Interview with DRI: ”Someone told me we single-handedly ruined punk rock forever.”

DRI has spent the better part of nearly thirty years playing all over the world, making records that have gone down as timeless classics, and helped pioneer thrash. Most bands would have called it quits years ago, but not DRI. Almost thirty years later, they are still touring all over the world and are in the middle of writing a new record. Time has not worn down these Dirty Rotten Imbeciles one bit. If anything, it has made them faster, louder, and better than ever!

Questions by Kristian Svitak
Interview conducted by Mike Beer
Photos courtesy of DRI

Spike: Guitarist and founding member of DRI
Kurt: Vocalist and founding member of DRI
Harold O: Legendary thrash metal photographer and current bass player

Mike Beer: How was it playing The Farm? What was the best show you played there and tell readers a little bit about The Farm.
Spike: The Farm was an old punk venue in San Francisco back in the early ‘80s.They also grew vegetables there and had farm animals. I think people lived there, too.
Kurt: This was in the Mission District. Right in the city!
Spike: We played there quite a bit. One of the best shows I recall playing was with Discharge. It was crazy. The crowd went nuts. We actually had a lot of good shows there.
Kurt: My favorite show was with Bad Brains. There were so many people in there going crazy. This place was a big metal building. There was all this condensation that built up and it actually was raining the whole time inside ‘cause of all the people and how nuts they were going!
Spike: It was hot inside, cold outside, and it was a tin roof so it rained!
Mike Beer: Too bad the vegetables weren’t inside. It would have watered them.
Kurt: You calling our fans vegetables?
Spike: Some of them are now. [Everyone laughs.]
Mike Beer: How many years have you guys been doing DRI?
Spike: It’s been two, maybe three years almost? [laughs] No, in 2012 it will be thirty years!
Mike Beer: It’s been some time since you came out with a new album. Any plans for any new releases?
Spike: There are always plans for a new release. We even have five new songs we recorded a demo of. Right now, we have one new song we play live called “Against Me.” The other four songs we need to add lyrics to. We can release them as an EP someday. Playing so much and the band members living in four different states in each corner of the country makes it hard to get together to write and practice new material, though.
Mike Beer: Does not being able to get together and practice make things hard?
Spike: We’re used to it now. We don’t get to practice, but we play out a lot. So, with that, we are always practicing. That’s kinda good. Playing out all the time takes up most of our time. Just to practice we would all have to fly to one place together and that would cost a lot of money and take up time we don’t have.
Mike Beer: Do you notice any difference in the crowds at DRI shows from when you started  versus the ‘80s, and all the way up to now?
Kurt: When we first started out, it was mostly a punk rock crowd. When crossover happened in the mid- to late-‘80s, it started being more metalheads and rockers at the shows. For a while, it got brutal. During the crossover period, people didn’t want to be at the same shows as each other. Now, it’s really cool. We get older fans bringing their kids, younger people who just heard about us that are just starting to go to shows, and then die-hard fans who have been coming to see us since day one. It’s a much wider variety of people now.
Mike Beer: Has anyone ever shown up and said, “My dad is really into you guys” or “I brought my kids to see the show. I remember seeing you guys back in the day.”
Kurt: All the time, every day. We prefer to play all-ages shows ‘cause then you can really see the age variety. It’s awesome!
Spike: The age range of people at our shows is six to sixty now. It’s a huge variety of people and ages.
Mike Beer: A lot of DRI lyrics are always going to be relevant to people forever. Do you sometimes find some lyrics not relevant to you anymore now that you are older, have families, or things just changed?
Kurt: We still play songs like “Couch Slouch” and “Mad Man” — stuff we talked about and wrote when we were still practically kids and pissed at our parents. Then there are songs like “Slit My Wrist” that are always going to be relevant, right? [Everyone laughs.]
Spike: There are some songs that are dated, like “Reaganomics” and we just don’t play them anymore.
Kurt: People still want us to, but we don’t.
