MILLIONS OF DEAD COPS INVADE NORFOLK: A CONVERSATION WITH DAVE DICTOR
Grey and I were more than surprised when we found out Millions of Dead Cops were coming to town this month to play the Pourhouse in downtown Norfolk.
This is our favorite type of venue to see a band, and I imagine most of you agree. A small, dark room. In the old days it would have been full of smoke. After reaching out successfully to Davod at Pourhouse on the morning of the show, when I made a last minute decision to try and get an interview, Grey and I arrived at the club early in the evening to sit down with vocalist and founding member Dave Dictor. We were both a little nervous, neither of us having done an interview before, but Dave immediately put us at ease and our conversation was lovely. Huddled together in a corner of the upstairs storage and office area, we turned on the recorder on Grey’s phone, and after I gave him a copy of our Hardcore Norfolk documentary DVD and soundtrack CD, we got down to it. What follows is a mostly word-for-word transcript; I hope you enjoy the read and don’t forget to VOTE!
Debra: We intentionally keep, for the most part, politics and religion off of our website and Facebook page because we do have members on both sides of the spectrum and we don’t want to push people away. But having said that, you are welcome to talk about whatever you like!
Dave Dictor: We are very much a politically oriented band. We are very careful to say, we keep our “register people to vote” away from the idea “vote this way.” We say register to vote, hopefully you want to. If you want to know how MDC feels, if you listen to the politics in our lyrics, what I say between songs, however I refer to it two or three times during the set, that’s how I play it out there in the real world. We’ve probably registered, I don’t know, 3 or 4 hundred people.
D: That’s awesome. So, we were coming to the show anyway and I woke up this morning and thought, why don’t I try to get an interview together for tonight? Now, we don’t usually do interviews (laughter!); this is total amateur hour here.
DD: Music and music journalism is too important to be left to the professionals. It’s up to people with a real fire and spirit.
D: You were always one of my husband Grey’s favorite bands and I thought, why don’t we try to sit down and talk with you?
Grey: Yeah, I’m 51 and when I first started listening to punk rock, obviously, your album had a big impact on me. The Dead Cops album was huge and had a big impact on me; it has so on a lot of people. So, I was kinda stoked to know I’d be doing this, though I didn’t know about it ‘til a few hours ago when she told me! (laughter!)
DD: You know I’m just someone like you. I grew up probably five, eight years older than a lot of the people. I got going, I was 23 in the 1978 scene. So, by the time hardcore came around, ’81…
D: And this was in Austin?
DD: Well I grew up on Long Island, NY
D: I think I hear that accent!
DD: I kinda had my acoustic guitar, you know, very fortunate upbringing, a lovely mother, supported me…she’d see me playing the acoustic guitar and [she would say] you should go for it! You know, as opposed to what other kids get….and I drifted down South with my acoustic guitar thinking I was gonna bump into Willy Nelson or someone like that and show them my songs and maybe get lucky and punk started happening. And all the things that kind of led up to it for me… I wrote a book, I’ll give you a copy. The first thing I remember is Kennedy being assassinated……
(political discussion between D, DD, and G. We’ll spare you!)
D: We’re voters from way back. I wanted to ask you one thing. I’m a history lover.
DD: So am I.
D: You hit it in 1980, and you were in San Francisco at the time?
DD: No, actually we were in Austin at that time. We moved to San Francisco in ’82.
D: Alright, so that period, between ’80 and ’82, do you remember when you first became aware that there was a hardcore scene coming out of DC?
DD: Well of course, I had roots in NY, so I knew there was a scene coming out of NY. And I actually, in 1979, saw Regan Youth. It was very exciting. First, I had this band called The Rejects, they kind of morphed into a band called The Stains. It wasn’t quite MDC yet. This was ’79-’80. And then in 1980 some bands came through Austin TX. It was Black Flag, it was Fear, it was DOA, from British Columbia, and it was Sub Humans, from British Columbia. And like, wow!, there’s a whole scene going on around the country! Before that it was very much, you know, you’re supposed to stay in your home town, get a big crowd, they would showcase you, and if you were one of the lucky ones you’d get to tour and open for the Ramones or the Dead Boys, you know, the things that were big back in 1978, ’79, that were in that punk world direction. And then we could sort of…the whole idea that you get in vans and go. You can just do it yourself and you just save up for a van and then hook up with contacts. We met up with Black Flag and they shared with me the DC contacts of Ian MacKay. And I forget exactly how it went but I remember getting an address and writing to him and sending him my demo tape and he sent me back something from the Teen Idols and he said hey Dave, we’re here in DC doing this…and within a year of that, in ’81, we sent off some singles of ours out to California, and Black Flag got a gig for us, and one single got in the hands of Jello Biafra, The Dead Kennedys, and one single got in the hands of Timmy Yohannon. He was doing Pacifico Radio…. not NPR, but kind of like public broadcasting and all of a sudden our song is getting a lot of attention. And I asked Jello Biafra, can we get an opening spot with you? He gave us a spot. And that was July 2, 1981.
