The Best Rock Band You’ve Never Heard of Has a New Record Today

HR: Can you remember at what age it hit you that you had something to contribute, that made you think, I can do this?

JD: 21, 22. I didn’t really start playing guitar until I was 20. Providence had a ton of warehouses where I’d see and eventually play shows. Going on tour, having a decent turnout at shows in cities where we’d never been, made me think for the first time, Something is blooming and I know I could do this on my own.

HR: How did you balance young-and-crazy with the rigors of the real world, of trying not to starve while keeping the music going?

JD: I always had a job. People need to realize when you don’t have money, you need to make some fucking money. Almost all musicians I know had to do some shitty job. In Providence, I worked at a screen-printing press, printing shirts for the Foxy Lady strip club all day, every day—like, a fox with its boobs out, holding a football. I’d be like, “can I please bring another company’s shirt?” When I moved to San Francisco, I painted houses, I was a bike messenger. I remember constantly selling records, selling gear. That’s the gig. If you want to make art, then you need to struggle.

“Iggy Pop is a fucking maniac. That show blew my mind. I was like, ‘This motherfucker is still giving it all.'”

HR: You’re a guy who knows how to scrap. This is how you keep going as an artist. It keeps you in fighting shape. Was there any time where everything around you started to seem constrictive, where you wanted things to get better, but what was around you was not serious enough—the band didn’t want to tour as much as you, or the scene around you had a lot of negativity, or you were like, I gotta get to another level. Was there any frustration that pushed you like the sand that goes into an oyster to create a pearl?

JD: No, I always felt really lucky. Our scene was always really supportive, and if somebody didn’t want to tour, then they weren’t in the band anymore. Early on, one of our keyboard players said, “I’d rather keep my job,” so I immediately replaced her. No hard feelings, but business is business.

HR: This is what I’m talking about. You’re trying to get somewhere.

JD: But there’s things to be said about the simplicity of the old days. The more successful you are, the more issues that pop up. Little, stressful things that make me understand why my dad might have been a dick sometimes. I catch myself saying things that my parents would say—”The bills are just piling up”—and I’m like, “I remember when I didn’t have any bills!” But I didn’t have any money, either. So, the scale is always tipping one way or another. I’m not saying to feel bad for me at all, because I am completely happy where I am and I am completely happy where I’ve been. But I often look back at those early days, playing a shitty club with no green room and having to sit at the merch table all night and eating only two tacos. Those are some of my fondest memories.

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HR: Absolutely. Things get complicated.

JD: Mo’ money, mo’ problems. I do believe a truer thing has never been said.

HR: I have nothing but contempt for money. It’s a weapon. You wave it around and someone’s going to get hurt.

JD: You always think, I’m gonna get all this cash and then I’m gonna use it so I don’t have to do anything else. But the money creates another spiraling, stressful hole that needs to be filled with cash.

HR: There’s a lot of way to do it wrong.

JD: For sure. I’m learning. I’m learning.

HR: So let’s talk about the mighty Castle Face, the label you co-founded in 2006 and partly own. Why did you want your own label?

JD: It was the best thing I ever did, frankly. Originally, I wanted to own both sides of my music, meaning that I would get more royalties, the band would get paid more, I would control all aspects of our music. I like to be the guy that decides, ultimately and instantly, what’s going to happen to the music. One label still owns the digital rights to a record I put out back in 2007-ish until November of this year. I’ve been ticking down the days like a doomsday clock. My entire catalog, as endless as it is, is all mine to do with as I see fit. Complete control is a great thing.

HR: And you keep your integrity.

JD: These scraps of integrity are all mine. That’s absolutely true.

HR: Let’s talk about the idea of longevity.

JD: To me, coming from a background of metal and punk—that’s what I was really into when I was a kid, when I was a skater, I really loved Iron Maiden, and Slayer, and Black Flag, and Bad Brains, and The Cramps. I’ve always wanted to keep it aggressive, really loud, with balls-out live shows. I recently saw a band that I really loved when I was a kid who are now in their seventies, and they played like they were in their seventies. And then you see The Stooges. Iggy Pop is a fucking maniac. That show blew my mind. I was like, This motherfucker is still giving it all. You can’t let it go soft, unless you’re intentionally trying to make something soft and beautiful, you know what I mean? Like if you’re doing a punk show, it has to stay punk.

HR: Over the years, have you changed your approach to work, have you refined it? What has changed?

JD: Drugs, mostly. I’ve had to cool my jets. I’m getting older.

HR: Looking back, did the drugs help?

Courtesy of John Dwyer

JD: Yes. I came out with a lot of good stories, I don’t think anybody really got hurt, I made a lot of records that I think sound like shit to me now, but back then when I was making them, I really enjoyed it. And people seem to have a good time at the shows. I grew up around drugs, and I tried everything. I don’t know if it was romanticized, but hard drugs and music worked for me for a long time. But slowing down had to do more than anything with the physicality of it: I just couldn’t keep up with doing hard drugs without being like, “my legs hurt, I’m grumpy all the time.” I still smoke weed, I drink, but that’s pretty much it these days.

HR: What about societal conventions? Marriage, kids, the yard, all of that. Does that play into your thoughts at all?

JD: Kids are great, but I don’t want ’em. I don’t have any desire to have a family, really. I get it, that other people want to have that—

HR: But at least you know that about yourself.

JD: Oh yeah, I’m fully aware of who I am. I know that I can be an asshole, I know I can’t have a kid. I don’t think I have the patience to have a child. I hold somebody else’s kid, I’m like, “What’s up, little person?” and we hang out for a while, and then I’m like, “Here you go, here’s your fucking kid back. I’m done.”

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