Dec 12, 2015
Bluebird Theater, Denver, CO
Punk rock provocateurs the Dwarves continue traversing the country and pissing off new generations of parents long after emerging from the 1980s Chicago underground scene. Led by wily frontman Blag Dahlia and enigmatic guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed, the later of whom conceals his identity via a lucha libre mask but wears little else, the band tore through the Midwest recently in support of their newest release Radio Free Dwarves, which was culled from European radio performances. They also brought along Queens of the Stone Age and Mondo Generator wildman Nick Oliveri to play bass at a raucous show at the Bluebird Theater in Denver. Indeed, as the contingent ripped through the entirety of their profane yet profoundly influential magnum opus album Blood Guts & Pussy, plus a smattering of other favorites, Dahlia landed on my head while crowd surfing. That's just one way in which he gets in-touch and personal with his fans.
Before their set, I caught up with the singer to gather his thoughts on the Dwarves' longevity, his musical influences, existential punk questions, and even his preferences, if any, in the forthcoming US presidential election. Dahlia was dependably candid, yet an amiable disposition belied his ever-diehard confrontational ethos.
Q: Did you have any problems getting into Denver with the snowstorm?
A: No. Fuck no... it goes away when we come around. It knows better.
Q: It melted , right?
A: That's right, it all melted.
Q: How do you like Denver?
A: I love Denver, are you kidding? It's like lots of attractive Nordic snowboarder women.
Q: You got a lot of Swedes and Norwegians here.
A: Can't beat it.
Q: Do you play a lot in Denver? I'm assuming, seeing as you have a 30-plus year career, that you've been around a lot.
A: That's right, yeah. Well, we started coming to Denver a lot over the last 10 years. We probably come here like once a year. I think the last time we played here was with Screeching Weasel, which was a lot of fun. We come to Denver a lot. We used to always do an unannounced Lion's Lair gig, that was like the little club gig. And then we'd play something like Bluebird or whatever. But yeah, it's a great town. And I get to see my brother, here's out in Fort Collins. So it's all good.
QColorado has a big punk scene. Fort Collins too. The Descendents and All and other groups. Who do you think are your biggest influences as a band?
A: Biggest influences as a band? You know, we kind of started as a 60s garage band so there was a lot like... 13th Floor Elevators, the Chocolate Watchband, the Sonics. And then you got the Misfits and stuff like that... Motorhead. I was a teenager when it was, like, Black Flag and the Germs and bands like that. So I mean, that would kind of be the influence. But the Dwarves got pretty eclectic. We're kind of influenced by everything. We did drum programming when other punk bands weren't drum programming. Weird sound effects, other people wouldn't do that. I get very influenced by everything that's out there. I like to spread it around a little bit.
Q: You mentioned the Sonics. They came through, I saw them just a couple months ago. And I saw on Youtube that you actually got to perform with them. Was that a great experience?
A: Oh yeah, it had been a lifetime dream to sing with the Sonics. And I got to sing the song “He's Waitin',” which is one of the first Satan songs in rock & roll. So I was really thrilled and it was totally cool. You know, sometimes you meet people and they're not that great [but] the Sonics were just amazing. Great, great band.
Q: What about the current punk scene? Are there any bands you really think are...A: Well, we're playing with the Potato Pirates tonight. I love those guys. We just played with them in Austin. The thing about me is that I never really gave a fuck about punk that much. [laughs] I play it, because I enjoy it. I like the physical feeling that it gives me. But I don't really listen to it so it's hard for me to be hip to who's out there and who's good. But there's always a good band around. There's always somebody coming out of the woodwork that does it. I kind of look for songwriting and performance. The bands writing good songs or they're doing a live performance, then I like 'em.
Q: There's nothing more punk than shitting on punk. That's the most punk rock thing.
A: Yeah. Well, I grew up listening to a lot of, like... my parents listened to musicals. When I was a kid, I was in musicals and the big band stuff. My brother listened to moderate jazz, very esoteric stuff. What I loved about punk rock is just the fun of it. It wasn't really the music that appealed to me that much, although some punk music is amazing. I think when it achieves rock & roll, it's great. But other times, punk music doesn't really achieve rock & roll, it just achieves punk. So it kind of depends. Look,even tonight we're going to play Blood Guts & Pussy, which is sort of our ultimate stab at playing punk.
Q: A seminal album.
A: Seminal record. It's 25 years old this year. When we made that record, the only records I was listening to was Eazy Duz It by Eazy-E and Straight Outta Compton (by NWA). Even then, I liked good punk and the other 99% doesn't really appeal to me that much. But I'm not good with everything. There's a lot of shitty musicals, lot of shitty classical music, a lot of shitty jazz, a lot of shitty reggae. I just like the good version of whatever it is.
