just an unsettling place.
My brother saw Patti Smith at Georgetown. I guess I’ve seen a couple things in the hall in Healy – Gaston Hall – I’ve seen a couple of things there. I saw Jay Leno do stand-up comedy there in like 1983.
I’ve never played Georgetown, but it’s mostly because it seems so decentralized. I don’t know who does what there.
For instance, I think you mentioned that hunger-strike thing. I heard about it by reading the Washington Post – I’d never heard about it prior to that. I feel like there is a lot of activity going on there, but obviously it’s not connected with the circles or the things I would hear about.
There’s been a couple of gigs over the years at Georgetown that I’ve gone to, but not many, in terms of punk shows.
I spoke at Georgetown once. I spoke at a thing with Patti Smith, actually. I spoke with her for the Future of Music Coalition conference. Twice, I did that. I did another one, too, and I’ve forgotten what that was – some other panel.
I remember the first time I ever saw a microwave oven was at the Georgetown hospital little coin joint down in the basement.
It was a special trip – you’d ride your bike or your skateboard down to Georgetown cause they had the frozen hamburger in the case and the microwave oven. I never saw one before that. I was like “Goddamn! That’s cool.”

When was that?
’76, maybe. ’75.

I wanted to ask you about your involvement in the local hardcore scene or just the local music scene, and how much you pay attention to it these days. Like, are you familiar with 1905?
Yeah, I know them. I know the people better than I know the bands.
I think it is very hard to define “hardcore” or “punk” or “alternative” or “independent.” I feel like there’s a series of different fingers – the scene just continues to split, which is natural, but I don’t follow all the bands.
For me, punk is alive, but punk is always going to be the front of the wave. It’s going to be the thing that disturbs the water, not the foam behind it. That’s what punk is to me.
What I’m looking for is music that is challenging on some level, provocative, that makes you feel something, and there’s human connection to it. It can be referential, but it’s not necessarily referential. It’s inclusive. That’s punk, in my mind: It draws you in, so you feel compelled to get involved, and usually it’s performed in front of like 25 people.
A lot of times I see bands that denote themselves as hardcore or punk rock, part of the way that they shore up that classification is by using referential imagery or sounds, which is not bad, just not necessarily what I’m interested in.
I’m not speaking about 19o5. I think they’re a decent band. They’re good. It’s a more general statement about music and the progression of music.
Think of it like this: Right now it’s 2005.

30 years.
Exactly. I got into music in 1980. If I was to use rebellious music from 30 years before that I’d be doing some ’50s stuff.
We were trying to make something that was completely new – and our own.
I feel like that’s the mission of all kids: to take what’s been given, examine it, get rid of what’s not needed, what’s not wanted, and fashion something new, and not think about what people are expecting, but rather what you desire.
I think it’s happening all the time. The problem is that so much of the music we’re aware of is music that’s being presented or played in conventional settings: nightclubs or whatever, these sorts of circuits, and those settings, they’re great, except that they’re venues that require clientele, because they’re paying the bills.
The way you create a clientele – you have to have an audience, right? That’s the clientele, an audience.
But new ideas don’t have audiences.
So what you end up having a lot of the time in those situations is bands that are already known, have members that are known, or are playing a genre that is known.
I think it’s more engaging to try to find spaces that are off the beaten path …
I do hear about, “Oh, these crazy kids did a show at this house party.”
That’s interesting to me.
It’s funny, on occasion I see bands that I think are very good and I like what they’re doing, and I’m happy for them. I’m not necessarily blown away by them, because it’s hard to blow me away.
I was talking this morning with someone about improvisational music. He had recently seen somebody do an improv set.
For that to work for me, either they have to be extremely gifted musicians whose relationship with their instrument is so profound, or they have to have some kind of spiritual craziness that makes it, but if it’s just, like, “Well, we’re pretty good, we’re just going to see what comes out of this,” usually it’s pretty tepid, doesn’t really do much for me.
I want visionaries. I want people to either be extremely good with their instruments, or extremely visionary, just going for it. That’s more compelling. That’s how you shake shit up.

What does the phrase “blessed not lucky” mean? 
I have a problem with the word “lucky.” People often say, “Oh, you’re lucky,” like, “Well, you’re lucky – you can live off of your music.”
First of all, I don’t live off of my music. I’m not playing music right now. I’m working. I work all the time. I don’t play guitar for weeks sometimes, because I run a label, I administrate all this stuff – and it’s work. So that idea of luck, to me, tends to supplant work.
I feel I’ve worked hard and I’ve made decisions in my life that have afforded me the opportunity to do things. It was not luck …
I think people are so busy thinking about the things they desire that they don’t think about the things they have. I think about the things I have in my life, and I’m blessed, but I’m not lucky, because that would suggest that I won the lottery or something. I didn’t win a fucking lottery.
But I am appreciative of the things that are in my life. I think it’s important to be appreciative. What’s tricky about that phrase, “blessed not lucky,” is that it evokes a Christian ethic.
I’m in a wrestling match with the religions of the world over the use of language. I don’t know why Christians or anyone else thinks they have a corner on blessings. I think human beings, all of us, are blessed.
Hey, we’re talking, we have a moment, we’re drinking tea, you got a thing that takes pictures, you got a machine that takes voices and sounds, puts ’em on a tape. I mean, come on – we’re doing pretty good.
I’m not a Christian and I’m not a subscriber, but I can’t think of a better word to describe what it is I’m getting at, so “Blessed, Not Lucky.”
I think it encourages people to work and to follow their hearts and really stick by it and to let it develop.
I think you’ll find that if you follow your beliefs – really – whatever they may be, down the road they will develop in a way that they’ll come true, things will happen.
Again, people will say, “Look at you, you’re in a good position to say that.”
Yeah, 25 years after the label started I’m in a good fucking position. But five years after I wasn’t. I was working three jobs. I was working my ass off.
With the label, for instance, with the 20 year box-set – I know a lot of labels and bands celebrate anniversaries. I didn’t celebrate the anniversary with Dischord. There was no celebration, there was no party, there was no backslapping. The box-set had two distinct missions, as far as I was concerned.
The first mission was to honor all the bands that have been on the label. You’ll notice that on that box-set each band has one song and every band that has been on the label is represented. The point being that the label could not exist without the bands. It is to them that we are indebted.
There are plenty of bands that have no label. There is no such thing as a label with no bands – bands, of course, can mean musicians, if you want to parse it.
The second mission was a little more pointed on my end. Since the beginning of the label, people, time and time again, accuse us of being too idealistic and unrealistic

It won’t last.
Right. They kept saying it won’t work, because we’re not following a rational business plan, especially in terms of the American business model, but I think the American business model is an obscenity. I do not believe the oft-repeated tenets that people chant, like, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” and, “What the market will bear,” and that sort of stuff. That is just nonsense. I reject it and the label rejects it.
So, after 20 years: Alright, are we real yet?
It’s 25 years now. Is this a real business yet? We’ve never had a really negative year; we’ve never lost much money. We’ve had a few years that were tighter than others, but we’ve always basically come out in the black. We have four or five employees who all get a decent wage, plus health care, plus benefits.
In a way, that was the mission – to say, “Yo, this can be done.”
If we had abandoned that early on, listened to the critics or to the people chanting that American business model mantra, we would not be sitting here, because I would have been discouraged. We would have stopped.

How is being in a band with your girlfriend different from being in a band with your friends?
(long pause) Every band is different, whoever you’re with. Bands are relationships, period.
Amy is not Brendan, Joe, and Guy.
I don’t know, I can’t really say. I’m not a comparative person. I don’t really think about things like that.
I’m interested in making music and I always work on that mission. Playing with those guys, they’re my family, and we made music that only the four of us can make together. And the music that I make with Amy – she’s my family, and only the two of us can make this music, but I can’t really compare, because the initial difference has very little to do with the fact that she’s my partner: it’s that she’s a different person, with a different musical aesthetic. That’s the most profound aspect of it, in terms of being in a band. The other stuff, I’m sure I could discuss it, but that would really be irrelevant, I think, ultimately.

Do you feel a kinship with bands like NOFX, who have been independent for the same amount of time?
As who?

Well, as you.
Have they?

I guess they started out in ’83.
I mean, I know Fat Mike – I’ve talked to him a few times. I guess there’s a connection there. I think they try to do the right thing. I feel like in their earlier years they were trafficking in obnoxiousness and humor, which was never my kind of humor. I have a much drier sense of humor. I think that they were a bit more reactionary than I was. I’m not a reactionary person. I’m an actionary person. I think that they were looking at a situation and reacting to that situation. Like, “We just want to get fucked up,” or, “We’re just gonna drink beer,” that kind of thing.
I’m not talking about NOFX, necessarily specifically, but I think that there are a lot of people in punk rock that celebrate destruction. Not necessarily the bands, but they create music that becomes fodder for destruction workers. But I’m a construction worker. I’m more interested in building things than tearing them down. I wasn’t trying to smash the state, I was trying to build a new one – separate, but equal.
I guess I feel a kinship. I don’t know those guys that well. I’ve just talked to Fat Mike a few times on the phone. I respect the fact that they’ve worked hard. Obviously this Punkvoter thing was pretty cool, that was a lot of work, and he meant it. It was cool.
… I’ve never heard any of their records. They opened for Fugazi – or we opened for them, I forget which – I guess they opened for us. It was in Amsterdam in 1988, but it wasn’t really my thing.

Why did you pick the photo on the back of the Evens CD?
Seemed like a good photo to put on our record, I don’t know.

It’s kind of an unflattering photo. No offense.
It’s interesting – everyone says that. Why is it unflattering?

You look old. You don’t look as old in real life. You look like 60 years old [in the photo].

No offense.
Oh, I’m not offended. It’s funny. I’ve got a friend that’s a photographer and he called me up, just appalled. He was like, “Why would you fucking use that photo? Both you guys look terrible.”
I have no idea. Seemed like a nice photo. We saw it as: We were just sitting there at a gathering for a friend. It was an important gathering and it was totally candid. She just walked over and took two pictures of us sitting there.
I just think we look like real people. If you want to spend four hours with me looking through band photos on the Internet, I think you’ll see this really intense repetition of very similar poses: usually four white dudes, staring into the camera with a firm jaw, or maybe with eyeliner on with a button-up shirt and a tie. It seems so affected.
You know, when I first started playing music I went to this music store called Rolls, out in Falls Church. This was probably ’79. When I walked in they had one entire wall plastered with 8 by 10 pictures of bands.
Keep in mind this was 1979, so the bands that were up there were all these ’70s rocker bands called like, “Angel Wing,” and “Feather Devil,” and “Touch of Class,” and they all had this really uniform look.
I remember looking at all of these bands – hundreds of people – on one wall in one fucking music shop on Route 9 in Falls Church, and I thought “that is seriously depressing to me.”
It was like looking through somebody else’s yearbook or something, and I realized that what was depressing about it was not the fact that those people were playing music; it was that they all were engaging in this clichéd presentation.
If you put them together, what you see is – not the bands, not the people – the cliché, and I feel like that is still practiced – it’ll probably always be a practice – but it’s not something that I’m particularly interested in being a part of.
I’d rather just look like people, because I think it’s more important that we’re recognized as people than as performers.
Also, I like the fact that we’re sitting in this lush, green scene, but on the front you have this giant creature [an elephant] eating what looks like shredded newspaper. We probably should have changed places. He should have been having a snack on that nice green stuff.
I don’t know. I’m not going to defend it. I can’t defend it. Perhaps I wanted people to think that I was ugly and 60.

I thought that’s what you were getting at – looking like a normal person.
Well, I don’t think normal people are ugly. I also don’t think that picture’s unflattering, but it’s interesting that you said that, because many people think that.
But that’s all right – there are plenty of photos that people like of me that I think are just horrible. There are other photos I like of me that other people think are horrible.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really make any fucking difference at all.
All we were trying to do with any record cover – this is what really will, I think, fairly secure the existence of the record or the CD as opposed to digital formats: that jacket gives you some context of where this music is coming from …
Bands who hire graphic designers are sending a statement.
It’s like wrapping a gift. It gives the person the idea of, “OK, this is where they’re coming from.”
If you take it to the store and have them wrap it, you get a really generic kind of wrapping. It might be well wrapped, but it doesn’t have any kind of personal impact. If you wrap it yourself you might use newspaper – you have an endless assortment of options of creative wrapping. It suggests the energy or the emotion or the emphasis in which you were making the gift.
So, we wrapped it with that.

Shintaro Doi: I personally am a great fan of John Frusciante and I listened to the DC EP and I was actually very, very impressed.
Yeah, that came out nice.

Maybe taking that EP as an example, what do you bring to what you produce, what do you try to bring to the studio, to the artist?
I think I usually try to encourage people to think about the music and not about the convention. There was aspects of that recording, for instance, that John had never done. He sang sitting down in front of the mixing board, and he was like, “Wow, are you serious?” And I’m like, “Yeah, just sit here, sit next to me and sing.”
I just got into that idea of recording sitting there, and people think it’s odd, but if you’re standing in a room by yourself, you’ve got a glass window, you have a microphone and you’re singing, then you’re in a kind of isolation tank and your performance is lonely.
If you’re sitting next to people in the room and you’re singing along to the speakers, then it’s a shared moment. There are people in the room, so you have to perform. If you’re a performer, you have to. And that tension brings out great, emotional performances, because you’re feeling the energy of the other people in the room.
From my point of view, all I was trying to do was make music with him.
As a producer, I was involved in the arrangements of some of the stuff, and the textures, and I thought it was great. I was surprised it didn’t get more notice. I thought it was a really, really good session.

I think it was one of the best that I’ve heard.
Thanks. It was amazing. I kind of thought he’d come back and do some more. He may – they’re in the middle of work on the new Chili Peppers record.
That guy is immensely gifted. There’s just no fucking around, he’s one of the greatest guitar players I’ve ever seen, and he just knows music. All he does is study music, all day. He just sits and listens to music all day long. He can play any song – if he can hear it, he understands it and he can play it, which is completely beyond me. I can’t even figure out how to play my own songs.

I just got the Minor Threat DVD, and on it you said that you were an angry person. Are you still?
Of course. Don’t I seem angry to you?

Not too angry.
I think there is a persona of anger, the way people visualize it, then you have what an angry person is. I’m still angry about things, of course, but when I sing, the work I do, I’ve always thought about: make a better life, make life good, that’s what we desire.
And, at some point, probably 20, 15 years ago, maybe a little longer, I made a conscious decision that, if I really believed in the songs I was singing, I would live that way.
In other words: I would live happily. It doesn’t mean that I’m not angry – it just means that I would live happily.
I can still be angry about things that I think are unjust, that are obscene. For instance, war is obscene. Period. So I’m always going to be angry about the fact that there are people who are sort of forcing other people to engage in that kind of behavior, and that there are people who do engage in that behavior. That makes me very angry.
At the same time, if I were merely to live my entire life screaming about how everything was so fucked up, then it would suggest that I didn’t actually desire for things to get better or to repair, because I’m wallowing in the disrepair. Do you understand?
So it seemed clear to me that we should be happy in life; we should celebrate life and not just agonize over death. I think if you look at the lyrics of the songs, they’re still pretty critical of things, and I also celebrate things. It’s a balance.
In Minor Threat, you know, 1980, ’81, there are a lot of different factors, a lot of different things going on at that time. First off, it was a new punk scene. Brand new. Any time anything is new, there’s a lot of attendant friction at the birthing, right? A volcano, that’s something growing up, an earthquake, something’s moving, that’s the friction.
That was a new cultural movement that was causing an immense amount of friction in this society.
I think it’s difficult for people now to understand just how tense it could be and how easy it was to infuriate other people. I mean – your haircut would have gotten you into a fight in 1979.

It’s a pretty normal haircut.
Right, but in 1979 you would be a fucking freak. I know it seems odd, but that’s the way it is. At that time, longer hair and wider clothes were so de rigueur. Anything that wasn’t orthodox – it was very easy to upset people. So there was that aspect of it.
The other aspect was that we were kids and we were confronting the outside world. We were leaving our biological families and going into the larger family, and in that process there’s also an awful lot of tension. We were angry a lot, angry with each other, and then you’d go to other cities and there were other kids like you who were also angry, and no problem: You’d get into a fight almost anywhere you’d go. That’s a different kind of anger. That’s just kids’ anger.
But at the root of it all, the things that I was singing about, I sang about it because I thought they were wrong, and I thought that things should be better, that we should do better. So, try to do better.
You know, if I were really angry, you wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I wouldn’t have time for you. I’d just tell you to fuck off.
If your door is locked you may keep out a few irritants, but you’re also locking out thousands of the most interesting, incredible moments.
That’s what I was talking about earlier, when I said, “Blessed, Not Lucky.” The idea’s you have to be open. You never know what might transpire. If you’re just pissed and you don’t want to talk to anybody, I think that is a lonely sport.

You do a lot of interviews. Are you normally happy with the way they come out, are you normally happy with the kinds of questions you’re asked?
I don’t read most of them because they don’t ever send them to me.

You don’t go out of your way to find them?
If I see it I’ll read it, but I don’t go out of my way, because I forget they exist. I do a lot of interviews.
I like doing interviews. It’s a way of having a conversation.
My reputation precedes me, and it’s very difficult for people to get into a conversation with me, because they know me in a way that I don’t know them. They’ve been listening to my records for maybe their whole lives. I’ve been making music for 25 years. So if it’s a 20-year-old, it’s possible they’ve been hearing that music their whole lives.
Maybe their parents were fans. Who’s to say? Maybe there was a massive Minor Threat fan in 1980 who had a kid. And that whole time, that kid’s life, they’ve been hearing Minor Threat. It’s possible!
By the time they come to talk to me the relationship is so out of balance.
I had an experience the other day with a guy who just started asking me all this personal stuff, like, “Am I married?” and, “What’s my personal life like?” I was like, “What the fuck you talking about?”

Was it an interviewer?
No, it was at a show! We played and he started asking me these questions. The problem was: his relationship with me was so intense, because he’d been listening to me and thinking about my music and looking at pictures of me, and all this kind of stuff. I of course never met him, didn’t have any idea who he was. He was a stranger – almost a complete, total, perfect stranger.

