Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Posted by Anonymous |
Well, it’s been a few months but here is an interview that I did with hardcore hero Dave Smalley, the singer/frontman of Down By Law, Dag Nasty, DYS and ALL. Taking a cue from the fine gentlemen over at Double Cross, I have decided to break this interview up into parts, this being part 1. A big part of the reason for that is because as of right now, I have only listened to the first DBL album and I wanted to wait until I’ve listened to their entire catalog before discussing that band with Smalley. For now though, enjoy our discussion on his first 3 bands. – Andrew Jacobs

Although xStuck In The Pastx is a ‘90s hardcore webzine, I believe that your invaluable contributions to the ‘80s hardcore scene as the frontman for both DYS and Dag Nasty are too important not to ask you about, so let’s discuss those two bands first. First of all, as the person who coined the phrase “true ‘til death” with regard to straight edge, are you, in fact, still straight edge? Why or why not?

You know, I am still a huge proponent of, and defender of, straight edge. I will always love straight edge, and value what it has done for me. I firmly believe that if I had not been straight edge over such a long period of my life, I would possibly be dead right now, or at the very least, would not have been able to do some of the things I’ve been blessed enough to do, both in music and in life in general. And, the Boston Crew, as well as the D.C. scene, would never have been what they were without the core shared conviction that kids didn’t need to get wasted in order to have a good time. Personally, I don’t like it when former straight edge people start dissing or dismissing it – that’s pretty weak – at the very least, one should never spit on one’s past. Having said that, I will drink now and again, though on a non-GG Allin level – a glass of wine with dinner or beer when out with friends. But the value of straight edge and the lessons have really remained important to me. I think one of the things straight edge helped me with is that I drink when/if I want to, never because I feel pressured. Straight edge helped give me the confidence to do what I want or think is right – so if I’m out with friends and just want a Coke (not Pepsi) or water or whatever, I have no problem being the only one there who doesn’t drink. I’ve been the designated driver for so long now, I’m pretty used to it. On the other hand, if my Irish is up and I want a Guinness, I’ll order one and enjoy it. So the value of the message stays with you, if you let it.

What are your thoughts on the various directions that the straight edge movement has taken in the ‘80s, the ‘90s and the 2000s?

I don’t really know the directions, honestly. I do know that I had some problems with the later idea that one had to be vegan, for instance, to be considered “pure.” That’s never what straight edge was all about. Straight edge was about not conforming to society’s false expectations, and it was about being true to yourself and reaching your potential, and letting that potential show. It was about turning away from rock star excess of the 1960s and ‘70s. It was about not becoming that kid we all had as a friend in high school who was really a good, funny person but who turned into a total burnout and waste, and it was about encouraging others to know they didn’t have to kill themselves in order to prove themselves. Vegetables were never part of the discussion.

I personally maintain that had you only ever done the DYS – Brotherhood album or the Dag Nasty – Can I Say album, you’d STILL be a hardcore legend today. In other words, each of those albums are classic enough on their own to insure legendary status for each of it’s participants. Do you agree or disagree with that assessment?

Thank you so much – sincerely appreciated. Although when people say “legend” at this point in my life, I think that pretty much confirms that I’m ancient. You know, I’ve been fortunate to be in some bands with some really amazing musicians, and we’ve made some records that mean a lot to a lot of people. That’s a blessing, pure and simple. I believe in hardcore, and all that it did for me and for thousands of other kids. And is still doing, both for new kids just discovering it, and for adults whose lives have been shaped by it all.

While I’m on the subject of Dag Nasty (and to bring this discussion into the ‘90s for a bit), I’ve been of the opinion since it’s release in 1992 that Four On The Floor is an excellent punk/hardcore album. What are your thoughts on that album, especially as it compares to Can I Say? Also, do you think that the immense popularity and influence of Can I Say made the lukewarm at best response to Four On The Floor an unfortunate forgone conclusion? Why or why not?

