|Die kreuzen's Keith Brammer, left, and Dan Kubinski in action. (All courtesy photos)|
Two pockets full of quarters.
That’s what my baggy shorts held after the doorman at the Cathay de Grande in Hollywood, Calif., gave me my change for a $20 and admitted me into the dingy club in the summer of ’84 to witness manic hardcore band die kreuzen in the flesh.
As soon as the Milwaukee, Wis., group (which means “the crosses” in German) hit the stage and the small crowd erupted into a dog-pile in front of singer Dan Kubinski, I naturally joined the chaotic scene – and most of the quarters leaped out of my pockets and pinged all over the dance floor. Oh, well. I think I grabbed a few, but since the band’s barrage of screeching vocals and gut-wrenching, blistering and well-played tunes never halted, I returned to the fray and the remaining quarters were left for the other punks, or perhaps the rats and cockroaches that inhabited the club.
That was the only time I saw die kreuzen live, but the band’s tunes have remained in my head for some 30 years.
I first heard some of their tunes on the “Charred Remains” and “Master Tape” compilations while in high school, and then the “Cows and Beer” EP and first LP followed with a vengeance. An unforgettable band, which only became more intense and intriguing with every release that followed.
Die kreuzen kept popping up in my life over the years and I’ve never let them go:
* As I looked through Corrosion of Conformity drummer Reed Mullin’s phone book one day, I saw an entry for Dan Crusin’ … cool.
* In college, a classmate mentioned going to see Mudhoney, and noted that die kreuzen were playing, too. Mud-who? It was die kreuzen whom I was more interested in and asked the guy how they were. (I’ve been a Mudhoney fan for many years since then, thanks to Cat.)
* Also in college, during one of my delivery jobs for a law office, the local college radio station blasted “Earthquakes” from the “Century Days” record and I’m sure the car swerved a bit, since it was the first time I’d heard the tune and was fired up.
* Upon Cat’s return from a business trip to Chicago, she presented me with the “Pink Flag” and “Big Bad Days” singles.
* Later, while visiting with Matt Gentling, Archers of Loaf bassist, before a gig, we discussed our shared love of the “Cement” album.
* And, just recently, buddy and artist Brian Walsby unleashed another of his fine T-shirts: a die kreuzen one, which I wear proudly (along with the person below).
So, what we have here is a Q and A with die kreuzen’s Kubinski, chatting about that band’s days on the music scene and some of his other projects like Decapitado, and life in general. A big thanks to Dan for opening up and sharing his experiences with us. Enjoy.
What are some of your earliest music memories?
My father playing guitar and singing to me from as early on as I can remember. Even to this day if/when he gets out his guitar and plays, I instantly feel a warm calmness from deep within. My Dad also plays the accordion. On holidays and other family celebrations, he would get the accordion out and the entire family would start to polka dance (bunch of Pollacks, you know). Great time for me and I think I began to understand the power of music from an early age.
My Father played records all the time, so did my Mom-- Mom jammed Santana and I thank her tons for my love of early Santana records. My Father played lots of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Moody Blues and lots of different folk music. My father also played in a folk band of sorts before and just after I was born.
As soon as I was old enough to do some chores around the house and earn an allowance, I would take my coins to Kmart and buy 7" records; I had a pretty big collection of music very early on. I also had an AM radio that I took with me everywhere, I even slept with the damn thing and would fall asleep listening to the greatest hits of those times until KISS and Aerosmith came along and changed the game for me. I loved Steven Tyler’s screams: “Get Your Wings,” “Toys in the Attic” and especially “Rocks” hold very, very powerful emotions for me... and I wanted to scream like Tyler did. Then I discovered the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash... more game changers for me. David Bowie also figured in big time here. Bowie had many, many records out by that time and I bought and discovered the gems within one by one... magical! Around this time (high school) I saw the Clash play in Chicago on a tour near to the release of "London Calling" and they totally blew me away, changed my life! My father bought me my ticket for the Clash show, much to his dismay I think sometimes. I think he wanted me to be in the military, a pilot or something, but I had known early on that playing music was what interested me most. Somewhere in my mid-teens, I bought a bass guitar and took some lessons, but never did anything with that knowledge until Decapitado needed a bass player. While I was showing yet another new bassist for Decapitado how to play our songs, I realized that I should be playing bass -- full circle.