And to him it was the opposite.
Kind of. The problem is that his relationship with me was his relationship with who he thought I was – not who I am. Some things may line up, but I’m not the person that most people think I am, because in my little universe there’s so much discussion about who I am, the things I believe in, because I’m outspoken.
Doing interviews is a way to actually engage with other human beings.
For instance, the Frusciante record: That’s a record I really enjoyed making, but I don’t think I’ve hardly ever seen any reviews of that thing and nobody I know has had anything to say to me about it. So, in a way it’s an opportunity for me to be like, “Oh, I’m glad somebody heard it! Somebody liked it.”
‘Cause really I can tell you, maybe nine people have ever fucking mentioned that … (tape runs out)
… Maybe that was the strategy: to surprise people with how youthful I look. I just turned 43 the weekend before last.

What did you do for your birthday?
Oh, just hung out.
But I enjoy interviews because it’s practice, and I get to think about things.
I used to keep a journal pretty regularly – I kept it for 10 or 12 years – and at some point I was writing in my journal that I was writing in my journal and I thought, “I gotta stop. I’ve just lapped myself.” So, I stopped keeping a journal.
But by doing interviews, if I look at the interviews over the years, I can see my growth. It’s like having a mark on the wall of how you’re growing.
It’s practice. You think about how you speak, you learn how to drop words like “like” and avoid using the phrase “it’s about this” and “it’s about that,” which I find repellant.
It so completely riddles American culture. It’s kind of receded in the last year or so, but there was a period where every politician, entertainer, and athlete would use the phrase “It’s not about this, it’s about this.” Or, “It’s about freedom.”
It’s such a strange fucking phrase, when you think about it.
What are they talking about?
I think it is a method to summate things, to sum it up: “It’s not about making money; it’s about having a good time.”
I’m sure if you interview people, you hear it, because people use it all the time.
It’s bite-size, and people go for the quotable.
My family were all very interested in language, so I do think a lot about language. In doing interviews I think about the way I speak, and I think about the best way to make points.
I read a lot – I look at other people’s interviews and some of them are just appallingly bad. They’re just like, “Yeah, I guess. Sort of.”
Or they just talk about what everything is about and say “like” every third word.
It’s interesting.
… It’s a rhythmic thing, to some degree. There’s a cadence to language which I find fascinating. When you’re with friends, when you’re with someone you know very well, you can speak in a way that is almost unrecognizable to other people.
I remember once Fugazi was in New Mexico and we were staying with a friend of ours. We got out of the van, Brendan and I were talking, and I said to Brendan, “so, ugontthelaundrymat?” and he said, “Yeahuneedsomethingcleaned?” and then [our friend] said, “What the fuck was that? What language was that?”
Because of the cadence of it, she couldn’t hear it. We were talking to each other. It’s an intimate exchange.
It’s something that you learn about. It’s tribal, which I’m very interested in.
I love regional accents. I’m very interested in regional sayings. They’ve been largely flattened out by the federal entertainment system, and that, by the way, extends to MTV, because MTV did an incredible disservice to regional music. Suddenly you had flannel shirts, torn jeans, Chuck Taylors, Jaguar guitars – Nirvana – beaming into every house, and that parlayed into a somewhat generic musical wash.
You go around the country as a touring band, and then you start seeing it around the world. The same behaviors – the same guy jumping on top of the crowd, crowd-surfing, pumping his fist, all over the world, the same exact thing. As soon as MTV started showing it, it was just everywhere.
I think that music is very regional. There should be regional attributes and flavors. It should reflect where people are coming from, which has a lot to do with why Dischord is a D.C. label, not a label that’s trying to cover everything … and punk, because ultimately it’s coming from people – new ideas haven’t been put on MTV yet.
So, language is something I’m really interested in and I think interviews are an opportunity for me to engage in language, and I hope I get better at it.
Give you something to think about anyway – that answer your question at all?

How many more you got?

Um, three?
Alright, let’s try it.

You mentioned your Dad and your family. What kind of relationship do you have with the Washington Post?
I don’t have one.

No? How do you feel about it?
In what sense? My father worked for the Post for 19 or 20 years.

He was an editor, right?
Yeah, he was. He was a religious editor. Initially he worked for the Houston Chronicle and the Minneapolis Star. He was on the White House beat and he was in Kennedy’s motorcade when he was assassinated. He was in a bus behind them.
Then he went on to be in the White House press corps for Johnson, he was there for Johnson’s whole run, eight years, and in 1968 when Johnson left my father was not interested in being in the White House press corps – first off it’s a lot of work, and second off he didn’t want to deal with Nixon so he got the religion editor role, which he liked – my father’s a theologian – and then he became the Washington Post Magazine editor.
He kind of got blackballed by the Post, because he was involved in the Pressmen’s Strike of 1975. Our family was on strike for six months. My father wouldn’t cross the picket lines, and it was a really, really ugly scene. So then he became the Associate Editor of the magazine, but they cut him off there. He couldn’t get any higher than that.
And he left there in 1986. So, my whole life the Post was present. I went down there a lot.

And you worked for the Post.
Well, I delivered papers. I guess I worked for the Post. Yeah, I drove a newspaper truck.
I also delivered the Post as a kid.
I also read it every day. I do struggle with that. I never look at television news, I don’t read newsmagazines – I think it’s all ridiculous. I think watching the television news is actually unhealthy.
You think about the number of things that are happening in the world right now and it would fill up five hours – so you can imagine that of the 17 minutes that the half-hour newscast actually has some content, and then split that with the sports and the weather, so you’re talking about nine minutes, maybe.
What they select to put in for news is a really biased and strange decision. It’s entertainment.
They want people to feel like they have to tune in. So, what would be a good way to make people feel like it’s really important for them to tune in? Well, by letting them think that they would have information that’s emergency, important information. Like there’s a poison gas cloud coming or something. But they don’t have any information that’s going to save any lives.
They’re fear-mongers, and they’ve made people feel like things are much worse than they actually are.
If you want some evidence of this, speak to anybody who watches television news all the time. Don’t watch it, ever, and then speak to them.
When you have situations along the lines of the anthrax, that sort of stuff, when that anthrax stuff was going on, people I knew were terrified. I was not terrified. I’m not scared.
So much of that terror was connected to what they were seeing on television. Certainly, the damn plane-crashings in 2001 — you know, the Pentagon is just over there, and I saw all that the smoke – I was sitting right here, had my breakfast, did not look at the television at all. It’s out of my control. People would call me up, like, “What are you gonna do?”
I’m like, “What the fuck are you gonna do? I’m just gonna sit here and answer the mail.”
I answered mail all day. I didn’t watch television. I didn’t look at it. I knew that the planes had crashed.
People kept calling, being like, “Oh, the planes crashed. Well, where are you gonna go?”
I said, “I’m not gonna go anywhere.”
Of course I was discouraged, because it was a really ugly act of human brutality. But humans have been brutal to each other since they found they could hit somebody with a stick, practically. This is sort of an ongoing cancer

Since there have been humans.
Right, that’s it. I felt terrible about it. I have to say in some ways I felt less terrible about it than I did when I think about the insane pounding of civilians in Iraq, which to me seems much more despicable. Think of it like this: there are devices that cost more to make than you may make in your lifetime, cumulative salary, that are being dropped, and the purpose of them is to explode and send millions of flying pieces of metal into human beings, and that’s one of tens or hundreds of thousands of these sorts of things. It is completely insane. That’s a very discouraging, ugly act of human brutality.
If you didn’t look at the television, and I didn’t, my relationship with that experience is really different, because I realized right then and there that there was nothing that a television could tell me. What it would do is show me over and over and over and over a visualization of an incomprehensible act.
Human beings have the mental processes to – when you see something that doesn’t make sense, you figure out a way to smooth it in to the sense. You try to make sense of it. If you look at it enough, you won’t feel it anymore.
“You won’t feel a thing.”
If I brought you a giant bowl of shit with a spoon, that first bite would be unpleasant. We’re not supposed to eat shit. But if you had to eat it, if you felt that you had to eat it, you would figure out a way to not taste that shit anymore. Your body will adjust. It has to. If I slap you in the face, you’ll feel it. But, the tenth or fifteenth time, you will not feel it anymore. Your body will adjust. The mind and the body will adjust to the situation, or it will die.
So I think television news is really extremely poisonous and toxic, and I suspect the Washington Post probably is as well. I’ve been trying to not read the paper, but I do read it every morning. It’s been like that my whole life. My family, you know, we have dinner every Sunday, and everyone talks about, “Well, what do you think about the way they talked about this?” Or you know, just study things.
I think that probably that hour would be better spent reading a book. But I haven’t quite figured out how to work that out yet. I’ve been thinking about this for about two years, and every once in a while I’ll call ’em up and say “Maybe you should cut my subscription off for a while,” then I think “ah, no, keep ’em coming.”
So, what’s my relationship with the Post? (shrugs) Could be a lot better. In fact, recently, editorially I think they’re fucked. There are clearly neoconservatives and hawks involved with that paper, and their role in starting this war was absolutely despicable. A few of the columnists are especially despicable. I think Michael Kelly was insane. I mean, he died in Iraq, but any person that wishes for police brutality against protestors is not OK in my book.

I don’t know anything about him.
Because you don’t read the paper every morning like me. What’s your other two questions?

What do you miss most about playing in Fugazi?
What I miss most about playing with Fugazi is, you know, Fugazi. They’re some of my closest, dearest friends, and we made a lot of good music together, and I miss that. You know, we are extremely close. I’ve been friends with Guy since 1980 or ’81. Guy’s first show, by the way, was also Hall of Nations. It was coincidental – we didn’t know each other at the time. I’ve known Joe since 1983 or ’84. Joe lived in this house for nine years – we’re very close. Brendan and Guy lived in the same house. What do I miss about it? I miss those guys.

How often do you write songs?
Depends. I’ll go months and months without writing a song and then I’ll go through a month where I write 20. It just depends. It’s a little slow right now, but I think it’s normal because there’s so much machinery in place in getting the record out and doing all other sorts of stuff. Life is full of stuff to do, and my life has been extremely full of stuff to do the last few years.
In a way, for me to write songs, I need to be able to get a piece of quiet so I can fill it up. Music used to come to me – songs would come to me – at times where I couldn’t do anything else.
I used to write a lot of songs in the Georgetown Theater. I used to work in the ticket window, just sitting there writing songs.

That’s where most Minor Threat songs were written?
Yeah, so many of them were inspired by these people, walking up and down Wisconsin Avenue, being complete idiots.
I had to be there. I had nothing to do. I was just sitting there, I had all this time – so I just started to create.
Because of portable communication devices, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have time – I mean, there’s so much to occupy your mind. If you look at television, you can look at 200 channels or a DVD or a videotape. Or, God forbid, if you’re gonna play games, I mean, those things will take your time right away.
I actually feel really fortunate. For me, video games are really – you had to go to an arcade and put a quarter in. I just narrowly missed that home video game thing, but sometimes, if I’m ever at a college or I go by a dorm, there’s those games and people go in so hardcore. I’ve never experienced it, none of my friends play ’em. I don’t fool with that at all. People go deep on that shit. They get so heavily into it. If I were involved with that I would never get anything done. We wouldn’t have time for this interview if I was a video-game guy.
I was thinking about this the other day: There’s so many forms of communication. Recently, for somewhat pragmatic purposes we started using instant messaging between that office (Dischord’s office) and me and this person who used to work for us.
I realized I have email, telephone, with voicemail, two lines, and instant messages coming up on the computer, and I have a cell phone, but I don’t use it – but I was thinking about that: There’s no quiet. There’s no rest.
I remember reading an essay years ago about 24-hour banking, and how it’s pitched as a convenience. You know, there was a time when, let’s say, you needed to check your account, but it was two-in-the-morning. Well, tough shit! You’re not checking your account. Too bad.
I mean, I can remember Sundays where everything was closed except for the pharmacy. For real. And if everything is closed, what are you going to do? Well, I guess you just had to be alive.
Convenience has its costs, and part of that cost is that it’s taken up a lot of the air from the creative space. So, I endeavor to find some quiet so I can do more writing.


No Cheap Holiday, These Other People’s Ecstasy: A 2014 Dennis Lyxzen Interview



Lxyzen pop & politics, I asked them what the use is:  Members of the “industrial pop” group INVSN after performing in Washington, D.C. in March of 2014.

If you ask Dennis Lyxzen what he feels his late, great, future-punk band Refused’s greatest accomplishment was, he might say something like,  “the greatest accomplishment was that we – in Sweden, ’93 to ’97, we toured and toured and toured, and we built a movement in Sweden of bands, of people that are still active today, still playing music. I think that was our greatest accomplishment: that we managed to become something that meant a lot to people in Sweden at that time. The touring we did in ’95, ’96 around ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent,’ that was when it really meant something. People came out and people were really excited. And we were building something new, you know? Not only Refused, but a bunch of our friends – we built a hardcore scene in the ’90s that got kind of big in Sweden. All these cities that we played – people showed up. It was really cool. We built something, for real. And 15 years later you go on tour and play Terminal 5 in New York for 5,000 people, two nights in a row.”

Two years after playing those reunion shows and nearly a quarter-century after beginning Refused, Lyxzen was on the road again, hitting up D.C. and playing the nondescript rock club DC9 with his current band, INVSN, which sounds nothing like Refused. The closest point of reference for INVSN would be something like the Cure.

The ‘VSN will be too glossy and shiny for many – particularly in its recorded form, particularly upon the first couple of listens, particularly for those who only listen to Refused-style spastic arena punk-metal – but INVSN’s 2013 eponymous album grew steadily upon me as I did my duty by listening to it repeatedly. INVSN purveys pure pop replete with memorable hooks that stick where they should (in your brain) and cool Occupy the Horizon, pictures of fields without fences, God damn the man-type lyrics.

INVSN cuts minimalistic, dark, shimmering gems so expertly that they evoke craftsmen like the Replacements or Tom Petty or something, (while, to be sure, far more strongly evoking Joy Division, ’80s-era U2, etc.). Some of these choruses are ocean-sized. This is my favorite INVSN song, I think; it illustrates well the qualities I’ve described and which are discussed subsequently.

INVSN’s D.C. performance for an audience of about 30 to 50 or so showed that Lyxzen remains a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll frontman. He is a good singer, now, too. Another small audience was won over.

Lacking an assignment from a reputable media outlet for this here Q-and-A, before the gig I threw my professional rectitude to the wind (where it now flies high, along with my potential and prospects and, of course, the answer, my friend) and I seized the opportunity to act the fan I am, giving D-Lyx a copy of Ian Svenonius’ new book and a signed copy of a book I’d recently published (with a personal inscription!!!), and so on, and thus my signature journalistic tactic of “establishing a rapport” with my unwitting prey again paid off and Dennis spoke for more than an hour, offering an apparently candid portal into his life and music.

We spoke about human nature, capitalism, summer holidays versus punk routines, becoming a middle-aged rebel, his childhood, Inside Out, Fugazi, and getting “dragged down into a life that you were not ready to be a part of and you didn’t want to be a part of – you never wanted to be a part of.”

Do the classics go out of style?
No. I guess that’s why they’re classics. I mean, we said that they do, but there’s a reason why bands like the Clash or Minor Threat or Neil Young, stuff like that, people keep coming back to. I think there’ a certain timelessness in it. I do, however, think that the cultural importance of it definitely diminishes as time goes by. But there’s a reason why some stuff is classic.

So the classics don’t go out of style?
I mean, some of them do. It’s funny. That’s a reference to how critics and “knowers,” they’ll be like, “Yeah – this is the best band to ever come out of the U.K.!”
And then two years later it’s totally forgotten. It’s that mentality of always trying to find something new and exciting.
But the real records that became landmarks in their own right, they’re going to be there for a long time to come.
I think the Refused thing was also one of those obscene, bold statements about, like – there was a lot of talk about burning museums (laughs), you know, rejecting the tradition of rock ’n’ roll.

You mean within Refused?
Yeah. That whole Bakuninist sort of idea – you have to destroy something in order to build something. That was a lot of my inspiration – that whole mentality of, “What we got now is fucking horrible. Just tear it down. Destroy it and we can build something new.”
It definitely still applies a lot to the rock ’n’ roll cliché and the rock ’n’ roll genre and so on.

I meant to start out by asking you:  What are some things you’re tired of being asked in interviews? Probably, “Do the classics go out of style?”
No, no. That’s the first time I got that question, actually.
I don’t like it when I do interviews and people ask me, “So, what does the new record sound like?”
That makes me really angry, because it’s like –

It’s on the Internet.
Exactly. It’s just courtesy. “OK, I’ve listened to the record. This is what I think.”
That’s it. That my only thing that kind of annoys me – apart from that I’m pretty flexible (laughs). If I’m not interested in the question I’ll just come up with my own answer.

Like a politician.
Yeah. Just maneuver around it.

Politicians do that every time, whenever they get asked a tough question.
Yeah. I think they do it every time, no matter what question they’re asked, because it’s more a matter of the rhetorical approach –

Talking points, you mean?
No – the language of politicians is a language that – you don’t want to give straight answers, because then you can be held accountable, even if it’s something really petty and really small. So you always use this language – the political language ­– to circumvent actually promising something or taking a position.

Taking a stand.
In Sweden, I do a lot of debates on TV. I haven’t done it in awhile because I got kind of tired of being the political musician that has ideas.  And most of the interviews I do in Sweden I talk about politics, so it’s kind of my role, but then people ask me, “You always talk about politics ­– maybe you should become a politician.”
I’m like, “No, that’s the exact reason why I talk about politics ­– because I’m not a politician.”
My political ideas and what I think is at times very unrealistic, which I think is what an artist should be.
The world is super-complex and very fragmented and if you’re a politician you have political ideas, but it’s all about compromise.  “If I do this, you can give me that, and then we can crisscross to some sort of compromise.”
It’s always about compromise, and as a musician and an artist my purpose is to be unreasonable.
My purpose is to say shit that’s way off, just because that makes people react and think, and if it’s here now, maybe I can bend it back here and in the end it’ll be –

Bend the discourse.
Exactly. And I think that’s the cool thing about being an artist. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent well-thought-out –

Action-plan. 100 steps.
Exactly. It’s ideas. That’s why I love music and that’s why I’m so fascinated by the power of music or the power of art or the written word – because you don’t have to be like, “This is exactly what I mean.”  It’s an artistic expression. It gives you a certain amount of freedom to exaggerate, which I think is good.

So your role in society is to be an idealist, not a pragmatist.
Exactly. An idealist, but also, maybe more – as a musician, you’re working more as an inspiration for people to get energy.
I mean, I like it when I see something or I read something and it gives me this seed of an idea that I kind of pick up on myself and I can go with it or roll with it, you know?
And I think that’s the roll of the artist.
Yeah, I’m an idealist. I’m a pragmatist in life, because I know how life works. But as far as my art, you have to be open and you have to be like, “Anything is possible.”
That’s the thing punk rock taught me:  Anything is possible. Why limit yourself? Anything is possible.

