I am always amazed by the number of punk lifers who continue to fight the good fight 30 years on from their inception. MDC (Millions of Dead Cops) were one of the earliest progenitors of hardcore and their ethical and passionate music continues to inspire fanatical devotion from even the most jaded punk fans. MDC mouthpiece and songwriter Dave Dictor talked with me about his career in punk and what keeps him going 30- some years later...and like everything he does, it oozes sincerity and humility.
A few years back you reunited the original line-up of MDC (minus departed bassist Mikey Donaldson) what brought you back to working with that group of musicians after being apart for almost 15 years?
Actually Mikey Donaldson joined us too between 2004 and 2009. It was a great feeling to be with these talented innovators and old friends. Mike was Deep Purple meets pre Motorhead ripping bass. Ron Posner is quite the rhythm ace craftsman himself and really really works at it. Alshivitz is a left handed Gene Krupa style drummer and picked up on hardcore as soon as he heard it. I've known Al from my teens. The band went from a shaky Ramones/ Dead Boys sound in 1980 and overnight morphed into 1981 hardcore. MDC's debut album came out of it in 1981. Magnus Dominus Corpus came out of the 2004 sessions.
That’s one of the things that I have always appreciated about your music – though it’s played as straight hardcore, you’ve always seemed to have an appreciation of music outside that genre (your Cream cover, etc). Too few bands understand music as a continuum and become too focused on only ingesting punk or hardcore. Good music is good music.
You’ve been at the punk rock game for more than half your life. How have you grown as an artist after 30-some years of writing and performing? Who inspires you musically?
Well now truly I get it that I want do it without chemical substances and truly feel it and give it up to the crowd totally clean. Who inspires me, huh? Lou Reed rocks me and Bjork touches my soul, and with Henry Rollins I appreciate his work ethic. He and Ian MacKaye were clean from the start. I like Dwight Yoakam, Chris Isaak and K.D. Lang. I like Keith Morris a lot of Circle Jerks fame. I like the kids in Daze and Daze from Houston and Dirty Kid Discount from Portland.
Keith Morris seems to be a pretty good model for how to grow old in the hardcore scene – he manages to maintain his passion for the art he makes and continues to push himself, but there is no posturing or pretending that he is still 20 years old. I think it’s important for age and experience to inform your art.
Sadly, it seems as if there will always be a need for bands like MDC in the world…politically and corporately, the US seems to be stuck in a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” paradigm. What inspires you to continue performing?
MDC also goes social....“Dick For Brains”, “My Family Is A Little Weird”, “Kleptomaniac” and others ... not so straight forward political songs. I feel political and corporate structures are corrupt because somehow freedom meant freedom to corrupt with this money we bought the system we live in. They sell fear and waste and consumption. It does stink and it goes from crummy boss to even worse boss. More corrupt people ready to global warm, chop the last tree, pollute the last lake and kill the last Blue Whale. This inspires me to write and perform.
What are your thoughts on GMOs?
I am terrified about Monzanto's plan to take over the world through seeds. I am very picky about what I eat. I grow my own sprouts and juice 3 times a day. The GMO plot is akin to the oil company's debunking science/global warming and Big Tobacco lying about cancer for 60 years.
You have been very actively involved in LGBT issues and early in your career took to task other hardcore bands for their homophobic lyrics and posturing. What changes, if any, have you seen in the scene regarding acceptance of queer-identified individuals?
Being straightforward about being pro-acceptance/tolerant is what I always felt. I have had bi-sexual and trans feelings in my life. Punk had a very gay element in the 1970's pre-hardcore. Happy to say being homophobic in proper circles has become very taboo and enough people know enough people that people deal with it. Good. The scene has always treated me well and I was lucky to be from where the Dicks and Big Boys played in Austin, Texas. As Harley of The Cromags said to me once, “You might be a commie fag but you’re our commie fag”. He actually said that to 10 Jersey skins at CBGB's as they were threatening me. He then kicked him out of the club. We have history from way back in San Francisco.
It really is great that a lot of younger bands have taken cues from the Dicks and others in speaking authentically about their own experiences. It helps to overcome some of the stigma that some of the scenes (NYC early 90’s, etc) put on acts who didn’t espouse a hyper-masculinity.
Though I’m sure you’re not one for nostalgia, are there any particularly fond memories you have of touring or recording with MDC?
The first album was so well rehearsed and we never did a proper demo ... so we never knew what we sounded like. So when the first album was being recorded and it came out so strong, it was intoxicating. Touring Europe in 1982 with the Dead Kennedys and America in 1983 and 1984 with the Rock Against Reagan Tour was fantastic as well. Punk delivered to the streets free and outside. I thought the walls were coming down right then and there. I have loved touring with the Subhumans, Citizen Fish, The Restarts and Verbal Abuse in the past few years too. We've had a few runoff gigs with DRI and I like them too. I love La Plebe from the Bay Area these days.
The band seems to be something you are lucky to have as a part-time concern…what is a day in the life of Dave Dictor like?
Well we slowed it down after a strong run from 2004 till 2011 (100 gigs a year). We have had some parental losses and private partner split-ups and people needed to catch their breath. We are doing 35 shows this summer with a tour to Australia and New Zealand. We plan on a busy 2014. My life is a little of this and a little of that. I started painting and am as I mentioned fanatical about sprouts and good vegan food.
A busy 2014? Any chance of a new studio album?