[UPDATE: Oops. It turns out Bl’ast won’t be back out east after all, as vocalist Clifford Dinsmore has come down with a nasty ear infection. This interview with him, though, is pretty great, so you should read it anyway. Enjoy. And always know no one can cancel the mosh pit in your mind!]
Santa Cruz California’s Bl’ast! were certainly one of the more peculiar bumps to pop up on the American Hardcore landscape in the ’80s. Formed under the name M.A.D in 1982, the band was initially deemed too influenced by fellow Californians Black Flag to be taken seriously. For further proof, check out Flag vocalist Henry Rollin’s scathing mention of them in his well-known tour diary bio, Get in the Van.
But oddly enough, it was when the band signed to Black Flag’s label SST in 1985 that they finally found their own footing. Immersed in the labels’ weed-fueled aesthetic and matchless roster of bands, Bl’ast! carved out their own disturbing sonic niche within the label which culminated with the release of their final LP in 1989, the falsely maligned Take The Manic Ride, and their break-up soon after.
A few years ago, some reels of an unreleased Bl’ast! recording session featuring short-lived second guitarist (and current Alice in Chains vocalist) William Duvall were found in a band member’s storage space. Those tapes — re-mixed and re-mastered by old time Hardcore buddy of the band Dave Grohl — were released under the title Blood! by Southern Lord last summer.
As expected, there was a demand to see Bl’ast! after the release of the album. When some of the original members showed no interest in the endeavor, Queens of the Stone Age members and longtime Bl’ast! fans Nick Oliveri and Joey Castillo jumped right in and volunteered their rhythm session services. Man, from being considered Flag wanna-bes to having well known musicians trip all over themselves to help you out: It must be nice.
Bl’ast will be returning to the east coast this week to play their first shows here in 25 years. Tonight, July 23, they play a show at Santos Party House, followed by gigs in Boston and Philadelphia’s infamous yearly festival, This is Hardcore. We talked to Bl’ast! vocalist Clifford Dinsmore about the band’s recent European tour, how they wrangled Nick and Joey into the mix, the beauty of old-fashioned skateboard tossing and the possibility of new Bl’ast! material.
Since the release of Blood! last summer, it seems the revamped version of the band has been pretty busy. Can you give us a brief rundown of everything that has happened since then?
So much! I remember going to breakfast with (Bl’ast guitarist) Mike Neider and him laying the whole trip on me about Blood! being released and the possibility of doing live stuff. I had just got in an accident and I was in really bad physical shape, but I was like ‘Holy shit! Let’s go!’ and that’s when we started re-mixing the stuff that would become the Blood! record at Dave Grohl’s studio. I was making a lot of progress with the physical therapy and we started thinking about doing some live shows. We ended up being asked to support Neurosis and we weren’t going to turn that down since they’re old friends. Those shows went great, so we decided to keep going at it pretty hard since then. It’s been insane and overwhelming for sure. We just got back from Europe and people were coming up to us saying they’d waited 25 years for us to come there.
How did Nick Oliveri and Joey Castillo from Queens of the Stone Age enter the picture to fill in for the rhythm section?
I work at a place called The Catalyst here in Santa Cruz as a bartender. Nick was playing there with Mondo Generator and he didn’t know about Southern Lord releasing any of this stuff yet. He was asking about Bl’ast, so I laid the whole thing on him about what we had planned. He asked who was playing bass and totally sarcastically I said ‘You!’ and he said ‘I’ll do that shit! Let’s do it right now!’ He gave me his number and he ended up coming into the studio with us while we did the re-mix on Blood! Originally, we had Hoss from Mondo Generator on drums. We wanted to ask Joey, but we just figured he was too busy, but Nick came back and said ‘Joey wants to do it.’
How did the initial practices with Nick and Joey go?
We were determined that it couldn’t be half-assed. It took a lot of physical discipline to get there, but all the time and energy paid off. We’re playing on a level now that we never had before. After all the Europe shows, it got to a point where all the pauses in the songs are bigger. It’s more manic and over-the-edge than it’s ever been. The tension when we play is amazing. The stuff we’re known for is now hyper-exaggerated at this point and it’s made it pretty fun.
