Tag Archives: Double Dagger

Taking the essence and turning it all the way up: Double Dagger pt. 2

This is the Double Dagger thing, continued from yesterday. It’s the good bit.

The only other Baltimore band I’ve ever interviewed was Beach House, and they didn’t like this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Do you have a favourite Wire character?

D: They don’t like the Wire I guess?

Well Alex doesn’t watch it, and Victoria’s favourite character was Snoop, but also she wasn’t that into it.

N: I don’t have a favourite character because I haven’t seen the entire series, so I don’t feel qualified to make a statement here.
B: That’s a tough one. Lester Freamon’s pretty good. But also, Clay Davis.
D: Yeah, I was gonna say Clay Davis is good.
B: Sheeeeeeeeeeee-it.
N: Our tour manager loves to say sheeeeeeee-it.
D: I think I actually might have… I like DeAngelo Barksdale in the first season, he was good. Plus he went to Baltimore School for the Arts.
N: Local boy made good.
B: Omar is…
D: Yeah, Omar’s definitely good. You can just put that we really like the Wire. We enjoy it.

It felt when I asked Beach House almost like it was just a stereotypical thing about Baltimore, like something I knew about Baltimore that I was just throwing out for no reason.

D: People get annoyed at that, but I think it’s cool. I grew up there, so I think the depiction is pretty accurate. Obviously there’s a lot of drama inserted into the whole street-life thing, but as far as the political stuff goes, it’s pretty accurate. It’s interesting to see other people have a commentary on it, that normally wouldn’t give a shit about a small city’s problems.

Do you think it would be good if they did a sixth season about the Baltimore music scene?

[All}: Nooooooo!

N: No, because the only crime would just be people spending their parents’ money on cocaine, and that would be boring.
B: Coke’s not really that big in Baltimore.
N: Ehhhh…
B: What would you know, you don’t go out. You don’t know that.
D: It’s as big as any other city. We don’t do coke. You’ve got this interview turning on to coke now.
N: He brought up The Wire…
D: Here’s the problem that there would be with a sixth season about the Baltimore music scene. You know how they changed the names of all the politicians so O’Malley was Carcetti and things like that? You’d have to change the names of all the musicians, you’d just have some real goofy things that don’t make much sense.
N: Sam Seacon?
B: Ben Beaker.
D: Ben Beaker on the Round Ribbon tour.

What would also be good about the season is that it could build up to, I saw on a live set you threw drums…

D: Oh, that’s from Whartscape from last year. Because the year before that I threw a rack tom into the audience.
N: By accident.

How do you throw a rack tom into the audience by accident?

D: Well, here’s the thing: it wasn’t on accident.
N: It was an accident that it injured two people.
D: No! Injured, loosely.
B: One kid had to go to the hospital.
D: Cos he had dreads and they weren’t sure how badly he was cut.
N: You’re just trying to make it sound tougher.
D: Well like, I threw it out there. If someone was in the right place they could’ve really injured themselves.
B: THEY could have injured themselves?
D: They should be watching. If they’re gonna come to a show and just stand around and not get hit by drums?
N: And smoke cigarettes and talk to people?
D: Yeah. So at the next year’s Whartscape, Dan made a rule that said no throwing drums into the audience. Our last day of our US tour last year was Whartscape, we were saying we should poke fun at Dan and just buy a bunch of inflatable drums and throw them into the crowd. I was freaking Dan out beforehand, saying “oh, we got a surprise for this show” and he was like “don’t you fuck with me!” And then he started pouring water down the back of my pants while I was playing, i think he was a little annoyed. I was like “how did you like that?” and he said “I thought it was going to be something dangerous, but it was just a dickhead surprise.”

So you get on okay with Wham City?

N: Yeah
D: I also play in Dan’s ensemble and stuff, so I kinda have to.

It’d be kind of awkward if you didn’t.

D: Yeah, they’re good people.
N: Just touching on that thing that you said, I think that something that a couple of people from Baltimore have noted is that Double Dagger is the only band that the people that come to see us play, there are kids from the hardcore scene, the indie rock scene, the Wham City thing.
B: Just from all over.
N: That’s one thing that we really like. That we can’t be…
B: Yeah, that we can’t pigeonholed as only one type of band.
D: Yeah, we’ll play Wham City shows, or someone that books hardcore shows will ask us to play. We’re indiscriminate.

Is the Wham City franticness an influence at all?

B: We’ve been around since before…
D: Yeah, not directly. We’re definitely into doing different kinds of show, with multiple stages or the Round Robin, it’s something that we wouldn’t have done before they came to Baltimore and started doing things.

Okay, so just to ask, what are you listening to right now?