The lyric “Hats off to hatred” reminds me of the lyric “Anger is a gift,” by Rage Against the Machine.
The first question is: Do you like Rage Against the Machine? I had seen before that they were potentially an influence on you, so I wonder if you think you’re along the same lines as them. And secondly, do you think that lyric is kind of the same sentiment as “Anger is a gift”?
Yeah. When Rage Against the Machine came out that was a big deal.
I saw Rage Against the Machine right when the first record came out, and the only reason I saw them was because it was Zack from Inside Out. I loved Inside Out. They’re one of Refused’s favorite bands, actually.  We loved Inside Out. We played Inside Out songs.
So we went down to Stockholm to see Rage Against the Machine in front of 45 people and we hung out with them all night, because, you know, we were wearing our hardcore shirts and they were like, “Oh, you guys are hardcore kids.”
And then three months later they were like the biggest band in the world. And I followed their career.
When they came out it was right when we started Refused, and we didn’t want to be Rage Against the Machine, but we were like, “Holy shit – a mainstream band that’s radical, that talks about politics and that made sense.”
Some of their music has not [aged] 100% well, but some of their songs are still great and some of their lyrics are fantastic.
And I do think it’s sort of the same sentiment. When you grow up as an outsider or a freak or someone that feels left out – for me, taking that negative energy and that hatred, because I hated my teachers, the whole adult generation, my peers, the fucking jocks and bullies.  I hated everyone.
And I took that energy and I started a band.
I tried to focus that energy into something creative and positive. It’s a weird sort of revenge.  No one believed in me. I was not a popular guy in school. The girls did not like me. People just thought I was a fucking weirdo. And to take all that energy –

Everyone was just totally un-encouraging? There were no teachers that –
Everyone was like, “This guy’s just out of his fucking mind.” He’s weird.
And to take that energy and to turn it into something creative and eventually positive – that was a big deal.
I wrote those lyrics to “The Hate” just to be like – it shaped me into the person that I am today. And I’m not a hateful person at all, quite the opposite.  I’m a very easygoing kind of guy, but those formative years, they made me who I am today, and I’m really thankful that the bullies were bullies. I’m really thankful that I had to go through that shit, because it gave me character and it built me up as a person. I had to be a strong person and be like, “I’m not going to follow.”
Because that’s the thing: Peer pressure, in school, it’s so strong. And I never fell for peer pressure. And it made me a strong person today. And it made me fucking go about my own way all my life.  And I’m thankful for that.
I wanted to write that song because I think a lot of people recognize that feeling: “Fuck these guys. Fuck them! I’m going to fucking show them.” And if you can turn that into something creative, then I think that’s fantastic.

You “never followed the herd.”
No, never. I fucking hate the herd. Still, to this day.
As a young kid I was always a loner. I grew up kind of just hanging out by myself. And early on I was super-allergic to male group activity. I think the man as a social construct has to be the worst idea ever. And whenever guys get together and (makes vaguely ape-like noises), it freaks me out. It really bums me out.
And to this day I’m super-allergic to that. All the way through school I couldn’t stand that. And it made me the person I am today, because I was not a part of it.
I mean, I’m a man (laughs). That’s how I was raised. But I was very much outside of the norm really early on and, you know, it made me into where I am today. I’m very thankful for that.

You must have had a small group of friends, right?
Not really. I mean, no (laughs).
I’m trying to think of it. I mean, when I was 12, 13 I started getting into music for real. Before that I was kind of on my own. When I was like 12, 13, I was into David Bowie. I listened to the Beatles. And everyone in my class listened to AC/DC, and I was the weird kid. And I got into heavy metal, of course, eventually, and I got so into it that all my friends, they couldn’t keep up. I was so into it.
And then I found one guy who was as into it as I was, and I’m still friends with him. We had a hardcore band called AC4 together until recently. He’s always just played hardcore. And he was as into music I was. So he became my first real friend. This was when I was 14 or 15.
Actually, I had a friend that was in my class. He was the only guy that could play guitar. So I was kind of like, “You’re my friend. You can play guitar. We need to start playing music together.”
I couldn’t really play, but he was the guy. I forced him to become a punk rocker. We had a punk band together in ’87, so I was like 15. And one day he shows up at the practice space and he wears a button-down shirt, and he got rid of the earring, and he cut his hair.
I’m like, “What happened?”
He’s like, “My dad won’t let me be punk anymore. He’s going to give me a car because I’m not a punk.”
And the band broke up.
It was hard.
We started our first band – first real band hardcore band – this is ’89 – and it was the same thing: We met some kids who were skateboarding and they played heavy metal and me and Jens, the drummer, we were like, “We’re going to start a hardcore band. We need you guys to play in our hardcore band.” And we kind of made them start listening to hardcore and we kind of made them play in a hardcore band.
And eventually a small punk scene emerged and then when we came out with Refused it was us and a circle of friends and all of a sudden I had a community that I did belong to, but I was like 20, 21 until I had a bigger group of peers around me that was into the same stuff as I was.
So it’s been a very weird journey, because I’m a very social person. I like to hang out with people, but for a long time I was like, “Yeah – I’m that weird guy.”
I’d try to get friends into it. I forced my friends to be straight edge (laughs).
They’re like, “Um, I don’t know about this,” and I’m like, “Man, we need to be straight edge. It’s like the thing.” And they’re like “Yeah, I don’t know” (laughs).

What did your parents think?
They thought I was a weirdo from day one. I got into music and they were like, “It’s a phase,” and then I had a mohawk and fucking killer boots and they were like, “Yeah, I guess it’s a phase,” and then I came home from school one day and I’m like, “I’m vegetarian. I’m straight edge,” and they’re like, “What the fuck is going on?”
When we started Refused and we started touring they got really worried. They were like, “Yeah, I mean, it’s cool that you’re playing music, but maybe you should get a real job, because you’re not going to be able to do this forever.”
And one day they just turned, and they love it.  They go to all our shows.  My dad has INVSN and Refused shirts and he’s always supporting our music.
I have two younger brothers; they also both play in bands.  I have a brother who’s 10 years younger than me. He does what I do. He’s actually INVSN’s sound guy when we tour Europe and he plays in punk bands and he has a studio. So he lives a similar life to mine, and my parents are super-supportive.
But it took them a while.
I mean, my dad’s a working class guy, so for him, success always equals money. It’s like, “If you’re successful, then you can buy a better car and you can buy a better house.”
For years he didn’t get it. He was like, “Maybe you should write a hit single.”
[Laughs] I’m like, “That’s not how life works! All life is like a piece of art.  All life is like a project.”
He’s like, “But you’re not making any money!”
I’m like, “That doesn’t matter. I live life as a free agent. I do whatever I want.”
Now they’ve kind of accepted that. With the Refused reunion we made some money, so my dad’s like, “Yes!”
He’s happy [laughs].

You’d done enough television appearances by that point.
Yeah, that’s true, too.

There’s that quote of you that you did back when Refused was still around.  “A band should always be pushing itself to the limit.”
I really always liked that quote a lot. Do you think you’re doing that with INVSN? Do you still believe that? And if so, how so?
Yeah, I still believe it.  The music we play might not be –

It doesn’t seem like it’s musically pushing.
No. Here’s the thing: I’m not interested in becoming some avant-gardistic free form jazz player just to break the boundaries of music. I’m always interested in pushing myself to see what I can do and what we can accomplish.
I mean, every band I ever try to be in – it’s always something new for me. I mean, I did a power-pop band because I wanted to see: Can I write power-pop songs? Can we get this shit together?  That was an earlier version of INVSN. We played power-pop for a while. And then we did Noise Conspiracy.
INVSN, musically, when people hear it they’re not going to be like, “Wow. This is really new and groundbreaking,” but it’s a different style of playing. It’s very economical. The way we play is very – everyone plays just a little. And then we put it together and it becomes a lot. There are no fills. There are no guitar solos. There’s nothing fiddling about. It’s like, “You play these two notes. That’s all you do the entire song.” So that’s a challenge.
And the way I sing, to write lyrics, to continually push yourself creatively. That’s my main goal.
I think if you want to, as a band, be like, “OK, everything we ever do is going to be something no one’s ever done before.”
That’s just – that’s just going to end horribly bad. That’s just going to sound like bullshit [laughs].
But it’s about pushing myself. I sing better than ever before.
The whole idea of this band – yeah, I’m still trying to push myself.
And sometimes you’ll try something and be like, “That didn’t turn out well.”
Whatever. We’ll try this instead.
If you follow my career, I’ve never done two records that sounded the same. I’ve done records in similar veins, and in Noise Conspiracy we were building on what we’d done already. I think it’s going to be the same way with INVSN. The next record’s going to be more of what we’re doing right now, but just keep on building on it and keep on pushing ourselves.
It’s funny, because the last record we did, in Swedish, me and Andres have a default thing, where, being punks, as soon as we’re uncomfortable, we just start playing fast. So if there’s a show and like, “Oh, shit, people are not into it – just play fast!” And we start playing fast. With INVSN, that was a big challenge.

Tone it down.
Tone it down.  Myself, the first show I played with my first band, I was like, “No one knows about hardcore. No one likes hardcore. So let’s just fucking go crazy.” And we went crazy. And that’s stuck with me ever since. If people don’t know the band, yeah, I’ll hang upside down from the ceiling. I’ll fucking throw the microphone away. But with INVSN it’s a different energy. Sometimes I’m going to explode and I have to pull myself back.
Yeah, I always try to push myself.

I thought you might say just singing, more singing, stretching your range, that type thing.
Yeah. Totally. That’s a big deal for me. I’ve always been a good frontman. I’ve always been like a spectacular guy live. Half-assed singer, honestly – it was not until like seven, eight years ago when I was like, “OK, I actually got the hang of singing.”
I’m pushing my singing. I’m a better singer than I ever was.

What are your favorite memories of D.C.? I actually wanted to ask you if you’ve met Ian MacKaye.
I met him a bunch of times, actually. We, years and years ago, the first time – this is my favorite Ian MacKaye story: 1991, me and David from Refused and a bunch of our friends, we traveled down to Gävle to see Fugazi play.
They played at a place called Café Q and there were maybe 50 people at the show.
We didn’t know – we figured that was normal. 50 people at a Fugazi show?  Whatever.  And 20 of them traveled down from Umeå to see them play.  And we did what we always did in Umeå – we just ran up onstage and grabbed the microphone and started singing along to these Fugazi songs.
And after the show I remember going into the dressing room.
It must have been early ’92, because we had our first Refused demo. I remember going into the dressing room and I was like [slightly frightened voice], “Hey. We’re in a band from Umeå. We’re called Refused.”
Everyone was like [friendly voice], “Hey, what’s up, guys?”
And I was dumbfounded. I’m like, “Here’s Ian.”
I’m like [frightened voice] “So, do you still skate?”
He was like, “Yeah, yeah – sometimes.”
I’m like, “That’s rad!” And I left.
So, that’s the first time I met him. I met him a bunch of times. Noise Conspiracy opened up for Fugazi.

I didn’t realize that.
Yeah. In Umeå, which is a big deal for me. He’s a nice guy. He always impresses me when he meets me. He’s like, “Hey Dennis. What’s up?”
I’m like, “Holy shit.”
And I’ve been to D.C. a bunch of times. I have a bunch of friends here. Refused toured with Frodus and the Battery guys and that scene.

You toured with Battery?
No, we played shows with them and Damnation A.D. and those bands. I mean, I know a lot of people from here. It’s a cool city.
It has so much history – the history of Dischord and how Dischord Records as a phenomenon inspired me and my friends to start our own labels. I mean, I still do a label called Ny Våg Records, and we only release local bands. We only support the local scene. It’s the same idea as the Dischord idea – you know, if you’ve got a local scene you need to cherish it and nourish it and document it.

I also wanted to ask you if you keep in touch with the guys from Frodus at all.
Yeah!  We’re staying at Jason Hamacher’s house tonight. Shelby lives in Gothenburg and we played a couple weeks ago and he texted me, “I can’t come out tonight.” He just became a dad. When we were in Seattle with Refused a year-and-a-half ago we hung out with Nate. So, yeah – we’re in touch. I meet Jason quite frequently.  Good guys.

“Down in the Shadows” – who’s the “they” in that song?
I think it’s a little bit what I talked about before. As you grow older, the social constructs make it even harder to just live the life that you want to live. I mean, even with me, like, I get this normalcy crisis when I was like, “Holy shit – I don’t have a proper job. I don’t have a girlfriend. What am I doing?”
You know?
It’s even harder to maintain that kind of flexible mindset when you grow older. And that song is about that.
It’s so easy to get dragged down – I mean, it’s very symbolic – but it’s so easy to get dragged down into a life that you were not ready to be a part of and you didn’t want to be a part of – you never wanted to be a part of.
And I have so many friends that are radical people and they’re great musicians, but then their band never took off, and they got a girlfriend or a boyfriend and then all of a sudden they have a kid and they have a mortgage on their house. And you can’t go on tour. You have a steady job. Somewhere in the back of your mind you have all these ideas, but they never come to fruition.
It’s about that.
It’s not patronizing those people. It’s more like: I want to be who I am.
And no one’s going to thank you. That’s a point, too. No one’s going to thank you for some sacrifices that you made for some abstract others. You have to live your life for yourself.

Like your folks, you mean?
More like the way you’re supposed to be. Society as a whole; you’re like, “I want to fit in and I want to do this, because everybody else does that.”
Yeah, your job, or your boss, or your parents.
If you come on your knees to your boss, like, “Oh, please, I’ve done such a good job.”
No one’s going to fucking thank you.
Your life is yours to live, and I think that’s an important thing.
It’s those “they.” The vague, abstract they people (laughs).

You kind of alluded to something that I’ve wanted to ask someone who’s been successful like you, but I’ve never actually asked someone, and that’s: What do you think separates people who achieve like you’ve achieved from let’s say your friends who you think are talented, but their bands never took off. Is it passion, talent, luck?
It’s a mix of everything.
First of all, speaking for myself, it’s been the drive.
It’s been the fucking, weird, “I never want to give up” attitude that brought me here today.
There’s so many times where I could have been like, “Fuck this. It’s not worth it.”
But then I just kept on going and that’s my stubbornness.
Also, I’m good at making shit happen. I talk to people. I know people. I mean, I have friends that are way more talented than me, and they’re never going to release a record. I’ve released tons of records that should have not been released, because I’m that guy.

Like outgoing? High energy?
High energy, and I’m really restless. I’m like, “Let’s make this happen. Let’s make it happen. Let’s make it happen,” and then I’ll make it happen.
Also, one of my biggest strengths: I’m an amazing coordinator. I’m one of those guys. I can have two bands going, a record label, and just oversee everything and make it happen.
And I have friends that are super-talented, but their hands are not coming out of their pockets. They’re just, like, (sighs forlornly). And I can make shit happen.
But that’s me.
It’s luck. It’s the right place at the right time. It’s talent, of course. And it’s hard work. People that make it, they usually work hard. You practice. You fucking do your job. And then hopefully something will happen. But there are no easy recipes.
I like this Ian book (“Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group”). We’ll see if he has some strategies. He might know better than me. But then again, he might play in bigger bands than he does if he knew better (laughs). I don’t know.

(Laughs) That’s true.
But there’s no recipe for success. I mean, same thing with Refused. We put a record out in 1998. I remember talking to David, saying, “No one’s going to like this record. No one’s going to get it,” because the punk and hardcore scene can be a tad conservative at times.
And we’re like, “Fuck it. People are not going to get this.”
And we put it out and no one really did like it when it came out.
Some people were like, “Yeah, this is cool,” but all the hardcore kids were like, “I don’t know. Last record was better. It was more hardcore.”
And then we broke up.
And 14 years later, it’s like winning the lottery. It’s like, “All right – we’re just going to give you all of this because you guys are awesome” (laughs), and we’re like, “Well, we didn’t do anything.”
And you can never foresee that.
But in my case, I think it’s just stubbornness, and I got no backup plan either, you know? I don’t have a degree to fall back on. I have no practical skills. So this is it, you know? (laughs)

And you did stick to your guns with that record, too. Made the record that you wanted to make, waited for everyone else to catch on.
When you start making music based on the assumption of what other people will think about your music, then you’re fucked.
I mean, of course you can write songs and be like, “Oh, this is catchy. Maybe people will like this tune,” but then it’s the other tune that they like.
When you start trying to do that, that’s when you start making poor music.
I wrote music for myself and my friends and the bands we had together. Like, “Let’s make the best songs that we can and let’s make them as amazing as we can.”
And sometimes it connects with people and sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes you do something and you’re like, “This is amazing,” and looking back, you’re like, “Yeah – it wasn’t that amazing. It was just fine” (laughs).
That’s just how it is. I always try to – (pause) – don’t let that get to me. Just write songs, play music, because you’re passionate about playing music, and I think it shows. Once people become calculated and cynical about their music, I think people can pick up on that and be like, “Oh, wait – this is not for real.”

For sure. I interviewed MacKaye in 2005 and I interview Mark Andersen from Positive Force around then and they both said really similar things: If you do what you believe, whatever it is, things will happen. Like, “Yeah, 20 years later, after I made Dischord, 25 years later I’m in a good position. But five years after, I wasn’t.”
Yeah. It’s the same thing with this band. We’re doing it and we’re not making any money and no one really cares. And hopefully – just keep on doing it and hopefully one day people are like, “These guys are great.”
Yeah – I totally agree. You gotta follow your heart and you gotta do shit that makes sense to you. And then hopefully people will catch on.

You’re not making any money with this band?
(Adopts voice of lamentation) We’re losing so much money. I called, talked to Mike, that’s our manager, when we started getting this together. I said, “Yeah, Kajsa0, who plays guitar.” He’s like, “Who’s Kajsa? What are you, five people?”
“We’re actually six.”
He just wrote me an email saying, “Do you hate money?”
I mean, it’s six people. We’re not 19 anymore. People need some money to pay their rent when they come home.
I’m paying for us to be on tour, basically. It’s fine.  You know, you start up something new, you got to invest in it. I believe in this band. I believe in these people. It’s an honor to play with them. Of course it doesn’t matter if we make money.

