Editor's note: An interview with THE DILS guitarist and vocalist Chip Kinman that I did in April 2001 is up in the Interview section of this site (see link below).
THE DILS by John Dil
Interview with John Silvers, Part One.
Q: Describe the early history; Andre Algovar was the first drummer?
A: O.K. The Dils were originally a four-piece. The other two guys went on to form another band after they were asked to leave. They were asked to leave because Chip and Tony saw the Damned the first time they played in America, ‘76 probably, and Chip said that it changed their outlook. They immediately cut their hair short, started wearing straight-legged jeans and writing songs like “I Hate the Rich” and “Class War.” The Damned had a tremendous effect upon them. And the other two guys in the band, the drummer and singer, said “There's no way we can do these songs, our parents are rich.” So they said to their friend, Andre the roadie, “We'll teach you how to play the drums .” So Andre was in effect the Dils’ second drummer.
Not long after this was decided upon, the Dils were asked to play a battle of the bands at the Whiskey (‘77). All of the bands that participated were told the same thing: “No matter what happens, don't stop playing. We’re filming, and we’ll decide afterward which band we’re gonna use“. So what happens? When you see the movie ‘Up In Smoke’, which is where this performance ended up, you hear them playing “You're Not Blank.” You see Cheech & Chong in their crazy pot-van, approaching the club. You hear the Dils in the background, and all of a sudden there they are onstage, playing. Andre’s on drums, and suddenly he stops playing, yelling “I can't hear you guys!”
And that's what they kept for the movie, of course.
Q: Okay, and how long did he last?
A: He stayed with the band for their first single, and quit after several months to go back to college. Then they got a guy who called himself Rand McNally, from Oklahoma I guess, and he played on and produced their second single. He was with the group for three or four months. They just didn’t like how he produced the second 45. He had added a 3rd harmony at the end of “Class War” without telling them. And they didn't realize it was on there ‘till the record came out; and they were outraged. And in the meantime, up in San Francisco, I'd seen them play, and they were my favorite band. I hadn’t played drums for a couple of years when I auditioned at a sound check at Mabuhay Gardens one afternoon; through the machinations of the legendary Michael Kowalski. I was going to see the punk bands with my girl Mariana, we were into it from the start. Kowalski was trying to convince me to play drums with UXA. I sat in at a rehearsal once, and it wasn’t for me. Mike was intense. He shows up one Sunday morning while I’m out getting doughnuts. I return, & my girlfriend's mortified - “This wild man's here !!” Mike says, “Hey, the Dils need a drummer. They’re getting rid of theirs, you want me to call ‘em?”
He was such a bullshitter, always calling people in the middle of the night, talking hella shit, and so on. “Sure Mike, go ahead.” He dials a number, yaks on the phone. I'm talking to my girl, “I'll get him out of here, don’t worry, he’s talking to a dead phone.“ Then Mike says, “Yeah he’s right here, his name’s John”. He hands me the phone, says it’s Tony. “Yeah, right, Mike.” Reciever to ear, I hear Tony ask, “What drummers do you like?.” I’d like to of died...
I had been in an accident around this time, a MUNI bus had hit the car my girl and I were in. I was wearing a back brace, I wasn’t working anymore. This quack doctor was giving me muscle relaxants and ritalin, to keep me on my feet at work, until my back pain wouldn't let me continue. I was a physical wreck about the time this audition was occurring, I hadn't played drums in years; & was terrified.
I get to the Mab and I see members of the local punk bands, being surreptitious, hanging out; curious to see what's up. I had to run off stage and throw up several times, 'cause my system was just not ready for this sudden jolt of adrenaline and physical effort, and so forth. Embarrassed? I felt humiliated, I was like “God, I kept throwing up, oh man!” And Mariana says, “you did great”. Yeah, right. So a couple weeks later, what do you know, Chip calls up, says “Get a drumset, we're moving to San Francisco. We've decided to not even audition the other guys we had in mind, you're our drummer. Get a set.”
Q: What time frame was this?
A: It was in February of '78.
Q: And how long did your tenure last?
A: I was with them until, what was it; July or August of '79, the conclusion of our American tour, on the way home.
Q: Before that, by the way, do you play on the singles?
