by Ryan Meehan
For the past 30 years, D.R.I. has been the epitome of the aggressive, hardcore-punk thrash sound that we’ve all become accustomed to hearing. Throughout this time, they’ve been one of the few genuine underground bands to remain true to their pure punk roots. Still actively touring and recording, the only thing that may have changed is that they’re a little older now, but time hasn’t gotten the best of the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. They’re still thrashing just as hard, and just as loud as ever, continuing to overload our senses with the sound that is, and will always remain, uniquely D.R.I. We are honored to have Spike Cassidy of Dirty Rotten Imbeciles is our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: When you guys broke out of the remains of The Suburbanites in Houston in the early eighties, what was the music scene like in that city at that time?
SC: The Suburbanites were not a band. They could not even play a song start to finish yet. Never played a show, probably only practiced once. It was just a dream of a couple guys. Those guys and I were going to the same clubs and seeing the same bands. Black Flag, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedy’s and similar hardcore bands. Back in the early 80’s there was Hardcore, Punk, Metal, Rock, New Wave, and Country in different clubs all on the same night. The music scene was as diverse as any big city at the time.
RM: What was the most memorable story from the “Rock Against Reagan” tour that you guys did with the Dead Kennedys in the early eighties? Do you still keep in touch with Jello, East Bay Ray, or any of the other guys in the band?
SC: July 3, 1983 Washington, DC. On a flat bed truck parked in front of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Thousands of People Looking on. We played with a bunch of Hardcore Bands, including MDC and the Dead Kennedys. It was the biggest show we ever played at the time.
We never really became really good friends with the DK’s, and kept in touch. We did say hi and shake hands and what not when we ran into each other, but we weren’t calling each other on the phone to see what’s up. We did wind up at Jello’s house one day years after that, over a record deal with Alternative tentacles or Rough trade or something. And over the years I became much closer friends with Darren Peligro (the DK’s drummer) from crossing paths here and there. We did the Social Chaos tour together with his side band back in ’98.
RM: You’ve said before that when DRI was first starting out in 1982 hardcore was basically like “punk rock on steroids”. How did you guys go about migrating your sound towards what would eventually become crossover thrash? Was it something that just kind of progressed naturally or was it carefully calculated?
SC: I was always influenced by Rock and Metal. Became a guitarist in the early 70’s because of Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. Was really into Black Sabbath, and Metal side of Rock style bands. Then later in the late 70’s there was Punk, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. I loved the Simplicity, the Aggression and the Attitude. In the early 80’s when DRI first started, Punk Rock evolved into Hardcore, which was way more extreme. Faster, Louder, More Aggressive, More Attitude…. Punk Rock on Steroids. I had played in rock bands and punk bands already. When I met the other guys (the Suburbanites), none of them knew how to play yet. They were just learning. They were two brothers, Kurt & Eric. One played the drums, and was the most advanced at his trade of the two, but was still just learning, a novice at best. Kurt had Lyrics but really never sang a song yet as far as I could tell. They had a friend who was supposed to be the bass player, who never played bass yet, did not own a bass or an amp.
So anyways, we were limited to what we could do. I had to teach these guys how to play, and make things as simple as possible so that we could play a song start to finish. It was simple 3 and 4 chord progressions, repeated at different tempos, like our song “Commuter Man”. Eventually as they got better I introduced more complex song writing and more Rock and Metal Riffs and intros. We recorded our first release in ’82 and if you listen close there is some rock and metal influences on it. By the time we were writing the second album, we were hearing about bands like Slayer and Metallica. I was locked in a bedroom, writing music 18 hours a day, and was given some cassettes of Slayer’s and Metallica’s first releases. Speed Metal! Awesome! It took the best of both worlds – the speed and aggression of hardcore, and the complex musicianship of rock and metal. I incorporated some of this into my DRI song writing style on “Dealing With It” – our second release. “Dealing With It” was not so much pure fast hardcore punk, but a little more metal and rock, with slower parts and songs here and there. Back then there was a big difference between Metal and Punk, and it was a war at times. Fans of each genre basically did not get along. People started to say we crossed over the line. We were no longer a Hardcore Band, we were a Metal band. We crossed over to metal. From there even more metal and rock influences emerged out of my song writing on the next release “Crossover”. We were not really metal. We were way too punk or Hardcore to be a metal band. We were also too metal to be a Punk or Hardcore band. We were a crossover band. We were what I called Punk Metal. Eventually we were labeled THRASH, by the fans. We were credited with being one of the creators of Thrash Music, Now known as Thrash Metal.
