Friday, July 31, 2009

25 Years of Double Nickels on the Dime

I originally considered running this opposite my interview with California Zinfandel producer Michael Dashe that first appeared as a guest post at Saignée, but I half talked myself out of it and half ran short on time. Before doing the piece on Dashe, I hadn’t published a “formal” interview since my days of writing for DC music scene fanzines back in the 80s. When a friend reminded/clued me in that this month marks the 25th anniversary of the original release of Double Nickels on the Dime in July 1984, though, I just had to do it – no matter how self-indulgent.

Minutemen (there’s no “the” there) were one of my favorite bands of the early to mid 80s and Double Nickels was their benchmark release, an album that still passes the test of time with flying colors.

What you’ll find below is an interview that I conducted with D. Boon (guitar and vocals) and Mike Watt (bass and vocals) on January 3, 1985, in the basement dressing room of the old 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, prior to their gig in support of the release of Double Nickels. The transcript of the interview was originally published in WDC Period #8. I’ve transcribed it here verbatim, with minimal editing only for spelling, punctuation, and necessary info. (Any photo/scan captions are new additions.) It’s a moment in time, so please consider it that way. And consider yourself warned: it’s long. Enjoy the trip into the archives.

* * *

DMcD: How long have you been out on tour?

Watt: Oh, this is just a little blast. This is the first night and we’re playing tomorrow in Trenton, Saturday in New York, and Sunday in Boston and then back home. We’ll be out here April 11 – May 4 for a driver.

DMcD: Up and down the east coast?

Watt: Mainly east coast and the Great Lakes, that’s all, nowhere else. From now on we’re gonna do regional things.

DBoon: Makes sense, you don’t saturate….

Watt: Yeah, it affects your real life, two months on the road. But another thing is you saturate towns, especially if you don’t play areas and then rotate the areas. Black Flag’s having this trouble you know.

DMcD: Yeah, last time they were here only about 150 people showed up.

Watt: It’s the fourth time they’ve been to a town in three months. We want to stay away from that and do it by region so in April we’re gonna do this area, north to New England and the Great Lakes, and that’s all. Last time we did the whole fucking country and Canada – about 57 gigs.

DMcD: Didn’t that get a little expensive?

DBoon: Nah, we all made money. We were very lucky.

DMcD: You guys get a little more per show than most?

Watt: Oh, we average about 400 bucks per show… average… some shows more, some only 80. We made money on the tour though.

DBoon: We’re just thrifty. Ten bucks a day….

Watt: Ten bucks a day… some dude’s moochin’ (laughs).

The band toured every few months....

DMcD: A seasonal question: Did you guys make any new year’s resolutions?

DBoon: I did – to lose weight.

DMcD: D. stands for Dennis, right?

DBoon: With an e [Dennes], yes.

DMcD: Should that be off the record?

DBoon: No, that’s the name I was given. I’m a painter too, and I just sign my paintings D. Boon. You know when you have a two syllable name people kind of shorten it out – like your name’s David but we’re calling you Dave.

Watt: And D. was good too, ‘cause hardly anyone’s named that. There’s a lot of Dennises, but not the way he spells it. His ma spelled it wrong, with an e at the end.

DBoon: Actually, when it really got funny was when we were the Reactionaries. He was Mike Watt, George was G-man, and Marty was Mar-T. One syllable all the way.

Watt: This was our first punk rock band then.

DBoon: Marty [Tamburovich] was our old singer.

Watt: It was us three guys with a singer, the first time we ever wrote songs and all that.

DMcD: You played out in a shack?

Watt: We still play in a shed.

DMcD: Where’d the idea for the new album come from? You know, the cars on the cover and the engines revving on each side.

Watt: Well, we needed a concept to wrap it around ‘cause the Hüskers had this concept….

DMcD: You had to match the Hüskers, huh?

DBoon: Hell, a double album? We might as well.

Watt: But our tunes weren’t written all together as a concept, so we made one up.

DBoon: It’s Los Angeles, plus the title’s “Trucker Town.”