What bands struck a chord with you in pointing you toward the punk, die kreuzen and, later Decapitado, path?
Starting with my Father’s playing and singing to Creedence to Aerosmith and KISS to the Sex Pistols and the Clash, I too wanted to make my own music. When I started to hear the Germs and Black Flag, I knew the game had changed again. By the time I heard those bands, Brian Egeness (guitar) and I already had a band going that played a ton of early punk stuff like 999, the Saints, Wire, the Damned, Ramones and the Stooges. It seemed like a natural progression to take the punk music to a whole new level. We started writing our own tunes-- the first song I remember us putting together was a little song called "Suffocate," which had a chorus that went something like "you suffocate me, you suffocate me suffocate, suffocate.” Kind of an early "All White," I suppose.
By the time I was trying to put Decapitado together, I had many, many other influences like Einsturzende Neubauten, early Sisters of Mercy, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and many, many other "noisy" and drum-machine oriented bands that I liked. The first Decapitado CD was recorded using a drum machine and we played out live with the machine for a few years.
Your vocals and die kreuzen’s music stood out in the hardcore scene—lots of rage and stellar musicianship to boot – where did that sound come from?
As far as the music goes, everyone contributed at rehearsal... all of our influences were allowed to come through our efforts in writing, so I think that’s what gave die kreuzen its unique sound. We loved the hardcore that was being played by other bands, but we always wanted to expand and grow on what we personally were doing as a band. Trying new and different ways to express the power of our music instead of just turning out the same sounding songs over and over again was always at the forefront at rehearsal... "let’s try this" someone would say, and we'd work the idea and work it again and again until we had something that not only we all liked, but something that sounded different.
|Die kreuzen rocks the house.|
It’s been said in punk fanzines that DK’s music could peel paint off walls because it was so abrasive – how do you feel about that description?
I LOVE that! There are many paint-peeling bands out there now, and if we are in the mix, that’s all the better. Not all of our stuff fits under that description, of course , but I think those words describe a power and prowess that die kreuzen had and so I’m fine with that!
Did you know you had something special with that group of guys? You could tell just from listening to the records that the chemistry was there.
Once Erik (Tunison, drums) joined our group and we changed our name to die kreuzen, I think we all knew we had something cool happening. There was a concerted effort among the four of us to try hard and to make "the band" work. We LOVED to rehearse and would go to great lengths... severe lengths, in fact… to get rehearsals in. We would rehearse for hours and hours and drive miles and miles to get to our rehearsal spots. Practice makes perfect, you know, and we wanted to be tight! Thank God we had many wonderful friends and family that let us jam in the basements, attics and wherever else we could set up and plug in.
What was it like playing with the band live? I saw a gig at the Cathay de Grande in Hollywood in ’84 when the crowd went wild, dog-piled on top of each other near the stage – a great night. I read in Your Flesh fanzine that Grant Hart tossed money to you guys during a gig because you were spot-on that night.
For me in those early days, playing live was almost better than recording. Those early tours were a whirlwind of lights, sweat and volume that were always intense. Our songs were for real, we worked so hard on them both musically and lyrically so that when we played live, there were pieces of us that were flying out of our instruments and vocal chords and through the PA systems. We weren’t trying to be something, we were just being ourselves. We were for real....
Tell us about the time in ’83 you played on the Milwaukee cable TV show that’s on You Tube these days. How did that come about? It gains a lot of praise these days.
We had a friend that was in broadcasting school from what I remember and their final project was to create and direct a television show, thank God he asked us to help him out. That was a lot of fun, I borrowed a small PA head and speaker and we just set up and did what we would do at gigs or at rehearsals. I remember I kept yanking or kicking the mic jack out from my PA head, you might see me back there once or twice plugging my mic back in. It was different being there and playing with next to nobody in the room with us except the camera men and director, but I think we did okay and threw down some pretty rockin’ versions of early die kreuzen tunes.
So you already had “All White” in the repertoire early on, so was moving onward to the slower material just a natural next step? What was it like for the band moving from the HC scene to the “college-rock” realm? I spoke with bassist Keith Brammer at that Cathay gig and he said you guys were excited to move forward.