D: And what was the venue?
DD: It was called Mabuhay Gardens…San Francisco. Really a great place, there. Bands like Flipper, and other bands that preceded out there, the San Francisco punk scene. It kind of slowly went into the hardcore scene and the Dead Kennedys ushered it in. And then Timmy Yohannon had this magazine called Maximum Rock’n’Roll. And then it started…there was a way to get in touch with everyone. This was ’81. I had written, I went to NY to visit my parents, I went to see Regan Youth. And I said, huh…there’s other bands. And we started sharing addresses. And there was a fellow Al Barile, from SSD in Boston, and I was hearing about, in the MidWest, a band called Zero Defex, from Akron Ohio, and you know, we all started writing each other, and sending each other tapes, and if we came [to a town on tour], ‘cause you put on a show and that kind of stuff, and you’d make $80 or $131, and you know, 60 people would come, or 30 people would come….
D: You know, those are the best shows in my opinion. We were so excited to see you would be at the Pourhouse in Norfolk tonight ‘cause it’s a such a small venue. We saw The Adolescents in June at the Black Cat in DC, in their small room downstairs.
G: Days before Steve Soto passed away.
DD: I’m friends with The Adolescents and I loved Soto.
D: It was a very small, intimate space. It’s great to see a band in a space like that so THANK YOU for coming here tonight!
DD: We made a real choice, I write about it in my book. I suffered some health problems, as did my younger brother. I had fallen down a flight of stairs. I was doing physical therapy to relearn how to walk.
D: No problem with the painkillers?
DD: They gave me Oxycotin. I wrote about it in my book. They put me in good mood and all that but you have to be careful.
D: So, you were able to put it down?
DD: I put it down.
D: Good for you!
DD: After about a month and a half I put it down. I was doing this physical therapy but was getting nowhere with it. Six months later, stiff as can be, I can barely walk. I can play an acoustic guitar a little, and I said screw it, I’m going on the road and booked the tour. Guitar player said, you’re crazy but ok. And really hobbling on stage, standing there with a cane singing my songs and little by little I got more flexible. Something like the first week of the tour, this little girl got up on stage and she swung around my neck! And at the time I was like, aghhhhh! But it ends up it loosens up…. (laugher!) And I’ve been touring like heck ever since. Been doing 120 gigs a year. This year we’re on track for 135 gigs, and that doesn’t include acoustic gigs, that doesn’t include book readings. And sometimes two in the same day.
G: So you’re traveling all the time.
DD: I just got obsessed with it…my kid is over 25 years old, he’s on his way to whatever, and I just book myself. My editor says the way to sell the book is just to get out there.
D: I agree, and wish I had known, I would have loved to hear a reading and look forward to getting into my copy of the book. I know that you spend the time when you aren’t touring these days in Portland, and I’m wondering if you are just so over the world of music and bars by the time you get home that you don’t go out or if are there bands you’d like to let Hardcore Norfolk know about?
DD: I like the Days N’ Daze Band, they’re actually from Houston TX, and they’re kind of a crusty kid band, with a trumpet player named Whitney, and it’s very soulful, very crusty-core kind of punk rock. I really love them. I see a lot of bands on the road; there’s not that much radio cache, you know, it’s word of mouth, who do you like?.... and when you’re out there all this time, you get to see bands. There’s this band The Restarts from England that I really love. You know a lot of the old school that I’m from, and I really love them, from Verbal Abuse, to, you know, the people who are still standing who were doing it back then. Jello Biafra is one of them, the DKs, they split but two great units. I love The Adolescents. You know, I really get a kick out of people who’ve been going after 35 years, cause I’m one of ‘em. New York way, I like Leftover Crack, ummm, who else do I want to give a shout out to…I know I’m forgetting a lot of people cause there’s some good people out there, they’re doing some good things. I really like DOA. We’ve teamed up with them a lot through the years. I like….Texas, I like the The Dicks, and they still get together and tour every now and then. In Texas, Elected Officials are my good friends and they’re on tour with us, so I’ll give them a plug, I really love them.
