Q&A with Dave Dictor from MDC
In this week's edition of Rough Mixes, we printed excerpts of Tom Murphy's recent chat with Dave Dictor from MDC. As you'll see from the full transcript posted after the jump, the band's frontman is still very much an iconoclast championing ideals that are as provactive as the revolving moniker of his venerable punk band, alternately known as Multi-Death Corporation, Millions of Damn Christians, Millions of Dead Cops and more.
Westword (Tom Murphy): What do the initials MDC stand for this time out?
Dave Dictor: We're definitely Millions of Dead Cops on this tour. It's the Patriot Asshole tour for our new EP. It got us two shows closed down: a little college town called Boston and a punk rock hub called Pittsburgh. Three cops were killed in Pittsburgh. The strange thing is a dispatcher sent them unprepared to a place where some guy was going crazy and he shot all three of them. So they decided to get mad at the punks. That's how they do it in the Midwest.
WW: What inspired the move to San Francisco from Austin and then ultimately to Portland?
DD: We were originally from Austin from '79 to '82. We moved to San Francisco and pretty much abandoned it in '95 and '96. Then I went up to Portland for a few years. I started a thing with Tom Roberts of Poison Idea at the same time. I went east for three or four years, because I was raising my son by myself, and I needed some help, and my mom offered to help me. I got through my son's teenage years, and he's now twenty-four. Then I moved back to Portland in 2004.
Different things prompted those moves. In Austin, we wanted to move to San Francisco because it was a big city and it was California and the punk thing was really happening in the early to mid '80s. I moved up to Portland because my ex, who was the mother of my son, moved up there. If you don't live in the city with your kids, you lose the whole parent thing. So I moved there to be near them. As it turned out, she turned him over to me, and I was a single parent from 2000 to 2004. He's over twenty, so he's doing his own thing, though we still hang out a lot.
WW: Why the five year hiatus in the '90s, and what prompted your return to writing music and performing?
DD: [From] '96 to 2000, we put out a single here and there, and we did about five gigs in five years. I was living with Poison Idea, and you do things slowly with them. We did this project called the Submissives. It was a punk rock project with an album that came out on Fat Wreck Chords. It's my only musical diversion from MDC for the last twenty-nine years. We play an acoustic version of us, and we call it Millions of Dead Hippies. We do these songs with harmonies, and it's kind of like Crosby, Stills and Dead Cops.
WW: It doesn't sound to me as though your band has lost its edge over the years. Is there a difference between what inspired you to write songs earlier on and what inspires you now?
DD: The need to get poetry and your feelings out is basically where it's all coming from. You change your edge, and maybe when I wrote a song like "John Wayne Was a Nazi," it was an obvious song to write back then. Having written about four songs about the police, three songs about business and Multi-Death Corporations, you've got to say things in a way that's a little more unique or you start to say the same things over and over again. You don't want to be a generic band with a song about Bush, a generic band with a song about how you hate Iraq. You've got to try to make those songs have a unique edge. That's what's part of being a songwriter in 2009 -- and in 1929, for that matter. Punk rock has been around for over thirty years and a lot of it's been said already.
We have a song called "Mary Jane for President" and we feel pretty good about that. We supported Barack Obama, but we were really first for Mary Jane.
WW: In the '80s, there can be no doubt that you attracted a bit of police harassment. Do you encounter that now and if so how has it changed?
DD: It was a lot worse back then. Punk was so different to what the world of Ronald Reagan was all about. Now Mr. T's got a Mohawk, and so does the guy in Rancid so it doesn't mean as much.
WW: You have a song called "Founding Fathers - Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?" Tell me a bit about the song and the title because it certainly seems like a pertinent question in these times.
DD: We're actually doing that on the tour. The whole idea came from people like Andrew Jackson, who was a notorious Indian killer, set up the Trail of Tears and made the Cherokees march from the southeast to Oklahoma during which 90 percent of them were said to have died. Where does that piece of terrorism fit in with a modern piece of terrorism, where someone might do something like flying a plane into something? You kill people, you wipe them out and one person's hero can be another person's terrorist can be another person's freedom fighter. So I was just examining all of that. In the song notice how the Washington Monument is shaped like a Klansman to remind you that Washington owned slaves.
We're a vegetarian-oriented band, and we have a song called "Chicken Squawk." We're pretty radical about our diets. We like good clean food; we like carrot juice but on top of that, we don't like to persecute animals. I think Tolstoy said something like, "there will be no peace on earth until there are no more slaughterhouses." [Tolstoy wrote on this subject in the essay, "The First Step" written in 1892] He was talking about the relationship between slaughterhouses and society.
WW: You've taken some unpopular but ethically sound political stances in the past. Are there any now for which you've taken some flak?
DD: Well, we lost those two shows. But we're on an underground record label, so they can't really ban our record. Every now and then we get a certain amount of harassment. Actually, I'm happy to say we haven't really been harassed lately. In a lot of ways, we fell off the map, off the radar by people getting used to punk rock and not being so afraid of it. I'm glad they're still scared of us in Boston and Pittsburgh, though. That's reassuring.
WW: Your biting, iconoclastic sense of humor seems intact from the early days. Clearly that's something you cultivated during your life but did you grow up with someone with a wicked sense of humor, or is there someone or something that inspired that in you?
DD: I don't quite know. Sometimes you look at your parents and your family and go, "Where did I come from?" But I think that's very true of a lot of people. It wasn't like I was brought up in a house full of communist activists or anything like that or Vaudeville comedians from the Catskills. It just happens. We're all kind of brought up by television sets these days. I was definitely brought up in a world where it was game shows, professional wrestling, baseball and John Wayne and Elvis movies, and then the Vietnam War happened. It was a serious contrast growing up in that era. It's part of something that people who are fifty-years-old share. Some people told me they never grew up in a world where it wasn't a Bush or a Reagan running the world. Those people that grew up in that era really believed that the world was going to end at any minute. To a certain degree we felt that way too, but the experience of growing up in a world like that had to be very different.
WW: Who did the cover art for Magnus Dominus Corpus, and what was that image meant to communicate?
DD: The artist's name is Carlos Salerno, and he's credited on the album. He was a friend of my guitar player's, and he lived in Miami. He just had a unique bent to it. Sometimes I think Magnus Dominus Corpus went over some people's heads. As soon as you start talking Latin, some people just turn off. The picture on the front cover is a picture of the Iraqis celebrating while they're hanging up some dead contractors. It's a famous picture from Fallujah. I show that to some kids at our table and they have no idea where that picture is from. Maybe I should have called it "Mommy's Delicious Cookies" and had something else on the cover. It was a thinking person's attempt at a political statement.
WW: Is "Nazi's Shouldn't Drive" really about Ian [Stuart] Donaldson's death? Did you ever meet him in person?
DD: Ian Stuart was the singer of Skrewdriver, and he was a famously anti-gay, and him and his gang and his skinhead cohorts gave a lot of grief to people we knew in England. We were in England touring, and I heard about the car accident and instead of saying, "I'm happy you're dead," I wrote "Nazi's Shouldn't Drive." It was my attempt at dry humor.
WW: What keeps you coming back and doing music all these years?
DD: You feel like it's in your blood to make music, and I've felt that way since I was a kid. It's a good feeling to write a song and to be able to get it out there, and when people like it, it's even more fun.
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