Well, as I said earlier, it was never an out and out decision to "change" or "move in a different direction.” We had always been striving to try different things and to be positive and move forward within our writing. The hardcore scene was dying in ‘86/’87 and we simply kept playing and doing what we were doing, which meant in part getting gigs wherever we could. So we started to mingle with bands that were doing the college-rock scene, which I believe were the beginnings of what people call "grunge.” So, yes, I think it was just a natural next step as you say to die kreuzen in order to survive in the ever-evolving music world that we found ourselves a part of. After all, we never wanted to stay in one place or write the same song twice.
I read something in Creem magazine or one of those rock mags during the “Cement” era that DK was going to be one of the bands to watch for on a national level. What were those days like for you?
Those days were crazy, doing tours with Sonic Youth and the Laughing Hyenas, having a band from NYC called White Zombie open for us on the east coast (that might have been during the “Century Days” period, though), touring Europe with Soul Asylum and 24-7 Spyz... being courted by Michael Alago at Epic records (Michael signed Metallica and was very interested in die kreuzen’s future) --those were very fun and inspiring times. We were on the verge of making our dreams come true within the realms of the popular music industry. In other words, we were about to sign a contract with a major record label so that we might reach more ears, sell more music, do more touring and be more creative as a musical force. It was fun, kind of confusing on one hand as we were about to join up with something that we had ignored and almost fought against (major record companies), but all our peers were getting these contracts, as well... White Zombie, Sonic Youth, Husker Du and Mudhoney to name a few.
Why did DK split, where did everyone go after that music-wise, life-wise?
We had reached an impasse somewhere along our tour of the States while promoting “Cement.” In my opinion, “Cement” didn’t fit the college or grunge rock scene that everyone was going crazy over at the time. The tour was going poorly, a tour of Europe was in the talking stages and doing a tour of Europe was always damn fun and much better than playing in the States as people would come to the shows and really, really have a good time with us. But making money to support ourselves in Europe was a tough one... it took so much money to pay for hotel rooms, van rentals, equipment rentals, food and paying the booking agency that there was never any money left at the end to pay the band and in turn pay our bills at home. So as much as we wanted to Europe again, we all were feeling a strain on our personal lives. We had reached a plateau and couldn’t get to the next one... not quite yet, anyways. A few weeks after we called it quits, Atlantic Records called (Mike Gitter) and he wanted to sign us to the label, unfortunately we had all had enough and couldn’t quite see trying one more time to realize our dreams.
Life was very tough for me during those times... I had lost my identity so to speak. After being in a band with the same three guys for 11 or more years, they were (and are) like brothers. We all knew each other inside and out and I think we all had had enough of each other at that point. Of course, if I could do it all over again, I would've tried harder to make it work and gone for the Atlantic deal, but such is life.
Music-wise, we all had new bands almost immediately: Erik started D-, Keith was in the Carnival Strippers, Brian started Blister and I had Frankenstein Smile, as well as Boy Dirt Car and FuckFace. Brian was also working at his recording skills and doing work in a few studios around town.
I heard Decapitado’s “Blacked” album when it came out in 2003 and was excited to hear you singing (along with playing bass) again. I called it “crushing stuff that will leave a smile on your face” in a CD Baby review--- what is that band all about and what’s its status nowadays? What keeps you playing and making a nice racket these days? You’re in some other bands, as well, right?
Decapitado is on semi/permanent retirement now. We actually have an entire new CD length recording in the can but there is no worthy guitar playing on it. So until I can fill the guitar void on the recording, it'll just sit there, I guess. I love the band and the recordings we have done and I feel as though it’s my baby and I hate to let it die, but the music world is a tough mistress and it will tear you apart if you let it. So for now there isn't a Decapitado.
I am playing with two bands at the moment, one is made up of ex-FuckFace people, we've no moniker at this point and only about 10 songs. We hope to get a proper name soon and start doing some gigs this spring. I play guitar in that band. The other band that I just joined a few weeks back (along with Mike Olson/Decapitado drummer) is a more commercial venture. They are called Enemy Star. They have a female singer who is awesome and the guitarist is one of the best the Milwaukee area has to offer. But this is all still in the working stages and we hope to be playing gigs by early spring, as well. I've seen Enemy Star play live and they are really quite good. They also seem to have a strong following around the area and I like that idea... after all I've been playing "art rock/metal" in the shadows for next to nobody ever since die kreuzen broke up and I'd like to step out into the light and actually play for people and do some bigger better gigging, which is a big selling point for me. I will be playing bass and doing back-up vocals with Enemy Star. I also still play and record with Boy Dirt Car. Our latest record will be coming out soon on the After Music Recordings label out of Minneapolis.