Spoken like a true punk rocker. Do you expect Refused fans to like this band?
If your favorite band is Refused and Hate Breed, then no, not really. If you like Refused because you like the Stooges and you like Joy Division and you like music, yeah. It’s a good band.
But if why you liked Refused was the raw energy and the power of it – yeah, it’s very different. If your favorite band is Refused, you might like this, but you might also be like “What the hell?”
I mean, I understand. I was at that Rage Against the Machine concert yelling “Play ‘No Spiritual Surrender!’ Fuck this rap-metal shit!”
That’s not what I said, but you know, I’ve been in that situation where I was like, “Why did they do this? This makes no sense.”
But I think with Refused that wasn’t – we were a hardcore band and then we did a journey that very few hardcore bands have done. We transcended that genre.

You also got heavier, while doing that.
Yeah. I mean, people who like Refused are not hardcore kids.

Generally, yeah.
Generally. It’s people who like all kinds of music. A lot of them like heavy music. There are metal-heads who like Refused. I mean, if you’re a metal-head that liked Refused, I can see INVSN not being your cup of tea, but a lot of people that like Refused are just people who love music – they like good music. I mean, in my life, two genres of music: good music, bad music. Some music is great, some music not so great. That’s how I think about music.
If you’re like that, yeah, I think you would like INVSN. If you just want to mosh, you’re not going to be that excited.
There’s some people who followed me from Refused to Noise Conspiracy to INVSN. For them, that journey makes sense. If you only heard Refused and then you heard INVSN – it is totally different.
If you see us live, though, it’s a very similar energy. I’m still that guy when we play live, even though it’s a different band.

Thematically, the lyrics seem similar. Same type of stuff about sticking to your guns.
Yeah. I mean, Refused was really, really extrovert. Really, really in your face, fuck you kind of politics. INVSN, some of it’s more internal, more directed to yourself.
I think as you grow up and you have these political ideas, you start to have these existential crises, when you’re like, “Wait a minute – what am I doing?”
And also because the INVSN lyrics are written in Swedish first, and then I translate them to English. So whenever I write in English – I’m pretty good at English, but I have to translate. It’s not my first language so whenever I think in English or write in English, it’s like, “What’s my thought that I have to formulate?” And I have to formulate it in a different language.
In Swedish, it becomes closer, and it’s much faster. It becomes more personal, because these are exactly my thoughts.
When I think in Swedish, the lyrical content becomes a bit more personal, but it’s the same themes. If you look at the new INVSN record, a lot of the songs stem from my Marxist and anti-capitalist ideas.
It’s all over the place, but it’s not as fuck you, in your face as Refused or Noise Conspiracy. It’s a bit more subtle, but it’s still there. I’m the same person.

Not a lot of love songs.
Not a lot of love songs. People know. I’ve been writing about these topics for 20 years. It’s not like people are like, “That guy’s a socialist! I didn’t know!”
People know. I don’t need to say it every song (laughs).

Are you an extroverted person or an introvert?
I’m a Gemini, so I’m an extroverted person when I’m onstage. Apart from that, I’m a social person, but I’m a very inhibited person when I’m not onstage. I wouldn’t say shy, but I’m not – I don’t drink. I’m not the life of the party. I don’t go crazy. I don’t talk to girls. I’m kind of timid. Then I get onstage and there’s nothing I won’t do onstage, you know? (Laughs) Just my dual personality, I guess.
It is a weird thing. People meet me and they hang out with me and they see me play live and they’re like, “What just happened?”

Me too. I get that a lot. 
Yeah. It brings you out. Rock music brings it out in me. So, I’m an extroverted person when I need to be, but most of the time I’m just kind of introverted – kind of balanced – (laughs) – not balanced, that’s complete bullshit.

Yeah. Svenonius talks a lot about the stars in that book – what instrument you should play based on your sign.
That’s funny. Gemini’s a typical frontman kind of character, I would say (laughs).

You read that Village Voice article where they said – first of all: Are you really influenced by Svenonius? Were you really influenced by him? And did you read that Village Voice article where it said that you followed his career trajectories with your bands?
Yeah, I read that. So here’s the thing: I loved the Make-Up. I thought they were fantastic, and Nation of Ulysses – fantastic; Cupid Car Club – really cool.

You were aware of all those bands?
Yeah. I mean, Refused played shows with the Make-Up, and Noise Conspiracy played shows with the Make-Up.
So here’s my thing: I love those bands, and they really influenced – like, at that time when I discovered – my friend said, “You should check out the situationist movement,” and I started reading about the situationists. And in the same timespan I discovered Nation of Ulysses. I’m like, “Holy shit – that’s some weird situationist punk rock stuff.” It made me very excited.
I saw the Make-Up and I was like, “This is really cool,” but when I saw the Make-Up I was really into mod stuff. My favorite band was the Jam. I was really into northern soul. It was right in the line of what I was into. I loved the Make-Up. I loved their political ideas and their sense of fashion – so much that, coming from the hardcore scene, when we started Noise Conspiracy we did everything we could not to sound like the Make-Up.
We could write songs, and we were in the practice space like, “Sounds a little bit like the Make-Up. Scrap it.”
Because we were so aware – your musical references are only as big as your horizon, you know? So coming from the hardcore scene, starting a garage kind of ’60s band with a girl playing keyboard – we knew that we would get compared immediately to that kind of stuff. It’s fine, but we want to be our own band. When we started International Noise Conspiracy, we were really into garage rock, like the Nuggets box-set. The first song we played was a Sonics cover. But then we realized we were actually really good at playing, so we took it a slightly different way. But we were super-conscious about the fact that people would compare us to the Make-Up – so we were like, let’s not be the Make-Up. They’re their own band. They’re fantastic. We’re not the Make-Up. We’re from the north of Sweden, you know? We have this different idea.
That and also when they talk about Born Against– that we stole from Born Against. We stole nothing from Born Against. We just loved that band. We stole –

You did “Half-Mast.” That turned out good. 
Yeah, we did “Half-Mast,” but musically and lyrically it wasn’t like, “Let’s try – ” We weren’t trying to be Born Against. We just loved their fuck you attitude. And then for the “Shape of Punk to Come” we have “Refused Are Fucking Dead” in the booklet, and we just took the “Born Against are Fucking Dead” lyrics because we loved that band.
But I think when you write stuff like that, I think – I mean, it’s easy. In their mind, that’s probably what it was. But we know our musical horizon. We know what we were into. And I think you’re making it easy on yourself. Like, “They stole everything from Svenonius.”
Not really.
I like Svenonius and I love his bands, but we’re our own band, and as I said, when we started Noise Conspiracy, we were like, “Oh, it’s like the Make-Up – no, we don’t want to be the Make-Up. We want to be our own band.” We had to work against that the whole time. So we were very conscious about that.
So yes and no. I love those bands, but we try to be our own band and we try to do something completely different. I mean, Noise Conspiracy ended up being like a ’70s jam rock band at the end (laughs), and then I started this – no, not really.

I’m not familiar with that version of Noise Conspiracy.
The last version. Yeah, the last record we did was really long, jammy songs. Our guitar-player looked like he was in the Alman Brothers or something (laughs).
But no, I don’t think it’s true. I think you make it easy on yourself. But it’s a good way of putting people down, you know? (laughs)

Were you bummed out when you saw that review?
Nah, I don’t care. Whatever.  They don’t know me. They never talked to me. They have no ideas about my record collection or about my past. It’s just easy pickings, sort of. I mean, I’ve gotten worse.
I mean, being compared to the Make-Up or to Ian Svenonius – it’s fine. It’s flattering. He’s an awesome dude, you know? If people want to do that, whatever.  People have compared me to way worse people. (laughs)
So I try not to care about it.

I asked him about that review when I interviewed him and he said, “Imitation, copying, that’s a young man’s concern. Once you get older, you realize, the point is to copy, but to do it well.”  
Yeah. I totally agree. When you’re young, it’s more – we still, to this day I mean, I could tell you INVSN songs that we’re just like, “Oh, we heard that one,” but we made it into our own. It’s the same thing. When we started Noise Conspiracy we took from where we could take it. And sometimes it shined through, like, “Yeah – that’s what they’re trying to do.” And then you find your own identity. And then you still steal, but to your own identity.
He’s a smart guy, Ian.

Yeah. He said, “When you’re young, you try to be original, but it’s just a bunch of noise.”
(Laughs hard) That’s awesome.

Yeah. You kind of said something along the same lines earlier.

I wanted to ask you – do you think capitalism’s the problem, or is it human nature? To me, it seems like it’s human nature.  I mean, people have been oppressing each other since before capitalism.
Yeah, but I don’t believe in human nature, because I’m a Marxist. I think that everything is social construct. I think the way we are towards each other is a construction.  The way we’re taught to be as men or women is a construction. The way our sexuality works is a construction.
Of course, we’ve always had classes. We always had hierarchical societies, patriarchal societies. I think capitalism brings out the worst in it. I think capitalism, as a system, it is set up as a hierarchical society.
Capitalism, compared to a lot of other isms – it’s not moral. It’s not conscious. It’s just an economic effect. People are bummed, “Oh, shit – you’re moving factories to China.”
It’s like, “Yeah – that’s what capitalism does.”
Capitalism has no conscience. Capitalism has no morals. Capitalism is not interested in our lives. Capitalism is a system set up to generate as much profit and money as possible, and then it’s like a weird idea of trickle down – and if we make enough money, the bottom-feeders will also get a little piece of the crumbs. And I do think that capitalism is the problem, now, because that’s all we have. That’s the system that we live under.
No, I don’t believe in human nature.
I think that our brains are capable of fundamentally changing who we are depending on our surroundings and our upbringings and the constructions around us. So I do believe that a change of system would change people. I mean, it’s obviously complicated, but I do believe capitalism is a big problem – is the problem.

What do you think of evolutionary psychology? You could take it back to the apes and the dominant ape.
Yeah, but I’m not interested in that. In a world with abundance of everything, in a world where everybody could be well fed, everybody could have their own housing, everybody could be potentially fulfilled and happy, why would that interest us?  Why would we be like, “Survival of the strongest.” That makes no sense.
One of the things about being a human is that you take care of each other. You help the less fortunate, you help your friends, you help people around you to – to create a better world.
For me, the same argument would be, “Well, we’ve been eating meat for hundreds of years, so we should just continue to do it, even though it wastes resources, kills animals and makes us fat and unhealthy.”
For me, that’s not an argument. That’s just being lazy. So, yeah, social Darwinism holds no real ground in my life.

But you’re familiar with evolutionary psychology – this school of thought that tries to take everything back to evolution.
Yes, a little bit.

But you reject it.
I don’t reject it. I’m not a – (laughs hard).

You’re not that well versed on it.
Exactly. But as I said, for my idea of what I think the world should be like, I don’t think it’s that important, because I think that we have all the means to have a world where we could have a more equal and a better world. That idea of evolution, well, let’s evolve into something better then. But it’s social, economical, religious, political systems and constructions that we need to get rid of or change.

So socialism is what you want to see us go toward?
Yes. As a very abstract idea, yes. If I had figured out exactly how we’re going to do it, I would not be sitting in a backstage room with you, talking about this. I would get the Nobel Peace Prize.
I have no real idea how we’re going to do it. I just know that a world that’s purely based on economy is not a world that’s sustainable. And I don’t believe in that. I believe in the old Marx quote (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”) – I know it in Swedish. I still believe in that. I think that’s how we need to set up the world.

I wanted to ask you: What happened in the U.S.S.R. and with real-existing communism – it must have made you question the validity of communism and Marxist thought – the way that it all played out.
Yeah, I read up on all of that. Russia was part and parcel very much a state capitalism. It was a state-capitalist sort of idea. And the paranoia – both in China and in Russia, the paranoia and the insanity, also the pressure from the rest of the world just made people go insane.
… You know, in China where they said, “All right – let’s have a real socialism. Everybody can say what they think is wrong with socialism and we can work together.” And then when people started saying what was wrong with socialism they were just like, “Wait! Stop this! We don’t want people to say what’s wrong with socialism. That’s just not going to work.”
And I mean, it is a huge problem. There are so many traps that we can fall into, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
I don’t think there’s ever been a fully-evolved socialist idea that worked. It’s always been very faulty and not my idea of what I’d want it to be.
It’s weird.  I want an equal society. I want a society where we take care of each other. And every time I talk about socialism, people are like (adopts scary tone), “What about Russia?”
That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s pretty far from what I’m talking about. It’s weird to be held accountable for something that happened somewhere else years and years ago. You’re like, “Why am I defending – that’s not my idea.”
You know? I’m not a Stalinist. I’m not a Leninist. I just believe we can have a radically different world.

Do you believe in democracy?
Yeah, I do.

To me, that was the problem: They didn’t have any democracy. They didn’t have any freedom of speech.
Yeah, exactly. It’s very important. If you have an opinion, you should be able to debate it and talk about it and express it.
I do believe in democracy.

When communism collapsed, were you happy about that? I mean, it was so long ago.
Yeah. At that time I wasn’t political. I didn’t really get it.
… The only thing I really care about with that is: There was a time where the world was divided in two. There was different possibilities. You had a very strange abstract idea about communism or socialism, and you had capitalism. And that was interesting, because it kept people on their toes, the idea that a different world was possible.
And then when that collapsed, everything became capitalism, which I think is a huge problem, because people are growing up now and they’re in their 20s – they never had the alternative. They never had those ideas.
I mean, of course, communism itself in the Eastern Bloc was a huge problem, but as a thought, and as a idea, I liked the fact that there was something else but capitalism around. It was interesting. It made for a more interesting world.

I would think that it would have made people more supportive of the West, because the East seemed so awful.
(Laughs) Yes. Yes, it did.

So repressive that if that’s the alternative –
Yeah, that’s possibly true as well (laughs).

I wanted to ask you, who are your favorite authors and writers?
Oh. Most of my real favorites are Swedish writers, actually. There’s a bunch from my home region. We’re all farmers where I grew up and they write about farmers in the 1800s and they write in dialect, the same dialect my granddad used to speak. Those are some of my favorite writers.
Apart from that, my favorite book is still “Revolution of Everyday Life.”

I’m not familiar with it.
Raoul Vaneigem, this situationist guy; fantastic book.
I read a lot – now I’m drawing a blank, just because I got that question. Most of my favorite writers are Swedish, actually. I like a lot of French writers, just because they have this weird attitude – they’re better than everyone else, in a funny way.  So I like a lot of French writers.

How about political writers?
… Right in the gap between postmodernism and post-structuralism, like Foucault or Guy Debord – when you still had the modernist thought that a big idea was a possibility, but you still went deep into it and realized there was big problems with it.
That’s my favorite point of political theory – when that was possible. So those are some of my favorite authors around that time, favorite political writers – because I think when post-structuralism came, like nothing’s real, nothing’s possible, everything is just facades – and then nothing has any meaning, because nothing matters. And I don’t like that. You know, I like ideas. I like the fact that ideas can change our lives, can change our minds, and take us into a different trajectory and make us into different people. I like those ideas.
But I like the breaking point right between postmodernism and post-structuralism where it was a little bit of both.

I’m not familiar with that stuff. I’m a guy who doesn’t like theory. I’m like – history.
All right. That makes sense. But it’s like 1968 – when it was revolution, but it was intellectual. They actually thought about these ideas. They took Marxism and turned it on end and made it into something more powerful.
Political theory, for a while – late ’90s, early 2000s – I thought that was going to liberate us. I thought political theory was going to be the thing. Early Noise Conspiracy was intellectual – we were like, “We need to find a language, we need to find a thought, an idea that makes the changing of the world possible,” and for me, for a long time, that was political theory.
I read a lot of political theory. I talked a lot with my friends about political theory. I thought that was going to be, like, the thing. But then, that was not the thing. At least, not for me.
For me it was just music. It was always music, but you try to infuse music with these ideas that you have and try to make music hold more meaning and have more gravitas and power, you know? So you infuse all these political ideas and these intellectual thoughts into music and make the music more powerful.

Right, and more interesting.
Yeah, more interesting. You know, as we talked about before, challenge yourself, challenge the listener. I think to a certain extent that the language which you speak is also the way you think.
I’m really fascinated by political theory. It gives you another language. It gives you another understanding of the world.

I wanted to ask you what you think about Syria and humanitarian intervention.
That’s one of the most difficult questions to answer. Some of the smartest people in the world are trying to figure that out every day. I mean, I don’t know.

Do you think there’s a role for the West or do you just think staying out is the best thing?
I don’t know what to think, really, because I hate when the West, it’s just like, “Yeah, we know best. Our culture is superior. So of course we’re going to implement that on you. We have freedom and you don’t have freedom.”
I don’t like that mentality, but if you see people are being tortured and being killed by a fucked-up government, yeah, maybe it is good to intervene and be like, “We need to stop this.”
But then look at Afghanistan – that helped no one – completely useless, and people are still being killed and oppressed and nothing good came out of that.
So it’s very tricky. I don’t really know. I don’t have a good answer for that.
I think the most frustrating part is that, you, as a civilian or a normal person, there’s very little you can do to affect what’s happening and what’s going to be the outcome of whatever the Western world comes up with. I don’t know what to do about it and there’s very little I can do about it.
And I think that’s a problem with a lot of leftist people: They choose issues that are more clear-cut, because it makes it easier to have a steady position. Yeah, we support the Palestinians, because it’s easy to see what the problem is, and then you’re like, “This is my position,” but with Syria or a lot of stuff that goes on in the Middle East, there’s so many gray areas. It’s so hard to be like, “Yeah, this is what I believe.” Then you’re like, “But then again –”
So I don’t know. We have to read more – think more (laughs).

What do you think about NATO? They said the point of NATO was to keep the U.S. in, the Germans down and the Russians out. What do you think about that quote and do you think there’s still a place for NATO?
I don’t know. If you look at what Putin’s doing right now, maybe there is. But no, I don’t think there is. Military supremacy – that’s such a barbaric idea, but it is what we do to prove our position.
America is the most powerful superpower since the Second World War, up until recently. And the economical power of America is definitely diminishing, and Southeast Asia and China, and the European Union, to a certain extent, is outgrowing America and the U.S. economy.
America doesn’t have that economical pull anymore, so let’s invade Iraq, let’s invade Afghanistan and show people that you still can’t fuck with us, because we still got the guns and the power. That sort of thinking is just – it’s pretty insane.
NATO and all that, it’s hard to tell.

It seems to me that Europe can defend itself. It’s not the Cold War anymore.
Yeah, it’s not the Cold War anymore. There are no imminent threats of anyone trying to invade your country. Of course, I am wrong, because Putin’s like, “This is now Russia,” and everyone’s like, “No, it’s not.”
Yeah, it is.
So, of course, it could happen, but it seems very unlikely that some country would invade Germany. I don’t think that’s going to happen. So I think that yes, that is probably a fair assessment, that Europe could fend for itself if something went down (laughs).

