Somehow Dash Rip Rock just isn’t one of those bands that everyone knows about. Back in the 80s, they were one of the early purveyors of the emerging cowpunk subgenre—wild, high-octane county/rockabilly-influenced rock n roll. They perform at the Blank Club tomorrow.
Other bands like the Meat Puppets, Reverend Horton Heat, Social Distortion and even X, got a lot more recognition, however Dash Rip Rock were one of the earliest bands to hit the road and show people this hybrid sound. In 2005, they got signed to Alternative Tentacles, which has reissued several old records, as well as several new ones, and Dash Rip Rock are starting to get the credit they always deserved. We spoke with guitarist Bill Davis for an interview.
You are cited as being an influential band with the origins of cowpunk back in the 80s, but it seems like only recently in the past 5-10 years, have you been getting the accolades you deserve: Getting signed to Alternative Tentacles and getting inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Why do you suppose that is?
I think it’s really because of the Internet, because of the sort of sub-genre explosion that’s happened in cowpunk and psychobilly. For example, there is Farmageddon and also Muddy Roots—some of these festivals that have been popping up. They have hundreds of bands that are very similar to Dash Rip Rock. We definitely blazed the trail for a lot of those bands.
I don’t take credit for founding cowpunk or punkabilly, but I do acknowledge that we were one of the first bands to tour and to base our show primarily on that form of music, which is really just revved up, fast punk-rock country songs. I think the first band that really broke ground in this whole movement was Jason and the Scorchers from Nashville. They had a record called Fervor, which was pretty much the beginning of it all for me. We played with Social Distortion and Revered Horton Heat years ago. In both cases—Social Distortion and Revered Horton Heat—after having played with Dash, their styles changed. Social Distortion started pulling out Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan and punking out country music, and Horton Heat went from straight blues to punk rock speed rockabilly. It was something Dash was doing from the beginning. Jim Heath acknowledged that we helped form his sound. I’m not bragging, but that’s what I saw happen after we played with those bands. They sort of melded more in our direction.
Could you tell me a little bit about how you got signed to Alternative Tentacles? Did you already know label head Jello Biafra for years, or did you come to meet him later in your career?
I met Jello through Mojo Nixon at South By South West probably back in the early 90s. We just kind of became friends through Mojo and mutual admirers. Obviously our politics are sort of the same. In the middle of 2004 or 2005, I wanted to put out a Greatest Hits, and I asked him to put it out through his label and he said, “Why don’t we do four or five records together?” That’s sort of how we ended up with him. I know when you look at Alternative Tentacles, they have such a strange, eclectic roster of bands. Nobody really seems to fit, but they all kind of fit because it’s Jello, which comes stuff like Wesley Willis and the Yuppie Pricks and then Dash Rip Rock. In some weird way, we fit in.
Your newest album, Black Liquor, which is also on Alternative Tentacles, has a much more serious, straight-forward roots-rock sound than anything you guys have put out in the past. What inspired the shift in sound?
Our whole career we’ve been fighting the joke band stigma that came from having that huge hit “Let’s go smoke some pot.” It elevated us to places we never expected to go. But at the same time, it’s a novelty song. I love bands that make humor the basis for their music, but that’s not all that Dash Rip Rock is. I think as we’ve changed and matured, and also being accepted into Louisiana Hall of Fame, it’s been a chance for me to sort of redirect our brand, try to realign ourselves with bands that we love like Creedence and some cool swamp rock bands.
I guess that’s what the new record is an attempt to do; it’s just a different phase. Black Liquor is most definitely our most serious effort. The Americana movement is exploding. There’s 200 Americana stations around the country. I would love to be a part of Americana but we’ve been so punk and so novelty that Americana sort of looks down their nose at us. I don’t think there’s any way we’re going to repair that. That’s just their attitude towards Dash Rip Rock. I believe there’s a part of Americana that loves Hank 3 and loves Shooter Jennings and loves Horton Heat and loves Southern Culture on the Skids. That part would take to Dash Rip Rock. Hopefully this album will help us get our foot in the door.
“Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot” was actually a satire of the neo-hippie bands and jam bands that were becoming really popular at the time, in the 90s. Even as you were poking fun at those bands and pot culture, the song was actually embraced by their fans. Did you find the irony funny?
I think they kind of thought it was funny. These jam bands were sucking all the people out of the clubs. It was really affecting our scene. We went to see a couple of shows of these bands. Their songs lasted really long. We just found it really boring and meaningless and it didn’t resonate with our tastes. One of the biggest draws in the South was this band called Dave Mathews Cover Band. They were simply a Dave Mathews cover band. They were selling out 1,000 seaters.
Everything on the radio at that time was grunge mostly. Most of these bands that we were making fun of weren’t on the radio. It was Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. That’s when we had the hit. I think the tongue and cheek goofiness of “Let’s go Smoke some Pot” was a perfect anti-song for the grunge movement cause everything was so deep and dark. It really caught on with pot culture. And High Times to this day, even though our song is taking a piss on a lot of their favorite bands, they recognize it as a big song in the pot movement. They play it every day at 4:20 at KROQ in Los Angeles. It’s still getting the pot cavalcade.
One of your more recent albums, Hee Haw Hell (2007), is perhaps the weirdest record you’ve ever released. I’m curious to learn more about the concept behind it.
Hee Haw Hell was initially the brain child of Lou Brutus who is a syndicated FM DJ with a show called Hard Drive, which has been on the air for years. He’s interviewed every rock star you can imagine: Ozzy, Steven Tyler, Jimmy Page. He came up with doing a rock opera based off Dante’s Inferno, and then having all his big rock star buddies read these cantars between the the songs, which would be Dante-esc. He ran the idea by Gene Simmons from Kiss and Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick. They both said, “Fuck no. I’m not getting involved with anything like that.” So plan B, we just decided to get all our punk rock buddies to be on it, like Mojo Nixon and Jello Biafra.
I suggested we make it a trip through the South where Hee Haw Hell could be a bunch of stupid redneck humor and jokes about the South. And Mojo was perfect to get involved with that because he’s a scholar of the Dirty South, so the levels they go through in Hee Haw Hell are just places in the south, like they go to Knoxville, Nashville, New Orleans, so we’re just saying that the South is hell. I had a batch of songs that I gave to Lou, and he wrote the cantars around the songs. That’s how that came together. It’s only been embraced by a real sick counter-culture of artists, writers and musicians that sort of get it. But as far as the people of the South, I think they take their culture very seriously, and they hate anything that mocks it. Like, it’s when Borat went to the South, that was the funniest part of the whole movie, but you can see how people reacted to that. It’s like, “How dare you come into our culture and make fun of it.” That’s sort of the reaction to Hee Haw Hell. I’m really happy with it though. I think in the history of music, it’ll stand as one of the weirder Dr. Demento kind of records.
Dash Rip Rock plays the Blank Club on Friday April 5th. Doors open at 9pm. Tickets are $10.