With DK and Decapitado, where do the lyrics come from? Is songwriting and playing live a cathartic experience for you?
My favorite time to write lyrics is first thing in the morning. With a clear uncluttered head, I can write a stream of consciousness, so to speak. It may not look like anything or sound like it’s about something in particular, but as I work on the lyrics over the course of weeks or even months (actually, for the most part my lyrics are constantly in a state of flux) they develop and the meanings begin to surface. I never try to write something and say that "this is it, this is what these lyrics are about.” I like to veil things and reword things to give double or triple meanings... never make it plain and simple.
Sometimes there will be a bit of rage that comes out and those I will leave alone and leave plain and simple. For example Decapitado’s "Dirt Farm" is so very simple yet filled and boiling over with rage and anger. I wrote those lyrics straight out at rehearsal in one night/one sitting in about five minutes and it’s one of the few pieces I've never changed.
Yes, my writing is very emotional for me and very much an outlet. I find pain, regret, anger and frustration to be very, very powerful and I've gotten a TON of mileage out of those feelings. There are very few examples of happiness in my lyrics for some reason, maybe because happiness is so much in the forefront of popular music, and deep down inside I am still out to personally destroy mainstream, pasteurized, bullshit music!
What’s life like for you these days (family, kids)? Does the music still speak to you as strong as it did in the early days?
No, I've no children, no wife and at this point, no girlfriend. I was just in a very, very intense relationship with a girl that I dated about 20 years ago. We reunited recently and had a wonderful, exhilarating two-year run, but a few months back we called it quits. We are very, very good friends now and I love her deeply and she loves me, but in the end, I guess we are two very different people, and as much as I’d like to make things work, sometimes it’s best to let things go and see what the world has to offer next.... we shall see.....
Newer music doesn’t speak to me much; I’ve been leaning on my old Bowie albums a lot lately. I do like some death-metal stuff like Kill Whitney Dead, Impending Doom and a few others. I even played in a very cool death-metal band called Put Her in the Trunk a few years back and that was a kick! Such powerful, powerful music.... and playing live with that outfit was so damn much fun, really, really heavy! And I’m finding some dub-step stuff to be very entertaining.
Music will always speak to me, I suppose, but I actually have to try a bit to listen these days. It just seems that most everything has been done to death and now it’s being done poorly way too often... but I’m always on the outlook for something new or old that will speak clearly to me.
Your voice has survived all the years of hard singing -- what do you attribute that to?
Somewhere along the way, I actually learned how to sing (kinda/sorta) so I like to mix up the screaming/throaty stuff and add some real singing to it. My voice does have some rough spots, though, and I will admit that it would be tough, if not impossible, to do the entire first die kreuzen LP! I keep trying new things, though, and I love to create with my voice and lyrics, so I’m sure I will do more of that in the near future as I’m just starting to record a solo project that I hope to released before the end of 2012. I’m sure it will have some harsh moments, as well as some sweet moments, but it’s too early to tell what will ultimately come out of me right now...
How do you feel about Die Kreuzen being inducted into the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Hall of Fame (in 2011)? What was it like having all the DK guys together again?
Well I am extremely honored to be in the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Hall of Fame. After all, we stand side by side with some greats like Les Paul and Liberace!
It was soooooo cool to have all of my brothers back in the same room at the same time. First time in over 20 years! There was even some talk of reforming to play Roadburn in Holland in 2012 and do some additional gigging in Moscow, London, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and a few other European cities, but our schedules just didn’t jive this year, maybe next year. Voivod are curating Roadburn this year and die kreuzen is on their wish list. I will be heading to the fest along with my brother Erik Tunison to hang out and maybe... just maybe, play a die kreuzen tune with a certain band.... but that is all still in the working stages, but he and I will be there this year representing!
Also, what about the Burnt Hickory Brewery "October File" beer? Is it tasty?
The fine folks at Burnt Hickory Brewery are some very creative people! That was the second year of brewing a die kreuzen beer, by next year they hope to do a bigger amount of die k. beer and get some in the store here and there.. and yes, it is VERY tasty and packs one hell of a punch!! Once again, we are truly honored to have our own beer, how friggin' cool is that!