B: We just played six shows with this London band called Friendship, they were pretty awesome.
D: Yeah, those guys rule.
B: I’ve been listening a lot to the new Future Islands record, it’s really good.
N: I’ve mainly been listening to hardcore and metal and that stuff. Which is stuff I haven’t really listened to for a couple of years, but I’ve just recently gotten back into it.
D: Yeah… I listened to, recently… the first US Maple record a lot, some Three 6 Mafia…. some Devo. And Karp. But that’s usually generally what I listen to anyway.

Okay, that’s basically all I’ve got. Full disclosure at this point, I actually hadn’t heard of you until I got an email to do this last night.

D: You bluffed it pretty well man.

I spent the whole day listening to you and I’m really excited about seeing you play.

D: Cool.
B: Thanks man. And…wear ear plugs.
D: Yeah, if you have ear plugs, you should probably wear them.
N: Or don’t, you know. I won’t be.
B: We will though.
D: I hear it gets pretty loud up here actually.
B: That’s one thing that worries me, like, how much of our set can people take, volume-wise.

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Taking the essence and turning it all the way up: Double Dagger pt. 1

Here’s some back story. Alternative Ulster, the fine Belfast publication for which I sometimes write, asked me if I wanted to go review Double Dagger‘s gig upstairs in Whelans. I didn’t know. Someone told me they were good, so I said I would review it. An interview was proposed. I said yes, because I have a tendency to say yes to almost anything. I spent about 12 hours reading, watching and listening, and then sloped down to Camden Street with my dictaphone in tow. It was probably the most fun interview I’ve done, and the band, it turns out, are amazingly good. Read if you like.

The live review: This Is The Sound Of No One Giving A Shit

DD destroying Whartscape in Baltimore

Okay, so I suppose we could just start with a brief background on the band. Boring question, but…

Nolen Strals (vocals): We started in 2003 with a different drummer, and he left in 2005. At that point we had put out a 7” and our first album. And then Denny started as a part-time…
Denny Bowen (drums): Well that was in ’04.
N: That was in ’04.
D: Then it was official.
N: And it’s been this line-up since then, this line-up has put out two albums, two 7”s and the new EP, and a cassette EP.

Cassette only?

N: Yeah

Why’s that?

Bruce Willen (bass): We recorded it on a boombox, the recording quality’s pretty PRCCGHHH, it’s very punk sounding, it’s cool.

I read in an interview that you said your biggest regret was not existing during the 90s. That kind of struck me.

D: Yeah, our sound, people say it has a 90s feel to it or something like that. We all like a lot of stuff from that period. I think if we were around then, the band would be a different experience.
B: I think we’re more of… this…
D: A contemporary interpretation of the ideas of the 90s.
B: The 90s had a bunch of really intense rock bands. The 2000s was more…
D: I at least regret we couldn’t witness it.

Do you think maybe that the 90s is just long enough ago now that it’s seeping back into things?

D: If so, cool. I think that would be pretty cool. I think it’s been long enough.
B: I think part of it is just… I feel like rock music in general is making a comeback. In the past ten years it’s fallen out of favour a little bit. In terms of indie rock bands that are actually fucking rock bands, that have some energy. Some bands that have some balls.

In Dublin anyway, there’s a couple of bands who’ve popped up recently with that Dischord thing going on.

D: Cool.

Do you think that’s happening more generally, are other bands doing what you’re doing?

D: Yeah, there’s a few here and there. They haven’t really come to light. There’s a band back home called Dope Body, which is kind of new. They’re more punk-based. There hasn’t been a band with that sort of sound in a unique way coming out of Baltimore in a while. At least a few years. I hope more people form rock bands. Like, rock bands that aren’t shitty. For most of the 2000s, people who wanted to form a rock band, the rock bands that were around were like Nickelback or something. Some bullshit like that. There’s a bad connotation to it.
B: Or like, fourth generation emo screamo…
D: Bullshit.

Yeah, well that’s where the 90s Dischord stuff seemed to go, it got more into screamo and stuff. You’re just skipping back over that step.

B: It was just the marketability of Thursday to the nth degree throughout the 2000s I guess.
D: I think in general we just wanted to make some music that had some energy and soul to it, rather than strictly a formula. Or like, if you came to one of our shows, that it’d be an experience rather than just dudes on a stage doing their parts.

What do you think of the label of arty music, as it applies to you?

D: I guess we’re a little arty. I don’t think we’re intentionally… well obviously we’re not these weird guys.
B: I think definitely the music is rooted in art rock tradition.
N: It’s not butt-rock.
B: I think we try and put a little more thought and feeling into it than just being rock and roll.
D: If you relate arty with our level of consciousness, then I guess that works, do you know what I mean?
B: We haven’t been trying to do something really weird. It’s not necessarily what we’re trying to with the band.

