“Pensacola used to be such a punk rock scene, college music, alternative…we’ve seen a good bit of wildness here in this area, which is always fun.” – Bill Davis of Dash Rip Rock
On the day I finally got to meet Bill Davis, my girlfriend and I broke up. Maybe it was the right time for a break up because the corner turned on the downward day when Davis shook my hand and any post-break up blues were silenced by a Godfather of Southern Cowpunk.
Sadness be damned when you’re sitting in the comfort of a spacious greenroom listening to Davis talk about music, crazy punk moments in Pensacola, Florida, and Jello Biafra just before a Dash Rip Rock show at Vinyl Music Hall.
*** Interview with Bill Davis ***
MS: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen at one of your shows?
BD: Well, you know we were just talking about the old Handlebar (historic bar/music venue in Pensacola, Florida) and that place was just nuts and it would be so crowded inside and the crowd would be spilling out into the street and the train tracks go right by the old Handlebar, so some of the old punk rockers would go- when a train would go by, going real slow-they’d jump on the train and they’d ride it and swing off it and I’d go, “Those guys are going to get killed!” Pensacola used to be such a punk rock scene, college music, alternative, I don’t know, whatever, but yeah, we’ve seen a good bit of wildness here in this area, which is always fun.
MS: With you and your history, it’s insane. But growing up, what did you listen to? What did you get into?
BD: When we started, I was really into punk rock. When I was in high school everything sort of changed when I started listening to the Sex Pistols and then I got turned onto The Ramones. When I went through college, I was a DJ at the college radio station; I really loved R.E.M., I loved other bands like Jason and the Scorchers, and some regional acts, a few bands out of Austin like The Fabulous Thunderbirds and LeRoi Brothers were really cool. That’s what got me started in wanting to play music and in the years since I started the band, my tastes just run everywhere. Like the last record we made “Call of the Wild” it was almost like an Archie Bell & the Drells record, it was like a dance record. So we’ve done everything from stuff like The Black Crowes or Georgia Satellites, just Southern Rock n’ Roll to things that are real aggressive punk. It’s a wide array of music.
MS: How is the new album coming out?
BD: The new one is just really coming along great. We’ve worked this week and did four new songs, I was amazed that we were able to get that done in two days, but it’s really turning out great. It’s a typical, cool old Dash record. We went way back into our catalog and I went and found a bunch of old songs that we never recorded, that I demoed years ago and we’re working with old material and new material and it’s all coming together to be like the ultimate Dash Rip Rock record. The material is very representative of what we’ve done through the years which is really hard to do because in twenty years we’ve changed several times because when we came out, we were straight rockabilly like Stray Cats and then as we progressed, we became harder and harder and more punk. The new record is going to span the years of Dash Rip Rock which is really cool. I’ve always wanted to try something like that.
MS: Any more work with Jello (Biafra)?
BD: Yeah, Dead Kennedys, DK. We’re definitely releasing this on his label Alternative Tentacles. We’ve made four records with him and I don’t think we’re going to stop. We’ve found our home as far as a record label goes, namely because Jello is a great guy, a great friend. I don’t know if you realize this, but he came to New Orleans last year during Jazzfest and we put together an all-star band; it was our old drummer Fred LeBlanc, who is now in Cowboy Mouth, it was Pepper Keenan who was in Corrosion Of Conformity, he’s in Down now and they’re playing here (Vinyl) in a couple of weeks. It was Jello on lead vocals, a piano player from Houston named Pete Gordon, and we did all New Orleans classics; we did Professor Longhair, we did Ernie K-Doe”, we did Lee Dorsey and it’s Jello Biafra in his voice, you know (Davis starts a perfect impersonation of Biafro’s distinct singing voice) and we called it Jello Biafra & the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All-stars and we did one show during Jazzfest last year and we recorded it and he’s releasing it on his label. I’m super excited about that project because it’s Jello with his Dead Kennedy’s voice, but he’s singing like Fats Domino, which is, to me, it boggles the mind to hear it, but it really is cool.
MS: With all of the collaborations you’ve done, the touring, performing, what is the most amazing part of the whole Dash Rip Rock experience for you?