Watt: We drove 55 miles per hour…. It was the whole sprawl, you know, we thought it was really gonna be too sprawled for people, too spread out. We didn’t really think people would think it was so together as it turned out that people thought. So we tried all these interesting songs, other people’s lyrics, tried to keep people interested. We thought they’d get bored and think it was self-indulgent.

DBoon: We really did. We really thought it would be badly received.

DMcD: Whose car is on side 4?

Watt: Side Chaff. That’s all three of us revving up.

DBoon: On my side, my car’s a ’69 Chevy and two of the lifters aren’t paired right. It sounds like shit.

Watt: Almost as bad as my Volkswagen.

DMcD: Why’d you do “Little Man with a Gun in His Hand” again?

Watt: Originally, we had a really good two guitar part.

DBoon: I wrote the song and I wanted to do all these different things with it, you know. On Buzz or Howl [Under the Influence of Heat] it was like an experiment. We had just rehearsed it that day.

Watt: It was recorded live.

DBoon: And we went in the studio that night, so we did it.

Watt: And it’s recorded live to two-track, singin’ and playin’ at the same time. Buzz or Howl was done for $50, man. We jammed.

DBoon: And it was all done without any rehearsal…. I wanted to go back in and put overdubs and redo it the way it should have been.

Watt: That’s why we did it.

DBoon: We put an ending on it and stuff.

Watt: Oh yeah! The Buzz or Howl version doesn’t even have a real ending. We just faded it out.

DBoon: It fucked up in the bass and we just turned it down.

Watt: And then Spot added all that stuff like, “No one knows, no one knows….” That’s me yelling ‘cause those guys thought it fucked up the song and I said “No one knows.” Spot added that on without us knowing. He did the same thing on What Makes a Man Start Fires – “Where’s the blowtorch?” or something like that, and then all the little messages written in.

DMcD: The blank groove at the end of the record?

Watt: Yeah, that’s Spot and Joe Carducci. We have nothing to do with that. We’ve only scratched ‘em on one of our records. Most of them are Spot and Carducci. Carducci runs SST [Records].

DBoon: It’s kind of like their fun thing to do. I mean, they put out the records and all and they never really have a chance to help. I mean, they participate in their way but they just want something that they can have fun at. We’re not, like, upset about whatever they do.

Watt: No, no. We don’t take these things so seriously. We’re gonna start on our tenth record soon, you know. It’s just like a gig – we’re gonna have another record. It’s kind of neat. It’s called Tour Spiel and it’s got four tunes done live.

DMcD: A 7” on SST?

Watt: No, it’s on the Husker’s label and it’s got “Ain’t Talkin’ About Love,” “The Red and the Black,” “Green River,” and “Lost.” All four of those live from the Campaign Trail. Okay, that’s already done. At the end of this month we start the Mersh Project [Project: Mersh], which is gonna be a five song record which will be out April first.

DMcD: April fools day?

Watt: April Fools. And then ten days later we go on our tour, our Mersh tour. Mersh alive in ’85. It’s this joke we have. We’re gonna have songs that kind of fade out… no, I shouldn’t tell you what it is, it’ll ruin the surprise. You’ll see when it’s out. And then this summer another album, a real album. Minutemen albums are just like a gig in the studio. We really don’t put a lot into the production.

DMcD: Not a whole lot of overdubs or mixes?

Watt: Well, we’ll add another guitar… that’s it.

DBoon: You know, we do overdub but not extensively.

Watt: We don’t sing at the same time, but that’s it.

DBoon: On the whole double album, with all the songs in their entirety, we only spent $1200.

DMcD: How much studio time?

Watt: I’d say about six days. About 36-40 hours on the playing and maybe 20 hours on the mix. Ethan James mixed it. He used to be in Blue Cheer; now he works with the Minutemen. He had a different name in those days. He’s really nice. We worked in an 8-track studio; it’s very small and very real. You don’t have to do a second take, he’s got it. And that’s the way we like it. Just like gigs.

A classic Minutemen setlist... not sure whether this is from the show where I did the interview, the one before or the one after, but the time period's right.

DMcD: What’s your song writing process, if you have one?

Watt: There’s D. Boon songs, my songs and George songs, and there we go.