Is there a place for the right-wing in punk?
No (laughs). Next question.

How have your politics changed since the days when you were in Refused? Have they changed? Maybe they haven’t.
Yeah, of course they’ve changed. I mean, you grow older, you learn to pick your battles. Some issues are not that important anymore and some issues become more important.

What’s less and what’s more?
My basis for who I am and what I want is pretty much the same, but strategy, approach, how do I talk about this, how do I make this happen? I think that’s probably the biggest difference: how you approach it. When we were in Refused, it was like shoot left, right, everywhere. Go crazy. Now it’s more like you try to focus. What is important? What fights are worth taking? What do I need to focus on?
It’s also a matter of – I don’t like the self-sacrificial sort of political idea. I like the idea of living and also being conscious and revolutionary at the same time.
So, I don’t care about pettiness. I don’t care about the small issues.
Leftist people have a tendency of doing that. I have friends who are super-intelligent, and what they’ll do is, they’ll have a study group that fights another study-group about some Marxist idea. I don’t care about that shit. That’s not important. That’s not an issue for me.
I think that changed as I got older. I don’t have time for pettiness. I don’t have time for bullshit. If I pick a fight, I know it’s going to be worth it.
When I was a young kid, I ran into the room and kicked a burger out of someone’s hand. “Fuck you! Go vegan!”
I’m not like that anymore, you know? I’m a bit more balanced with my political ideas.
That was a rewrite on how life was.
I mean, it changes.
Also, the reality of life – I said it before: When you’re young, it’s easy to be a rebel. It’s kind of almost expected of you to be anti-authority and crazy. And when you grow older, it’s hard to be a rebel. It’s harder to be that kind of person.
It makes it interesting. It also makes you, in ways, more radical, because you have to hold on to these ideas.

Also you’ve seen more.
Yeah, you’ve seen more. And you’ve experienced more.
One of the interesting things is, when you’re a young kid, you’re like, “Fuck this. Fuck that. I hate these guys. I hate those guys.”
And then you grow old and you’re like, “I was right. The gut feeling that I had, it was right.”
I didn’t know – politically, theoretically. I just knew that something was wrong and I spoke out against it. And then, 20 years later, it was all right.

I’ve definitely experienced that.
Oh wow, they’re playing. This is a long interview.

Yeah. I got a lot of questions. A couple more?
A couple more.

Thanks. Now I’m trying to think of my best Refused questions.
Best Refused questions.
(Long pause.)

I guess one thing I wanted to ask you was, what are your happiest memories from Refused, and what do you think are Refused’s greatest accomplishments?
I mean, my happiest Refused memories are from 2012 (laughs).

I thought that was the true answer, but I wasn’t sure if you would say that.
Yeah, because we had a great time. People were really into it and we enjoyed each other’s company and we were not a bunch of tense fucking crazy kids. That was some of my best memories.
But also, when we started the band – you’ve seen the movie and it’s just a fucking disaster and everyone’s in agony. But for a long time we had a lot of fun. The reason why people in Sweden were drawn to Refused is we were a fun bunch of characters and we had a lot of energy and people really got into that aspect. You don’t really see that in the movie. It’s kind of dark and bleak, but we were a fun bunch. We had a lot of good times together before the last year and a half that was kind of a disaster. I have a lot of good memories of that band.
And, I mean, the greatest accomplishment was that we – in Sweden, ’93 to ’97, we toured and toured and toured, and we built a movement in Sweden of bands, of people, that are still active today, still playing music. I think that was our greatest accomplishment: that we managed to become something that meant a lot to people in Sweden at that time.
To me, “Shape of Punk to Come” is great, but it was our swan-song. It was like, “This is the end of it,” and we kind of knew it.
The touring we did in ’95, ’96 around “Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent,” that was when it really meant something.
People came out and people were really excited. And we were building something new, you know? So that was really cool.

Was there not really a hardcore or a punk scene in Sweden before that?
Not at all – nothing. I mean, when we started Refused and we went down to Stockholm to play, like 20 people showed up. We were like, “Where’s all the hardcore kids?”
“There are no hardcore kids in Stockholm.”
So we – not only Refused, but a bunch of our friends – we built a hardcore scene in the ’90s that got kind of big in Sweden. All these cities that we played – people showed up. It was really cool. We built something, for real.
And, you know, 15 years later you go on tour and play Terminal 5 in New York for 5,000 people, two nights in a row.

I was at that show.
It was pretty rad.

Yeah. One of the best shows I’ve been to.
It was pretty fantastic, yeah.

There’s that quote about Refused, where it says that you were unable to reconcile your anarchist beliefs with a career in music.

Is that true?
No. No, I don’t think it’s true. It’s a good afterthought.
When we started, we had no ambitions or aspirations to be anything other than a punk band, and as we grew, I grew more radical.
I mean, it’s partially true, because I was almost impossible to deal with at the end. The other guys spent hours and hours and hours writing riffs, and I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t give a fuck. I just want a revolution.”
They’re like, “What?!”
I’m like, “It’s all about the revolution.”
To a certain extent, I could see how that would be true.
We definitely separated because one of the basic issues was, of course, that I was so adamant.
Music, for me, was just a vehicle to overthrow capitalism, and they’re like, “We just want to be in a kick-ass rock band, and you’re just crazy.”
I was like, “Those guys are not revolutionary.”
So in a little way, but that was not the main reason.
But I was not an easy person to deal with at that time (laughs).

I wanted to ask you how Refused songs were written.
Mostly it was Chris and David that came up with riffs and ideas and then I did the vocals and lyrics and then we, in the practice space, just got them together. Chris and David are super-talented, but they have a very – if you leave them unchecked, they can work on a song for two years. Keep changing, keep changing. I would come in and be like, “Alright, this is the chorus, this is the verse, and now put it together.”
So it was a collaborative effort, but they wrote most of the riffs.  Chris is a genius. He worked on the “New Noise” riff for like a year.

Explain “Summerholidy vs. Punkroutine” – the meaning behind that song.
At the time, Refused was getting kind of popular, at least in Europe and Sweden, and a lot of our meetings and a lot of time was spent talking about economy, and it bummed me out. Because I was like –

Economy, like, being cheap?
Economy as like, we have to do this tour, and this is how much money we’re going to get, and we have to rent –

Like budgeting-type stuff.
Budgeting. And it bummed me out. I hate to talk about it. I mean, still, to this day: Being in a band, it’s a lot of budgeting and a lot of economy. But at that point, I wanted the band just to be a punk band. Just play punk. And we had all these offers. That’s what that song is about: the frustration of being torn between, let’s do it for real, but I just want to be punk.

So it’s like, “Is this a summer holiday, or is this an exercise in budgeting and trying to make a living?”
Yeah, exactly.

Touring is a summer holiday?
Yeah. Touring, for me, that’s what it’s supposed to be like. And then, “punkroutine” – you have all these meetings and label people telling you this and that. It freaked me out.  Now I’m a bit more used to it. Now it’s just a part of everyday life (laughs), but at that point, I think I was not ready for it.



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Interview with Henry Rollins from 2005

I interviewed Henry Rollins back in my salad days, and he quite presciently commented, “This is starting to sound like a fanzine interview.” Though the interview was for a high-profile newspaper, I opted to take that as a compliment and, years later, emailed him to ask if I could use this interview in my zine. He wrote back and said, “Sure.”
Here, for the first time, is this interview in e-zine format.
Rollins, of course, was part of the late ’70s/early ’80s hardcore punk community in Washington, D.C. and then was asked to become the new singer of the already-iconic L.A. punk band Black Flag. He did that through ’86 and then started the Rollins Band, which found more mainstream success than Black Flag. Rollins has also acted in a bunch of movies, written books and hosted a television show on IFC.
I started the interview by asking him about his work with USO (United Service Operations) a private, nonprofit organization that provides morale and recreational services to members of the U.S. military worldwide.  The following transcript begins with the interview in progress.

Did you have any hesitation about doing the USO tours?

Has supporting enlisted folks been something you’ve been interested in for a long time?
No, I never would have thought of it had they not contacted me. I never really thought about the USO – I mean I knew who they were, obviously, but I never would have called them.

Did you get to walk about Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan unchaperoned, or did they keep you on sort of a leash?
No. There’s a lot of work you do during the day, in that there’s a base to go to, then another base and another base and they keep you very busy, because there’s a lot they want to get done, but between that, yeah, you’re left on your own.
It’s not like a propaganda tour, which I would have been very aware of, and quite honestly was sort of expecting, but I got nothing like that really.

Did you learn anything over there that surprised you or that would surprise people over here – things that you wouldn’t read in the paper?
Well, I learned that there’s a lot of humanitarian aid that’s done in all these countries by allied forces that I was not really aware of until I went to these places.
In Kyrgyzstan they’re building schools and starting a lot of literacy programs – same thing in Afghanistan– and they’re being fairly overrun by people who want to learn to read.
They’re doing a lot of free medical in Afghanistan and in Honduras where I went, and I did not know this stuff, nor have I seen much of that on the news, ‘cause it’s not as dramatic and I guess as newsworthy as injuries and stuff blowing up and casualties, and the soldiers I talked to really liked doing it. They liked doing the humanitarian aid stuff. A lot of guys I met in Afghanistan, at the forward position near thePakistanborder, were working with farmers, helping them with their farms, which they really enjoyed, working with the locals and everything.

Do you think the reason we don’t hear about that stuff is because of bias in the media?
… I wish there was a liberal bias in the news, and if there was some liberal mafia I wish they’d stand up and get going and start kicking some ass and call these cowards out for what they are.
But all this liberal media that people like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity keep yelling about, I sure wish they’d get over here and start doing their job.
I just see the American media, these days, as a bunch of sissies who won’t stand up to Bush and his cronies.
I think since the news is more ratings-driven then content-driven at this point. They’re going for what will make you watch — and buy soap — rather than what’s going on all the time, cause a lot of what goes on at these bases is pretty boring, in that it’s a lot of nine-to-five and human-relations work, you know: that whole hearts-and-minds thing.
In Iraq there’s a lot of full-on frightening engagement, but not all the time, and meanwhile, while there is all that stuff, there’s always the humanity stuff happening too.
I don’t think this is unique — I think this has probably been under-covered in any conflict, any time there’s been media. 

Did you think morale was fairly high in Iraq?
Yeah, I think it was, considering what they are there for. I mean, these guys aren’t stupid. The stuff I heard that was more angry was the guys, when they come home they write me. Either I met them in one of these places, or they know that I do meet troops. You know, I’m fairly easy to find with the website and everything. So they write me and they go, “Well, I was there for a year and I still don’t understand why I was there,” or “I was there and I think it was a bunch of bull,” stuff like that.
But in country, like while they’re really there, they’re just keeping their heads down and trying to get through the day. I mean, everything is so vividly in the present tense over there, it’s like hyper-real.

Right. So, um, where do you stay when you come to Washington?
I stay in my old neighborhood, at a hotel on Wisconsin Avenue. It’s the last neighborhood I lived in before I moved over to Virginia.
A lot of us, when we left home, we all found out very quickly — we really couldn’t afford the rent in a D.C. apartment, so a lot of us became Virginians pretty quick.
So I moved from Northwest D.C. – I moved to behind the Marriott across the Key Bridge, a little building which has now been demolished.
But I used to live in Glover Park before I moved to Virginia, so I tend to stay in that neighborhood, just so I can walk around the old streets and see the old neighborhood.

Does your Mom still live in D.C.?
Yeah, yeah she does.

In that neighborhood?
No, she lives over by the zoo.

How often do you talk to Ian MacKaye?
Fairly often. I see him every time I’m in D.C.
I won’t see him this time, ’cause I believe he’s leaving for Europe today – he and Amy have shows coming up – but I speak to Ian quite often, email pretty often, and see him whenever I’m in town and if he’s in Los Angeles when I’m there he always comes over.

Is there anything you guys argue about?
No, not really.

Pretty much see eye-to-eye?
I don’t know. I really don’t know what he thinks of the USO tours and stuff. We don’t really talk about it. I have no idea where he would be at with something like that. I don’t have any disagreements with how he does stuff, but perhaps…he and I go about things differently, in some ways. I do t-shirts when I’m on tour. He doesn’t. It’s just not what he does, but I don’t think he would be disagreeing with some band or some guy who does t-shirts on tour, he just doesn’t do it. I don’t know exactly what we disagree on. I’m sure we both vote the same.

I wanted to ask you how you would describe yourself politically.
More angry American than anything. I mean, I voted to John Kerry in the last election, never once thinking that he was any bright light. I was more taken with John Edwards than John Kerry. It was the most potent anti-Bush vote I could muster.
I really have a problem with that guy, foreign and domestic policy. He offends me, he angers me, his staff, the people he has around him, they really rattle my cage, to the point of losing sleep.
And I think he’s done a lot to really ruin a lot of great programs and a lot of great things about this country – it’s going to take a lot of years to get going again.
I just don’t think that poor people are on his grid of concern and I think America’s really suffered because of that.
So, I guess you would call me a Democrat.
I don’t exactly know what a liberal is, just ‘cause I see it more used as an epithet, you know on FOX News, to describe someone who seems to be a book-reader, or some other kind of pussy, in the world of Sean Hannity. And he would probably describe me as a liberal, and I would probably go home with one of his ears.
So I don’t know exactly what I am.
I agree more with Democratic programs, you know, more concern with people below the middle-class.
I don’t mind paying taxes. I don’t want a break from tax. Taxing pays for books and roads and people getting a break. There seems to be a fury with conservatives – you go after any of their money and they start howling, because, you know, it’s all going to crack babies somewhere. Me, I guess I’m in support of crack babies or something, because I don’t mind paying taxes. I’m sure Ann Coulter has a few choice words for someone like me.

You mentioned ripping Sean Hannity’s ear off. I was wondering when the last time that you got in a fight was.
Let’s see, about 12 weeks ago I’d say.

What happened?
I was in Australia and a guy made a move on me so I put him down.

Do you ever talk to the guys in S.O.A. at all?
Mike Hampton every once in a while.

Do they ever try to get you to do a reunion show with them or anything?
No. How old are you son? …

23. Why do you ask?
‘Cause it’s starting to sound like a fanzine interview and you say “um,” before you start every sentence and I wonder if you have any questions prepared or if you’re kinda just shooting questions out. I’m just curious.
(Editor’s note: Ums have been deleted for the sake of brevity & self-aggrandizement)

No, I have questions prepared.
OK. You know, it’s not up to me to tell you what to do. I’m just interested in your pattern of speech and the questions you’re going after. There seems to be really a direct question – you seem to be asking one thing to try and get something else, but maybe that’s just your method of extracting information. Alright, I’m sorry, Tim.

I’ve just listened to a lot of S.O.A. so I was just wondering.
(laughs) You listen to a lot of S.O.A.? All 11 minutes of it?

I listened to that “A Year in 7 Inches” CD a lot in high school.
It’s very spirited music. That was a very fun time of my life. A very innocent time. That scene in Washington was magic.
I feel very fortunate in life, for the most part, and one of the most fortunate parts is getting to be that age, in D.C., and getting to see all that music and be around all of those people and watch all of that. It’s probably some of the fondest memories I have.

Do you play guitar?
No, I don’t play anything.

No interest in ever learning?
No, it would take me the rest of my life to learn the most basic chord structure. I’m not very good at much. Stuff like that, it just never comes to me. I have no skill for it.

OK. You still working on Johnny Ramone’s bio?
Well, I did all I could with the manuscript, per the desire of Linda Ramone and the agent that the book is with, and I turned it over to Alan, the fellow who’s trotting it out to market. I turned it in to him several weeks ago and have not heard from him since. I guess he’s doing his thing with it.
There were just a few things in it that need to be worked on, like you’d see an answer used twice inside the same manuscript, you know, just some copy editing.
It’s a really cool book. Steve Miller, the guy who did the book with Johnny, really was great and got a lot out of Johnny, and Johnny obviously really wanted to do it, because when he’s doing all the interviews with Steve he was in a great deal of pain, a lot of pain, and a lot of discomfort. You can’t tell from the manuscript, but Johnny’s dying and he’s in a lot of pain.
He was a very hard guy, Johnny. A for real tough guy — not like he’s going to walk down the street and crack you one, but he just one of those guys who just doesn’t give in to admitting that he’s in pain.
I was with him a day-and-a-half, two days before he died and he was just kind of grimly hanging in there. It was an interesting experience – very sad.
But he was a tough guy. I would see him here and there for many years and he never smiled, was always really cool and polite, but never made jokes, didn’t seem to really have a sense of humor, was very, very serious all the time.
The rest of the Ramones were way more like you’d expect the Ramones to be: lighter and goofier.

Right. I was listening to “Black Coffee Blues” and “Everything” and I was wondering if you would say you have contempt for most people?
No, because you have to give people a break. You know, they’re all pretty much the same: They’re just doing everything they can to get through.
I think as I’ve have grown older I’ve become less judgmental, ‘cause probably the things I criticized people for I now am. You know: probably a little slower and a little more whatever.
I think some of the things people have done are worthy of scorn, contempt, fury and outrage. And on the other hand people have done really great things too. But there’s some really bad moments in human history.
What really bugs me is: I meet a lot of young people, and there was a time when I was their age, where I’d look into the audience and it was almost a peer experience.
There was like three or four years of that: I was 20-something, they were 20-something and then they kind of stay 20-something, but you move on.
So you’re 30-something, they’re 20-something, you’re late 30-something they’re mid 20-something, late 20-something.
And around then I started to see myself in them, in that I could remember myself at that age, and I could compare how they were and how I was, and I could see a perspective. And I see so many young people wasting time and having very mediocre expectations of themselves.
When I was your age I was, well, kind of like I am now: just working all the time.
I was not exactly ambitious to be the big guy anywhere, but I was furiously intense on what I was doing. You know, writing all the time, in a band all the time, living for it, breathing it, kind of nuts.

You were working full-time too, right?
Well, when I was 23 I was in Black Flag, but I worked at the record company when I wasn’t on the road. We didn’t eat as many meals as we would have liked in those days and didn’t sleep as much as we would have wanted, but we were doing like 30 shows a month on tour.
But when I see the laid-back 20-something I just don’t understand it. I just don’t understand the guy who smokes pot or the guy who’s just all laid-back at that age.
I was just furious in those days. And so sometimes my contempt comes with – well, anybody 18 and over in this country who didn’t vote in the last election because they couldn’t be bothered to have an opinion, that gets my complete contempt.

