Dash Rip Rock interview

By: Seth Mattei

Formed by singer/guitarist/songwriter Bill Davis in Baton Rouge in 1984, Dash Rip Rock have sustained  large followings locally, nationally and abroad with their unique blend of roots rock, country and punk rock. They are pioneers of the cowpunk and alt-country genres, and were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of fame in 2012, along with the Neville Brothers. Their latest album, 2013’s “Black Liquor,” released on Alternative Tentacles Records (run by former Dead Kennedys frontman, Jello Biafra) should keep fans happy with the rootsy rock they’ve come to expect from Dash Rip Rock, while earning them the respect of environmentalists with its unflinching critique of Louisiana’s undying dependence on the oil business (particularly on the title track).

Some pics from Dash Rip Rock  9-21-12.

Although they won’t be playing the Fair Grounds during this year’s Jazz Fest, Dash Rip Rock will be playing a night show during the festival’s second weekend at Carrollton Station (located at 8140 Willow St.) with opening band, the Breton Sound. The show is on Saturday, May 3 at 10 p.m.

I met up with Dash Rip Rock founder Bill Davis for an interview, in which he discussed the band’s history, influences and aspirations, as well as his life as a musician and New Orleans native.

Seth Mattei: Dash Rip Rock have remained a consistent band, both live and in the studio, for a long time. What gives you the energy to keep going?

Bill Davis: I’ve always felt like we were filling a hole that no one else was filling. That gives me the inspiration to keep going. It’s so much fun. If we were playing, say, dark goth stuff, I might not be that invested in it. But, it’s such fun music. It’s taking punk rock, which is exciting, and a blast to play, and mixing it with country, which is also a blast, when it’s played fast. The music makes me want to keep going.

SM: how did you avoid some of the trappings that destroyed a lot of other bands that were popular in the 1980s and90s, both personally and professionally?

BD: I made it a priority to stick to what I like. Once you’re steered off of your path by the shiny objects, you just get miserable quick. I think playing the music I love, roots rock and punk rock, allowed me to feel like I was always working on something fresh, that I love. There’s also a lot of luck involved. The right people heard us, the right writers wrote us up, the right DJs played us. MTV played our videos.

SM: I’ve never thought of Dash Rip Rock as a political band, but despite the fun music, your latest album, “Black Liquor,” has some intense lyrical moments. How much of that was a reaction to the 2010 BP oil spill, and how much was built up from growing up in Louisiana?

BD: “Black Liquor” is the culmination of years of just sucking it up. That’s sort of what people in Louisiana do. The big debate now is that oil and gas provide 70,000 jobs in the state, and I’m like, “Yeah, but they’re wiping us out and killing us with their poison.” It’s the constant debate about living in Louisiana, and everyone just sucks it up because they want to eat their crawfish and drink their beer. I started working with Jello Biafra and co-writing songs with my wife, Cheryl Wagner, and we’ve had enough! Even though dash grew a reputation for being a party band, I think we’ve always maintained a Southern identity, and I thought it’d be interesting to use some of that identity on “Black Liquor” to get a little political. And it’s not so much political as it is environmental. I think politicians are toothless and can’t do much of anything but environmentally, it’s up to everyone to stop all of the horrible things going on down here. I’m pleased that people seem to be taking our message seriously. Also, being on a politically outspoken label leant weight to what we were trying to say on “Black Liquor.”

SM: your guitar style is all over the map. Who are some of your influences?

BD: A bunch of really strange guitar players I met in the 80s really influenced me. Danny Gatton, who committed suicide, was one of the most monstrous Telecaster players to ever walk the planet. Gatton worked with another guy I met named Evan Johns. They were both from Washington, D.C. and played in rockabilly bands, but the rockabilly kind of turned punk. Evan introduced me to Danny Gatton’s style, and that formulated a lot of what I do on guitar. Going way back, I loved Ace Frehley from Kiss. It was really simple. I like guitar that has a country flavor. Pete Townshend is another one, and Bily Zoom from the band X really inspired the punk rock side of my style.

SM: How long have you known Jello Biafra, and how did the deal with Alternative Tentacles come about?

