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Last month Baltimore post-punk trio Double Dagger announced it was breaking up after a little more than nine years together. The six-paragraph note on the band’s site sums up the bittersweet nature of Double Dagger’s demise, which is taking place simply because, in their words, it’s just time.
Followers of vocalist Nolen Strals, bassist Bruce Willen, and drummer Denny Bowen still might think their split is premature: Double Dagger has morphed its calamitously cathartic punk-rock riot into something positively pop-ready over the course of several releases through last year’s Masks EP. Throughout the band’s evolution, it’s lured fans with chaotic live shows, in which Strals spends most of the show on the floor, screaming inches away from concertgoers’ faces, wriggling on the ground, and jumping all over the place while Willen and Bowen kick out some thundering, bombastic punk. It’s an act rarely seen and hard to beat.
But Double Dagger has chosen to go out in style, building an eight-date minitour that ends with one final hometown blowout on Friday in Baltimore. Before setting out, Strals and Bowen took some time to discuss the timing of the breakup, their posthumous work, and the band’s relationship with D.C.
Washington City Paper: The note you left on your website explaining why you’re breaking up you mentioned that a big portion of it was timing. Why is now the right time?
Nolen Strals: Well, the band is still popular, we still like the music, and I think we would rather stop when other people still like it, more importantly when we still like it, then have it sort of drag on. The band is still something that we choose to do and I don’t think we want to keep going if it felt like an obligation.
WCP: You have other songs you’re recording, too. Have you decided what you’re going to do with them?
NS: It’s probably gonna be a handful of songs, so we’re not sure about the format. It might just be a seven inch. We think we know who’s going to put it out, but we’re not sure, we just haven’t had time to have a formal talk about it. We’re going to record that in November. We have this friend who works in film, and he said he wants to come with us to tape our last string of shows. He wants to make a short little documentary. That was his idea. We’re not really sure how it’s going to come out or who will put it out just because that idea it just came together sort of last-minute, just really spotaneously. So hopefully there will be the last record and possibly a little documentary, too. You’re the only person I’ve told that!
WCP: As far as the final tour, you mentioned that these are your favorite places to play in. Why these cities?
NS: Well, not to knock Detroit, but we’ve only played there once and we’re only playing there because it gets us to Chicago. We’ve always had a great time in Chicago and the other cities, and those are the cities where we seem to have the strongest fanbase, if you want to use that word. It just made sense, if we were only going to play a handful of these kind of shows, they should be places that we really like, but also that has a good audience. There are a lot of shows where you have like 20 people at, that would be kind of a bummer at the end of a long streak.
WCP: D.C. is one of the shows, it’s right around the corner from Baltimore, andyou guys have often gotten compared to being a Dischord band. How has playing in D.C. factored into your career as a band?
Denny Bowen: I don’t know, I guess the only thought is it was important to try and play there even though there was a period of time when we were so frustrated with the shows we would play in D.C. After a certain point it started getting better and better. It just seemed really important to try and play something that close. There should be more bands doing that regularly because, why not? Two cities could afford to be a little bit more symbiotic in their relationship musically I think sometimes.
WCP: What was so frustrating about those first shows you played in D.C.?
NS: The first couple years it was hard just to get a house show. Early on we didn’t even much care playing there just because just to get on even some bad show was just to get at full speed. But then we started to have more stuff there, but even then it’s just the old cliche at D.C. shows, everybody stands so still.
DB: Obviously it’s changed now. The D.C. shows we’ve played have been pretty rowdy, which is awesome. I think also the standing still thing was something that then was a reaction to even before I was in the band. Kind of early on that was kind of the normal behavior at shows, people just kind of standing still, observing what’s going on…Nolen ended up breaking that wall, making such in-your-face movement and remarks that we kind of had to pay attention or you’d look like a fool.
WCP: You mentioned the connection between D.C. and Baltimore needs to be a little stronger. Since the Baltimore scene came up midway through the last decade has there has been a stronger connection made between bands within the two cities? Is it still something that needs to be improved upon?
DB: I think there’s definitely some inroads being made, and it can always be strengthened.
NS: With D.C. bands Hume and Imperial China, they both actively persue the Baltimore audience.
DB: Oh yeah, I mean I see Brit from Hume in Baltimore quite a bit. It kind of makes me feel bad, I kind of feel that the ball’s in our court for a lot of Baltimore bands to try to just do stuff right down there.
WCP: Are Hume and Imperial China the two D.C. bands that you guys have maintained a strong relationship with?
DB: Hume played my house in the Copy Cat when I lived there a few times. That strengthened that relationship, at least on my end.
NS: There are, well, those two bands from there we really have a good connection with.
WCP: Once you’re done and finish up in the studio and put everything out, what projects do you have in the works? I think I heard a little of Denny’s new project [Roomrunner], but that’s about it.
DB: Yeah, I have that new band where I’m playing guitar. I play all the instruments on the recording, save like a guitar track, but I’ve been working on writing stuff over the past year or two and I don’t know, I always need some kind of outlet. I happened to get hooked up with a really good drummer through Brett so that obviously is awesome to me. I rarely get to not play drums and having someone really awesome play drums.
NS: Some friends of mine are more in the punk-slash-hardcore scene, we’ve been talking about starting something up towards the end of the year, but there’s nothing really solid there. I think all three of us, we’ll still be making music, just not together and hopefully we can play on the same shows and stuff.
DB: Yeah, I’m sure we’ll help each other out and stuff like that. Even during all of it, we’ve all been busy doing one thing or the other, even throughout this past year, I played drums on Future Islands‘ record and Dan’s [Deacon] new record. I’m always pretty busy, but without Double Dagger it’s going to be interesting to go about things without trying to find a new outlet that’s going fill that same speed, but I think it’ll be easy to do, it’ll be awesome when we get to share our new stuff together.
WCP: As far as the final show in Baltimore, is there anything that D.C. listeners should be aware of if they want to trek out to that as well as the D.C. show?
NS: As for the D.C. show, we’re gonna play a slightly longer set than the normal. Actually, I don’t know that was, but it’ll be like much longer than usual. And the Baltimore show that’s probably gonna be the longest that we’ve ever played. It’s gonna be pretty epic. We might be dead at the end of it.
DB: That’s actually in the setlist.
NS: At the final song we’re gonna stop halfway through just because all our bodies are just gonna shut down.
Double Dagger plays with Imperial China and Holy Ghost Party Wednesday at the Black Cat.