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Baltimore’s Double Dagger will be playing an in-store at Crooked Beat today at 7 p.m. The show is free. Expect it to be loud as hell. Double Dagger recently released its stunning third LP, More, on Thrill Jockey. We hope the Adams Morgan record shop has insurance; the band’s sound is all sharp elbows, pointed politics, and brash playing that is sure to rattle CD racks and vinyl displays.
The trio’s fuzzed-bass-and-monster drumming m.o. is a nod to that thinning brotherhood of post-punk musicians who highlight basement shows and fanzines (what are fanzines?), who haven’t thought about wearing guyliner and going emo, who haven’t dabbled in concept albums or made records where you need a Ph.D in Steve Reich to get. It’s a throwback sound; the members modest well be wearing bootleg Fugazi T-shirts. (You definitely hear Fugazi in one of DD’s older songs, “The Psychic”; the Jane Jacobs politics behind “Luxury Condos For the Poor” updates “Cashout.”) All this means is that Double Dagger is the token rock band on just about any bill.
But don’t let my lame comparison to Fugazi fool you. The band’s sound is all it’s own, having come from years of playing together. Double Dagger formed in 2002: bass guitar (Bruce Willen), that monster drumming (Brian Dubin) and singer/songwriting (Nolen Strals). Strals and Willen met in art school. Later, Dubin was replaced with drummer Denny Bowen.
This week we fired off some questions to the band via e-mail. The Q and A after the jump.
What have you guys been up today?
DENNY: I just woke up about 15 minutes ago. I put some coffee on. Bruce is probably drinking some somewhere. Nolen might have a hot chocolate though.
Why do you think Baltimore has such a fertile music scene? What do you think has made it so special?
DENNY: I think Baltimore has always been a fertile music scene and we recently had a great boom, which is undoubtedly really awesome. But I’m getting somewhat concerned because I don’t see too many new bands forming. I see a number of new faces that have moved to Baltimore and have been drawn here for the artistic reasons, but I haven’t seen much output from this wave.
Maybe the new output lies with other art forms, but I can’t really comment on that. Also Baltimore is a small city and that is bound to breed a strong community. We actively fight to keep our arts and music scene alive and for the ability to support it. There is more crossover with bands and artists working with others that are coming from somewhere else entirely and still will have huge support from their peers. The specialness, I think, comes from a lack of shitty bands. But yeah, you want the short answer? Cheap rent.
Do you ever feel like the token rock band in Baltimore?
DENNY: Maybe the loudest, but not the token rock band. I feel like we get called that at times, which makes us think we’re doing something right. However, there have always been some great rock bands in Baltimore, going back to the start of Double Dagger to present times.
When you started writing More, did you have goals in mind on what you wanted the album to sound like?
DENNY: I think we wanted to be more powerful; we started writing these songs in late 2007 and I think we had less of a conscious idea of what we wanted the songs to sound like, we just played very much with one another, and not just playing at the same time.
I think More is one of the records that really stood out for me in that it doesn’t have a lot of gimmicks—it’s a rock record. A lot of indie bands seem to be straying from making rock or indie rock albums. I think it’s difficult to make a good rock album—maybe more difficult than making a high concept freak folk record with loops and french horn parts. What do you think?
DENNY: Hey, more for us then! Seriously, I think a lot of bands are very timid when it comes to making a rock record. With technology today, it’s somewhat difficult for bands not to indulge in its uses. We only wanted to capture our songs as best we could and flourish them up in subtle ways and having that sort of minimalist approach is what retains the quality, in my opinion. There’s a place for everything, so the most difficult thing is being appropriate. It’s easy to get caught up in genres, sub-categorization, and ghettoizing bands and we choose to not subscribe to any of that. Not that many other bands are, but to be honest, I don’t know what “freak folk” is. Is it really freaky?
What was the hardest part about making More?
DENNY: Staying warm and avoiding being towed. Also, carrying all the equipment (including 3 bass cabinets) up and down like 6 flights of stairs really sucked. Recording the songs was mostly a smooth process, we knew them inside and out.
I think the drumming on the record is one of the most amazing things about More. Please praise the drumming. Do you think drums really make a band?
DENNY: Totally! We wanted to make sure that the way the drums sounded on the record would be more like the way it sounds when you’re standing in front of a drummer, and less like there are 3 mics on every angle of the drum. Additionally, Bruce and I have really synced up since we started writing the songs for More. There are only two instruments, so Bruce and I try to tastefully fill up any of the “space.”
My father once told me that you can have a bad band with a good drummer and it can still sound good, but not the other way around. I think this statement holds true.
How do you think your sound has evolved? How do you think its evolved lyrically?
DENNY: I think the music has evolved in that we have thought less about what we wanted to sound like, and just played what we felt. As I said before, we focused more on complimenting one another’s parts and how we can best serve each song. By doing this, I think its opened Nolen up to be more poetic and abstract with his lyrics.
NOLEN: Lyrically I dropped the art/design reference/metaphor thing a while back. It had run its course, and honestly I felt like it was holding me or us back some. Lyrically, there are still angry screeds here and there, but life’s a little more complex at 30 than it is at 24, so what you write about just naturally becomes more complex. I’m not weaving intricate, literate, epics, but the point of view of the lyrics is more open and has more shades of gray, and less black and white than it sometimes was in the past. Of course there’s still some of that more direct, antagonistic approach, because sometimes that’s most effective.
This is for Nolen, I read somewhere that your parents are/were ministers? Where did you grow up? Did they have a church? What was growing up like?
NOLEN: Both of my parents have been United Methodist Ministers since the mid 80s, though my dad recently retired. I mainly grew up in small towns in the mountains of North Georgia, and they each served separate churches.
I don’t think my upbringing was too different from that of most kids raised by a religious family in the South. My parents always were and still are very supportive of everything I do. My mom even let me have shows in the basement of her church-owned house. There was an awkward period in the 7th grade when I first told my parents I didn’t believe in religion. But honestly my classmates were harder on me for that than my parents were.
A lot of kids stopped associating with me for that, but the metal kids started talking to me more.
How do you think that experienced effected you? How do you think it influenced your approach to songwriting and singing?
NOLEN: While I do not share their religious beliefs, I’ve always been inspired by my parents’ conviction in their faith. I watched my dad face a lot of opposition and backhanded crap from the good-ol’-boy church political machine. He’s a moving speaker and could have risen higher in the church had he toed the party line more, and his career visibly and financially suffered for following his heart instead of politics.
If there’s any influence from my upbringing on what I do in the band, that’s a huge one, speaking my mind about what I feel strongly about, no matter its popularity or what people may think of it. That and my leftist political leaning. My parents aren’t 100% liberal, but they’re certainly further left than most people ignorantly think southern Christians can be.
I read somewhere that you all played the Rock and Roll Hotel and the audience kinda sucked—what happened?
DENNY: Just was a very sparse audience, and we started kind of early. It was hard to gather back up in the drum world, but DC audiences have somewhat of a notoriety for being “stiff,” and obviously our M.O. goes right against that.
I toured with the Dan Deacon ensemble this spring and when we played DC on that tour, people did go crazy and had a great time. Hopefully there will be more of that in DC in the future.
What do you hope the D.C. audience will do this time around when seeing you guys?
DENNY: Unfold their arms and slamdance!