Why leave out the layers that other people put in? It’s just bass and drums and vocals, right? So why not layer it more than that? You know, even if you are going to be a noisy rock band.

B: One thing about not having more instrumentation is that it strips the songs down to their essence. We have to be very careful, just in the way we make a song, we can’t have a lot of bullshit in it. Just because, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t do it because we don’t have enough instruments. So we can’t have guitar solos or whatever. I think that’s probably the best thing about the band is that we managed to strip the songs down to their…
D: To their essence.
N: Taking the essence and turning it up all the way. There’s not going to be a part where somebody’s playing and somebody else doesn’t know what to do so they just make some random noise or something. Which could work in some places, but we don’t feel any need for it. We keep it economical.

How do you relate to other Baltimore music?

D: Yeah, we have a lot of brethren. Kindred spirits.
B: One of the things that’s interesting about Baltimore is… I feel like most of the bands who are good are doing pretty different things. I mean, we’re definitely the loud punk band.
D: It’s a small city, so…
B: And then there’s other bands who are… there’s Ponytail who are punk, but a little more art-punk. New Flesh, who are punk but noisy, fucked up punk.
D: Honestly the thing that’s kind of worrying is that a lot of these bands have been around for a while, they’re kind of winding down their activity. They’re not being as active as they were before. And as a result of all the good shit that came out in the past few years, there’s been a lot more things in the community to help keep that going. More venues opening, more opportunities and things like that. My concern is that, the younger kids or people moving into the city presume that that was already built in, and it wasn’t worked up. That they’ll take it for granted and we’ll be back to square one. So I hope that more bands keep forming and there’s a constant output of good shit.

It kind of seems like there’s a disproportionate amount of good Baltimore bands in comparison to another comparable city, or that’s how it seems here.

N: I think that’s true.
B: Baltimore’s a relatively small city, but there’s a lot of local bands I think are great or as good as bands anywhere else. I think there are more good bands in Baltimore than there are in a lot of bigger cities.
D: It’s not as competitive as, like, New York.
N: Yeah, the bands from Baltimore are for the most part… there’s no money, they’re not thinking, oh, we’re gonna get big, we have to do this industry bullshit. But like there’s other cities where you get that feeling sometimes.

Continued here.

This Is The Sound Of No One Giving A Shit

So there I am at 7pm, sitting in front of Double Dagger, from Baltimore, Maryland, asking them who their favourite Wire character is. I have a very limited number of interview moves. More on that soon

Sometimes you build gigs up months in advance, looking at setlists and live videos, listening to early EPs and B-sides, trying to make sure you have your own enjoyment covered from every possible angle. But other times you don’t. Other times you only discover a band exists about 24 hours before they’re due to play, but they sound good, so you go see them play upstairs in Whelans.

When this happened with the Mae Shi, it started a long, fruitful relationship with the band and even wove a new strand in the spider-web of vague ‘types’ of music I spend time finding out about. It happens at things like HWCH and other festivals a lot too. But it’s still great, in the same way that meeting someone new and interesting is great: you can’t anticipate it happening, but when it happens, it just makes sense.

So there was Double Dagger. There’s only three of them, a drummer, a bassist and a singer. It’s actually visually jarring to see a band without a guitarist or at least a keyboardist, like you’re looking at the skeleton of a band, missing the bits that normally make melody or texture. But they don’t need that.

They go with the loud-quiet-loud formula. Nolen Strals, a man who chooses to perform without his very thick prescription glasses most of the time, talks the verses while the bass and drums hang back a little. He literally grabs members of the crowd to tell them things, whilst singing. “The stage is a lie”, he says at one point, in the kind of weary way you’d say it if you’d been saying it for a decade and no-one had believed you yet. Then a pedal is stepped on and the bass becomes what three guitars are for Built To Spill. Or maybe not.

They make lots of noise, but there is never a note wasted, because there can’t be. One guy (Bruce Willen) is responsible for all of the music except drums at any given time, and because Strals might not even be singing a melody at any given time, this means everything follows him. It’s the power-trio thing taken to the next level. It could fuck up badly, but it doesn’t.

The songs are imperatives to do stuff, all about wasted time, boredom, death and repetition. They work. Not many people saw Double Dagger in Dublin, but if everyone who did kicked everyone except the bassist, drummer and singer out of their band, we might have the start of something a bit weird, at least.

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Guess who was filming it.

(honorary mention to Guilty Optics, who were pretty good too)