Saturday, June 11, 2016

Dag Nasty: Baker and Sears discuss the band's past and present

Dag Nasty at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas. (Ryan Asaro photo)

By Andy

As the crowd gathered at the front of the stage, there was a calmness to the scenario that I wasn't expecting. There were some smiles and a few nods of the head to the person next to you. It was eerily quiet for a festival setting, especially with a super-charged band like Dag Nasty on the holding pattern on the final day of Fun Fun Fun in Austin last November.

Guitarist Brian Baker popped on stage to give his setup a quick lookover and then he snapped a photo of the setlist to post on Instagram. Nearly ready to go. But still mellow.

Andrew WK and his cohorts broke the silence by commandeering the stage, babbling on about partying and then shooting some tacos out of a contraption into the throng.

Once they exited the stage ... IT WENT OFF.

Dag Nasty opened fire on the crowd and people responded in a frenzy of raised voices, flying fists and elbows, surging forward to get as close to the action as possible. That bottled silence from earlier was smashed open. People were elated and the band matched that energy from the openers "Mango" into "I've Heard" to the closer "Never Go Back."

Original members Baker, drummer Colin Sears, bassist Roger Marbury and vocalist Shawn Brown continued that momentum with two gigs in their hometown of Washington, DC, seven shows in Europe, Punk Rock Bowling shows in Las Vegas and one tonight in Asbury Park, NJ, and there's a weeklong UK jaunt on tap in August.

To top it off, there's a solid new single featuring "Cold Heart" and "Wanting Nothing" on Dischord Records, which was recorded with Ian MacKaye and Don Zientara at Inner Ear Studios last December.


At breakfast in Vegas two weeks ago, Sears discussed life in the Dag Nasty camp.

"It's great. Everybody's far more talented than we were then, but we're playing the same songs. I think the energy's just as good as it was then, 'cause we're all having fun. I don't think I ever thought we'd be doing this now," he said.

Sears noted that the new songs are a worthy addition to the band's arsenal, and when they played them in Europe -- before the single was released -- people embraced them.

"I think they flow really well. They're just as strong as the other material," Sears said.

Added Baker, also in Vegas: "I think they're better than a lot of Dag Nasty songs 'cause they're new and I like new things, so my favorite song's always the most recent."

Since the band didn't have enough songs they'd chosen out of their catalogue to play a full set, Baker thought they should pen some new tunes. And better yet, he contacted MacKaye and they decided to record them for the single.

The riffs for the new tunes surfaced during the Fun Fun Fun rehearsals, and they then spent three or four days in DC knocking them into shape in December before hitting the studio.

"We put a lot into it to turn 'em into our own. It was pretty organic," said Sears, adding that the riffs began with Baker and then Brown finished them off with lyrics. Presently, they have some other new songs they're working on, but they haven't recorded yet.

Baker said the recording process was effortless.

"(MacKaye) was like, 'We should probably try and do them on eight track' and I'm like, 'That's even better 'cause there's less to fuck up.' I love the idea of just getting it in one shot like we used to and I think it sounds great," said Baker.

Sears said it took them literally about 60 minutes to get their sound in the studio. They tracked everything, including the vocals, and did a couple of overdubs and mixing in two days.

"I'd like to say one day because that sounds more punk, but two days," Baker said.

"Simple is best," Baker added. "That's the thing, the whole excitement for me is being in a hardcore band and doing things (that way). I'm incredibly nostalgic for what I remember as everything being a great time, which of course back then was not true. But now I'm old, so I think, 'Oh it was just this fantastic (thing), everything was so cool. It's so effortless.' So we're trying to just do all the good stuff."

From left, Brown, Baker, Marbury and Sears. (Courtesy of Dag Nasty's Facebook page)


For Baker, playing in Dag Nasty has him digging back into his memory bank to when they launched the band in 1985.

"It's cool, it's like time travel. I am 19 years old. And it's great because we just did our first little tour together, and it was actually a rolling group house and everyone's little idiosyncrasies are the same and it's just really amazing," he said.

Sears thinks back, as well, but even further to his youth. He's known Marbury since they were 10 years old, Baker entered the picture about five or six years later and he met Brown a year or two after that.

"It's people you've known two thirds of your life, which makes it cool," Sears said. "It makes everything pretty easy going. We've always run it more as a democracy. If somebody doesn't like something or does like something, everybody's really flexible. I've been in a lot of bands, so I can tell you this is just pretty easy. We're just focused on playing the songs as well as we can."

The new songs fit within the old ones on the setlist, but are fresh and not a rehash from 30 years ago, Sears added.

Speaking of the Dag Nasty classics, diehard European fans sang along and were thrilled that the band finally made it their homelands of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Slovenia in April. At the final gig at the Groezrock Fest in Meerhout, Belgium, Sears said the energy was manic just like at Fun Fun Fun. The band was dialed in to their tunes, as well, making for a stellar set.

While on that trek, the band played the legendary SO36 club in Berlin with Youth of Today and afterward, Brown, Marbury and Sears strolled across to the other side of Oranienstra├če to partake in a drink at the Franken Bar (another cool punk spot that Cat and I hung out at during our trip three years ago). In Vienna, Baker and Sears visited a few art museums.

Photos from Dag Nasty, Red Hare and Black Theory gigs. (Andy and Cat Rose photos)


Along with all the Dag Nasty songs that the guys dig on playing together, they enjoy each other's company on and off stage.

"The friendship side is probably more important than anything else. We're not doing it for money or fame or something. We just like doing it," Sears said.

Baker said the band was born out of friendships and wanting something to do and have a good time. He added that hardcore acts from back in the day never thought of their music being monetized or having life beyond the moment.

"Kind of doing this now is the same thing, 'cause there's no expectation and everybody's got real jobs and kids and stuff. If we have some time, we can go somewhere and hang out for a week -- let's just go do it and play some music. It's really for the music -- it's fun. It's nice to have fun playing music. I recommend it to everybody," Baker said.

And the lyrics from those old albums still ring true, said Sears, who said the Dags are all passionate about their songs -- old and new.

"At this point in our lives, we've all been through personal challenges and issues, so in some ways the lyrics are probably are more meaningful now," said Sears, noting that the new lyrics are spot-on, as well. "I think the overall vibe, and I think Shawn would say, it's sort of a positive spin on the world and how we see the world. It fits pretty well with the personalities of everybody in the band."

For Baker, he's got another little band that he spends a ton of time with and gets a rush out of giving his guitars a workout in both Bad Religion and Dag Nasty.

"I have been playing in Bad Religion for 23 years and we play a lot. It's basically the same thing except for I don't know the Dag Nasty songs as well. So it's more of a challenge, because I'm actually going like, 'What the fuck's next?'" he said. "The Bad Religion thing is totally fun, I get incredible joy out of it, and the Dag Nasty thing is very similar. I'm having a good time getting the drug that I am looking for."

Baker at Fun Fun Fun. (Andy photo)

Wanting nothing and
Wanting it all
Crazy eyes
Searching the grey
Wearing scars of
Computations laced
In fear
Making use of what's left
-- from "Wanting Nothing"

Got a burning in my head
That fuels this endeavor
Confusion melts away fast
Conflicting  impulses
Almost convinced me
To close my eyes
-- from "Cold Heart"

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