BD: I met Jello 20 years ago at South by Southwest, and we had a mutual friend in Mojo Nixon. I go way back with Mojo. He and I are kindred spirits. We’re drinking buddies and running partners. We’ve toured Europe together a couple times. I think he’s a genius, a mountain of psycho-babble. I love what comes out of his mind. He introduced me to Jello, and Jello’s the same way: always spouting interesting ideas and funny stuff. As soon as we met, we connected. He’s a record collector, and had bought some rare Dash records, and told me how valuable they were. We stayed in touch, and I called him in about 2004to see if he would be interested in putting out our records. I was living in Nashville writing songs and trying to do country music, and finally I just said, “F*** it. I’m going to get on the most punk label there is. I called Jello, and he said, “Yeah, I’d love to do some records with you.”

SM: How many albums has Dash Rip Rock recorded?

BD: Fifteen. Seventeen, if you count some bootlegs, but 15 officially.

SM: How do you maintain the balance between being a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet being confident, adept performers and serious songwriters?

BD: It’s a delicate balance. I’ve seen other bands not take themselves too seriously, but come off as super-serious. Foo Fighters are a really good example. When you see bands like that, who are making it, you can model yourself on what they’re getting away with. Usually, when you’re in a rock band, you want to be funny all the time. Things in music are so happy and fun, especially the style we play. A lot of our humor comes out in the music and lyrics. A lot of ideas in our songs are hilarious and whimsical.

SM: Are you still able to make a living playing music?

BD: Yeah, we are. It’s amazing that it’s been my career, and I can write “musician” on my tax return every year. It’s awesome!

SM: Where did you grow up?

BD: I was born in New Orleans, and spent my early childhood in Slidell. That’s where I learned how to ride a bike. Then, we moved to Baton Rouge, then Lake Charles, where I went to high school. I went to college at LSU, and as soon as I graduated, I came back here and the band took off. I’ve spent most of my life living here in the city.

SM: What made you want to play music?

BD: The early stages of MTV happened when I was a kid, and I’d go see Led Zeppelin movies in the theater. Also, watching bands, going to concerts. The minute you see someone up there killing it like that, you’re drawn to it. Listening to the radio as a kid, I would get my dad to crank the rock’n’roll songs and turn down the cheese. I just fell in love with rock’n’roll. To this day, I love loud, fast rock’n’roll.

SM: Who taught you how to play?

BD: I never took lessons. My sister had a guitar in her closet, and I snuck it out. She never noticed. I kept it in my room and started pounding away on it. I had a Creedence Clearwater Revival music book. From there, it was purely watching guitar players. I’ve been lucky to be able to watch players’ hands and sort of steal what they’re doing from a distance. I’d go watch Lake Charles bands play high school dances, and while everyone else was dancing,I was standing in front of the stage watching the guitar player. I’ve continued my education. I lived in Nashville, and some of the country players just blow your mind. YouTube videos were a revelation for me, so lately, my guitar playing has improved because of YouTube.

SM: What format do you listen to music on nowadays?

BD: I hate to say it, but I listen to Spotify all the time, and the checks I get from them are a joke. I think $10 a month streaming services are the future, most people are going to sign up. I’ve been reading  a lot about it, and Jello’s on top of it as well.

SM: Tell me about the Jazz Fest night show.

BD: We’re playing Carrollton Station on May 3rd. we always do a Jazz Fest show at that club. It’s been our home base in New Orleans ever since we started. Even when we lived in Baton Rouge, some of our first shows were there, and at Jimmy’s across the street. That block is a good Ground Zero for Dash Rip Rock. And we have Breton sound opening up for us.

SM: How does it feel to be a member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame?

BD: It’s great. I’ve felt, as we’ve progressed through our career, that we might be respectable enough to get into the Hall of Fame and claim our spot, and when it happened, I was super excited. The Neville Brothers were inducted the same night as us, and it was great going in with them. I mean, they toured with the Rolling Stones. Being in that kind of company spoke volumes. It was very respectable. Louisiana is such a fertile musical breeding ground. There have been so many great rock bands. Even from the beginning, people like Lead Belly from North Louisiana. Then, you’ve got people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Dr. John and Fats Domino. It’s a great club to be a member of. I think being a member of the Hall of Fame will prove to be one of the highlights of my career, and my life.

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