The Dwarves are coming to San Diego.
No, there isn’t a Wizard of Oz convention downtown, nor are the Roloffs making a book-tour stop at the Borders in Mission Valley. The venerable and controversial punk rock band is making a stop at the Casbah on Sunday to celebrate their new album, Born Again, and their 25th year together.
Infamously known for raunchy lyrics, album covers featuring blood-soaked naked women, kicking and/or punching audience members, onstage sex and being purveyors of a hard-drugs lifestyle, the fact that the Dwarves are celebrating the quarter-of-a-century mark is an accomplishment unto itself. I recently spoke with the band’s founder, Blag Dahlia, who was at his home in San Francisco, about the anniversary and all things Dwarves.
Scott McDonald: Wow. 25 years -- That’s kind of crazy.
Blag Dahlia: Even though we’re celebrating it with the new record, we’re actually a little beyond our 25th anniversary. And it is totally crazy. I don’t want to make light of it. I do feel like it’s a significant milestone. And while I think that it’s an accomplishment just to make it to 25, I’m more proud that the Dwarves have been able to not only last that long but also continue to make relevant records that evolve, get better, stay interesting, and that people continue to respond to. I think with a lot of bands, they have that big bang in the beginning, put out some kick-ass s--- for an album or two, and then coast on it for 20 years. We’ve just kept pushing forward, and Born Again is getting better notices than any record we’ve done in years.
SM: That’s gotta make you feel pretty good.
BD: It does. It makes me feel great. When you make these records -- and you’re so up your own ass with it -- you don’t even like it any more by the time it comes out. But when other people start talking about it, you tend to get reinvested.
SM: I mean, when someone like U2 hits 25, you kind of expect it, but the Dwarves …
BD: Right? The Dwarves were always the band that was going to get murdered on their first anniversary. We’re the band that’s been breaking up since 1986. So much s--- has happened to us -- from burnings to banning to getting dropped -- everything that could happen has happened to this band. And the fact that we’re still around? It really is mind-boggling.
SM: Do you consider yourselves a band’s band?
BD: Absolutely. Salt Peter, my original bassist, used to say that all the time. And it was true. People from different bands used to come up to us and say things like, “Man, I wish we could do that.” And then we’d see those same guys go on, get a major label deal, get big management and a huge following, and we’d say, “Man, we wish we could do that.” But when people are telling you things like they wished they were free or that they wished they could put the picture that they wanted on their album covers, or say what they wanted but couldn’t, we knew we wouldn’t trade what we have for the world. We’re a true underground band. But when you do a quality thing and have been around for as long as we have, you’re going to capture the attention of some heavy hitters. We’re an insider’s band. And it’s the same with fans. We’ve never had a big marketing machine behind us, so you either know us or you don’t. And you either get it or you don’t.
SM: Was it a game plan to keep the Dwarves on the edge?
BD: I think we’ve done a good job of having what I call conceptual continuity. It is what it is, and we’ve stuck to our guns. We’ve kept with the profanity and the nudity and the pushing of buttons. But at the same time, we’re not afraid to evolve creatively with a pop tune or a speed metal tune, or a hip-hop tune. We do whatever we like. I mean, go back to my first record. We were a '60s garage band. That album’s full of keyboards and slower beats. And all of those things play a part. Even if you’re an underground band, if you keep doing the same things over and over again, like many punks bands do, that just leaves me cold. Why do I need your 10th record if it’s the same exact s--- that was on your first one? I’m pretty proud that we’ve really had a variety of music. But that’s also what’s been hard on the band, to be perfectly honest. It’s so much easier to market something that’s the same all the time. I remember fans getting so mad at me for rapping or sequencing drums, or doing speed metal or whatever. But I was like, "F---, man! Sorry, but we just can’t be held back."
SM: You’ve certainly done a good job of not holding back.
BD: I’ve been very lucky. Sometimes I feel like the rest of the band doesn’t get enough credit. Everyone knows HeWho and me, but people give me credit for so many of the things that all the other guys have done. Everyone associated with the band has really risen to the occasion. I’ve been so lucky that I wasn’t one of those guys where the band was all me and the other guys just did what I said. I’ve always been surrounded by a group of really smart guys. They’ve made this thing better than it ever could have been with just me doing it and telling everyone what to do. And that’s a great feeling. It’s like the SpongeBob thing. Salt Peter wrote that song -- it was perfect, he knew I could do it, and the next thing you know, I’m on a cartoon.
SM: Speaking of branching out, from producing to writing novels to anything else you’ve done, does any of it give you the same thrill as throwing on the gloves and singing for the Dwarves?
BD: That’s a great question, but I guess the answer, if I’m really being honest, is no. Being Blag from the Dwarves and screaming onstage is my favorite thing in the world to do. It’s just one of those things. Like the aesthetic of the band where we have to challenge ourselves, I try to have the same aesthetic with myself. I’ve gotten out there and produced for other bands, written some books, done some songs for other people and tried to make sure that no stone was left unturned as far as being creative, but fronting the Dwarves is what I feel like I’m the best at. Even 25 years in, there’s just absolutely no other place that I feel quite as home as I do when I’m up there on that stage.