(Photo by me, August 2003)
You guys don't know just how much of a treat this was. Dave is such a legend in punk rock circles and also one of the nicest, most down to earth people I've had the pleasure of knowing. I'll quit before my gushing gets too out of hand, but Dave is seriously the best. I might just run this as a slightly edited down Q & A because I don't think I can make what he said any better.
Bill: Down By Law just completed a tour of South America. How did that end up coming about? Before the tour and the warm up show in Florida how long had it been since DBL played any shows?
Dave: It was really a great time. We had played twice in South America, in 1999 and 2000, and really loved the people we met there, and the shows, and the countries and cities. There's a special connection between Brazil and Argentina and DBL. A good friend of ours, Andre from Nitrominds (a really cool band in Brazil) got a promoter down there who was anxious to bring the band back to get in touch with us, and everything came together.
It had been a while -- several years -- since DBL had done a proper tour, although we'd done a couple of one-off festivals in the interim. To be honest, it's pretty hard to coordinate everything, so tours are fairly rare at this point. But, it's kind of cool that when DBL tours now, it's a special thing, and hopefully people will be excited to see it.
Bill: Is the rhythm section used on the South American tour the permanent lineup from now on? Off the top of your head, is it possible to do a total count of ex-members of Down By Law?
Dave: Oh man, that's funny as hell. Off the top of my head ... no, no way. Can't do it. I will say that I've been really blessed to work with some amazing musicians over the years, and I value them as friends and artists. You know, bands are tough to stay in -- that's why most of them, even the uberhuge bands on major labels -- don't stay together. But it's great to have the opportunity to be creative and make music together, for whatever amount of time it ends up being. I kind of view every player in DBL as a permanent part of the family. For the current lineup, I hope so -- we played pretty damned tight every night, and that feeling of being a musical fist that I love so much -- that feeling was there. Kevin and Jack played on the newest DBL songs, one of which is "Bullets," which might be one of the best DBL songs. So we'll see how everyone is feeling when we do the next thing, which right now is apparently recording in the early fall.
Bill: I recently read online that you’re working on a new record to be released on Jailhouse Records. Can you give any more information or possibly even a timeframe for its release? How did you get hooked up with Jailhouse initially? Will the new album’s title be smashed into one word?
Dave: Ha! I don't know about the smashed part -- someone posted that DBL's best records have been longonewordtitles (punkrockacademyfightsong and windwardtidesandwaywardsails). I'm not so sure -- I think "All Scratched Up!" is one of the band's stronger albums, and there's a lot of folks who love "Blue" or the first one too-- but it is funny that two of our albums had that kind of title.
For the timeframe, etc., I am not really sure. I hope we will be recording in the late summer/early fall, and then that it would be released in the late fall, but I'm not 100 percent sure.
Bill: Jailhouse Records has recently undertaken several big re-issue projects with the back catalogues of Moral Crux and the Pink Lincolns. Has the idea of re-issuing the OOP Epitaph albums been tossed around at all?
Dave: Yeah, I've seen that's happening, and I think it's really really cool that they're doing that. I don't know about it for DBL, to be honest. I think some of those records would be great to have out there again. There might have been some discussion of that by Jailhouse, I think, but I defer to Sam. He's been talking more with the label about all the details. But if Epitaph were to be so kind as to let us do it, and someone wanted to re-release some of them, I would be stoked. What's really amazing is how many kids still know the songs -- on the South America tour, they were singing along to all of them, even the early ones.
Bill: It seemed for awhile that every few months while record shopping I’d come across another Down By Law 7” from the 90s that I didn’t know existed; I’m pretty sure by now I have at least five or six scattered around a couple boxes of 7”s. On top of that, during the compilation boom of the 90s DBL seemed to be all over the place on those as well. Have you ever thought of doing a collection of those singles and compilation appearances?
Dave: Not until you just asked that question. But now that you did, I think that's a great idea. Make it happen Bill.
Unfortunately I don't even have most of them anymore, because I always gave my copies to fans who couldn't find them after the initial run was all sold. And, I don't always know how to find everyone who ran those wonderful indie labels either. But it would be really a unique capturing of some rare Down By Law material. I still love our singles that we did that covered "Revolver" by Mission of Burma, and "Get Up Stand Up" by Bob Marley -- with guest vocals by the amazing Pete Stahl (Scream). Also always liked our cover of "What's so funny bout peace love and understanding" by Elvis Costello, on "Before You Were Punk." So yeah, it would be really cool. I'd even love it if you or someone could put a compilation of that stuff together that we could post a link to it on the MySpace or Facebook pages.
