I was very happy to see that Down By Law have their own official website and so I decided to do an interview with Dave Smalley, lead singer in the band, but I guess everyone of you knows him, because he was in so many great bands such as DYS, Dag Nasty, All and now Down By Law. All of them are legendary and that’s a fact. So I wrote to him and only after four or five days he sent me the answers. That’s great, thanks a lot, Dave. But now to the interview…
Hi Dave. How are you at the moment?
I am doing pretty well at the moment, thanks.
I was really surprised that you got back to me so fast, because I made the experience that some people take forever to respond. How do you handle the huge amount of e-mails that you supposedly get?
Well, I do get a ton. I guess the main thing is that I don't talk on the phone very much these days at all, unless it's with my parents or someone who doesn't use email. I just find email easier -- I can reply when I want, and prioritize the important messages. And I type pretty fast, with the advantage that if I say something stupid in an email, I can (sometimes) spot it before I send the response. If I say something stupid out loud, there is no escape!
That’s one of the reasons why I prefer e-mail interviews, too, ‘cause I seem to forget half of the questions I wanted to ask in a face-to-face interview, haha…
Let's talk a little bit about the latest album by Down By Law: Why did it come out on Go-Kart instead of Epitaph? Did you leave the label or were you dropped? Are you satisfied with the job Go-Kart did to promote the record?
Well, there were a number of reasons we left Epitaph. But the main thing was that they were going through some very well-publicized changes at the label at that time and we had made five albums there already, and it just seemed like the right moment to try something new. Fresh start and all that. We still have a lot of good memories about our years there, and wish them well. In fact there is going to be a Down By Law greatest hits CD released next year, on Epitaph.
We decided to do a one-off on go-kart as they were there at the time we were ready to go into the studio. Their offer was good and they seemed to really want us. Now we have done our one record with them and have reached a tentative agreement to do our next albums with Fastmusic, a very cool indie label in NYC that I have been working with on a number of projects. Fastmusic has Cooter, Luckie Strike, and is releasing the PAX benefit compilation with new songs by Dag Nasty, ALL, Agnostic Front, and NOFX among others. If everything goes well on the signing front then we will record in November for Fastmusic.
But did you ever think about releasing the last album on your own after quitting Epitaph and will you do so for a future DBL album?
I think we briefly discussed it but to tell you the truth, it would be a huge task to do it, and I think there are labels that already exist that could do a way better job at releasing and distributing and promoting a Down By Law album than the band. I think bands should probably leave those tasks to others better trained in it. Even though we are smaller now than we were a few years ago, Down By Law is still a popular group and the thought of being responsible for 50,000 or so records at one time is something that would give me nightmares.
Yeah, I can imagine. Some of my friends really loved the latest Down by Law album, but some others criticized that there would be too many influences from other musical styles on it (which is not my opinion by the way as I belong to the first group, haha). What do you think about that?
Down By Law are really musicians above all else. By that I mean that the group experiments, we grow, and the results might succeed or fail but it is still music, creative energy, and unpredictable. There are many groups, some of them quite popular, who do what they do very well but one would not call them real musicians or songwriters. They just have a style that resonates well with a particular group at a particular time. In some ways, punk rock has its own fads and fashion, and kids who follow a band just because they think they're supposed to – no different than the Backstreet Boys or N’Sync, you know? That is not to put certain groups down, but just to say that being in Down By Law gives me (and our fans, I think) a bit of spiritual fulfillment. And along with that come moments when we shine like no others, and moments when we fail. And because we are musicians first, we definitely don't fit a mould, and there are moments when we drift into other musical styles.
Some of my favorite groups ever, particularly the Clash, never stayed the exact same. And that was why people were always excited to get a Clash record. You could always count on a Clash record being done with passion, skill, and energy, just sometimes differently portrayed musically. And that is part of the energy of Down By Law as well, for better or worse.
What were the reactions to that album and would you record it again the way you did?
Well, I think there are some really strong lyrics and songs on "Fly the flag." I really love "Breakout!" and "Nothing good on the radio", for instance. The lyrics on "Sorry sometimes" are sad and strong. So the inner satisfaction as a songwriter and lyricist was deep. Press reactions were either really great or really brutal. It was the same thing with the kids. Some praised it as a great album, showing the band's diversity and songwriting skill. Some said it was boring. But when we played in Europe in the spring, and in South America, the fans have been just so excellent and warm and receptive -- crazy shows with a real sense of emotion. So overall I think that even though "Fly the flag" had its supporters and a few detractors, it was received well. But it definitely has a different flavor to it than some of the other Down By Law albums. The next one will be much more aggressive.