DBoon: A lot of them are jams; a lot of them are contrived.

Watt: Come to practice with a riff and here’s my words to it.

DMcD: Do you practice on your own a lot and think things up?

Watt: Sure, and then bring ‘em to the band. We hardly ever just start jamming’ out and then get a song out of it. We hardly ever do that. We’ve done it, but most of them – D. Boon brings in a riff, I’ll play to it, it’s his song. We’ve written over 200 songs and I think that way’s a little easier. You compromise. You give in on his song, he gives in on your song – you get a process down. George writes words; he’s really not into writing the music.

DBoon: There’s no absolute leader or direction point. We all take part.

Watt: Me and Dennes have been playin’ together since we were 13, so that’s 14 years.

DMcD: Did you have a cover tune band or something?

Watt: Not even that, just in the bedroom. Blue Oyster Cult, T. Rex, Creedence Clearwater Revival….

DBoon: And my parents would come up and tell us to “turn that shit down.”

Watt: Yeah right, and then in high school we really only made a couple of gigs. Mostly just jammin’ in the bedroom. We come from the middle 70s, you know.

DBoon: Boredom!

Watt: I wasn’t into a club until I was 19. I saw the Talking Heads at the Whiskey in ’77, when you could actually see the dudes play. And then the local bands like the Germs. I said, “We can do this,” and it was hard to get D. Boon to do it but then we went for it after about half a year. Pedro was really backwards. Couldn’t get nobody to really do it.

DBoon: The first punk show I went to I was going, “Man, those people are crazy.” At my first show I was just checkin’ it out and like a week later we went again and then I went down and pogo-ed.

Watt: Yeah, you did say, “Hey, these guys are lame,” because you’re so used to the stadium thing that you forget that these guys are tryin’ something on their own. But you don’t know that. You’re brought up on that whole ‘70s aesthetic of “the show goes on.”

DBoon: I mean, nobody can be ELP, so you might as well forget it. I mean, that’s the way it was.

Watt: Just hope to copy the record. You never even thought of writing tunes.

DBoon: Like the best guitar player in school was the guy who could play like Jimmy Page, and it was hands down, no contest. No one else could come close.

Watt: No one would write their own tunes.

DBoon: Well, they would, but they’d be like two chords or somethin’ and a big lead jam.

Watt: Well everyone had their, you know… you did “Burn” (laughs). Those were different days and we’re glad they’re gone…. So that’s what we come from. We don’t really come from jazz backgrounds; that’s what we developed in our twenties.

DBoon: Tell him that catch about….

Watt: Oh yeah, we do have a jazz influence: Buck Dharma. His dad was a top saxophonist, and there’s our jazz connection.

DMcD: Through Blue Oyster Cult?

Watt: Oh yeah, we were heavily into Buck but we thought BOC was the most progresso rock, you know. Tyranny and Mutation – this is the hardest rock. We really looked up to them, you know. Creedence was real easy; that’s how we learned. So that’s what we come out of, that’s our history – comin’ up from Pedro to check out the Hollywood punk rock and finally getting’ balls to try it on our own. And then finally, hardcore happens. Hardcore happened two years after punk rock. I hope people realize that. Anyways… and then Black Flag got all kinds of gigs and we got to open for them. Hundreds of gigs getting spit on… (laughs). But they were gigs!

DBoon: Before the days of Black Flag there was this big upper thing, though. Like if you weren’t from Hollywood then you could never play a Hollywood gig.

Watt: That’s how punk rock was in L.A. – ya’ couldn’t have a tan! If you had a tan like you had been in the sun, they knew you were from Orange County.

DBoon: And if you wore a t-shirt or, like, Levis….

Watt: Yeah, you had to wear black.

DMcD: You had to look anemic and wear black clothes…?

Watt: Right (laughs).

DBoon: It wasn’t like if your hair was long or anything, cause Hollywood guys had real long hair and they just tied it up.

Watt: Sure, most of ‘em were burned out critters.

DBoon: If you didn’t have a hair style… yeah, we didn’t have hair style or anything. I mean, we kinda’ got into it….

