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Dirtbombs - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 23 / 11 / 2003

Dirtbombs - Interview


The Dirtbombs have recorded more records and played more shows than any of versatile Detroit guitarist Mick Collins’ many other groups. Drummer Ben Blackwell chats about their twin bass, twin drum line-up and new album "Dangerous Magical Noise'

The Dirtbombs are one of the many projects of Detroit musician and guitarist, Mick Collins, whose other acts have included the Gories, the Screws, Blacktap and King Sound Quartet. The versatile Collins has made it his philosophy of life to create a new band every time he musically wants to try something new, and the five-piece Dirtbombs, in which Collins appears on vocals and guitars, also features two bass players and two drummers. The Dirtbombs initially started more as a concept than a reality, not releasing their first record, a 7”, ‘High Octane Salvation’, until 1996, three years after they first formed, but since then they have gone on to record more records and to play more shows than any of Collins’ other groups. The band has been through many membership changes and it has a rotational line-up depending on who is available, but over the last few years it has stabilised to also regularly include local producer Jim Diamond (Bass) ; Pat Pantano (Drums) and Ben Blackwell (Drums). Like many other Detroit bands, post the White Stripes, the Dirtbombs have often found themselves described as a garage act. They have always, however, been eclectic, and it is a term that they have rejected. Since ‘High Octane Salvation’, they have gone on to record 12 other singles and split records, usually on 7”, and also three albums. The first of these albums, ‘Horndog Fest’ (1998) had a hardcore punk sound and paid tribute to Collins’ interest in comics. The second, ‘Ultraglide in Black’ (2001), which brought the Dirtbombs onto the international stage, was a rollicking collection of covers of 60’s and 70’s classic soul and funk songs that had been originally performed by the likes of Sly and the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. The group’s latest album, ‘Dangerous Magical Noise’, which like’Horndog Fest’ largely consists of the band’s own songs, came out in October, and as well as punk, soul and funk, also incorporates together elements of rhythm and blues, glam and rock ‘n’ roll. Ben Blackwell first joined the band in 1999 at the age of 17 and is the youngest member of the band by approximately fifteen years. Pennyblackmusic spoke to him shortly before a gig at the London Garage on the Dirtbombs’ current world tour. PB : The Dirtbombs have played more songs and live shows than any other of Mick’s many bands. Why do you think things have turned out that way ? BB : I am not really sure. It could be really down to any number of reasons. More motivation maybe, but also just a lack of other projects going on for the people in the group and the focus getting pulled towards one area. PB : Every time Mick has wanted to do something different he has formed a different type of band. All three Dirtbombs albums have, however, been very, very different from one another. What do you think those albums have in common ? BB : There is the obvious thing about two drummers and two bass players,but beyond that simply not allowing ourselves to be slotted into one category. We have always all liked punk records and soul records and garage records, but have always taken the attitude that just because, say, our Mission of Burma influences don’t appear on one record, that doesn’t mean that we are going to throw away all our old records by that band away.Our influences are like the weather and come and go. You can’t always predict them, and often only know what they are once we have done a record. PB : What are the challenges for you as a drummer ? As there are two of you in the band on stage, does that make things more difficult ? BB : People come up to me and are always really amazed and interested by that. Playing with Pat has, however, never really been a challenge for me. The Dirtbombs were going since long before I joined the band. I joined the band four years ago, and I knew all the records before then, so when they asked me to join I showed up and just played what I heard from the records, but from there it wasn’t like I had to learn how to play with another drummer. Playing with another drummer is in many ways the ultimate safety net. On this tour especially we have had to borrow gear from friends and stuff hasn’t already arrived or has fallen down on us, so if my snare drum breaks or whatever, I don’t have to worry about stopping the show. If the guy next to me is playing the same thing, he can carry on, while I try to fix things. PB : You’re the youngest member of the Dirtbombs. You’re 22. Is that correct ? BB : Don’t make me sound old (Laughs)! I’m 21. PB : (Laughs) What do you think that you bring to the band because you’re so young , and which the other members perhaps don’t? BB : It’s definitely a different perspective. A lot of times the guys will be talking and they will be saying “Oh yeah. I went to see the Jam back in such and such club in Detroit in 1982”, and I’ll be thinking “God, that was the year I was born.” I definitely have a different set of influences and different things that I might be into. The band is really Mick’s vision though, and those don’t necessarily always come through on the record. I kind of like to think that I bring a little energy to the band as well. I see the rest of them walking around and they look like a bunch of sad, middle-aged men. I like to think that they look at and see me and think “Oh young punk. Thinks he’s top shit”, so if my youth can be something to egg them on, and to make them play better then more power to them (Laughs). PB : The Dirtbombs have put out a whole lot of 7” singles. The albums have also been released in a vinyl as well as a CD edition. If you buy ‘Dangerous Magical Noise on vinyl you get an extra single in it. Would it be safe to presume, therefore, that the band prefers vinyl as a format to CDs ? BB : I would say so. Yeah. CDs have a metal component in them which has a life of