As for if we would record it again the way we did...interesting thought. I don't really know -- every album recording is a roll of the dice, and sometimes you roll snake eyes and other times you come up big. That's what keeps it cool. We did try out some different amps and things. Next time I'll probably go back to my Marshall JCM 800 and Gibson SG (the fuckin’ best guitar in the world, no doubt about that – Stefan) for that perfect AC/DC sound (yeah!! – Stefan).
Do you already have some ideas or even finished songs for the next DBL album and when will you probably go record it?
The next album will probably bring back a lot of the more punk fans I think. The new songs are fucking hard edged and punk -- it has been a blast to write that way again, sort of back to the "Punkrockacademyfightsong" and "All scratched up!" era. I think the reason for that is that I have the Sharpshooters now (that album comes out in September) to get out all of my mod and pop sides. So DBL is back to being the official punk band of the new millennium! These days when I pick up a guitar and start to write, it just seems to come out raging, so it really is refreshing.
We go into the studio in November. the album is scheduled for a February release, at this point.
I am very eager to hearing these new songs, sounds great … There were some line-up changes in the history of DBL, but right now the line-up seems to be constant. Do you think this line-up can last and are you still in touch with the ex-members?
The lineup has for sure changed at points, mostly with the drummers. But Milo (our drummer) has been in the band for quite some time now, over three years I think, and everything feels good. One thing that will not change is that there have always been really good musicians in DBL. If any lineup changes come again (which, since we are all humans with different needs and growth patterns, is possible), then I can make the promise that the band will always have in it people who are committed to being great musicians with punk spirit, and that we will always rock.
I do still keep in touch with some of the ex DBL members. Dave Naz, our original drummer, is still a very good friend of mine, for instance. Sometimes it is hard because everyone lives in different places and is usually busy but in general there are good emotional bonds.
I bet this questions bores you, but I'll ask it anyway, hehe: What does the DBL symbol mean and who came up with it back in the days?
Well, the symbol was originally designed by an awesome graphic artist named Norman Moore, who is really famous in album design circles. I asked him to design something with an arrow in it (like the old logos for the Jam, the Who, or the Undertones) that kids could draw on their notebook at school, or get for a tattoo. He came up with that and I thought it was brilliant, and now all over the world are DBL fans with that tattooed on their bodies. I have seen it tattooed on people's legs, arms, hands, necks, and backs; it is really incredible. Most of them are really unique and different regarding colors and sizes, so really it is a tribute to the kids that they get these tattoos and make them part of their own unique style and life.
And that, really, is a cool thing about DBL in general -- you can make this band your own, a part of you. Down By Law is the property of every kid who reads the words and sings along and makes it a part of your life. We are all one fist, in a world of serious chaos.
Well spoken! Let’s talk a little bit about the times before you recorded music with Down By Law. What about the a Dag Nasty album? I heard rumours that a new record should be out in the near future?
Well, as of right now there is no new Dag Nasty album, but there are two new songs and we're talking about recording again next year. We were asked to do a reunion original album lineup song for a benefit compilation. After I heard about it and reached the guys, everyone was into it, and so there we were after all these years, Brian Baker, me, Roger Marbury and Colin Sears, at the legendary Inner Ear Studios. It was a bit weird at first but it all clicked into place right away. Brian is a genius and he wrote two excellent songs, then I wrote the lyrics. It just felt like all the years had melted away and there we were, Dag Nasty, as it was meant to be. I know that sounds really melodramatic but there is no escaping the chemistry of that band, and we all felt it.
Great! Will your real names be on the record or has anybody to play on that album under a pseudonym again like Brian had to on the last one due to other contractual obligations?
No false names this time. The real lineup, same as "Can I say" (the classic – Stefan) and "Four on the floor" (with the killer song "Million days" on it – Stefan).
On which label will that album come out? Again on Epitaph as the last one or on Go-Kart as Down by Law are on that label?
If there is another Dag Nasty album, we will have a lot to think about. It could be on any number of labels at this point, and I can't even guess right now.
Now some questions concerning even older days will ensue: Why didn't you sing on "Wig out at Denko's" and what do you think about the job Pete Cortner did on that record? By the way what is Denko's, is that a club or something?
