My first memories of Dillinger Four go back a few years. I’d gotten their seven-inch, More Songs about Girlfriends and Bubblegum, in the mail to review for Flipside, and it quickly became my favorite piece of music. I’d had a shitty record player that would skip unless I balanced a penny on the head of the needle, holding it there with my finger, careful to apply no force. The record player was also in front of a drafty window, and it was cold outside, but I’d sit there for twelve minutes every day, balancing the penny, feeling the cold, and jamming to D4’s four songs. They blew me away. The lyrics were about the weird people you meet when you utilize public transportation, about overeducated people struggling at menial jobs and thinking about rich politicians, about being disaffected by politics and religion. About my life, basically. But more than that, more than just lyrically, the songs were incredible. They were fast, two- or three-minute masterpieces of dual and, sometimes, triple vocalists with everyone in the band simultaneously going nuts and holding the song together tightly. I didn’t have to be much of a prognosticator to know that these guys were going to turn music on its ass. Shortly after that, D4 released Midwestern Songs of the Americas and turned music on its ass. ‘Zines tripped over each other to be the first to praise it. Columnists started quoting D4 lyrics frequently. D4 guitarist Paddy somehow became St. Patrick in punk circles. Old, crusty punks used it as an example of how punk rock is alive and well. Not to be satisfied resting on their laurels, D4 released a collection of their early seven-inches and compilation songs, This Shit is Genius — an arrogant title at first, sure, but after a few listens, you’ll realize it’s an appropriate one. They kept up their intelligent lyrics and condemned the world in fast, catchy pop songs.
A year after This Shit is Genius was released, two years after Midwestern Songs of the Americas, people started to wonder if the band could really be that good. Could they live up to the hype? Could they release something as good as their first two albums without just becoming an imitator of themselves? D4 answered all of these questions with Versus God, proving that they were better than ever and ready to keep blowing the music industry away.
Recently, I got a chance to ask Erik, guitarist and vocalist in Dillinger Four, a few questions. Here’s what he had to say:
You guys got kind of big and popular suddenly. What kind of growing pains came with that?
I suppose we did, but to us it seems like it was a long, slow process. We started in ’94. There are countless bands that formed, got bigger than we’ve ever been, and broke up before we even did our first album.
Did the major labels court you? If so, what made you decide to stick with Hopeless?
Majors have basically stayed away. We’ve got a few stories of silly A&R people sniffing around us, but nothing serious. We’re an underground band. I think it’s silly to waste time trying to be anything else.
Did all the hype surrounding your first two albums put a lot of pressure on you when you went back to write the songs for Versus God?
Writing and recording Versus God was tough for many reasons, but, yeah, I think we felt some pressure. We didn’t expect people to like Midwestern Songs as much as they did. It’s tempting to just rewrite your first album and release it again. I don’t think we did that, and I’m glad.
Any cosmic retribution for taking on God in your last album title (rains of locusts, suddenly dry taps, IRS audits)?
No one has challenged us about it even once. It’s truly disheartening.
Does it ever give you residual pangs of Catholic guilt?
Paddy is the Catholic in the band, but he’s he a much stronger atheist than he ever was a Catholic. I don’t think he’s lost a wink of sleep over that title.
I understand that you own a bar. Is it difficult owning a bar and being in a band with three notorious drunks? Do they constantly hit you up for free drinks?
Billy is a bartender there, so he gets all he needs. Paddy and Lane probably get their fair share of drinks on the house, but they never really ask.
Can I have a free shot? (No answer. Next question.)
What’s the coolest, essentially useless invention of the past five years?
The TIVO player. It’s basically a VCR that records to a hard drive instead of tape. It’s constantly recording whatever channel you’re watching, so you can pause and rewind live TV. It kicks ass, but all it does is make me watch more TV. There is one major benefit, though. You can fast-forward commercials. I don’t watch any commercials anymore. The major networks tried to sue so it would never be produced, because if it were to become as common as VCRs, it would fuck up their advertising revenue.
What’s your favorite movie with a monkey in it?
Ed. It’s about a baseball-playing monkey and it co-stars Matt LeBlanc. It’s priceless. Matt LeBlanc gets to say in all seriousness “oooh, I’m gonna spank that monkey!”
Can you explain the sound bites between the songs on all of your albums? Not each one individually, but the concept behind them…
We agreed that good records shouldn’t stop. The little space in between songs is utterly useless except to make some radio deejay’s life easier. For us, using the samples ties the record into one piece, not just a collection of songs.
On the liner notes to This Shit is Genius, one of you writes, “Saying that someone doesn’t have a right to complain if they don’t vote is like punishing the hungry persons disappointed at being offered either the piss soup or the shit cake.” How does that apply to our current political situation? And who, if anyone, do you endorse in this upcoming presidential election?
That was a summary of a song written during the 1996 presidential campaign. The idea behind the song was that choosing not to vote was a still a choice, not just laziness. During that campaign — and this one, as well — I see very little meaningful difference between the two leading candidates.
Nader is the only candidate that truly differs from the status quo who has any type of popular support. He recently spoke to a paying audience of 12,000 here in Minneapolis, and did similar numbers in many other cities. The other candidates would never be able to get that many people to actually pay to hear them speak. Not even close. I endorse Nader/LaDuke simply because they are being excluded so viciously from the political process when they have done everything by the book. He isn’t allowed to participate in the debates, even though he has demonstrated that he has the popular support to deserve it. His exclusion is a matter of fear, plain and simple, and it exposes the hypocrisy of the current two-party electoral system.