A: No. It's Andre Algover on the What? single, and Dangerhouse one is Rand McNally. And then after I left, they made a three-sided EP with Zippy Pinhead, who was in the band for two or three months, before they packed it in.
Q: You're in the 'Louder, Faster, Shorter' video and live stuff that’s around.
A: We were planning to make an album together, before we broke up. John Cale really loved us. We opened for him a couple times in San Francisco. And of course he was bound to hear us play ''What Goes On,'' the old Velvets' song. We used to do that for an encore, we would just jam on it, which we were roundly criticized for - by Jello Biafra, months after we stopped. I have no further comment on that. Anyhow, Cale wanted to produce our album for Spy Records; we were to be their first release. When we were in New York City, Cale pleaded with us, & said, “Do whatever you have to, just play wherever. You can get gigs for months, there's a huge demand for you here. I haven't got the funding for Spy Records together yet, but I'm working on it. Please, just stay.” And for some reason, we didn’t do that... and ended up splitting up; acrimoniously. It was a painful tour, there was odd - even gas rationing that summer, among other obstacles; and our manager chose to stay behind. He sent someone else in his stead, which proved to be a major blunder.
Q: Getting back to the beginning, give me a feel of the San Francisco scene, during your period with the band. Were there any standouts?
A: We were tight with the Avengers. Chip roomed with the guitarist, Greg. And Tony roomed with Jimmy Wilsey, their bass player. It was a cool scene. My favorite SF bands in the day were the Zeros, the Nuns, the Sleepers, Offs, Negative Trend, & the Mutants, among others. It was a tight scene, with the exception perhaps of Crime; who preferred to be apart from it all.
Q: What did you make of it? Did it seem to be going somewhere?
A: Oh yeah, it was a heady feeling. It seemed like the world was ours for the taking. It was a magical feeling. Oh, well.
Q: It was a street youth revolt that’ll never happen again in that way.
A: We were able to pull things off, like the benefit for the striking railroad workers, and the benefit for the striking coal miners. In both instances, we'd get together a dozen bands or more, and play a marathon at Mabuhay Gardens; no one gets paid. In the case of the striking coal miners, we got a letter back from the local in Stearns, Kentucky, after that one. We had sent them several thousand dollars. Their union wrote back to say, “We don't know what punk rock is, or who you are; but God bless you.”
Q: That's great, it was great to make a difference.
A: Oh, it felt damn good, let me tell you.
Q: Would you care to contrast the scenes in Los Angeles / San Francisco?
A: You know, throughout the scene, people were reinventing themselves, just being as unique as they could be. It wasn't like there was a rigid set of rules of how you had to look, or dress. The Mabuhay Gardens scene, there were sometimes as many longhair as there were shorthaired people. It didn't matter. It wasn't strictly white, or black, or brown. Or straight, or queer. It wasn't strictly punk (whatever that is). it wasn't strictly anything at all.
Down in L. A. it seemed like everybody was a cartoon character. There was a manic energy down there. The air really sucked. After a day or two, I could hardly think. I couldn't sleep, with that bad air, & with no herb - that has to affect you after a while. But I'll tell you, the Masque itself; - I rehearsed there, in the original one, when it was down in that basement, all those caverns and everything. Whoa. We didn't have anything like that up here. They had some great bands, as well. X, the Alleycats, the Bags, Wierdos, Go Gos, the Plugz, etc. One pointed difference that I noticed was when we played the Whisky one time, & were debuting a new song of ours called ''Spliff City.'' Chip steps up to the mic, & we had already played a few songs; They were all on our side, everybody's going nuts. Chip steps up to the mic, and says, “ Does anybody here smoke ganja? “ And the crowd goes deathly silent, except for people yelling, ‘Fuck you, you hippie‘! ‘Shit, now we're going to get bottled ! They had this horrible reaction to the idea of smoking the herb. So Chip says, “Well we do, we dig it”. And slammed into the opening chords of ''Spliff City,'' and all was forgiven.
Q: So the early L.A. scene was on your side?
A: Oh Yeah.
Q: And later on, it kind of degenerated into something different. The local press down there, especially Slash, seemed to have it in for the Dils. They were floating some kind of conflict, or something.
A: From what I understood, they may have burned a few bridges down there, in the Los Angeles area, before they moved up here. They were the kind of guys, Chip and Tony, who could not back down. Ever. They would not have wanted to appear weak or compromising in any way. If they believed what they were doing was right, they'd fight to the bitter end, damn the consequences.