Bill: During the last decade or so Down By Law has been working at a much slower pace than the first eight or nine years of its existence. During down times how often do you find yourself picking up your guitar, whether just to casually strum or to write new songs?
Dave: Great question. The honest answer is no, or at least, not nearly enough. I do record some songs here and there, and am often writing lyrics and/or a particular chorus or song title or random verses. But at this point in my career, I tend to be an objective-oriented guy about stuff like that -- if I know we're going to be recording in a few months, then I'll start taking choruses and verse lyrics that I've jotted down over the past X amount of months, or songs and segments I've recorded here just with the guitar, and start trying to mold them into completed songs.
The other thing is that Sam is really the main music writer at this point. He's one of the best songwriters in America, really. So when I hear we're going to record, I just wait for the sweetness from Sam -- he sends me the music and I then am inspired to come up with vocal melodies and lyrics. Of course I'll always write songs too, and love it, but getting stuff from Sam -- well, as a singer, it's like Christmas morning -- you never know exactly what you're going to get but you're excited, and pretty sure it's going to be awesome.
Bill: It’s been over six years since the latest Down By Law LP’s release; since then the music industry has seen the rise of legal, pay MP3 websites and an intense resurgence in vinyl sales, yet many record labels (even ones as venerable and long-standing as Touch and Go) still struggle to make ends meet. As a veteran musician that’s been out of the record making scene for a while, what’s your take on the plight of the modern day record label?
Dave: That's a really tough one. I'm an old-school guy. As you noted, we've done so many compilations and singles, not to mention full length albums. So I'm a huge supporter of vinyl, of indie labels, of college radio stations -- I talk about some of that stuff in Down By Law lyrics, among other places, songs like True Music, for instance. And most bands, or most good ones anyway, make an album as a complete work of art -- meant to be listened to as a whole, ideally. But the downside is, I don't know how to fight the tide. I mean, it's understandable why the pay-per-song thing is so strong -- if someone just wants one or two songs by a group, they can get it. I think one misses the bigger artistic picture that way, but one also saves money.
And bands can now release things much easier themselves, though without the clout and marketing ability of a label. So the market has changed, and I pray indie labels and labels in general can ride the wave and figure out new ways to stay afloat and thrive.
As others have noted, I still remember the days of when labels had a "sound," and you just bought it because it was on Dischord or X-Claim or Epitaph or Cruz or Touch and Go or whatever. I'd love to see those kinds of emotional attachments to labels come back for people. I do think there will always be labels, though, because ultimately most musicians would rather have someone else deal with all the headaches of marketing and distribution.
Bill: Your stints in bands had a reputation of being relatively short. Now almost twenty years later, the lifespan of Down By Law is much longer than your time with DYS, Dag Nasty and All combined. Why do you think Down By Law has survived for so long?
Dave: I don't know, really. I think part of it is age, and just realizing when you have something special and knowing it's worth holding onto -- when I was in those other bands, I was a young pup, and probably didn't think abut the consequences of quitting. With Down By Law, I had enough perspective to realize this was a pretty special band, and I didn't want to lose that. I didn't have that perspective before. You know, everyone has what-if questions in life, and certainly one of mine would be what if I'd stayed in any of those earlier bands. But I'm just so grateful to have been a part of all them, from DYS to Dag Nasty to All and Down By Law, and to have played with the musicians I've been able to play with, and go all over the place and make music that has mattered to a lot of really sincere, wonderful people. I think people know me well enough to know that I'm not just saying it when I say that every fan, all over the world, that I've met, and the ones I never have met, all mean a lot to me. There's a bond through music that no one can ever take away from us, and that's what has kept me going all these years.
Bill: Did anything ever come of the Sharpshooters after posting those demo songs online? To my ear they sounded way more fleshed out and promising than the full length.
Dave: Thanks. I think so too. Unfortunately, everyone got distracted by life -- Keith moved to Nevada, our lead guitar player got married, etc. But since it was a mostly a project band, that's OK.
Bill: Have you been playing any solo acoustic shows lately?
Dave: Not enough. There's some talk of me going to Europe for a couple of weeks to do some solo shows, and if that happens, it would be great. There is a huge delight for me, and hopefully the audience, in those shows -- just getting to be more intimate with the audience, telling the stories behind the songs, and also of course being able to do songs from all the different bands, and those beloved traditional Irish songs. I am supposed to do a solo show sometime this summer as a benefit for a fomer co-worker who is now sick with cancer. So when I know the details on that, I'll post it.