Watt: We painted Clash thing on our shirts. We saw the Clash when they first came and we painted things on our shirts.

DBoon: But, you know, Hollywood people were just really bent on appearance. But we would go up there with our six packs and stuff and just watch bands. We always tried to get gigs but we were from the suburbs. Finally, Black Flag started getting really gig gigs where 500 people would come.

Watt: Their second gig was our first gig. They really just happened into that. It was weird how that hardcore thing happened, but what it did was it moved from Hollywood to the suburbs. There were no bands….

DMcD: But now there’s a band for every block in Orange County.

Watt: We’ve noticed, which was kind of neat about the Hollywood bands. It was fucked that they were elitists, but a lot of the bands were different. You could tell them apart. That Decline [of Western Civilization] movie, I think, really made things almost all the same. You go into these little towns and they all have their Decline band, and that’s the only band there, and they’re real radical. But I try to tell ‘em, “Hey, it really ain’t that way. It’s been happening for eight years. It’s an institution. Take the ball and run with it, you’re free enough. You’re lucky you ain’t like us, growin’ up and havin’ to play somebody else’s shit. You don’t have to do that now.” I think it’ll close up again.

DMcD: You really think so?

Watt: Oh sure, things are circles. We have guitar solos. When we started the Minutemen, we killed all the guitar solos. We didn’t want any of that. Now we have guitar solos.

DMcD: Still no choruses, though.

Watt: Not yet. We just try whatever we try, you know, but things do revolve in circles I think. Try for a direction.

The cover photos from "Double Nickels" were a geeked-out way to wrap up the concept album. The concept turned out to have a tragically ironic twist, though, when D. Boon died in a car accident just before Xmas 1985, less than two years after the album's release. There was no Internet those days and long distance calls were expensive; I found out about D.'s passing via a press release from SST. Listening to Double Nickels has been poignant ever since....

DMcD: I hear you guys have been doing acoustic gigs lately.

Watt: Sure, we’ve done about twelve of them. They’re just like electric gigs except we’ve got acoustic guitars. We don’t change the songs, except for some parts.

DBoon: George plays bongos. It’s pretty beatnik.

Watt: We just do it to fill a different demand. We don’t really play folksy songs, we just play the same old songs exactly that way.

DMcD: Any chance of one of those happening here in DC?

Watt: Sure, why not?

DBoon: Maybe we should try to set up something where we play earlier and play at different places.

Watt: We’re still jumpin’ around and stuff but it’s just all little. It’s kind of fun. We don’t really sit there and wail out Woody Guthrie. A lot of bands do, like the Knitters. They’re some people from X but they play all this different stuff. They don’t play X songs on acoustic guitar.

DMcD: So… there’s a promo 12” for Double Nickels that has etching on a blank side.

Watt: Right, that’s the radio promo, “The Wheel of Fortune.”

DMcD: There’s a dollar sign…

DBoon: A swastika, a hammer and sickle…

Watt: And a joint. All inside a wheel.

DMcD: Why?

DBoon: That’s Carducci.

DMcD: Somebody told me it was because one of you was a die-hard republican, one of you was a communist, one of you gets high and you all drive cars. (Meanwhile, D. Boon cracks up in the background.)

Watt: Nah, you know, it’s like, “Where’s the wheel land this time?” That’s what it meant; that’s what Carducci…

DBoon: Well, you see, back home we have this reputation of being, like, a political band, politically conscious, right, and those guys make fun of us like it’s a waste of time. You know… you should just worry about this and worry about that. It was just kinda’ like a joke. It’s like we all smoke pot and we all drive cars and we talk about money and communism and fascism, but not in any direct point of view like we’re behind this or that. It’s more him just making fun of us. And I kinda liked it; I thought it was funny, especially the joint. It was just a joke, you know. It was a Carducci joke.

Watt: I know what it was. He told me when he did it. We only had one record for the radio promo ‘cause it was too expensive to give out the double album. We had one side – 9 songs. He picked them. We called it the “Wheel of Fortune” ‘cause this was the first time we ever culled songs, so it was like “spin the wheel and where does it land.”

DMcD: For the nine songs?