Do you think the world’s getting better or worse?
I think the world’s getting better. I think it’s sometimes hard to see outside the fishbowl of the Bush Administration, cause in five years they’ve done a lot to change the world, and you can say the world is worse off because of terrorism and depleting resources and stuff, but I wouldn’t want to be mired in that …
… I think it’s getting better in that we’re becoming more aware of “Hey, there’s some people in the world that don’t like us,” “Resources are diminishing,” so, “Let’s change the way we do things. Maybe it’s time to change our role in the Middle East, maybe it’s time to change this, maybe it’s time to change that, maybe it’s time to become more aware of these people over here in Africa,” stuff like that, and perhaps things will change, and with that change comes different results, which may lead to a better situation.
And so I’m on the side of that, I’d rather be working towards that, than saying, “It’s getting worse, it’s getting worse.”
I’d rather say, “It looks pretty fucked up right now, so let’s get up and go. Let’s not let this be our epitaph.”

I heard that Bernie from the Black Cat was in the Rollins Band. Is there any truth to that?
Well, he was on a record I made in 1986.

He was.
Yeah, he’s on a record called “Hot Animal Machine.”
Yeah, he’s a great guy. I saw him the other day.
I was at the last Q and Not U show a few Fridays ago in D.C. and I saw Bernie. He’s looking really good, good shape. He’s a great guy.

Did you come out here just for that show?
No, I came out for a few different reasons. I came out to see a little bit of the protest, came out to see Q and Not U, and came out for some other family stuff.

Why do you choose to live in L.A. over D.C.?
‘Cause it’s where the work is, basically. You know, I moved out to L.A. primarily to be in Black Flag, that’s where the band was, and by ’86 that’s kind of where my two milk-crates of crap was and I was touring so much I really didn’t see fit to move. I just kept ending up there, and then my book company started getting more ambitious and the office was in L.A., the staff was in L.A., and then all of a sudden I’m halfway through the ’90s and I’ve got property in L.A.
But I’m not there all the time. I’m in Orlando, Florida, on a tour bus right now, sitting here, so I’m not there all that often. It’s not a place I like.

Right, that’s why I was wondering.
Right. I’m not a California person, although parts of the state are beautiful, and I’m definitely not an L.A. person at all – it’s a young person’s place.
And Hollywood – it’s not the kind of people that I hang out with.
So I’m there at this point ’cause I have business and I do a lot of work there: a lot of voice-over stuff, radio stuff, T.V. stuff, movie stuff and production stuff, so for now I have a lot of stuff going on there. But I’m making my way – slowly extracting myself from the jaws.

Why do you describe yourself as an anti-man?
It’s an idea. You’re making reference to the back cover of the book “Solipsist,” yeah?

It was in the press-kit that I got.
Yeah, it was part of a book I wrote, it just was kind of the spirit of going after every human frailty and everything that’s human and just going after it and just exploring it, blasting it, and dissecting it.
You dissect everything until there’s just a bunch of – when you over-dissect the corpse in biology class, you just cut it to pieces and it’s unrecognizable. That was the concept. That’s what I did in that one book. Tried to, at least.

Is that a book of fiction?
Yeah, basically it’s just taking situations and putting them under such an intense degree of scrutiny that it becomes distorted, like Xeroxing a Xerox – it’s the image, but it becomes distorted, and from that you get a different view – where all of a sudden a Xerox of a potato now looks like a face. By doing that with writing I was trying to achieve some kind of different look at something. I think I succeeded in some parts. It was a three-year idea, and I don’t know whether I knocked it out of the park or not, but I definitely wore myself out trying.

What’s the future of the Rollins band?
We’re slowly working on some music. I’ve been very busy, as of late, so it’s not anything I’ve been working on, like, without something else.

Is this with a new band, then?
No, actually I’ve been doing some songwriting with Chris Haskett from the older lineup. He lives in New York and for the last year or so since we’ve been talking about this I’ve been living everywhere. I mean, I’ve been around the world three times in the past year. And about 75 shows into the tour with another 40 to go.
So I’ll be back in time for Thanksgiving to work at the company for our end-of-the-year orders.

How many employees does the company have?
Two, besides me.

Yeah, they’re there full-time. It’s a very small company.

Are those the people who set up this interview?
No, that’s a press company, they do P.R.

Have to ever been to the Birchmere before?
A different version of it. Apparently they’ve moved buildings, but I was at the old Birchmere like 1990 or 1991, I think.

You spoke there?

How come you’re doing two performances in D.C.?
Well, ‘cause Sunday was a day off, and I said, “Screw a day off. Let’s do something, let’s see if we can do a benefit,” so we got on the phone with Dante and said, “Hey, can we use your room on that Sunday and do a benefit show?”
You know, give something back to D.C., and better than a day off, do something good, and he said “Yeah,” and I said, “Well, do you have an organization in town you’d like to give some money to?”
And he said, “Yeah, let’s do it with E-Sharp,” so I’m going with Dante’s recommendation on that.

You must have known Dante for a long time, huh?
Yeah, I’ve known Dante for quite a long time. At least 25 years, 24 years or so.

Were you guys friends?
Yeah, you know, he was in the neighborhood, he was a Dischord kind of guy, and he was always around. Yeah, I’ve known Dante at least since 1980 or ’81.

Does it piss you off to get asked about the GAP ad you did?
No, no one ever hassles me about ‘em. You wanna hassle me about ‘em, Tim?

I don’t wanna hassle you about it, but I was curious as to why you did it.
Oh, to get in Rolling Stone.

To get in Rolling Stone.
Yeah, because they were gonna put the picture in Rolling Stone, and we kept doing albums and Rolling Stone would never review ‘em. They’ll talk about Mariah Carey breaking a nail, but our records don’t exist in the world of Rolling Stone and that really pissed me off. I knew that photo would go, and there’s nothing Jenn Wenner could do about it. And that’s why I said yes to that.

That’s a very good answer.
I’m glad you liked it. I’m glad I’m measuring up for you, Tim.

Yeah, you’re doing very well.
Oh, that’s good. Fed-Ex me a biscuit.

I’ll see what I can do. Who’s the best director you’ve worked with?
Well, not like any directors could get any good work out of me, but the funnest was working with David Lynch, because he’s just such an individual.

Are there any actors or directors that you’d like to work with?
Anyone who will hire me. I mean, I’m not an actor. I’m always in search of gainful employment between tours, and that’s all the movies are for me.
I take it seriously; I don’t take myself seriously in it – you know what I mean?
I’m not trying to be an actor; I’m trying to be paid between tours. I want a job. And where I live, inHollywood, those jobs are around. You got an agent, you can go in and audition for movie parts, and most of the time I don’t get ‘em, but every once in a while I do.
And that’s me in movies: it’s just between tour employment. I never go to the premier; I never see the movie.
If someone goes “Hey, I saw you in that movie! The movie sucked!”
I’m like, “yeah, but I was funny.”
They go, “yeah.”
I go, “Right. Well, success for me! I pulled it off and the check cleared.”
For me, L.A. is survival. I have no backup. I’m not expecting Social Security to be there for me. I’m not going to rely on my family, so my back account is my security, so if there’s employment to be had, I’ll take it.

Other than walking around your old neighborhood, what do you like to do when you’re in D.C.?
I like to visit with people, see my old friends. A lot of them have kids now – I like to play with their kids.

Do you want kids?
No, I think I’m a little old for that now. I don’t think anyone should be in high school and have a parent that’s 60.

Nicktape: This Blog Is Busted!

Crucial NickTape interview ftw.

Is hardcore a sub-genre of punk?
NickTape: To me it is and should be, yes.

Are you a punk?
I prefer to think of myself as a dude living his life.

What are your top 5 favorite memories of the Coits?
1) Seeing Simon solo in a hockey jersey from the same league I played in, before I knew Simon
2) Watching Ms. Cole skateboarding on broken glass during a Coits set
3) Punching a keyboard during a Coits set
4) Drumming for the Coits
5) All things Seth Feinberg

Why aren’t the Coits more popular?
The Coits aren’t more popular for a few reasons:
1) They are a difficult band to book
2) The artwork makes people think they are a middle school punk band
3) The Coits are too punk for easy consumption and popularity
4) The Coits are highly disorganized, and this has stifled their ability to accomplish goals.

What does DayAfterDayDC provide to the local community? What should the site improve?
It gives me another outlet to promote my shows!
Saturday, Feb 11th in DC: LASHING OUT, BLOCKHEAD, MISLED YOUTH, PHIBES! $5-10 sliding scale. 8pm. Benefit for So Others Might Eat.
The site could be improved by providing more underage heathen accounts of shows.

Are you pleased with the progress of Why or Why not?
There is no more progress to be made. It serves it purpose. I have the admin tool to “message all” and let everyone know about my shows coming up. Promoting shows has becoming marginally easier.

Who are your favorite posters on, and why?
I will always enjoy reading Parsons’ posts. He’s an angry dude and speaks his mind. That’s always worth something.

I love LonelyRock’s posts, just because I feel like he is on an alternate universe in a way that is neither good nor bad. For example, I remember him writing about playing in a high school pop punk band with a bunch of girls that only wanted to play music with him because they found him attractive, and he quit. He’s a very interesting person. I usually find myself disagreeing with him, but still look forward to reading his posts.

What’s coming up for Coke Bust?
We’re going to tour Europe for 6 weeks this summer, write a new record and hopefully eventually tour the following places: Puerto Rico, Japan, Australia and South East Asia.

What do Magrudergrind and Coke Bust have in common? What differentiates the bands?
We share a drummer, record label, geographic origin, and appreciation for fast music.
I think we are different in our audience that we play to, types of shows we play, straight edge label, presence of a bassist, genre, tuning, etc.

Is this the first benefit show you’ve booked?
Surprisingly enough, it is. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but never got around to doing. I would always have my plate full trying to help out touring bands, and it’s tough making those shows benefits when bands need to get paid. I’ve done a few partial benefits with We Are Family, where instead of paying for a venue you just use a church space and give money to the cause. But I’m not going to count that because the original intent wasn’t for the cause.

Are you “doin’ it for the cause”?
Most definitely.

Why did you pick S.O.M.E. as the beneficiary?
DC has a huge homeless population and I wanted to do something for them. Most states are experiencing a rise in homelessness with the recession, and with budgets tighter than ever I think those who are able to step up and contribute should. I did some background research on local organizations and S.O.M.E. looked real legit. I used to work in Georgetown and I would pass a ton of homeless people every day. I did my best to hook them up with food from Trader Joe’s or extra food that I scrounged up around the office at leftover meetings (I also donated all of my unwanted Valentine’s Day candy to the homeless FTW), but I always wanted to help out in a bigger way. In the end it won’t flip the city upside down, but whatever amount raised will be significant. I’m hoping to get more involved in the future.

Is Asefu’s the new Corpse Fortress? Why?
There will never be another Corpse Fortress. Asefu’s is just a bar off U St. The Corpse Fortress was like a demilitarized zone.

Is Asefu’s the new U-Turn?
Not really. The U-Turn catered to a very specific crowd within the DC punk scene. I think Asefu’s is a little more all-inclusive.

Why did you pick the bands that are on the bill for this show?
I loved Crispus Attucks, No Justice, and 86 Mentality… so I really wanted to get BLOCKHEAD to play. Them being named after one of my favorite D.R.I. songs didn’t hurt either.

LASHING OUT approached me about it being their first show. 

Jubert is my bro so I wanted to get MISLED YOUTH.

Last but not least, PHIBES are a cool band from New Jersey that nobody down here knows about so I wanted them to play too. All the bands were cool with the $$ situation.

What are your top 5 favorite shows in 2011?
Tough to say, buy 
1) Night Fever @ Corpse Fortress
2) Last Corpse Fortress show
3) Youth of Today at U St. Music Hall
4) Slapshot @ U St. Music Hall
5) Face the Rail + Coke Bust at Asefu’s

How many shows have you booked?
I don’t keep track. I’m going to estimate that it’s around 40-50? I booked my first show when I was 16. But I really started booking alot more when Coke Bust started.

Are you living with your folks? If so, is this a source of joy or shame?
I do live with my parents. I moved back to their house to conserve funds after quitting my job and starting a business. It’s conducive with not yet really having a stable income. I’m making some money now, but I think I’ll just stay at my parents’ house for a bit. I always eat really healthy food when I live here, and I’m trying to get ripped… so that works out well. We’ll see if it happens…. I like being able to watch ice hockey games with my father on a semi-regular basis. Not to mention it’s nice having cheap rent when you’re away on tour a lot, like I will be this summer.

To answer your question, there is definitely no shame in my living situation, but I wouldn’t say that it is the most joyous pad either.

The Coits are an Interesting Band that Almost Nobody Knows About – Interview by Nick Tape

The Coits are a very weird and interesting band from Washington, D.C., that almost nobody outside the region knows about. I am hoping to raise some awareness of their existence. I could spend a paragraph describing their well-trod sound, but suffice it to say, “punk.” Their live shows are always entertaining, as Seth Feinberg (interviewed below) is quite a frontman.

The first time I saw the Coits, they started their set with Seth nonchalantly dropping stacks of china plates onto the floor; a computer followed; then a keyboard. Fellow-rager Teresa took it upon herself to try skateboarding in the small basement.

I looked up and saw a cast of freaks: a guy in sunglasses, a few random punkers I had never seen, a norm-looking drummer, and my friend Simon wearing a hockey jersey and literally solo’ing over the entire set.

I was bewildered, but ended up getting really pumped. The tunes were decent, but the live show was incredible. The destruction was contagious.

Teresa tried to smash the keyboard with no luck, so I told her to hold it up for me and I tried to punch through it. I ended up getting a really big gash on my hand (stupid), but I was pumped and it didn’t hurt, so who cares?

1. How and when did the Coits come together?  What were the goals of the band upon its inception?

First of all, thank you, Nick, for your enthusiasm and support for the band. I’m a fan of yours and of Coke Bust, so it is more meaningful to me than you probably think.

Also, thanks for giving me a chance to talk about my favorite subject: myself.

The Coits started in 2003 at the Notasquat and Georgetown University. The band was started by John Albaneaze and me.

John was just learning how to play guitar, but he is a savant when it comes to songwriting. He wrote most of the songs. He also contributed to the lyrics. We are good friends who are on the same wavelength to an extent that is highly unusual for me.

The members of the band we cultivated were like-minded feminists who thought our music was cool; because we were in college, people were always studying abroad, dropping out, or quitting the band because we didn’t sound like Fugazi, but we didn’t let that deter us and we stuck with my vision: self-aggrandizement and smashing computers.

Roughly in this order, the goals of the band were: compose and perform catchy and creative hard punk with overt grunge, folk, hardcore punk and garage rock influences, complemented by funny and political lyrics; not be a boring live band (unlike nearly every band I watched perform around the time); use our shows to support causes we believed in (we played a lot of shows to benefit campus workers; we were lucky that there was a lot of activism around labor issues on campus at that time and we were able to participate and do some fundraising for the cause); use our shows as a vehicle to have fun and give our friends opportunities to have fun; win back the Liz of my life; play as many cool shows with cool bands as possible; and overtly reiterate and propagate the most intelligent, interesting and humorous aspects of the entire rock ’n’ roll genre (it’s a great genre). We have accomplished some of our goals.

John is currently attending law school at Columbia, but played one show with the band in 2011 when Psi-Dog quit. John is also set to play our eight-year-anniversary celebration in October. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but we took 2005-2008 off. Our first show was at the Notasquat, on Oct. 12, 2003.

2. Can you run down each of the members of the band and tell us a little bit about them?  What do you perceive their meanings of life to be (including yours)?

Zomawia “Chino” Sailo, guitar: A talented artist, musician, and artist of the information superhighway, Chino is a quintessential antisocial badass with a heart of gold.
The child of a hardworking and well-educated single mother, Chino grew up in the ghetto of Gaithersburg, Maryland, with a tight and exceedingly racially diverse group of friends who were also generally into alternative rock and punk music.
A big fan of At the Drive In, the Black Powder Fuzzbox, Fugazi, and Gang of Four, Chino is a member of a relatively obscure Indian ethnic group, the Mizos. He looks Asian (hence his nickname) and has visited his family in India. He once told me that Mizos are “stupid and cheap.”
He was the soundman at the notorious D.C. punk-rock venue the U-Turn.
We met when his old band, Pattern Against User, played the “Punk Rock Picnic,” at Georgetown University back in 2004. I solicited bands for that show on the Pheerboard, so the Internet brought us together. Chino is smart, generous, a true friend and a very useful person to be friends with. We played in a hard-folk band called Usuario2 in 2007 and 2008. That band sounded like a mix of the Coits, At the Drive In, Sunny Day Real Estate, Pattern Against User, and Refused – with folk lyrics – and we played some really good shows and were well received by our friends. Usuario2 ended when our guitarist and primary songwriter, Adam Piece, moved back to Boston to pursue his true love: music that sounds more like Sunny Day Real Estate.
A skilled and unique guitarist, Chino is also quite responsible, unlike most good guitarists. He is arguably the most unconventional, liberated member of the Coits, which is really saying something. He is the third coolest-looking member of the Coits.

Shintario “Shin for the Win” Doi, bass: Shin grew up in Japan on a steady diet of alternative rock. He is extremely bright. We met at Georgetown University in like 2004 (we became friends in like 2005). He was considered the best bassist at Georgetown and he went to his fair share of Coits shows back then. We played in a band called Coitus Detritus that played one exceedingly destructive show in 2005. Shin is very artistic, articulate, and well versed on international affairs, economic theories, technology, and many other matters. He works at the Black Cat, a Washington, D.C. rock club. An experienced political activist, he has held a very wide range of jobs, from anti-mountaintop removal organizer to trade union spy in a Starbucks to deep house party doorman to Thai chef. His parents have high-status jobs. He has also lived in Korea and Thailand. He is very knowledgeable about a large number of genres of music, and can also hold it down on guitar and drums. He is a good songwriter, but doesn’t really write songs for the Coits. He and I interviewed Ian MacKaye in 2005. He has also interviewed Joe Lally. He is a great friend and a generous guy. He joined the band in 2008, when Prescott got the band back together in order to really freak out the squares and teach the indie rock lames what rock ’n’ roll is (did we ever). Shin fit right in. He is the second coolest-looking member of the Coits, which is really saying something.

Simon “Psi” Cohen, guitar: A virtuoso-type axist and a prominent metal promoter in the D.C. underground, Psi has a good sense of humor and is intelligent. He is the leader of the band Midnight Eye. The son of a diplomat, he went to the same boarding school in Switzerland as a son of Kim Jong Il. Psi joined the band in like 2008, after John went to law school, so we went from having a beginning-level guitarist to a Marty Friedman-type. A talented writer, Midnight Psi has already quit the band three times and is considering quitting again. Who knows how many times he will quit? Personally, I think it’s safe to say that only God knows.
Psi-Dog has long hair and is the Coits’ primary songwriter at this point. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park, and teaches guitar for a living.