Q: Do you think that punk is more of a state of mind and not necessarily music? Or a cultural movement?
A: Yeah. I think when it started, it really was. You look at the kind of bands that were called punk, they were all so different musically. They'd be like the Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie. They all lived in the same place with completely different bands. You could say it's an attitude but I think it was much less safe to have that attitude then. Now, it's easier to kind of know what's expected of you in punk. Makes it a very predictable genre.
Q: Well, NWA, I think, is extremely punk.
A: Yeah, that's what we thought at the time. I was like 'Yeah, this is a new way of making a record that's interesting.' Also, in the 80s punk scene, there were a lot of girls' own stuff. And that kind of disappeared by the mid-to-late 80s and it just became a total sausagefest. Fortunately, Dwarves shows are not quite as sausagey as most punk bands, which I'm proud of. I don't really trust any music that girls don't like. I always had a problem with punk in that way.
Q: Do you consider yourself more of a musician or a performance artist?
A: [laughs] That's a good question. I consider myself a songwriter and a record producer. Not really much of a musician but I think I write good songs and make good productions. I know how to work other musicians. I know a lot of good musicians and I can get them to do what I need to do. And I kind of more do production and writing. And then performing is kind of the other side of the coin. Yeah, I consider myself an entertainer, a performer. Not really a musician. I don't have a lot of musical ability, I don't think. But I have a lot more than most people who do punk. [laughs] Because, again, I like to learn how to do things and try to do it right.
Q: On your last release, Radio Free Dwarves, you covered the Ting Tings...
A: [laughs] Yeah, that's right.
Q: “That's Not My Name”
A: We did our song “FEFU” but we were doing it live on the radio there in Britain and we couldn't say “fuck.” FEFU is Fuck You and Fuck you Up. So we had to use different words and that Ting Tings' song is on the radio. We said “Hey, why don't we just take their lyrics and graft them onto this song and see what happens?” And the people thought it was deep. I haven't heard from the Ting Tings since then, that might be our sign that we do it right. I like that song.
Q: No lawsuits, so that's good. Shows that they're okay with that.
A: Yeah well, I don't know what they think of it. They never contacted me or... I don't know. They seem like a pop thing. A lot of pop bands come up and they tend to be pretty... they have something good for a minute, I don't know.
Q: Are you supporting any candidate in the 2016 election?
A: I'm not supporting any candidate per se. I'm not a big... Generally, I am very interested in politics and I think about it a lot. But as a Dwarf, I kind of just go to Fuck Die Rape kind of maneuver. I don't really try to push my political views on people as the guy from the Dwarves. But if you wind up in a bar with me or a restaurant with me, you'll probably hear it. I'm pretty socialistic in my economic views so I'd probably would vote for Bernie Sanders in that way. But I'm very... I've been warning against Islamism for a very long time, ever since they tried to kill Salman Rushdie and burn his book. I think the influence of Islamism is very destructive. Islamism is different than the religion Islam. Islamism is people who want to forcibly convert the whole world, people like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. And I've been saying for a very long time that liberals are too soft on that, don't understand it, and are so concerned with looking racist that they refuse to call things by what they actually are. So a lot of times, people accuse me of being very right wing and reactionary, which is funny because I'm basically a socialist on economic views. So I'm a mixed bag. I don't believe in rolling over and playing dead to try and be PC about things. I think we should call things for what they are. So in that way, I can see the appeal of people like Trump and these kind of people. But I really disagree with them a lot on a lot of things, including the idea that we could ever shut Muslim people out of America. That's a terrible idea. We should never do that. I have friends who are Muslim, they're totally cool. So that's not what it is. But we have to attack the ideology of Islamism. It's bad and it's wrong.
Q: In terms of your bandmate HeWhoCannotBeNamed, is there any specific reason why he cannot be named?
A: I think because he's all things to all people... he's the alpha and omega. He's all things to all people.
Q: Has he ever been challenged to a lucha de apuestas (fight with wager) match or a mask versus hair match of any sort?
A: [laughs] You'd have to ask him. That is very possible. I don't know how happy he is on the wrestling circuit, but I know that he's a rap icon.
Q: Finally, what do you expect at tonight's gig here in Denver at the Bluebird Theater?
A: I just hope I get a blowjob.
Q: Onstage, backstage?
A: Either way, I don't discriminate.
Article By: Steve Lustig