Q: Describe the early Dils repertoire, -Peter Urban was telling me about ''God is a Korean,'' ''Negromania''...
A: We never played those two songs, for whatever reason. Also when I first joined, they were doing ''Waiting For My Man.'' And I just couldn't see playing that song. A song about waiting for a drug dealer, -and I don't think he was waiting for marijuana, I think he was waiting for heroin. I didn't think it was that exciting of a song, anyway. Somehow, I got them diverted from that song, over to ''What Goes On,'' -I'm not saying it was entirely my choice, by any means,- it was like 'Well he doesn't want to do that one, fuck it, let's do this one instead.' I'm glad we made that choice. ''What Goes On'' is a lot more fun to play- it was a better fit for us.
Q: What were some of the early songs you did, and some later songs?
A: The ones we wrote together were, ... “Before the Law”, “Love House”, “Sound of the Rain”, “Red Rockers Rule”, “Spliff City”, “Give Me a Break”, “Some Things Never Change”, & “Poor Woman”.
Q: What about “Baby, You're my Car”?
A: “C-A-R” was a song that they already had. As a matter of fact, “C-A-R” and “Blow Up” were songs they had done before. They had a crude recording of these tunes with Andre, their first drummer, frantically trying to keep up! I loved the way he played, from the seat of his pants, pure adrenaline. Anyhow, they played me this funky old tape one day. They said, 'what do you think of these songs?' And I loved “C-A-R”. We attacked it like a rockabilly song, more or less. And the other song, “Blow Up”, well, that just struck me as something like a Pete Townshend demo tape. You know how he'd make demo tapes to teach his band the songs? I fell in love with “Blow Up” instantly. “Oh, we've got to play this one”. It’s one of my favorites. Another one they had was called “Love Done Gone”. It was a ballad. Another was called “Tell Her I Love Her”, which was also a ballad, but a different type of ballad; in tempo, dynamics & so forth. These songs showed me that they were the new Everly Brothers, y’know. Although a raging punk outfit, they were unique. They looked at me in a curious way when I first suggested this. But I thought their voices sounded very Everly’s, or even kinda ‘Beatle-y’ at times, they way their voices blended. And I was passionate about the ballads in particular- I really loved playing them. But they started getting kind of self-conscious about playing love songs in a punk rock context. So it got to a point where they didn't want to do these tunes live anymore.
They'd already told me that I wasn't allowed to sing harmony onstage,
which was rubbing me a bit wrong. And then, “we're not going to
do these love songs live, anymore.” I wasn't being asked for my
input, I was just told ‘this is the way it is.’ So I say, “well
to hell with that, I'm not gonna play with you anymore then; if
you're not willing to do two of your best songs”.
They did a show in the East Bay with Jeff Raphael, I didn't go.
I didn't hear anything good about it. I get a phone call about a week later, & they say,
“OK, we'll play the ballads, come on back”.
But when we did those songs live after that, they would not put
the proper name on the set list; “Love Done Gone“ became “Bruce
Lee”, and “Tell Her I Love Her” became “Clint Eastwood”. Ha Ha.
Q: No weakness exhibited! I see... What, if any, goals did the Dils have, relative to a career, objectives, or what they wanted to attain at the time?
A: I'm sure we weren't the first, & won't be the last band to do it, but when we started our little tour of America, - It was the “World Domination Tour”. Some great things happened on that tour, even though it didn't end the way it should have. I believe we should have hung tough, & remained together. A common bitch amongst us when we played out-of-town was we wouldn't see any flyers anywhere. And Chip would just sardonically, or sarcastically say, 'too many flyers, oversaturation,'... y’ know. But the real people would still show up, nonetheless. The first time we played Portland, we get to town,- and hear, ‘bad news dudes; the city decided you can't play here.’ Some city council people, or something. We say, What!?' They say, ‘I think it's the flyers we put up’. They show us the flyer, and it's a photograph of Chip leaping through the air with his guitar, wearing the hammer-and-sickle shirt that his girlfriend had made for him. Apparently the powers that be said, ”We don't want this in our town .”