about 50 or 60 years. After a while all your CDs will eventually disintegrate and become worthless. The only way vinyl becomes unusable is if you don’t store it properly or wear it out from overplay. I read an article about the Library of Congress in the United States, which houses pretty much all the archives of the whole country. They are converting all their archives to vinyl because it is a better archival format. It is not something that will die out like a tape or disintegrate like a CD. A record will stay in its form for ever. If you look at it from a historical standpoint as well pretty much all our favourite music ever was first released on vinyl. It was the format that people used to listen to it in their homes. Elvis’s first record, the Beatles, punk, everything the way up to the 80’s was released on vinyl. PB : As the Dirtbombs have released so many cover versions of old songs, do you see yourself as providing your fans with a musical education ? BB : I would say so. I was a huge fan of the Gories, Mick’s previous band, and they did a lot of covers, even more so than we have done. They did about 50% covers. There’was a single, for example they put out on Sub Pop ‘Give Me Some Money’ and ‘You Don’t Love Me’, and I saw that both those tracks were written by this guy, Ellas McDaniel, and I found out that that was Bo Diddley and from that got into Bo Diddley. PB : It’s been very much a musical education for you then as well ? BB : Oh definitely ! The Dirtbombs are always doing more covers, and, if they are by a band I like or am remotely interested in, I will always search out the original. For someone like me who buys a lot of records, that can be a fun little challenge to keep playing with yourself. PB : The band has been very quick to reject being called “a garage band” or even there being “a Detroit scene”. What are your reservations with both ? BB : The idea of labelling a band and putting it in a genre is pretty much a media thing made up by journalists. It’s not their fault. It’s pretty much their job to stick labels on things. You’ll very rarely find musical journalism that is devoid of the writer’s opinion. It’s never indifferent. It’s always “This was good’ or “This is bad”. People are like sheep. They need opinions, and to be told what to like and what not to like. That’s what the NME is for. As for ourselves though, we don’t call ourselves a “garage rock band”. We just say it is rock ‘n’ roll, and as far as Detroit being a scene, I think that that too is subject to interpretation. I know that Mick will vehemently deny that there is a scene in Detroit. He will say instead that there a lot of bands playing music who hang out together. I would say that that’s a scene, but if it is a scene now, it was defnitely a scene five years ago, and I think that might be Mick’s apprehension about using that term. Just because people aren’t taking notice, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a scene. PB : It says on the sleeve of “Dangerous Magical Noise’ that it is the ninth record in the ‘True Dirt’ series, and the third in the ‘Some Call It Furcore’ and ‘Wish We Could Have Been Supersonic’ series. What are those series ? BB : That’s one of Mick’s things that he has used with a lot of his bands. It shows up sometimes on records and sometimes it doesn’t, and comes from his love of comic books. They are editions in a series. He has filed ‘True Dirt’ under total and complete radio friendliness, while ‘Some Call It Furcore’ are songs about comic books, and ‘Wish We Could Have Been on Supersonic’ is glam rock 70’s stuff. It’s just a kind of bullshit tthing that he has fun thinking about. PB : The Dirtbombs have been through 14 different line-ups in the last 10 years. More recently though the band has stabilised with several regular players such as yourself and Jim Diamond and Pat Pantano playing regularly alongside Mick depending upon what your other commitments are. Do you see this as being the regular band now ? BB : Well, right now, on this tour it’s me, Mick, Jim, Pat, and Ko Shih, and I would describe the line-up as temporarily permanent. Ko has her own band back home, Ko and the Knockouts.She knows the songs, and was at a point in which she could tour a lot. I don’t think she wants to do it for ever and I don’t think we would want her to do it for ever if she didn’t want to, but at the same time we enjoy playing with her and it works out well. Even before she started playing with us, she would sing with us live a lot, so she was already really a member of the band. PB : Are you in any other bands yourself at the moment ? BB : Not really. I dabble in a band at home called Science Farm, and that’s me just playing guitar with a friend of mine on drums. It’s just a two piece. PB : The Dirtbombs play these really energetic tours, and very high-octane shows. How do you stop yourself from burning out playing at such an intense level. ? BB : The whole entertainer line is that you give 100% every show, but there’s certain shows where you definitely give more than you usually give. Personally I sleep a lot also . I’ll sleep right up until we go on stage. Some of the other guys will freak out if that happens to them. They’re like “Oh no ! Shit ! I’ve got to go on stage.” For me though it’s the whole nervousness and excitement of going on stage that pumps me up. PB : What will the Dirtbombs do next once you have finished this tour ? You have got some more dates in the States. What will you do after that ? BB : This is our last show in England, and then we go to the continent for two weeks and then we go home. We then have a show every other week and then we will go to the West Coast and after that Japan and then Australia. We’ll be touring pretty much all the way up until March. There’s singles that need to be recorded though as well, and the next thing we are going to is a a split single with this band Adult from Detroit that I’m putting out on my own record label, Cass. Adult are going to cover one of our songs, and we’re going to cover one of their songs. We’re busy. Put it that way. PB Thank you

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Dirtbombs - Interview

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