G: Cool. Those are some new names for me. I’ll give them a listen.
DD: Yeah, Sophie sings with The Electric Officials. She’ll do “Mein Trumpf” with me tonight. There’s something to be said…when I go home, I don’t go out 7 nights a week. I’m not like I was when I was 25 or 22. I’m over 60 years old. I only have so much energy. When I go home I pet my cat, garden my back yard, I watch movies.
D: You relax.
DD: I relax. It’s down time. Though it’s never time to relax. You’re always going on the next tour.
D: And you’re still writing music?
DD: I’m still writing music. We had a new album that came out, Mein Trumpf. We do not have it with us. It sold out last year. It’s on Youtube if you want to check it out. It’s a 5 & a half minute mini opera. I sing it with Sophie from The Elected Officials. She’s doing more and more with us. I am in the middle of asking her to join our band, she has to work it out with her band. I know she’s ready to tour when she can. I like the dynamics between male/female vocals. To build on. We were this hardcore band. Angry young men. I’m not that angry young man. [I’ve been] A special ed teacher for 8 years….
D: It’s hard to keep that anger going, right?
DD: You know, I’m real sad. When I hear that the killer whales are going to be extinct in 10 years, I’m sad. I can’t pick up the paper; I’m too sad.
G: A certain level of information fatigue, I find I have….
D: So, you have one son?
DD: I have a son, 32 years old, I still think of him as young. He was always playing with computers and now he’s working in software in Seattle.
D: Does he like your music?
DD: It’s not his cup of tea, per se, but through the years he’s been at my t-shirt stand, he got a kick out of it all, just watching me on stage, you know…it’s not like he collects hardcore music. He’s much more likely to listen to female vocalists. But he does know enough about my genre.
D: I hope he knows enough to be proud of you.
DD: He loves me. I was a single parent. Anyone who’s a parent knows, it’s all about showing up. You can’t park your kid somewhere, they have to be the center of everything.
D: You cut back on touring during those years?
DD: Yes, those years, ’99-2004, maybe one tour a year, three weeks, a weekend here, a weekend there. That’s when I got into teaching full time.
G: You’ve written a book, you’ve always expressed yourself pretty openly, but aside from that, what do you want people to take away from MDC?
DD: The world, people, just naturally try to put everything in a box so you can understand them. Punks act like this. Skinheads act like that. Republicans act like this. Democrats…feminists… and I think, those boxes…tried to put me in a lot boxes and it got me totally ripe for punk rock when it came around. You know, there wasn’t punk rock when I was 14, 15, but there was when I was 19, 20…. New Wave, and there was The Ramones in 1976, and there was Talking Heads, and it made me ripe. Even at 13, 14 it made me ripe for reading Kurt Vonnegut. It’s just that…not just everything’s great, everything’s normal. It became one of these questions, with what you think is obviously true, and of course is not always so obvious. And that’s what I’d like to say to people: is just don’t let yourself be so easily put in a box. I say that to left wingers or right wingers. People just jump on causes. Think for yourself. It’s a natural thing to want to put people in boxes, but the world is a lot of grey, it’s not just black and white.
D: Amen. Will you speak for a moment about your effort to get people registered to vote?
DD: We register people to vote and we’re doing it in a very nonpartisan way. I have a very opinionated feeling. And I sing songs like “Born To Die”, which reflect that. We just played Roanoke Virginia, one of the most conservative places I’ve ever played. There was a group that objected to our playing and threatened the owner of the club. It was in their local paper. They had to hire extra security, and the organizer said they aren’t going to shut this gig down. The good news is we had a packed house of over 200 people and we registered people to vote. Let your feelings be known on whatever topic you want. Voting is free. Voting works. I’m from the state of Oregon where we legalized marijuana.
(Discussion of legalizing marijuana and prison reform between D, DD & G. Again, we’ll spare you.)
By this time, we needed to get back downstairs so Dave could get some dinner before the show started. After catching openers Chain Breaker (Va. Beach hardcore, debut performance, hello Calvin!), BATO (also out of Va. Beach and a personal favorite of mine and Grey’s), locals Nervous System, and The Elected Officials (who are touring with MDC), Dave and his band took the stage at close to midnight, playing to a very amped up crowd, to say the least. Yes, there was a fight. Yes, people were thrown out for being too violent, by fans on the floor. It was all the things a hardcore show should be and I loved every minute of it. Even sober. Many thanks to Dave Dictor and the Pourhouse for the experience.