Punk rock outfit The Dwarves released their new album, The Dwarves Concept Album, on November 17. When they formed in Chicago in the mid-80s, The Dwarves were a garage rock band named Suburban Nightmare, a name they later changed. Their sound also changed, becoming hardcore and shifting to punk rock.
Notorious for self-mutilation, onstage sex, and taking hard drugs, The Dwarves' live shows frequently only lasted ten or fifteen minutes, while their album covers created storms of hullabaloo.
XS Noize spoke with frontman Blag Jesus, aka Blag Dahlia, to learn more about the new album, who's on it, and what he's been up to.
The Dwarves' new album, The Dwarves Concept Album, dropped in November. Is there a concept, or is that just titular dramatism? If there is a concept, what is it? And what inspired the idea?
Titular dramatism! You just named our next record! The Concept is: can the best punk band ever do every hard rock genre on one record? And yeah, we answered that in the affirmative almost 20 years ago with the release of the 'Dwarves Must Die,' but 'Concept Album' is that much more sprawling and inclusive, covering every damn style - punk, pop punk, thrash, garage, noise, rockabilly, surf, it's all there!
Over time, the Dwarves have been a revolving door regarding personnel. Who is in the lineup on the new album?
There are all kinds of legends on this one! The basic unit is Blag Jesus on vocals, Snupac on drums, Fresh Prince of Darkness on guitar and Rex Everything (stoner rock hero Nick Oliveri) on bass. But there are lots of appearances from Black Josh Freese (now a Foo Fighter to boot!), Andy Now, Sgt Saltpeter and a host of Dwarves past and future. Plus, excellent guests like Madd Lucas from The Sik Sik Sicks, who supplies some great female vocals here, especially the first radio single 'We Will Dare.'
You released Take Back the Night in 2018. Now, five years later, you're back. What have you been up to for the last five years? How have you changed as a person and artist over the last five years?
Quite a bit. I released a novel called 'Highland Falls,' another picaresque fictional romp across America featuring sex, death, dope and violence. On the musical front, I made a solo record called 'Introducing Ralph Champagne' that dallies with all of the classic Americana retro styles, country, lounge, rockabilly, acoustic, novelty, trucker anthems, love songs, duets, dirty songs, it's all there. And the production is so smooth you'd swear it couldn't be the guy from the Dwarves! Those songs also had lots of cool videos with them, including animated ones by the Mad Twins and one where I did my best, Hugh Hefner meets Mel Torme' imitation.
I kept on the grind as an artist, and so did my guys. We wrote a lot and didn't let the madness slow us down too badly. All we need at this point is a booking agent who is capable of making and receiving phone calls and counting money. You'd be amazed how few of them can pull that off, though!
As a human being, the results are a bit spottier. I think I maintained my sense of humour and general optimism, but on the other hand, I'm probably about three notches crazier than ever before, so there's that.
Your music runs the gamut from garage punk to scum punk to pop punk to hardcore punk. How would you describe your sound to the uninitiated?
Rock & Roll! It generally has a backbeat and some hook to it. Part of what makes it hard to categorize is that all my guys write songs, music and lyrics. What Nick Oliveri writes will always be different from what I would write; The Fresh Prince of Darkness has his style but also knows how to make it sound like I wrote the lyrics. Josh Freese comes in with instrumentals, and I put words over them; Andy Now produces the records with me and writes lots of instrumentals, and Snupac has his thrash band. That makes for a more interesting kind of record than the standard punk rock record, where one or two guys write everything and put the best song first and the worst one last on the record. We've all heard that record, and it's tedious. Dwarves' records have a whole saga surrounding them because of all the different writers and players.
Let's talk gear for a moment. What kind of guitar, amps, and pedals are Dwarves using?
Live, it's very standard - a standard kit with a few toms, nothing fancy. SVT for bass and 8x10 " speaker. The guitar guy likes a Les Paul and a tube Marshall with a distortion pedal. We can pull off our show with that stuff. In the studio, it is a whole different ballgame. I use every kind of weird guitar, amp, and pedal for texture. All sorts of wacky sounds are put through stomp boxes and incongruous speakers to get something different. Vocals: I like an SM7, and nothing beats a cool old tube compressor or tape compression hit hard.
When I ask most artists about their songwriting process, more often than not, they describe it as a magical channelling process where music flows out of them. What is your songwriting process like?
With songwriting at its best, you are channelling something out in the ether; that's the essence of inspiration, as though this song had to exist, so it got willed into creation. I hear catchphrases and vocal melodies in my head and then turn them into songs. I try to make new combinations of things, too. If a song is very rockabilly, I throw some metal in there. If it's relentlessly optimistic, get some negativity in the bridge, etc. I try to remember that when you're working on a genre, you need to expand it instead of constantly colouring within the lines. I write on guitar sometimes over loops and samples, but I also like to write over other people's chord changes and riffs just because something new happens when you do that.
Most songs are hack work, someone doing the look mommy, I put my ass in a chair and wrote all day, and this is what I came up with! Kind of thing. I wouldn't say I like those songs; I can smell them a mile away.
Most of TheDwarves'' album covers are considered controversial. Is this just the band having fun shocking people, or is there more to it, like some suppressed expression of the superego?
If we're getting Freudian, the Dwarves are very much an '' I'' band. We say the stuff you're not supposed to say, that your superego filters out to make you a productive member of society. Also, it's just fun looking at tits, everyone loves it. Would you rather look at a bunch of old dudes frowning in a picture or at a young woman enjoying herself with her booty on display? It is no contest for me, but some folks clutch their pearls about it. Pussies!
The Dwarves hit the road on November 2. I've often wondered if bands like touring or if it's a pain in the ass. Are you looking forward to it, or is touring simply something you must do?
I love playing, but I hate travelling! When we're onstage, it feels great. When confronted with a 7-11 hot dog on the interstate at 3 am, you question your life choices a little bit.
Everyone should see the Dwarves live and check out our sick new videos 'We Will Dare,' 'Roxette,' and 'Voodoo.' Great music, scantily clad women, blood and gore and just the right amount of humour to remind you that Rock and roll is good time music!