Mike Beer: Have you ever been at a point where so many people ask for certain songs that you say “fuck it” and just put it back in your set?
Spike: It definantly influences our choice of what to put in the set, but there are certain songs we just don’t want to do anymore.
Kurt: We used to put a list at the merch table that said, “Write down the songs you want us to play.” Then we would go over that and it would help us decide what to play.
Spike: Having around 140 songs, it would be hard to play all of them. So, we have to pick what we think is best. We still manage to play thirty-seven of them every night!
Mike Beer: Have the songs themselves changed over time?
Spike: Definitely. At first we played short, fast songs. Then we got influenced by more metal bands and wrote heavier, longer, slower songs. We tried incorporating both styles into one. All our influences have shown up over the years.
Kurt: With different guys in the band, that has influenced things as well.
Mike Beer: Have any of your songs changed sound-wise since you first wrote and played them?
Spike: For me, yeah. Almost every song. I’ve changed or played it slightly different, or added things to it ‘cause I think it sounds better.
Kurt: Not for me.
Spike: I would say yes for Kurt, too! [laughs]
Mike Beer: What are DRI’s and your personal top five bands?
Spike: As a band: Black Sabbath, Slayer…
Kurt: Pink Floyd, The Beatles.
Harold O: Trouble, COC.
Spike: We only get five, not six, Harold. [Everyone laughs]
Mike Beer: How about personally?
Spike: Prong, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix. Kurt would say Patsy Cline.
Kurt: No! Spike’s adding mine now?
Spike: Well you’re always playing her.
Kurt: It’s too personal to talk about.
Mike Beer: DRI brought a certain tone, sound, image and mentality to the ‘80s hardcore, punk, and metal scenes. Are there any new bands you feel are doing a similar thing today, or that you feel are copying you? If so, do you get flattered or bummed?
Spike: No. I don’t really hear it in any bands. People seem to have their own thing. Bands play fast, short songs. It’s not like we’re the only band that has done that or added metal to punk. I definitely think we have our own sound. No one manages to play or copy it that much. I don’t hear it and I don’t really think about it, either.
Kurt: I don’t hear it, either.
Mike Beer: When you first started getting heavier and slowing things down, did you get any hate mail?
Spike: Yeah, we got a lot of it, but we did what we wanted to and didn’t really care. One guy wrote us and said, “I used to like you guys, but now you sold out,” and he signed it with a swastika. I thought, well I’m glad this guy doesn’t like us anymore!
Kurt: Someone told me we single-handedly ruined punk rock forever.
Spike: When we first were into the hardcore scene, it was anarchy and anything goes.
Kurt: Anything was acceptable.
Spike: Then, all of a sudden, you couldn’t do this or that or add a metal influence.
Mike Beer: Which is crazy, ‘cause you always had bands like DRI, The Big Boys, and Die Kreuzen all on the same show. It was all hardcore slash punk, but everyone was doing their own version of it. Then, all the sudden, it had to be just fast and short or it wasn’t acceptable.
Spike: We didn’t want to be part of that anymore. It was too confining and controlling. We said fuck that and did our own thing!
Mike Beer: Hardcore was supposed to be about not having rules!
Spike: Then, all of a sudden, there were more rules than you could swallow. We didn’t swallow it. We threw it up!
Mike Beer: What was the most memorable show you played and why?
Spike: There are so many of them: July 4th in Washington D.C. with the Dead Kennedys in front of the Lincoln Memorial in ‘84 was one. In ‘86 we played The Olympic in L.A. with Anthrax, Possessed, COC, and No Mercy. Harold broke his leg at that show. That’s the show we recorded, made our own video, and sold it for years. Now we’re re-releasing it on BeerCity very shortly on DVD. It will have that show plus our show at The Ritz and some bonus material.
Kurt: That was an awesome show. They turned the lights on a few seconds while we were playing. It went from looking like we were on a tiny, dark stage to seeing this huge crowd with five giant mosh pits!