Prescoit, drums: The son of a working drummer, Pres is half-Greek, which is important to him. While in college, he studied in Greece and worked for the Greek embassy in D.C. We have been friends nearly since I moved to D.C. in 2002. A graduate of a prestigious D.C. college, ’Scotty is a lifelong friend of a close pal o’ mine from G-Town.
Prescott joined the band a few months after our first show, and he fit right in. It was really nice to have a drummer who played drums; it changed our sound in a major way. We were roommates at the Hardcore Hilton when he was in college (I graduated in 2004; he graduated in 2006).
I have never been able to keep up with him when it comes to partying, and I stopped trying to keep that killing pace a long time ago.
He grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, but considers D.C. home. He is a talented lyricist. Operation Ivy was his favorite band in high school.

Garrett Underwood, guitar: The most recent addition to the band, Garrett joined in early 2011. He was a Coits enthusiast before becoming a Coit.
The youngest member of the Coits by several years (he is 21), G has been in a number of notable D.C. bands, including Wyld Stallyns 3000, Body Cop, and Ilsa (he is currently in Ilsa). We met at a Wyld Stallyns show in 2007.
An overt badass, G memorably said, “I thought I was weird until I joined the Coits; the Coits are fucking freaks.”
He fits right in.
He is arguably the most unconventional and liberated person in the band, which is really saying something.
He is one of only two people hardcore enough to live at the Corpse Fortress on two distinct occasions. He parties like a drug addict and walks dogs for a living. A native of Rockville, Maryland, G is highly intelligent and is very popular within “the scene.” He is not considering quitting the band (as far as I know!), but Ilsa is his primary focus. I am encouraging him to compose more music and lyrics for the Coits. He is the coolest-looking member of the Coits, which is really saying something.

Seth Feinberg, mouth: Thank you for affording me the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject: myself. I am a negative creep. If asked to expound upon the subject, I would reply that I am the son of a pair of freethinkers with unusual integrity. I feel that, at my best, I am a cross between my parents (with whom I am close): My mother is a librarian, journalist, and nature enthusiast; my father is a politically aware tough guy, union man, sports fan, and nature enthusiast. I have lived a charmed life and am politically engaged. I follow world affairs more closely than the average person, and am an environmentalist, trade unionist, and Democrat (in that order). I have a younger sister who is a badass, and we grew up in the middle of the woods in a very small town in upstate New York. I was the only person into punk in my town; there were maybe a dozen kids in other grades into punk and hardcore throughout the course of my middle/high school years (the towns up there are so small that kids from a few towns attend schools in a central location; it was the ’90s, so I had a pal who had blue hair and was into Christian punk, etc.). We lifted weights to Sick of It All.
In a “notable twist of fate,” I first heard Nirvana on an elementary school field-trip to D.C. There was a boom-box on the bus and the kids were playing Ace of Bass. My friend commandeered the ’box and played “Teen Spirit” dozens of times in a row. It took hours for the other kids to start complaining.
I got into Minor Threat in eighth grade, courtesy of an older guy who grew up in D.C. They quickly became one of my favorite bands. Growing up, I never knew anyone who was straight-edge.
In addition to Christianity and socialism, I believe in evolutionary psychology.
I think the meaning of life is to enjoy oneself, help others, and, in the modern world at least, forestall the demise of every species on earth (including our own) at the hands of humanity. I know that’s a boring definition.

3. It is evident that you are all a very eclectic group of individuals with very different lifestyles. How does the band mesh? How do you all get along?
Our lives might not be as different as they seem (with the possible exception of Chino’s; he is the most aggressively antisocial member of the band; who knows what that guy is up to?).

Brendan Griffiths once described us as “an extremely diverse group of extremely liberated people,” which is high praise.

Big Al Acosta described us as “the bad boys of D.C. punk” – high praise.

We get along well; sometimes we get annoyed with each other, but we are close friends in general (although there are inevitable “relationship dynamics” in a six-person band with a wide range of musical tastes and non-musical interests). For example, it might seem that Pres and G have nothing in common, but they get along really well. I consider everyone else in the band a close friend (except Simon).

4. I am specifically intrigued by your drummer, Prescott, who works as a lobbyist for a trade association. Apparently he is quite a hit with the ladies. How does he do this and what is his style? Feel free to speak for him.
Prescott is extremely gregarious, socially adept, and easygoing, and he’s fun to be around. Additionally, he’s handsome, funny, and a secret genius. He has a good job and parties like he’s in Ilsa. That combination is a well-trod formula for sexual success (depending upon one’s definition of success, of course!).

According to Prescott, he learned everything he knows (about getting girls, not about drumming) from Pip (the Lone Rangers’ drummer in the 1994 comedy “Airheads”), who was portrayed by Adam Sandler. Pip gets “his hands on more bumper than a body shop,” as explained by frontman Chazz Darvey (Brendan Fraser).

“While some may mistake his style for the I’m-so-stupid-I-must-be-cute routine, in actuality, that’s the quiet cool – chicks, man, they just flock to it,” Prescott comments in response to this query.

5. What are the songs about? What is the lyrical MO?
In general they have always been political statements, love songs, diss tracks, and diss tracks about myself – with a twist of lemon. I’ve been writing more diss tracks about myself lately than anything else, by far.

6. Your band has achieved cult notoriety within the D.C. scene for breaking large quantities of electronics during your sets. Some people have criticized this as a tactical gimmick (Ed: If it is a gimmick, it has surely won me over, regardless).
How would you respond to this criticism? Why do you break shit during your sets?

I’d never heard anyone call it a gimmick before receiving this question. Since then, James Doubek made the same type of statement, so I reckon that’s what people think. I’d never thought about it that way.

According to, a gimmick is “an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, especially one designed to attract attention or increase appeal.”

While it may be ingenious and somewhat novel, I know that our enthusiastic embrace of destruction always alienated and turned off more people than it appealed to.
I also know that the demolition really appeals to like-minded people, which is all a punk band should hope for, anyway: to appeal to those who get it, while alienating those who don’t.

I’ve really enjoyed destroying stuff for as long as I can remember; my old friends can tell you numerous stories about me smashing and burning things for no reason other than the joy it brings. Thinking back on it all, I have a lot of happy memories. I remember sneaking off as a child to smash bottles. The best date I ever went on was when I asked my friend if she was into breaking stuff and she replied “Yes,” and we went into an abandoned ski shed and demolished everything in it. There was a lot of stuff in there; it took a while and was a lot of fun.

We started smashing stuff at our shows because I enjoy doing so.
My beloved Hoyas had a plethora of “outdated” computer monitors laying around all over the place – like 50 of ‘em piled up behind the library at a time and numerous others in corridors all over campus – and I would stockpile them in an on-campus apartment. It was just a way to enjoy myself, although it immediately became apparent that our friends also really liked smashing computers, computer monitors, outdated A.V. equipment that we found in dusty corners of rarely used rooms, etc. G-Town had all kinds of derelict technology all over the place, forgotten or waiting to be disposed of. I disposed of it the right way – by smashing it with the hammer of God!

It’s just a way to enjoy myself and provide some fun for my friends and the people who enjoy the band.

I have an inordinate amount of rage for some reason, always have, and it is one way to let the rage out. One always feels better, for a little while.

In addition, this stratagem is one way the Coits adhere to our mission statement of not being a staid live band.

Finally, smashing stuff at our shows also offers an obvious statement about the value and lifecycle of technology, as well as our nation’s rabid consumption and the nearly immediate obsolescence of our purchases.

Things worth hundreds, thousands of dollars just a few years ago are now worthless. It’s kind of interesting, if you think about it – what we buy and what it buys us.

At one show I tried to auction off a few computer monitors and even a desktop computer or two. No one bid on them. Trenchant commentary, to be sure.

Let’s talk about you, if you don’t mind.  You’re a very bright, well spoken, successful guy. Why do you continually live in sub-par living situations (Corpse Fortress, Chris Moore’s room in 2008, the smallest room in the Newton Street house, etc.)? You can surely afford a real room. Do you have an affinity for such living spaces?
1) I dispute the premise of your question. For a person like me, those living situations are well above par. Putting me at the Corpse Fortress was like putting a pig in slop. I fit right in. I really like Loren Martin and Jessie “Corpse Fortress Princess” Brennan. Living at the CF also gave me the chance to become friends with Dylan and Brendan Griffiths, who are awesome. It also gave me the chance to get to know Psi-Dog and other people who used to hang out there.

Also, it allowed the Coits to have a practice space and a place to book shows whenever we wanted, and it allowed me to see a lot of great shows for free, and even occasionally make some money (for the house!) by facilitating awesome shows.

There aren’t a lot of things more fun than seeing your favorite bands performing in your basement while every few hours people hand you hundreds of dollars.

Also, my rent was $90-a-month for an entire year, allowing me to exist as a freelance writer. The second time I lived there, I had a much bigger room and my rent was $250 a month.

1a) Chris Moore pimps out a bedroom like he pimps out his life. Living in his room at the Chill Factory was one of my best living situations ever, and it gave me the chance to get to know Justin Malone, Nick Tape, Pat Vogel, Drew E., Big Al, etc.

It also gave the Coits a great place to practice and record, and it allowed me to go on a weekend tour with Sick Fix and borrow money from Pat Vogel. There were a lot of cool basement shows happening within a few blocks of the Chill Factory at the time, too. It was great. That place was kinda expensive, though – like $500 a month.

1aa) The Newton Street house is a similar situation: Living there gave me the opportunity to get to know Zizzack, John of Today, Ahron of Judah, etc. – I’m on the same wavelength, more or less, as all of ’em, but didn’t really know them well (or at all) before. Now they love the Coits! My bedroom is small, but that’s just fine with me; it’s comfortable, and I don’t have many possessions compared to the average 30-year-old American. $350 rent.

2) Thank you sincerely for the compliments. They are meaningful to me. I don’t necessarily see myself that way. I often see myself as a depressive, narcissistic, boring, useless sellout full of soul doubt, an idiot savant offered a charmed life on a silver platter who has done a great job of throwing it all away.

3) I have accomplished a lot as journalist, and have enjoyed far more success as a writer than I expected to, but I spent years eking out a living as a freelance reporter, and journalism is not very remunerative for the vast majority of its practitioners. If you view it as an art, you might end up living like an artist!

4) My father recently informed me that I will probably live and die deep in debt. He said that’s just normal for our social class and I should just accept it. I hope that, if that’s the case, I can live high on the hog and enjoy an extremely rich array of experiences and material goods and leave Wells Fargo with the tab.

What are your dreams for the Coits?
We’re on a good trajectory now, where it seems like more and more people are into the band and our old friends still come out to our shows. If we can stay on this trajectory, keep writing cool songs and playing cool shows, I’ll be happy.

However, I hope to move out of town ASAP. I work downtown and terrorism and world affairs provide me with near-constant dread, despite my anti-anxiety medication. I hope to return to my hometown and coach high school basketball, which is my calling.

What’s your take on that FAGGOT show you guys played? What did you think of them?
Oh man, Faggot was awesome! I really liked both the songs and the shtick. They were the only band we’ve ever gigged with that put the Coits to shame insofar as presenting a great stage show and taking punk to a psychotic extreme. It was great, but I don’t want to compete on that level, because we all know where that ends, and who wants that? Well, not me, for my band, anyway.

The Coits seem so different from the other punk bands in DC …  not even in a good or bad way. I don’t even know where to start. Can you shed some light on this?
It is interesting to me that the vast majority of the people who are the prime drivers of the local scene – such as NickTape, ’Bec Levy, Spoonboy, James Doubek, Chris Moore, Orion, etc. – grew up in the area and have known each other since they were in high school or for even longer.
People who grow up around here have a lot of shared points of reference and influences, which influences their bands. It is relatively easy for them to become conversant in the sprawling universe of punk / HC / underground / extreme music.
John Albaneaze, Prescott, Hunt-Nat and I didn’t grow up in D.C., so our conception of punk wasn’t Crispus Attucks, the Suspects, Spitfires United, Enemy Soil, Q and not U, Nation of Ulysses, Page 99, Black Eyes, Lungfish, Fugazi, Autoclave, Scream, or Aggressive Behavior.
My conception of punk rock was Minor Threat, Bad Religion 1980-1985, Operation Ivy, the Sex Pistols, Devo, Rancid, the Ramones, etc. – stuff that would be accessible to a kid in the ’90s in the middle of nowhere.
I also tried some more avant bands (Fugazi, Flipper, etc.), but didn’t like them at the time. I liked punk, but was also into grunge and alternative rock and Megadeth, Ani DiFranco, Bob Dylan, etc.
We’re coming at punk from a really different place than someone like Chris Moore is, because I spent the first 21 years of my life in a small towns in upstate New York, and it wasn’t easy to get down with the local scene even after I transferred to Georgetown (I always had a ton of homework, plus I am a lame square, etc.).
I didn’t really “converge with the D.C. scene” until I started booking the U-Turn (when I was 24 or so) and moved into Chris Moore’s pimped-out bedroom a few years after that.
Also, I sing, and not too many D.C. bands that play hard punk have vocalists who vocalize in that fashion.

Can you speak on your current and previous relationship with Garybird?
Special thanks to Clementine O’Connor, Libby Ellsworth-Kasch, Ayush Amatya, Alex Owings, Luke Bailey, Rachel Horst, Kurt Steigel, Parker and Lianne Bollinger, Abby Lavin, Jamie Gahlon, Jamie Bowman, James Viano, Greg Mortenson, Chris Rufo, E-Roc, James Doubek, Zack Pesavento, Pat Jagla, Ilsa, the Screws, John Scharbach, Justin Malone, Loren Martin, Nick Popovici, Sasha Rex, Mike Bazzone, Chris Barnett, Heather Green, Johnny Bones, Hussain M., Kalim M., Ben Crabb, Stephanie Sailo, Stephanie E. Sears, Matt Parsons, Drew Bashaw, Jay Nye, Sven Curth, Ricky Fitts, Donovan DeMacy, Josh Chase, Joel White, Elisabeth Schulte, Emily Reynolds-Stringer, Fil, Toast, Margarete Schulte, Michael Battaglia, ’Bec Levy, Ian MacKaye, Head-Roc, Jarobi White, Brian Baker, Brain Damaged, Flora, Mookie, Dave Stone, Rachel Klein, Maurice Alvarado, Rachel Horst, Big Al, Adam Piece, Mark Andersen, Chad Clark, John Langford IV, Ron Bercume, NickTape, Zachary Wuerthner, Simeon, Miguel, Alexandra, Blake, Roger Scully, David “Bones” McCullough, James Willett, Dave Homeowner, Daniel Jubert, Surgery Dot Com, At the Graves, Revolta, P. Spencer, Jamie Sherman, Ian Svenonius, Justin Moyer, H.R., Krist Novoselic, Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Rachel Atcheson, Triff Store Magic, Usuario2, and, of course, Rachel Horst.

What does punk rock need, and what does punk rock need less of?
I can’t even say. I’m in my own world nowadays and don’t have a particularly valid perspective on that. However, I sure would be glad if the world had fewer bandwagon riders, avid consumers, crypto-fascists, fascists, lazy people, thieves, frightened rabbits, herd-stampeders, and people who always take everything so seriously all the time. Life is too depressing to take it seriously.
I remember Greg Graffin saying something like, the definition of punk is being different by being yourself. I embrace that definition.
Punk rock, like the world, needs more joy and less shame.

Dave Brockie Talks Gwar & Getting Beat in D.C.

From late 2008…
It can be difficult to tell which of David Brockie’s stories are true.
He’ll tell you, for example, that he used to carry liquid LSD around at parties, squirting it into the eyes of strangers. He’ll tell you that first-wave D.C. punks like Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins used to beat him mercilessly, barely letting him escape alive. He’ll tell you that he once lived in a giant milk bottle and it was a wonderful life. He’ll tell you that he’s an alien warlord named Oderus Urungus.
Maintaining this last assertion has occupied most of the past quarter-century of Brockie’s life.
Oderus is the beastly mouthpiece of Gwar, which is, as the myth runs, a demented, debauched, drug-addled band of bellicose space monsters exiled to our planet by the Master and frozen in Antarctica. They were eventually unthawed and freed by Sleazy P. Martini, a known pimp, pornographer, pusher and record label executive. Martini taught the members of Gwar how to play their instruments and signed them to Capitalist Records.
In the decades since Martini unleashed Gwar, his befuddled war-masters have tried to write songs that will attract the humans (so they can exterminate us) and have also sought to return to deep space.
“For various reasons,” Brockie offers, “they’ve always failed miserably.”
They have succeeded, however, in melding taboo-obsessed shock rock tropes (bestiality, rape, the employment of Joan Rivers’ femur in the snorting of her brain and so forth) with satire, parody, slapstick, pummeling music and absurdist theater.
In doing this, the dozens of rock slaves who have drifted in and out of the sprawling Gwar universe have created something singular and enduring. It’s smart, dumb and really, really funny.
Gwar has never had a hit song or album, but the band is a revered, prosperous cult act that seems more popular than ever, probably because it’s a rare middle-aged group whose recent albums are far interesting than its initial recordings.
Brockie believes Gwar’s dogged persistence will eventually wear society down, until his band is acknowledged as one of rock’s great acts, comparable to the Beatles. He appears to actually believe this.
While that proposition is dodgy, Brockie’s contention that Gwar presents an unmatched stage show is irrefutable. Gwar’s costumed concerts are immersive sensory onslaughts. Urungus and crew spew an impressive range of heavy metals with virtuosic dexterity. The weeping guitars, thrashing assaults, impaling hooks and so forth are all very good for attracting the humans.
Gwar also spews oceans of fake bodily fluids on its fans, which is also, perhaps surprisingly, very good for attracting humans.
As Oderus bellows convoluted narratives about, say, trying to escape Earth by drilling to Hell and subjugating a Jewish Satan (“Jewcifer”), the alien warlords’ many onstage “slaves” stay busy feeding celebrities to the World Maggot, decapitating politicians or/and fighting one another. There is often also a dinosaur and an intricate light show and carefully-wrought video projections.
Sensible readers may wonder what occurred in Brockie’s childhood, but the singer says Gwar is, rather, rooted in his adolescence. He grew up in Fairfax and was an eager teen attending shows during the early ’80s D.C. punk explosion.
Brockie says that, among the first generation of D.C. hardcore punks, a militant, humorless, straight-laced ideology was pervasive and oppressive and that the loopy, over-the-top Gwar “was a direct reaction against a very controlling, very limited form of expression they were trying to force on people.”
At 18, Brockie fled for Richmond, Va., where he found a far more open-ended and accepting music scene, attended Virginia Commonwealth University, lived in a former milk bottling plant and became part of a community of “talented, motivated, crazy artists.” A freewheeling group of theater buffs and rockers became the nucleus of Gwar. The band, of which Brockie is the sole remaining original member (other old-timers persist in other parts of the unwieldy cottage industry) started out playing Misfits-style punk, but as Gwar became more established, its wardrobe grew more elaborate and so did its riffs. The band slowly morphed into the metal machine it is today.
“I defy you to listen to punk for 30 years and not get bored,” Brockie said, explaining.
The frontman inevitably deems Gwar’s current tour – hitting the 9:30 Club on Sunday – the band’s most astounding, elaborate production to date, and he’s already deep into planning Gwar’s 25th anniversary extravaganza.
“It’s going to be our most epic struggle yet,” he said. “As far as working in the deeper meanings, the hidden truths, the riddles, we’re really going to go off unlike we’ve ever done before.”
And then, as part of Brokie’s plan to wear you into submission, “When we get too old to do this, we’ll have replacements. Son of Oderus will be born. And Oderus will show up in a wheelchair every now and then, at the top of a big ramp. And they’ll push him down the ramp and, ‘Oh, no! The brakes don’t work!’ And he’ll go flying into the audience and explode.”