BD: For me, I’ve got to meet some of my idols. Before I was a musician, I was a huge fan of other great guitar players and great singers. A couple examples are Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze cause I used to love Squeeze when I was a kid and then he came through Nashville and we became friends and then we recorded half of a record together and we remain friend to this day. Other than Glenn Tilbrook, there’s Alex Chilton, he lived in New Orleans and he and I became close friends; we had the same birthday, so we would all go out to eat at Galatoires on our birthday night which is right after Christmas…
MS: When is your birthday?
BD: December 28th. So that was me and Chilton. And so the best thing about being in Dash Rip Rock is meeting my heroes and actually becoming friends with them which is, I think (with) any fan, that’s their ultimate dream; to hang out with these great musicians who they really admire. So, I got to do it.
MS: Mentioning the influence of meeting your heroes, who are the young guys now that are looking up to you and that you’re taking under your wing.
BD: That’s a good question. Surprisingly enough there’s sort of a new movement through-like on Sirius satellite radio they have Outlaw Country which is really aggressive country music- there’s a lot of bands in that area that have told us that we made them want to start playing and all that. We get lumped together with bands like Rev. Horton Heat and Southern Culture on the Skids, so yeah, there’s lots of local bands around New Orleans that sort of come to our gigs and say, “Hey, you’re the reason we started playing music.” But I mean as far as exactly what we’re doing, I don’t think there are any young bands that are totally following in our footsteps because ours is a real unique niche’ in the whole music thing. It’s something that you really have to be dedicated to do, to sort of…we’re hard to pinpoint and we’re hard pigeonhole so I believe that’s probably why there’s not a lot of people imitating us cause we’re too weird.
MS: What’s the best advice that you’ve ever been given?
BD: In the music business everyone’s giving you advice and most of its all bad so, I would probably say the best advice I ever got was maybe from Country Montana or Mojo Nixon and they would give you drinking advice like, “Don’t drink whiskey if you just had a margarita.” Ok (laughs) something like that. The advice that we get doesn’t have much to do with the music itself. We’ve been given good advice, but it’s hard to say.
MS: What advice would you give to the young guys that are coming up now?
BD: That’s kind of easy because it’s gotten so much better in the music business now and easier for beginning bands to break out because it’s no longer in the hands of the record label managers, the A/R people and it used to be these record moguls. It’s no longer in their hands, it’s more in the hands of the public, it’s more spread out with Youtube and everybody can record at home on their computer. You’ve got Facebook, Reverbnation. It’s so much easier to “make it” nowadays…not “make it”, but you can go around all the old channels that used to hold all the good bands back. My thing is to embrace the internet, that would be my advice to anyone is embrace the internet and what it’s come down to is just playing live shows because it’s getting to the point where you don’t sell a lot of music because most music is becoming free now through Spotify and stuff like that, so the truth is, the only way to make money in the music business is to tour and be a great live act and that’s what we concentrated on.
MS: This is my last question for you, Bill. It’s a nutty one; do you prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter?
BD: (Laughs) I’m totally crunchy. Cruncy, but my girlfriend’s creamy so we keep both in the fridge. (laughs)
MS: Is there anything you want to add before we wrap up the interview?
BD: We’ve had a good year and everything; we were inducted into the Louisiana Hall Of Fame and going in with people like Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis and the Neville Brothers, just being in that group of musicians makes us finally feel like we’re getting recognized for our years of toils. This year has been a really good year for us so far and continues to be a success, we’ve got some big festivals and we’re going to Europe in August of this year. We feel like we’re on a roll. It’s been kind of a rollercoaster ride for us and it feels like at this point, we’re climbing back up, so it’s pretty exciting.
MS: I think they need to rename South By Southwest (SXSW) Dash Rip Rock Festival.
BD: Oh, I know. I know. Well South By, we’ve played it almost every year and I was even in a film; they did a film called “Outside Industry” and they put me in the film and interviewed me because we’re one of the few bands that have played every single SXSW…I think we might have missed one because our van broke down, but we were at least booked into every single one (laughs).
– Michael L. Smith