Interview: Kurt Brecht - Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI)
DIRTY ROTTEN IMBECILES - aka DRI - has been playing its own brand of Hardcore for virtually 25 years. From the band's origins as a hyper-fast HC thrash quartet, to being the definitive Crossover band, to the more Metal influenced HC of its later releases, it is a band that has never lost sight of its roots and has remained on top of the HC pile. In the wake of a heap of re-releases on Beer City Records, I caught up with vocalist Kurt Brecht and here is what transpired...
..OK, let's start bang up to date with your current crop of re-issues on Beer City Records. How did you get involved with Mike @ Beer City? Who approached whom and what kinda deal is it? Do you have a 'contract' for x amount of records?
..Kurt) Spike and Mike Beer started talking a few years back about starting the reissues. We don't have a contract for a certain amount of albums with Beer City. They came highly recommended from other bands on the label like VERBAL ABUSE and MDC.
..So far, you have reissued the 'Dirty Rotten Record' and 'Dealing With It' albums on Beer City. Why choose now to reissue those discs?
..Kurt) We had to start somewhere! The beginning sounded good. We had lots of extra unreleased songs during that early period so we added those to the enhanced CD's, along with interviews and video.
..Are you planning on re-releasing the 'Crossover', 'Four Of A Kind', 'Thrash Zone', 'Definition' and 'Full Speed Ahead' albums also? The first two re-issues featured a huge amount of bonus tracks - will future reissues see the same?
..Kurt) We are planning to release them all as enhanced CDs and 'Crossover' is next. There will be lots of goodies on each of them.
..Beer City has also released an incredible live album and DVD from '84. You pleased with how that has come out? It stands as a great document of the band at that early stage. How much more footage and unreleased stuff does DRI have in its vaults?
..Kurt) We don't have anymore really old footage of that line-up we had on the CBGB's DVD but we have tons of good stuff from 1986 and later. We are very happy with how Beer City produced the DVD and improved the sound quality. Spike also had a lot to do with that. We are planning on releasing more Live DVDs with Beer City and they are working on it as we speak.
..Looking back at those early recordings, how do you feel? Did you think that those records would go onto be hailed as classics? Given the benefits of hindsight, is there much you would have changed about these recordings and how do you think they stand up against some of your more recent records?
..Kurt) I laugh when I listen to those early albums. Sounds like a grinding noise! Someone told me we invented Grindcore, could be true but we never planned it that way. We were just experimenting with playing as fast as we could and still stay tight. The quality is not as good in the early recordings as the newer stuff, but the heart is there, and a sense of urgency. We never thought we were as good as the other bands in Houston like VERBAL ABUSE and DOOMSDAY MASSACRE because only three or four people would come to our gigs! So, we definitely never thought our albums would become collectors items!
..What's the score with DRI today? Are you planning on releasing any new material on Beer City, or is it just an outlet for reissues? If there IS a new album in the pipeline, what kinda direction is it taking?
..Kurt) We are planning on releasing a new studio album with Beer City. We recorded a short demo in Germany. It was fast and furious, very "Back to our Roots" Can't give you a date yet. We're booking a tour of the US in March 2006, though.
..OK, some of the history stuff. The band formed way back in 1982 - almost at the dawn of USHC - in Texas. Why did the band start - what were the motives behind the formation of the band and why did you decide to play such short songs so fast?
..Kurt) We started DRI because we wanted to play live. There were several local clubs that would let just about anyone get up on stage as long as they had a few songs. We wanted to be one of those bands. Our songs didn't start out short, they became short after we started playing them real fast. We wanted to see how fast we could play our songs and still keep them tight.
..What was Texas like back then? Was it drastically different from the State today? It seems, almost more than any other State, that Texas produced some of the most inventive, extreme and outspoken bands in the country - MDC, THE DICKS, BIG BOYS. What was/is it about Texas - if anything - that stimulates such extreme creativity?
..Kurt) Texas seems the same to me as it was back then. As far as the bands coming out of Texas in the early 80's, I guess we were all attacking the Good Old Boy redneck mentality, which is so prevalent here.
..About a year later, the band moved to San Francisco - seemingly with nowhere to stay bar the tour van. Why did you move there? What made you pick SF over, say LA or NYC? Did this move transform the band in anyway? Would it be fair to say that, had DRI stayed in Texas, the resulting Texan DRI would have been different from the San Franciscan DRI?