“No worries, we'll find you a place to play”, the locals told us. And this is the day of the show, the day we got there. And they're frantically calling different people, see who's house is the biggest, or whatever. And we ended up playing in Rozz's basement, of all places.
Q: The Reds' rehearsal place.
A: And the thing was, the room would hold maybe fifty people as I recall. It was a very tiny room. And they had to keep recycling the crowd, every few songs, 'cause there was no oxygen down there, and it was jammed. Before we played, or on a break, I was in a car a few doors down from the place, with a few of the locals, firing up. I see a group of about a half dozen people walking towards us, down the sidewalk. We notice them right off the bat, 'cause they looked like rock stars. They had the long hair, and they had the trophy girlfriends, all dressed to the nines and everything. They looked like rockstars. They walk by & we're wondering, ‘who the fuck’s that?’ They go up to the door, I roll the window down to listen to what's going on, and they're saying, (affects Aussie accent) “We're AC/DC, right? We're here to see the Dils, right?” The kids on the door say, “two bucks”. Then they're yelping, (Aussie accent again) “You didn't fucking hear me. We're AC/DC, right? We're here to see the fuckin' Dils, right?”
- They're trying to get in for free! Punk kids say, “Fuck you, man! You pay two bucks like everybody else!” A shoving match ensues. Next thing you know the rock stars are running down the sidewalk with their girlfriends, and bottles are being thrown to & fro. I'm sitting there in the car, shaking my head, thinking, “Goddamnnit. What if they’d seen & and liked us?'' Maybe they’d have helped us out a bit, somehow. Who’ll ever know?
Q: Valid point. They did become world famous.
A: Yeah they did. Anyway, while on our little mini-tour of America we played in Toronto, Canada. It was a situation of - not only had they made flyers for the whole town weeks in advance, they were all hand-made, every single one. It wasn't like they made one, and ran off a bunch of copies. Every flyer we saw was completely different from every other one we'd see. It was moving, to say the least.
We played at this place called the Boarding House, where I had stopped one day, to have a beer, while hitchhiking thru as a teenager years before. We're upstairs in our dressing room, the place was completely sold-out. We were worried, because the Police were playing several blocks down the street, the same night. It was the first time they had played that city, as well. We’re thinking, “We're doomed, these guys have a hit on the radio’, - ‘ Roxanne’, of course. Everyone's gonna go see them.” But no! Our place was completely sold-out. And everyone there when the subject came up, said, “people who’d go to a Police show wouldn't go to a Dils show, and vice-versa”. We're upstairs getting ready to come down, & this big guy in a suit and briefcase comes up, says he's from the musician's union; that he’d found out that we're going to make an album with John Cale in New York City as soon as we got back across the border, and he wasn't going to allow us to go onstage unless we swore to join the musician's union. We'd been through things like this before, in different cities, different people. It just seemed like there'd always be somebody fucking with us, you know. Anyhow, it just made us work, -try harder. It didn't didn't dampen our resolve whatsoever. It fired us up! So Tony just promised the guy the world, so that we could go onstage. We come down the stairs, which went right down to the middle of the floor where all the tables, and people were, of course, and as we get to the bottom of the stairs, the lights come down, and everyone stands up and gives us a standing ovation. We had to thread our way through the crowd, to get to the little stage, and people were patting us on the back, yelling in our ears,“We didn't believe you'd come, fuck yeah!” It was one of the greatest shows I've ever been a part of in my life, it was just exhilaration, non-stop. I can't remember a single moment, it just went by in a huge adrenaline rush. Those were some of the best Dils shows, when afterwards you couldn't remember a thing; it just went by in a blur. There’d be people running up us, screaming, “You guys are the American WHO”!
Q: What other cities did this tour encompass? Where did you make stops?
A: Our first stop was in San Antonio, & then Austin, Texas. I think we went straight from Texas up to Chicago, Detroit, um, Toronto, New York City, and ended up in St. Johns, Canada. It wasn't many stops, a half dozen or so.
Q: It's interesting that the New York Rocker covered the New York shows.
A: Oh yeah, they were waiting for us in New York. Some of the hard-hitters of the New York punk scene were there, you know, checking us out at soundcheck, and stuff. Kinda like what happened in San Francisco and Los Angeles, too. People'd just show up at soundchecks, just 'cause they wanted a couple more songs out of you. People were pretty passionate about the bands they wanted to come see, that were from out of town. I'm sure it's still the same for a lot of bands. I saw people from Television and Blondie, and everybody else out there. It was something, seeing guys who's albums I'd bought, here to see my band! It was a thrill.