Well, I quit Dag Nasty shortly before we were going to record "Wig out…", in order to go to graduate school. I had received a full scholarship and I couldn't afford to go unless I took it. And I really wanted to get my master's degree in political science. So I did. I think Peter did a good job, but I thought it didn't sound like the real Dag Nasty, you know (right – Stefan)? That's why we reunited for "Four on the floor", because the proper spirit of Dag Nasty is the four of us.
I heard you left ALL because they seem to be workaholics, but I also heard that you still get along good, right?
I am definitely still friends with ALL, and even though we don't see each other very often, when we do it is a good energy. I left because those guys are great touring musicians and I wasn't ready for it; basically I was tired and needed a break. I was on the road for over nine months in the first year that I was in ALL! But I never had anything but fun. They are a really good band.
Do people still come up to you today and ask you about DYS, without a doubt one the alltime HC cult acts?
Thanks for that. Yeah, people still ask me about it all the time. And there are some singers who hate talking about their past bands, and keep saying "I only want to talk about this band" or movie actors who say "I only want to talk about this movie" -- I think that is bullshit. The bands I've been in have been a real source of punk spirituality and explosion of energy for a lot of people. You guys have seen me grow up, and many of you have grown up with me. So if someone asks me about DYS, that is just fine with me.
Do you still listen to these old songs nowadays and what do you think about the time you were in DYS today?
Well, someday I'll write a book about all of the bands I've been in. I've been an incredibly lucky person who has managed to play with some of the best musicians in punk rock ever. And every band carries with it a ton of memories that I think a lot of people would enjoy knowing. So I'll answer your question with a "stay tuned," if that's alright.
Hopefully the day when you start writing that book isn’t too far away. As DYS had sXe lyrics, are you still sXe? If not, when and why did you stop being straight edge? What do you think about the sXe scene today?
I am not straight edge at this moment but I still have respect for the ideals of s.e. I don't like intolerance however, and so when people want to use s.e. as a fascist thing, I oppose it. Ultimately if someone can avoid fucking up their life and be more productive by not doing drugs, and still treat other human beings with respect, why would anyone oppose that? It is weird because I think Jimmy Hendrix or Keith Moon or many other artists would not have been as great as they were without drugs. So s.e. is not for everyone, but when it is beneficial for an individual, cool. We are all different and should not try to be the same (which is the same reason I strongly oppose the European community and the European union -- it is one step closer to the death of individuality, and one step closer to a 1984 big brother monolithic state. Punk rockers have to fight that dark side of the force. The Germans are not French, nor are the Spanish English, and everyone should respect the proposition that differences are wonderful. The world will be awfully boring when we all look, sound and think alike -- so I urge you to oppose the E.U., before it's too late.) (Well I guess it already is too late with the EURO being the new currency… - Stefan).
I started drinking on a DBL tour of Ireland in 1994. I fell in love with a pint of Guinness and that was it -- the Scotch-Irish side of me took over. No regrets, and I still enjoy a good pint of Guinness. And a lot of the German beers for that matter.
What do you think when little kids listen to bands that are basically playing the music you did 10 or 12 years ago, does that make you feel angry in some kinda way? What's your opinion about today's music scene in general and which music do you like?
When you get to be an old school guy, you realize that it wastes time to compete with others. I am too busy with Down By Law and the Sharpshooters, and family and friends, to worry about what some young band is doing. If they are motivated by good spirit, that is great. In the end, my burning quest is to change the world through individual fires, created by punk rock. Big government and intolerance are the enemy, and punk rock is the sword.
What do you think about that dispute between Napster and Metallica concerning the whole mp3 matter on the internet as you are an artist and your music is affected , too?
You're definitely right; every artist is affected by Napster and things like it. I totally support Metallica for taking a risk and making a stand. And they did it for all of the many smaller bands that can't afford to take on a huge corporation. Realistically Metallica never has to worry about money ever again, but they still fought this fight for all the right reasons. I have always thought they are a cool band (that’s true, I can’t stand hearing people complaining about their music; if they don’t like their new sound, they should stop listening to it – Stefan). Basically Napster makes a ton of money for a gigantic corporation, which is fine, but then at the same time takes money away from musicians by not paying them for their work. And that really sucks. You wouldn't expect to go to an art gallery with an exhibit by an artist you like, and simply walk away with a painting for free, right? That is, in essence, what Napster is doing.
Ok, I guess that's it, this is the end of this long interview. Did you like it and do you want to add anything?
Nothing more, but thanks for the questions and inner spirit. We'll try to never let you down.