..Kurt) We went to SF to play a show of all Texas bands. VERBAL ABUSE had told us it was easy to live in SF for cheap. Tim Yohannon from Maximum Rock and Roll urged us to come to SF because he felt the scene there was ripe for a fast band like us. When our bass player quit we sort of got stuck in SF, then got a new bass player and jumped on a tour. Moving to SF changed us because we quit our jobs, left our homes and became a real fulltime band. If we would have stayed in Texas we probably never would have been a serious touring band.
..How hard was it to simply survive those early days in SF? You had to eat at soup kitchens yeah? Did you feel like the 'new kids in town' kinda deal, or was it a very welcoming city to DRI? What were the immediate differences between SF and Houston, Texas?
..Kurt) San Francisco is a small city. You can walk anywhere you need to go. Houston is a sprawling suburban city with an awful bus system and everything is too far to walk to. We were just another Texas band in SF. THE DICKS, MDC and VERBAL ABUSE were already there. We toured a lot so we were not hanging around in SF all that much. We did survive at first on Soup Kitchen food. We got in free to most gigs because we played all the time at those clubs. So, we got to see for free all the bands we had only read about in fanzines. It was great!
..You managed to get yourselves on the 'Rock Against Reagan' tour with the KENNEDYS too yeah? How were those shows - must have been incredible seeing the band at that stage. What do you make of the recent dealings between Biafra and the rest of the band? From your dealings with the band, whom do you think is getting fucked over? I personally, from all I have read, tend to side with Biafra. Did you see any of the DKs reformation shows without Biafra? A Punk Rock cabaret it seemed to me.
..Kurt) The Rock Against Reagan tour was fun. We were paid in food! MDC invited us on that tour. I don't know the full story between those guys (DK's) so I'd rather not comment. I've spoken to both sides but still have not made up my mind. I have seen the reformed DK's with two different singers. I thought Brandon did a great job and it was awesome to hear the band play again. I'm sorry he had to take so much shit and people throwing stuff at him and all that.
..I understand that the band has now moved to Seattle yeah? Why the move now, especially after over 20 years in San Fran? How are you finding it? Again, are there any noticeable differences between Houston or SF and Seattle?
..Kurt) Spike moved to Washington, though not Seattle. We have no plans of moving the band there. We have all been scattered around the country for years. I've been in Texas for the last 10 years. Rob lives in Florida.
.. I'd like to talk a bit about 'Crossover' - the album and the musical style. It seems with that album you almost turned your back on what went before and went toward the realms of Metal - which you explored yet further on following releases. That disc, probably along with COC's 'Technocracy' kinda defines Crossover. Did you realise at the time what a groundbreaking album you had just made - and the new genre that you had just defined?
..Kurt) All I knew was that we had pissed a lot of people off, and made many others very happy. But, we were on Metal Blade records, we got a European Tour, filmed 'Live at the Ritz' and got to play with SLAYER, so we were too busy to dwell on what history would make of the album. We were still playing all of our old songs live, so our live show had not changed all that much. We were gigging with COC quite a bit since they were label mates of ours. We were out there spreading the Crossover message with the DRI - COC tour, which we jokingly called the "DRY COCK" tour.
..Did you have a severe backlash from the hardened Punk crowd who disliked the slowing down/ musical progression? Were there any cries of "Sell out!" - particularly in light of the band being on Metal Blade Records? How did you get involved with Metal Blade? As the band progressed through the succeeding albums, did you notice your audience change to a more Metal influenced crowd?
..Kurt) The only backlash I noticed was at a couple of shows in Europe where kids came to me and complained that we had turned our backs on the Punks. All I noticed was a more diverse crowd, as now, which suited us then and still does. Metal Blade came to us after hearing 'Dealing With It', or maybe they heard that SLAYER liked us. We had just recorded 'DWI' and it was still unreleased. They did not want our first album! Too hardcore I guess!?
..You stated earlier in this interview that the new DRI material is going 'back to the roots'. Does this suggest the band prefers the faster thrashier stuff of 'Dirty Rotten Record' and 'Dealing With It'? Do you, as a frontman, get more satisfaction out of the HC or Metal sounding stuff?
..Kurt) I like both. I like a variety. Performance wise it is nice to be able to catch my breath for a second while Spike plays a slow intro or lead. We have plenty of songs with both styles and we mix them in the set to keep it interesting for us as well as the audience.
..I realise Rotten Records was Spike's label more than anyone else's in the band, but how much better was it being completely autonomous, without having to appease any label honcho and knowing that all the rewards reaped are from work you guys put in 100%?