What part of D.C. did you live in?
Well, I grew up in Fairfax County, went to Robinson High School, but my older brother Andrew, he was a real character. He moved into D.C. very, very young. He probably had his first apartment on Capitol Hill when he was 16, and I was three years younger than him.
So when I was getting to be a rowdy little bastard, my typical routine would be to go into D.C. on the weekend and stay at his house and get as much out of the city as I could.
I would hang around the Capitol Hill area and, of course, the old 9:30 Club, D.C. Space, Georgetown.
The hardcore thing was just starting then, and it was really awesome, because D.C. was, in many ways, the birthplace of hardcore, but it was really a shame, because those guys really hated me – Ian and Henry.
They just thought I was a clown. They were all into the straight-edge thing. I used to get my ass kicked all the time.
When I finally graduated from high school I ended up in Richmond, Virginia. I was pretty glad for it.

I’m interested in talking just a little bit more about your relationship with those dudes. Do you know them at all now?
Yeah, yeah. Honestly, I have known those guys since I was about 16. Never once has one of them really been friendly to me.
I’ve met Ian many times, met Henry many times. They always come across as very pompous, very arrogant, very elitist – things that I never thought punk rock should never be about.
You know, I always thought it was really hypocritical of Ian, when he got into Fugazi, to be yelling at people from the stage, “Don’t slam dance! Don’t stage dive. Don’t do this, don’t do that.”
I’ve seen that man inside so many riots on a dance floor. I just didn’t take that seriously at all.
Punk rock, for me, is about expression. It’s about nonconformity. It’s about being yourself. And, honestly, I found their whole straight-edge mentality to be every bit as oppressive as the jocks I hated in high school.
To this day, those guys have no respect for Gwar. If they do, they’ve never said anything about it.
I’ve always tried to talk to those dudes. Every time I’ve met ’em I’ve been nothing but respectful. I’ve been polite.
I have a lot of admiration for both of them, especially Henry. I really see Henry as a funny motherfucker. But they’re two unfriendly people. They always have been.

Was it D.C. punk that was so influential on you, or was it punk generally?
Punk generally. My understanding of punk rock started in like 1976. I was watching TV with my mom. We were watching the
Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder and there was a report on the Sex
Pistols and my mom was like, “Oh, my God. That’s horrible!”
I was sitting there going, “Yeah, mom, that’s horrible,” but I was
thinking, “Oh my God. That looks like so much fun.”
So, initially, my exposure to punk was through television. And I
started going to the record stores and huntin’ shit down and for a
couple of years, my idea of punk came just from what I perceived in
the media and the albums I could find in stores. You know, I had the Ramones, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, the Clash, but it wasn’t until I saw hardcore for myself that I really started to
understand what was going on.
I remember going down to D.C. Space in my Ramones leather jacket with my Ramones long hair and my Slickee Boys button – I used to
love the Slickee Boys – and showing up for a hardcore show with, I
believe, S.O.A. and Minor Threat. I’d never seen a hardcore show. I
felt like I’d just walked into the eighth circle of hell.
It was completely insane. I mean, these were real punk rockers. These weren’t guys who were getting their fashion tips from the Tomorrow Show or Ramones album covers – this was the D.C. Scene, for real, vital, throbbing, violent, full of energy, full of anger.
It scared the hell out of me, but I wanted to be a part of it, but I didn’t really know how. I wasn’t from D.C. I didn’t really know any of these people, and right of the bat they hated me, because I was so stupid: My parents were from England [and] I decided the best way to befriend these people would be to walk around the show and talk in an English accent and pretend I was from England (laughs hard).
That did not work at all. Soon I was being hated and teased,
surrounded, called-out, jumped. And when the slam dancing started: I used to get my ass kicked so hard, though they never did it to the point of death. I figured maybe there was something about me that was redeeming. And so I would go home with a black eye or a broken nose, my Sex Pistols t-shirt in bloody shreds.
And one day I picked up a D.C. hardcore magazine – I believe it was called Period or D.C. Period or something like that – and there was a picture of me in the magazine and the caption was, “Pretty boy contemplates chaos.”
It was me at the show, looking into the pit with this look on my face, like, “Oh my God. What are those people doing?”
So I was drawn toward the scene, but completely alienated from it at the same time. It really made me work hard to find my own way of expressing what was going on inside of me.
That’s when a lot of the bands from the suburbs started to get a little more room in the scene, and those bands had more of a sense of humor, especially Void. They were a great, great band.
My place in the scene was to get out of the scene.
I moved to Richmond and started going to art school. And down there, I found the scene was a lot more wide-open. People were having a lot more fun.
They were more accepting of different types of punk rockers, because there were so many different schools of punk rock: there was straight-edge, then there was the Discharge, spiky-haired punks, then there was the more classic, Sex Pistols/new wave punks, then there was the California Black Flag punks, there were the Boston dudes with their black headbands. There were all these different tribes, and Richmond kinda embraced all of ’em.
Another big influence: This was one of the biggest bands that
broke the D.C. scene open and really exposed it to a lot of people who probably would have been turned off from that real monolithic,
straight-edge, “You gotta do things this way. Don’t drink. Don’t fuck. Don’t this. Don’t that.”
You know it was GI, Government Issue, with John Stabb. He was really great.
I remember onetime I went to see a hardcore show downtown. All these skinheads from Boston were there and all the D.C. crew was
representing. The pit was super-violent. I believe SS Decontrol
was playing. And then GI came out to play and John Stabb had dressed up like Adam Ant.
All the punks loved GI and they loved Stabb, but you could tell the fact that he’d done this really fucked with their heads.
They were just like, “Uh, is it cool to support this? Should I laugh? What should I do?”
That was the complete “I don’t give a fuck” attitude that they typified and which was something that I really latched onto.

Obviously, Gwar has turned away from its punk and hardcore roots and plays pretty straightforward metal now – just different kinds of metal.
Oh, I would totally agree with that. You gotta understand: When we did that first Gwar album, it was a complete joke.
We were like, “You’re kidding. You want us to do an album?”
We were just a semi-crummy punk-rock band that dressed up like monsters from Antarctica. We weren’t really trying to do anything in particular with our music, other than entertain ourselves. And the music on that album reflects that. It’s a punk album.
… For a long time – for the first five albums – if you had asked me what kind of band Gwar was, I would have said “punk rock,” but that slowly got chipped away and eventually Gwar settled in. And it took like eight albums. The first few albums are punk and metal. Then we made a few that are very experimental. They’re all over the place. There’s parodies of country songs; there’s comedy tracks; there’s sound pastiches. We thought we were Frank Zappa for awhile.
But when Gwar started its big resurgence about five years ago, the biggest reason was that we said, “You know, we need to quit playin’ around and really just crank down on the metal. We need to listen to our critics,” because the most obvious criticism that’s ever been laid at Gwar’s feet is, “The music isn’t any good. It’s all about the show.”
That always pissed us off, because we know we jam. The guys in my band, I’ll put ’em up against any band in the world.
We decided to do an album – and this was [2001’s] “Violence Has Arrived” – that’s straight-up metal and see how it went.
Immediately, we got a really big response from the metal community. People were really starting to get into Gwar again. We did the Sounds of the Underground festival tour. We’d never even done a festival tour before; next thing you know, we’ve done it three years in a row.
And the last three records have been very, very metal-oriented. There might be two or three punk rock songs on those three records.
… For the long run, I really think that metal is the more challenging and more entertaining form of music.
You know, one of the hallmarks of punk rock is the simplicity of it, and that’s great. It’s amazing what the Ramones were onto, but the music is kinda simple and I defy you to listen to punk for 30 years and not get bored with it.
Metal’s a lot more challenging. You can write an eight-and-a-half minute song. You can do a ballad that turns into a rager. The music’s got a lot more room to grow and expand and still be called metal, whereas punk rock and hardcore, there’s not much you can do without having it be called something else.

Do you remember the first time you met the guys from Lamb of God and Municipal Waste?
No. [Lamb of God singer] Randy [Blythe] has a great story about the first time he met me. I don’t remember it.
I used to be quite a maniac. I’ve got a reputation as a really hard partier. I’m glad to say that those days are behind me. I’ve survived with a minimum amount of brain damage and I’m happy for it. I’m a happy, sober, recovering alcoholic and drug addict, you
know? (laughs). I just stay in the program, take it one day at a time.
… When I met Randy, I was in the old Slave Pit. You know, Gwar’s studio is always called the Slave Pit. We were having this huge party and my friend had sent me a big plastic food-dye bottle filled up with liquid LSD. And I was squirting it into people’s eyes.
And that was the first time I met Randy. He was like, “Hey, what’s that stuff?” I was like, “Here, open your eyes” – squirted like 12 doses right into his retina. He ended up hanging out at the Slave Pit all night, watching the walls melt.
Generally speaking, people have always got great stories about the first time they met Dave Brockie, but Dave Brockie generally can’t remember them (laughs).

It’s often said that the great thing about college isn’t what you learn, but who you meet. It seems like your experience is a pretty good example of that.
There couldn’t be a better illustration of that than what happened in my life after I went to Virginia Commonwealth University and started going to art school. I met all these amazing, talented, motivated, crazy artists and we started hanging out.
We were in the old huge building in Richmond called the Dairy. It’s a giant old milk-bottling manufacturing plant. I think it was built in 1880. It had these gigantic ceramic milk bottles in the corners of it – like nine feet high – and I actually lived inside of one of those bottles. It was great.
We were all either in art school, or had just left art school, or had dropped out of art school, or were trying to get into art school, and we all converged at the Dairy and came up with this idea for what is going to go down in history as one of the greatest bands in rock ‘n’ roll history: Gwar.
I don’t think people understand how important it is, what we’ve done. We’ve been slogging away now for 24 years and every year we get a little bit bigger. It’s just this relentless assault. The one thing no one can argue with is that Gwar is the hardest-working band in show business.
A lot of bands that have been around for 24 years, they will have taken 12 years off in the middle. Gwar was never like that. We’ve put out albums consistently. We’ve toured every year. We’ve always worked extremely hard, because it was our deal. It was our dream. It was our monster. We created it. We didn’t want to be like Doctor
Frankenstein and just let the monster wander around the landscape until it finally got killed by the hostile villagers.
…Gwar will continue on.
People who don’t like Gwar are so stuffy, usually.
They won’t even think of Gwar for like five years and then all of a sudden, they’ll look up and they’ll be confronted by evidence of Gwar’s existence and they’re like, “Oh my God. They’re still around?”
We never left, and we’re not going to. We’re going to keep hammering away until people finally, out of sheer exhaustion, are like, “OK, Gwar. Do whatever you want.”
Every year we get a little more traction. Every year we get a little more respect.
Gwar has assumed mythic proportions in our culture. We’re like the Easter Bunny, except with huge fangs. And I think people are comforted by the fact that, no matter what is going on in their lives, Gwar is out there somewhere championing the little guy. ‘Cause what is Gwar except poor man’s justice?
You’re never going to be able to get over on George Bush. You’ll never be able to outsmart the IRS. But goddamn it, Gwar’s gonna get up there and they’re gonna take that guy and they’re going to chop his head off. And then they’re going to [expletive] the stump, and that might be the best vengeance you get. It’s better than nothing. Everybody likes to see politicians get killed.

People can get a lot of different things out of Gwar. There are obviously some serious points being made, but they’re done with humor and they’re subtle.
We don’t preach. It’s there to be appreciated at whatever level you want and I’ve always felt that’s what art’s all about.
We’ve never tried to hammer home any one point in particular, but at the same time, I think the people we work with are pretty intelligent. There’s got to be something more to what we do than just squirting stuff on people, or we would lose interest in it.
So, the waters of Gwar go as deep as you want to go into them. It is a bottomless abyss.

What are some more serious issues that you’ll be subtly addressing in the future? Do you have any ideas?
Well (long pause) … Yeah, yeah. We’ve got everything lined up for next year. Next year’s gonna be our 25th anniversary.
Gwar’s greatest struggle, throughout the 24 years since they were de-thawed in Antarctica, has been to escape the planet Earth and get back to outer space, so they could rejoin their brothers in their glorious cosmic conquest, but, for various reasons, they always fail miserably. They always end up being stuck here on Earth.
You can look at Gwar as a metaphor for the human condition. Gwar represents man. Earth represents oppression and outer space represents freedom. The whole struggle of Gwar is man’s struggle for freedom. That’s pretty deep stuff and you can have a lot of fun with that.
So, what’s going to happen next year – and I’m going to spill a little bit of beans down my shirt here – Gwar finally is going to escape Earth.
And they’re going to go back to all the planets they used to hang out at and they’re going to see that they’ve all been completely Giulianied, as I like to say. Basically, the same thing happened in outer space that happened in Times Square. It became Disney-fied.
The irony of it is: There’s only one place left in the whole galaxy that’s still free – that Gwar has to defend against this tide of mediocrity – and that place is the planet Earth.
We have to return to the very place that we escaped from, because it’s the only place left in the universe that’s worth a damn.
It’s going to be our most epic struggle yet and we’re just starting to get into fleshing out the script.
After all these years of working with Gwar, I really feel like next year’s script is going to be the widest open. As far as working in the deeper meanings, the hidden truths, the riddles, we’re really going to go off unlike we’ve ever done before.
… We’ve got miles and miles on this next one and we’re excited to get into it.

It sounds awesome. This ties in with something I wanted to ask you: It seems like you have all the story lines either written down or thought out – where you want to go – the idea I have is that rest of the band just puts the songs together and then you come in at the end and fit lyrics to the songs. Is that right?
Well, no, not really. We have meetings like every day when we’re on the road, at sound-check we’ll all sit down and we’ll have brainstorming sessions.
I like to get the whole group on the same page as far as what the
whole record and show is going to be about, because the record and
show always tie in with each other.
… So we’re trying to get everybody on the same page. I have to know
what the story is, what the main characters are, what everybody wants to do. And you got like 12 different people in this organization and we all have very strong ideas. You don’t want to start writing an album until those ideas have coalesced in one direction, because you might find yourself writing songs that have nothing to do with what’s going on, and that’s happened before. In fact, that’s happened many times.
24 years have taught us who we can rely on. A lot of these guys have been around since “Hell-O.” This is not Dave Brockie getting whoever he can to fill up these suits and do Gwar. We’ve got the original artists who’ve been there since the beginning, and we’ve learned over the years how to work with each other very, very well. It makes the writing process easier and easier as we go along.
Right now we’re in the conceptual phase. We’ll write a script or a
treatment or a synopsis or whatever you want to call it. We’ll decide what the characters are and then, basically, the art department and the band will split into two groups. The art department will start working on the show and the costumes and the sets and the band will start writing the music and recording the album.
When the album’s all done and the costumes are all done, then the two groups will re-merge with each other. We’ll do some videos, we’ll start rehearsing the show, and then we’ll hit the road again.
It’s been rolling like that for 24 years. I think every year we get
a little bit better at it. A lot of bands will put out a couple great albums and then slowly fade into obscurity – albums get crappier and crappier.
I think our shit gets better as we go along. It’s so complicated, it’s such a monster to tame and we finally got really good at it. Every year we get a little bit better and it’s just a joy to work with these guys. I’ve known these guys over 20 years. We never compromised.
When I look around at these dudes, there’s such a bond between us. I can’t even say that all of us are great friends, but we’re like a family. We’re like brothers. We’d do anything for each other. We’re like some weird misfit military organization. It’s like some bizarre crime family. But instead of crime or war, we’re into art.

Is Gwar a democracy?
More of a socialist democracy. Generally speaking, the ideas: The good ones will rise to the top. But when we really have a decision that’s impossible to reach, we will just vote and the majority will rule.
No one person is running this show.
I’m lucky to be the figurehead and the mouthpiece a lot of the time, but every time I open my mouth, I’m trying my best to represent everybody in the group.

… We came up with a show that kinda prepared us for what’s going to
happen next year, so what we decided to do was install full
rear-screen video projection during the show that doesn’t just provide cool logos and cool animation, but actually has plot elements – you know, characters speaking from the screen – that advance the story.
All these bands, like Dethclock and the Gorillas, are kinda animation bands. They’re doing amazing things with their live shows and Gwar wanted to get on that. Actually, we went and saw the Blue Man Group about a year ago and we were hanging out with those guys and we borrowed one of their roadies and their light-designer and we just picked their brains to death for any kernel of knowledge we could use.
We really feel like the show we’re doing this year, of anything we’ve ever done to date, it definitely is the most over-the-top, insane Gwar show that we’ve ever put out and the fans are absolutely loving it.
Adding the video was the last thing we could do to make Gwar even more spectacular. Adding the video totally put it over the top,
… The whole reason Gwar came to be, in a lot of ways, was a direct reaction against a very controlling, very limited form of expression that they were trying to force on people.
… It’s a pretty limited message, you know? And Gwar is taking colors from everybody’s paint-box and mushing it all together.
Gwar’s arguably the greatest show in rock ‘n’ roll. And we have not
yet begun to fight.