You’re playing the east coast this week for the first time in 25 years. What are your memories of the times you came out to the east coast in the ’80s?
A lot of the touring was with C.O.C and D.R.I. so that was awesome in itself. We just played all kinds of rad places and it was just such a great scene on the east coast back then. The Cro-Mags Age of Quarrel had just come out and we hung out with them. One of my distinct memories is playing at The Rat in Boston. Santa Cruz skateboards used to give us decks and stickers and shirts to take on the road and throw out at shows. At the beginning of Time to Think, I threw a Slasher board into the crowd. People went ape shit. There were 20 people dog piling to get this thing. After the song, people were still fighting over the board and some huge jock meathead bouncer dude came up to me and started going off saying they were going to kick our asses if we did that again. That was funny. Of course, CBGBs was always a high point to play.
What are you looking forward to being out here in 2014?
We’re playing with a band called Villains in New York and that’s my friends Jad and Adam’s band who I was in a band called Space Boy with. I’m looking forward to seeing them live for the first time. I just hope to run into people I haven’t seen in a long time. It would be nice to see the dudes from Cro-Mags and Murphy’s Law and Gavin from Burn. Then there’s friends from New Jersey we haven’t seen in forever. It’ll just be nice to hook up with some old friends.
Will Bl’ast be writing new stuff?
That’s our primary focus right now. Mike has been writing new songs and I’ve heard the riffs. It sounds like the best of all three records with more to it. But everyone’s schedule is so busy right now. Nick does his solo acoustic thing and Joey is doing Eagles of Death Metal, but it’s a priority to make it happen.
Since ‘Blood!’, Southern Lord also released a triple LP version of your first album ‘The Power of Expression’. Is there any push to get some of your other material out there, including the misunderstood final LP, ‘Take the Manic Ride’
When you think about it, ‘Take the Manic Ride’ was one of the most musically advanced records for that time period, but the bummer is the recording is so unsalvageable. Even after attempts to re-master it, it just doesn’t really work still. There’s nothing we can do with it. I think our only weird option is to re-record it.
I remember when Take the Manic Ride came out. There’s was always this constant debate between my friends and I like ‘The recording sucks!’ or ‘No! The mastering sucks!’ We all really wanted to like it, but there was just something about it that was off in regards to the technical aspects.
There was a lot of stuff that got lost as soon as we mastered it. We tried to re-mix and re-master it before it was released at a different studio. Even back then, it was pretty much just shot. If we could find the master tapes, we might be able to do something, but until they magically appear like the ‘Blood!’ reels, it’s not going to happen.
So who’s coming out to see Bl’ast! Old guys? Young kids?
A great example would be our L.A. show. We played with The Shrine and Nails and some other super awesome younger bands. So there was a solid young crowd there who wanted to see us thinking they’d never have the opportunity. But then you had all these people that are our age who were saying they hadn’t seen us since we played Fender’s Ballroom. Chuck Dukowski and Pete Stahl and all our old friends were there as well. There was an amazing energy.
A lot of people think of Bl’ast as a band that was very influenced by Black Flag. But to me, I think you’re a band that filled the void left by them when they broke up. What do you think?
I totally believe that. Sometimes I think maybe the reason Henry was so pissed off and talked about us is maybe we went in the direction he wished Flag had gone in. We didn’t lose our hard edge while still being as musically progressive as possible. Black Flag were definitely an inspiration, but they inspired us to not sound like any other band. Black Flag and SS Decontrol were the primary influence on one of the original guitar players for the band. He wore his influences on his sleeve and I think that might be the reason we always get labelled as a Black Flag copy band.
I heard a story once about Bl’ast playing with Black Flag and your original guitarist went up to Greg Ginn’s amp and started writing down the settings. Is that true?
Yeah, it is. I think that’s where Henry’s gripes with us started. Even we thought it was weird thing to do. We were like ‘Oh, come on man!’ But by the time he left and we got to our second record, It’s in my Blood, we had completely abandoned that. We were doing our own thing. After that album, we were pushing ourselves farther and farther out there musically.