..Kurt) In theory it was great. In reality it is only as good as your relationship with your label (or who is running it.)
..How did Ron Peterson, your former manager, get Rotten Records from Spike? The drawn out legal battle sounds rather nasty - I assume the band has nothing to do with the guy to this day? How long did it take for the band to recover the ground lost during this period?
..Kurt) Ron is still selling our albums. He pays us on time, but Spike is no longer part of the label. Spike and Ron started the label as partners. We never lost any ground, we just kept touring.
..Can you tell us a bit about Dirty Rotten Press and the books you have published? You have any plans to delve further into writing and publication? You ever write fiction - or is it all factual/music related?
..Kurt) I have written four self published books: Notes From The Nest, The 30-Day Diarrhea Diet Plan, See The Loud Feeling and Whore Stories. I would like to write more books someday. I've never been involved in a zine. I do have some ideas for fictional books, but truth can be stranger than fiction, and, for me, easier to write.
..Over the years, the band has made a few promo videos - is that a process you enjoy? Have any of the videos required hours upon hours of waiting around in studios, or have they been performance videos?
..Kurt) Hours and hours of waiting. If that is what acting is like, you can have it! We have filmed live stuff but that's easy. We plan on releasing the best video footage soon on DVD through Beer City.
..Mickey Offender - of the great OFFENDERS - played bass on 'Dealing With It' yeah? How did you hook up with him and did he change the band's outlook in any way during the short tenure he had with you? And why did Josh Pappe temporarily leave the band at this time?
..Kurt) Mikey had his own band and only agreed to help us for that project. He's a natural and the best bassist at the time who we knew. We were lucky to have him. I wouldn't say he changed us at all. Josh left to deal with some personal issues.
..Moving on to politics, what do you make of George Bush Jnr? Do you remember him as Governor of Texas? I've heard a lot of comments from people who think Bush is even worse than Reagan. From your perspective as someone who was inspired/incensed enough to write 'Reaganomics' among others, how do you view this statement?
..Kurt) I feel like presidents are remembered for what happened during their presidency. While Reagan was president the Berlin wall came down, also the Iran Contra mess with Oliver North. History will tell what important milestones will be remembered when Bush's name is mentioned 20 years from now. Iraq, Katrina, but also Israel and Palestine.
..There has been a lot of press here in NZ about an Australian who attempted to smuggle a big stash of Heroin into Singapore, but he got caught and was recently hung in Singapore. What's your view on the death penalty, especially given the propensity of the State of Texas to enforce it?
..Kurt) Eye for an Eye could be right if you are absolutely sure of guilt. I believe DNA evidence should be mandatory if available when considering a death sentence for murder. I don't think that guy should have died for drug smuggling, no.
..What are your views on the Holiday in the Sun shows? Has DRI ever played, or been asked to play, at one? What do you think of those old bands reforming after soooo many years apart? A worthwhile history lesson for those who never experienced it, or tired old men playing out their past - badly?
..Kurt) The way I figure it is that those bands wouldn't be reforming if it were not for the fact that there are a lot of people who want to see them. A worthwhile history lesson if they still sound good. So, if it brings happiness to all the fans then why not reform? We have not been asked to play one of those shows.
..Continuing the above them, have you seen/what did you make of the reformations of IGGY AND THE STOOGES, ADOLESCENTS, COCK SPARRER, SLAUGHTER AND THE DOGS and the new MISFITS?
..Kurt) More power to 'em. I haven't caught any of those shows. I would love to see the ADOLESCENTS, though.
..Finally, what DRI songs do you feel: A) Is the band at its best? B) Is the most embarrassing? C) The most fun to play? D) Defines DRI? Explain your answers.
..Kurt) 'I Don't Need Society' is one that always gets the crowd going because it is so recognizable. We don't have any embarrassing songs to play. 'Marriage' is the most fun song for me because it is fast, no intro, no outro, just pure speed. 'Who Am I?' defined DRI and is sort of our Anthem.
..Anything you wish to add?
..Kurt) Check out the song I did with DAVE GROHL on his 'Probot' album. The song was called 'Silent Spring'. I wrote the lyrics and sang the song, Dave wrote the music and played all the instruments. It will be part of the sound track of an upcoming snowboarding movie.
Looks like there will be a banquet of DRI goodies coming up in the near future. If you wanna get more of a DRI fix, try these couple of websites for size.