Watt: No, for the whole idea, and Joe’s idea at the time was like us, our personalities, like when you talk to him the guy’s got a joint in his mouth or he’s rappin’ on commies, and he’s like, “Where’s the wheel spin this time?” We all smoke pot but we’re not into Nazism, but a lot of radio stations we wrote to were angry over that. They thought we were pro-Nazi. No way! It was just like the messages added onto the end of all the other records, this objective SST viewpoint.

DBoon: And the English release...

Watt: The England SST doesn’t feel real confident about us ‘cause we’ve sold hardly any records in Europe. Hüsker does great, Meat Puppets does great but we do really bad. The cover’s gonna be like the US Double Nickels but it does not open and it’s black and white. I don’t know why they don’t like us over there that much. Maybe it’s the name….

DMcD: I never thought about that. Maybe you’re just not “hard” enough… then again the Meat Puppets are not too hard, either.

Watt: They’re gonna make a third record on SST soon. Live, they’re not like their records at all. Their gigs are on or off, they get too buzzed when they’re playing. They get all bummed out and turn into themselves. Sometimes they play real good…. They know how to play good, though; you can tell on the records.

DMcD: So, going back to what we were talking about earlier, do you consider yourselves a political band?

DBoon: We are aware of people.

DMcD: Like on the first seven inch, Paranoid Time, all the songs have political lyrics.

Watt: Yeah, it was a paranoid time. We were writin’ about what was on our minds at that time. It was the first time we wrote songs in our fuckin’ life. It wasn’t like the Reactionaries, ‘cause those songs were real boring. That’s what we were like then, and that’s the first time we ever wrote tunes. As a band, sure, some of our songs are political. It’s mostly commentary.


* * *

And out... with a classic video, one of the two released in support of Double Nickels on the Dime.


Adam Caperton said...

Never knew you were in the DC scene... I went to Va Tech and used to play in a band out of Blacksburg, Not Shakespeare, at the time... A couple of records with Mitch Easter @ Drive In Studios and lots of regional travelling...

Lots of ties to DC back in the day and still do...

The Minutemen rocked and D Boon was one of the true flagbearers concerning all that was right about music in that time period...

I will never forget seeing them at the 9:30 club and Mike Watt just being furious on the bass as well...

Great post that brings back lots of memories!

Adam Caperton

Little_Jewford said...

I still remember the night you dragged out the box with this interview and various other zines/flyers from your time in DC ... thanks for putting this up

Joe Manekin said...

DMcD - terrific post and a fun interview. Enjoyed it.

David McDuff said...

Glad you all enjoyed it, gentlemen.

I saw them a whole bunch of times but this particular show, a good chunk of which ended up in the film "We Jam Econo," was the one that really sticks in my head. Definitely incredible energy, from D., Watt and George (who was always the unsung hero of the band). Very cool that you got to see them there as well.

What the Parrot Saw said...

WDC was a great zine! I bought them via a cool shop 40 miles away in LA proper (took two busses before my 1st auto) where I loaded up on a lot of zines, promos, UK/60s/weird stuff, and the odd VHS bootleg the local store didn't have... a bi-monthly excursion.

Good times! A different world now.

Thanks for sharing this history nugget- some of the best documentation of the time remains moldering between zeroxed/offset paper in someone's garage.

David McDuff said...

@What the Parrot Saw -- glad to hear the copies of WDC Period that were shipped out of town actually made it into good hands. The garage is exactly where I'd stored my boxes full of old zines, flyers, etc., from the era. Lots of rainy day scanning to be done....

Todd said...

Hey McDuff, we thought you were cool when you shared your ramp foraging tips - but this is rediculous. Felt like I learned more reading this than in the entire "We Jam Econo" movie. Good Stuff.

David McDuff said...

@Todd -- I'm glad you enjoyed the trip back in time. It was a pain in the ass to retype the whole thing; the original is printed in such small type it was a project just to see it without getting eye cramps. There's definitely some good information in there; listening to Double Nickels after revisiting the interview, I picked up all kind of direct references to the album's lyrics. But I don't know about it being more informative than the film -- We Jam Econo has much more music!

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