It was not planned. I had no idea it would be what it is today. It was just a natural progression for us to play music we liked. So I wrote music that had more parts and styles of music that we listened to, as well as the roots of the music that we played when we first started.
RM: Do you know if Eric still has the original “Skanker Man” logo that he designed back in high school? When did you notice that the logo was starting to become something more than just a symbol printed on paper?
SC: No idea, but I doubt it. I know I do not have much from back then. We did way too much living in squats and vans, and moving around to keep much of what we had back in the day.
The logo instantly became something people related to. Not just our fans, but everyone that was at all Hardcore shows that knew what slam dancing was.
RM: You’ve beaten your share of guitars to all hell over the years…What is your current setup; and which axe do you consider to be your most prized six-string? What do you think is the biggest mistake guitar players make when they try to start playing music that is really fast? SC: I am using a couple of guitars, and have a couple others that were just made for me that I am trying to finish setting up and start using. The main one I been using lately is a ESP M-100 FM. It’s a black stained finish, so you can see the wood grain, unlike a painted guitar. It has a Floyd rose tremolo system, a kill switch, strap locks, and a pair of dual coil pick-ups.
The most prized is either my 1970 black Les Paul standard, or my frankenstein Kramer focus 3000 that has had probably 6 necks on it. It is covered with stickers from over 20 years of touring, and is probably the one guitar most people think of when they think of my guitar.
The biggest mistake is probably trying to play it fast from the get go. I found that starting slow and slowly speeding up works best for me. First learn how to play it good before playing it fast. Once you can play it good, then start playing it as fast as you can until it becomes sloppy. Then that’s the speed you need to work on until that becomes good. Once its good, speed it up a little more. The idea is to play it good, not just fast. Speed is not everything.
RM: What was the most important life lesson you learned in your time dealing with cancer? How would you best describe chemotherapy in music or songwriting terms to someone who’s never had to go through it?
SC: Do not give up. There is always a chance you can survive. It is just as much as a mental challenge as a physical challenge.
Chemo is like being really sick for a long time. Like having a stomach flu for 9 months. In music terms it would be like listening to music you hate through headphones for most of the day, every day, for months at a time. It will make you sick.
RM: Where did you move to when you left California back in 2006? What was it that made that place a better environment for yourself and your family? And why was it that you eventually decided to head back to the Golden State?
SC: I had a 5 year old son. I was renting a house around Oakland. It was time to stop paying rent, and start paying a mortgage. I had to start to think about his future as well as mine, and prepare for old age and retirement.
I started to look at houses I could afford to buy, and found nothing I would like to live in. I couldn’t afford a house in California. I moved to Washington state about 20 miles west of Seattle. I could afford to build a new house up there. The neighborhoods and schools were a much better then what I could afford in California. It was definitely a better place to raise a kid than the places I looked at in Oakland. Don’t get me wrong, there was lots of really nice places to raise a kid in California. I just couldn’t afford them on a somewhat of a starving musicians income.
It was kinda always the plan to come back to Cali. Washington was like a stepping stone. a place to for a first time home buyer to get a start, and build up some equity. I figured 3 – 5 years would be enough…then I could afford a nicer neighborhood in California.
RM: What’s up next for you and the D.R.I. crew in the remainder of 2014? Anything massive in the works that we should know about? SC: We are taking a step back to being even more DIY. We are booking our own shows again, and putting ourselves in more small intimate venues. It’s more fun for us to play these places over the big huge places with barricades. I think it’s more fun for most of our fans too. I’m sure there some that prefer the table and chair view from afar, but I think most like to get upfront and personal with us.
Thanx to First Order Historians for doing this interview and helping D.R.I. get some much needed exposure. A lot of our old fans don’t even know we are still together!!
Official Website: http://www.dirtyrottenimbeciles.com/
D.R.I. on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/DRI/137263955229
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