Q: So the tour was a world conquest; was there any other goals or objectives you guys had?
A: We wanted to make a professional album. We really wanted to do it, and Cale's passion about the whole deal just made us feel even more 'that we had to make this album. It's such a fuckin' shame we didn't do it, y’know.
Q: Were there any other strong contenders?
A: -There was no bidding war, none at all. As a matter of fact we’d hamstrung ourselves much as the Nuns had: by insisting on an LP, no singles.
Q: Nobody else came forward, like Seymour Stein?
A: -Oh! Well, as a matter of fact, one guy did approach me. We went to see a New York Dolls reunion while we were in NYC, at the Mudd Club. It was tremendous. I walked upstairs at some point, and heard some guy with an english accent saying, “Oh, it's fucking James Dean, then” ! I look over to see who's insulting me, and it's Rat Scabies, sitting there with Captain Sensible. I just glared at 'em and left. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, I turn around, and this guy introduces himself as Danny Fields. He pleaded with me to get in touch with him. “I can do things for your band, I really can. I can get you signed, I can get press for you, I can get you overseas”. He gave me his phone number, and I wrote it down. So we're up in Canada, not knowing what to do about this union deal, getting ready to come back across the border, wondering if we should go back to New York City. By this time, we were feeling pretty frayed. Tempers were bad, we weren't eating or sleeping well. My bass drum foot had swollen about 50% more than it's regular size, I could hardly walk on it. We were physically beaten up, and it was getting to the point of, “Do we want to go back to New York City, and listen to John Cale promises that he's going to get the money together? Where would we live ?” I don't know. I wish we had just resolved to say “Fuck it, whatever comes. Let's get this done, 'cause we'll never have the chance again.” It's easy to say that in retrospect, cos I had no idea that we were going to break up on the way home. I knew that things were bad; but I had faith that if we could just get back to San Francisco somehow, with enough money for sandwiches and gasoline, just get back home, we'd be alright. We'll regroup. But it didn't happen. I was asked by Chip to quit.
Q: So Danny Fields was the only other strong contender, who came out of nowhere?
A: He didn't approach the other two guys. And when we were in Canada, and I pull out the phone number and say “Look, this guy said he'll help us. This guy said he can help us”! Doesn't he manage the Ramones, or something?” But Tony says, “Fuck him, he's a fag, John”.
Q: Bad career move.
A: He took that phone # off me and tore it up.
Q: Bad career move.
A: One of far too many. Do you detect a pattern of self-destruction here?
Q: (I detail Danny's significant exploits)
A: Y’know, whatever. So what. I didn't care if the guy's gay. I don't care if he sleeps with garden vegetables, just as long as they aren't children. (John is getting agitated, slapping a new cigarette pack before opening...)
And in the meantime, the Dils were going to war with Dirk Dirksen, at the Mabuhay Gardens. We got the nickname, ‘Never more than 4’ Dils, because we insisted that nobody charge more than four dollars when we're headlining a show. We told Dirk, “Look, all the bands get paid, whatever your sliding scale is, all the bands get paid. He was notorious for not paying opening bands. He'd tell them “You're lucky to be on the bill, it's exposure in San Francisco with this band ”. Or he'd just say “Shut the fuck up or I'll get someone else”. A lot of times he wouldn't let the opening bands get soundchecks, which was crucial in a funky -ass club like that. Only the headliners would get a soundcheck. And we'd get wind of all this stuff, and & got fed up with it. Plus, they weren't letting the minors in lots of times, ‘cause they wanted to make money on the bar. So we say, “Look, we’ll play curfew shows”.
Dirk says, “No, no, no, the money's in the kids from the suburbs. They want to spend $ & get drunk with their girlfriends, - get with the wild punk rock scene. They'll pay anything to see you. Don't tell me how to run my club”.
We said, “Okay, Fuck you, We'll play here no longer.”
PART TWO HERE
PART THREE HERE
Editors note: The Louder Faster Shorter film mentioned above is reviewed in the Reviews Section.
My Chip Kinman interview
from April 2001