Thanks. You’ll hear different thoughts on this from different folks. It’s got some songs I really like – particularly “Million Days” and “SFS”. But Four on the Floor was really more of a reflection of where all the band members were musically at that time. It’s a snapshot of four different musicians who got together in a relatively hurried way, almost a project band, really, but whose musical chemistry together has, remarkably, always been there. That chemistry is what saved the record. That and the way the guys played their butts off, really great performances as always by Colin, Roger and Brian. Is it a worthy Dag record? Yeah, I think so, but I will definitely say we rushed it in terms of songwriting, recording, etc. I don’t know, maybe that rushed spirit was captured in the recording and added to it all – I’ll leave that to others to determine. There’s no right or wrong in musical tastes; it’s all individual choice. And sometimes opinions change over time too – there are some records I’ve found really grow on me with time, and other less so. As far as comparing it to Can I Say, I suppose everything will be compared to that record, and because of the unique moment in time and space, the heartfelt explosion and energy, Can I Say will always be a special record. But I think Minority of One, on Revelation, actually matched Can I Say, maybe even surpassed it, in intensity and focused fury, though there again, comparing is inevitably flawed. At the very least, one can say that Four on the Floor was the engine warming up in a really cool car after that car hadn’t been used for a long time – but Minority of One was going out on the highway in the car and hitting 95 mph with AC/DC blasting in the speakers.

Back to the ‘80s again – you were the original singer for the pop punk mainstay ALL. Did you have any idea back in the late ‘80s when you joined ALL that you’d be fronting yet another hugely popular and legendary band?

No – I just knew that I really liked Bill Stevenson as a person – we’d met each other when he was in Black Flag and I was in DYS, and also, when he was in Descendents and I was in Dag Nasty. And I really liked him as a drummer, and I really liked the Descendents. And he really liked DYS and Dag. Bill and I chatted a lot when I was in my first year of grad school, after I’d quit Dag and was studying in Israel . I think he told me his phone bills were over $1,000! ALL was Bill’s vision, and it was and is a dang good vision. I think we both hoped we’d be able to do something unique and that sort of fused some of what we both loved from the Descendents and Dag Nasty – and I think to a large degree, it worked. I’ve never seen so many smiles in a show before or since. That band really does mean a lot to people, and that’s a tribute to Bill and his persistence and his vision of going for all.


Unknown said...

ok i will go first, we played once with down by law in a rec. room to about 30 friends. dave was a big supporter of carry nation and was always an inteligent and insightful person, much respect..BF

xJimx said...

"You know, I am still a huge proponent of, and defender of, straight edge. I will always love straight edge, and value what it has done for me......"

You always know how it's going to go when you read something like this. Why not just say 'No I'm not'.

Hey I'm part Irish too yet somehow resist the temptation to drink Guinness; nice self-stereotyping there.

jason said...

I have to respectfully disagree. I think it is a nice sentiment and a well worded way of expressing how those values have stayed with him even after he exited the scene.

xJimx said...

I'm sure he's a nice guy; I've got nothing against him (not even with the predictable anti-vegan sentiment) and it's great that he's not seeking to denigrate straight edge, but clearly his values have changed to some degree or he'd still be sXe himself, regardless of any 'scene' involvement.

Anonymous said...

I just read Boiling Point 2.5 and Dave Smalley said "I'll be straight edge forever."

Anonymous said...

For those of you who are disappointed that Dave is no longer straight edge, it doesn't have to be taken as a negative. And some of you clearly missed his point on values. Read it again and give it more thought.

The vegan thing shouldn't be taken negatively either. There wasn't an "anti-vegan" sentiment. He's right! I was into the straight edge scene in the 80's (and everything punk rock that I felt was good -and still am), and I can tell you that choice of food was never part of it. Some individuals adapted vegetarianism, and it grew from there, but the fact is, the two aren't related. Drugs/alcohol vs. food didn't exist. And guess what... I am vegan!

You can learn from Dave. From the choices he's made and how he's evolved. You can learn from a lyrical stand point and musically as well. For the record, everyone evolves.

He is a man with Empathy. If you don't know that word, learn it. It's an important tool to have -and it's not something you have to brag about or show a label for. Compassion and understanding shouldn't be limited. My humble opinion.


Anonymous said...

I got respect for his part in hardcore/punk history but his conservative views give me the creeps