Spike: The other show I can think of was this huge fest we played in Europe in 2002. Slayer, Dead Kennedys, Motörhead, Machine Head, The Dickies, Biohazard, Cannibal Corpse, and many more all on the same bill!
Mike Beer: Was there a certain era you thought was the best for DRI?
Spike: No. Each had things about it that made it good.
Kurt: Now seems to be one of the best for me. We’re smarter about how we run things business-wise. Our shows have been consistently good. The way we tour now, we go out for a few days, come back, and then go out again. We don’t try to kill ourselves doing three-month U.S. tours, even thought those were fun. At one time, we had a tour bus and eleven roadies. It was a big party! Now, the way we’re doing it, it’s just the band traveling together with no road crew. We cut the fat and I like it!
Mike Beer: You’re more DIY than a lot of bands.
Kurt: We do everything ourselves. We were that way in the beginning, but little by little, we got to where we had to allow other people to come in and help us. We could use the help now, but we can also do it without the outside help. It’s pretty cool. We have learned a lot.
Mike Beer: We all heard Kurt’s dad busting down the door on your Dealing with It album. What are your families’ feelings on DRI after all these years? I’m sure they never thought in a million years that DRI would still be going today and be as recognized as much as you are, or do they even realize it at all?
Kurt: My parents were very happy when we left Texas and moved to California. Then they were very proud of us once we started making money. That’s what parents are worried about. Once they see you are making a living off it, they are very proud.
Spike: My family was very supportive, too.
Mike Beer: So, Kurt, your dad that you wrote that song “Mad Man” after—did he know he was being called the “Mad Man” and that there was a song about him?
Kurt: No. My brothers and I had that name for him before we started DRI. He was mad for a good reason. He would come home every day and we would be there jamming, blasting the walls down. We eventually insulated the room enough where he didn’t complain anymore.
Mike Beer: Are the lyrics in the song about him?
Kurt: Yeah, that was pretty much about him. He didn’t like my friends too much. He didn’t like the girls I brought over. He didn’t like Spike or anyone I brought over to the house who were hanging out when he got home from work. I can’t blame him. When my son gets older, I’ll probably be the new “Mad Man.”
Mike Beer: Who came up with your logo and drew it?
Kurt: That was my brother Eric. He was the original drummer of DRI. He and I went to art school at the same time. He drew the logo for a project. We ended up using it later as a logo for a record company we started to put out DRI records.
Spike: The project was to draw a logo for a company. At first, he drew the logo for the record label, Dirty Rotten Records.
Mike Beer: Did you guys give him any ideas or did he come up with it on his own?
Kurt: He just came up with it. The original had a mohawk. We decided to take the mohawk off, though. Nowadays, Eric is a commercial artist. He works for Mead paper as a lead designer.
Mike Beer: Lots of skaters like DRI. You guys have even played at skateparks many times since you started DRI. In the ‘80s, you had a few decks on Concrete Jungle and lately some on BeerCity and 1031. Do (or did) any of you skateboard?
Kurt: There used to be a shut-down skatepark from the ‘70s in Houston. It had some huge, deep bowls. It was crazy.
Spike: I used to take my pickup into it at night, throw on the headlights and stereo. Drink beer and skate around. I was never too good, though.
Kurt: Neither was I, but we all would skate it and have fun. It was a really good time. We got so busy touring and playing. Then we moved, so we stopped.
Mike Beer: Painting the DRI logo on stuff and drawing it on things is something people have done since DRI started. Have you ever spotted your logo anywhere you weren’t suspecting?
Kurt: An Elvira movie DVD cover. Our sticker is on her suitcase. In that Seinfeld episode—the one with the Pez dispenser—you can see a flyer in the background that has our logo.
Mike Beer: Any last words?
Spike: We want to thank all our fans over the last three decades for supporting us and making it possible to stay a band for as long as we have. We really appreciate it and they are the greatest fans in the world! Thank you.
Mike Beer: One last question. Who am I?
Kurt: DRI!