Bill: How involved were you in the upcoming Slapshot documentary?
Dave: Well, not in the filming part at all -- I was sent a rough cut by the director, who wanted me to narrate it. I ended up writing a chunk of the narration, as well as reading it, and it was really a cool process. Of course I've known the members of that band, or at least the original lineup, for many years, and to me, that Boston Crew feeling has never gone away -- I'm happy to do whatever I can for my brothers. So when Ian McFarland asked me to do it, I called up Don Zientara, at Inner Ear, and he and director got the details arranged, and I went up there and tracked it. Had a blast. The film is really good. It doesn't hide the warts that every band has. But it also gives you a good sense of what it's like in a band, how friendships form and then are sometimes, sadly, broken. And it's a good documentation of how Slapshot carried the torch for Boston Hardcore after SSD, DYS, etc. had broken up.
Bill: Do you still work as an editor for a local newspaper? The past couple years have seen a parallel develop between the music and print journalism worlds, wherein computers and digital technology have overtaken traditional distribution of the product and information. What do you think of the current state of print journalism and do you have any predictions or inclinations of what might happen next?
Dave: Very good analogy. And like with the labels question, I think it's a tough one. Newspapers are in somewhat of a better situation, because millions of people still love to read the newspaper every day. There is no comparison/substitute (in my mind, at least) between sitting at your computer skimming a news site, versus sitting on the couch with the newspaper, reading all the sections, holding it in your hand -- that's a wonderful, tangible advantage newspapers will always have. And of course the industry is adapting -- papers are getting better Web sites, online editions of the printed pages, etc. But no doubt about it, like labels, newspapers need to learn to ride the wave or they'll end up drowned in it. There are some innovative ideas and efforts going on, but I don't think the final verdict will be known for some time to come. But I will say that I think newspapers are a vital part of a healthy, informed citizenry.
Bill: Bonn Scott or Brian Johnson?
Dave: Bonn was a huge influence on me, and an unmatchable, brilliant singer. But, Brian Johnson is still an outstanding front man, and probably the only guy who could have kept AC/DC going after Bonn died.
Bill: Ozzy or Dio?
Dave: Depends. Ozzy's first two solo records were excellent. But then again, so was some of the Dio stuff...Dio is simply one of the best hard rock/metal singers ever. And he still sounds amazing - went to see Heaven and Hell last summer and it was fantastic. As for Sabbath itself, I'll call it a tie.
That's the problem with singer comparisons, be it for punk bands or other genres -- sometimes there can be two good singers, where you can enjoy and appreciate both for their respective contributions. I like chocolate and strawberry ice cream -- do I have to pick one?
Bill: Roth or Hagar?
Dave: Come on.
Bill: Bob Mould or Grant Hart?
Dave: Love both of them.
Bill: Bruce Loose or Will Shatter?
Dave: Oh man.
Bill: Red Sox or Nationals?
Dave: Red Sox. Love Beckett, Buchholz, Ortiz, etc., and equally important, love the tradition. And, I'd be kicked out of the house if I answered any differently.
Bill: Tastes great or less filling?
Dave: You know, I think if you're drinking beer, drink it for the taste, and don't think about the calories, just enjoy. Go Guinness or go home, you know? It's like Coca Cola -- drink the real thing. Why gag on Diet Coke, which tastes like bad cough syrup mixed with urine, when you can enjoy the Real Thing (tm)?
Bill: Deep Dish or Thin Crust?
Dave: Deep. I'm a fan of the pan.
Bill: Repo Man or Suburbia?
Dave: Repo Man. I blame society.
Bill: Three way guitar duel: Stephen Egerton vs. Brian Baker vs. Sam Williams. Who will survive and what will be left of them?
Dave: You're talking three brilliant players and three friends. No way am I answering that one. However, it would be one hell of a battle.
Bill: Shawn Brown or Peter Cortner?
Dave: Love all their contributions to music, and to Dag Nasty in particular.
Bill: Scott Reynolds or Chad Price?
Dave: Love all their contributions to music, and to ALL in particular.
Bill: Continuing to listen to Rush or getting paid two million dollars no-strings-attached to never hear Geddy Lee’s voice again?
Dave: As someone who has to pay for college tuition, I'll take the money, Regis. I've got the lovely voice of the mighty Geddy Lee imprinted in my heart. I don't need to hear it in order to hear it.
Bill: Any last words or parting thoughts?
Dave: Just thanks to you for the interview, and for all you do for music, and thanks to all who've suffered through my rambling here. God bless ya, son.