'Who Am I?' A conversation with D.R.I. vocalist Kurt Brecht
After decades on the road, the iconic crossover hardcore torchbearer sticks to his own D.I.Y. standards
Since 1982, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles have circled the globe, playing a break-neck blend of crossover hardcore, punk, and thrash metal forged amid Houston, Texas' early skate-punk scene of the Reagan era. Better known to most as D.R.I., the group's sound culminates with recordings such 1985's Dealing With It, 1988's Four Of A Kind, and the 2015 EP But Wait ... There's More! Founding members vocalist Kurt Brecht and guitarist Spike Cassidy have remained at the helm leading an ever-shifting rhythm section. After keeping the band on the road for 35 years, D.R.I.'s anti-commercial, anti-authoritarian values are symbolized by its signature running man logo an emblem that signifies the whiplash fury and head-banging good time that has persevered through decades of changing trends in underground rock. Before making a stop at the Masquerade on Tues., Dec. 5, Brecht took a few minutes to talk about the group's early days on the road, the value of sticking to his D.I.Y. principles, and what might be next for D.R.I.
I often think of D.R.I. as one of the original groups that helped establish a path for touring punk and hardcore bands to make their way across the country.
There were other bands that seemed to have it together more than we did, back when we started out. Black Flag, M.D.C., and the Dead Kennedys were already touring extensively. So because of them we knew it was possible. We also used to look at Maximum Rocknroll's scene reports, and we'd talk to other bands: "Hey man, do you have a phone number for someone in Atlanta?" People would share information about who was promoting shows, and we'd call and hope the venue was still there. Venues came and went back then. Even promoters didn't stick with it for too long. They did it mostly as a labor of love, and eventually passed it along to someone else who wanted to do it. You had to constantly update your notebook of phone numbers and contacts back in those days.
But we were definitely doing it ourselves. Eventually we started using Black Flag's booking agent to book tours. That made us a little more professional, and we started getting treated better. Everything went up from there, and eventually we got a manager.
When we came through any city for first time people just kind of stood and watched and tried to digest it at the speed we were playing. But we'd come back the next time and people had the record. They knew the songs and were ready to thrash and have a good time.
Is there one piece of wisdom that you've learned from 35 years of D.I.Y. experience?
Do it yourself learn to do it yourself first. That means merchandise and everything. Later, if your band gets bigger to the point where you need help, you'll know what to expect from whoever you hire to do it. The quality of the shirts you're buying, how much they cost. Learn to do it yourself first instead of just saying "yes" to some company that wants to take over your merchandise. They usually won't do it as well as you do. They don't care about it as much as you do. That said, maybe you need help because you can't do it any more. I handle the merch, but in certain countries, fans won't leave you alone. It's more like a meet and greet, and they want to take pictures and sign autographs. So I need somebody to help.
You've written a handful of books over the years ...
Yes, on Dirty Rotten Press. That's my company. It was mostly journal-type things. Writing about experiences I'd had on the road, and experiences around the world. I don't have them in print too often, and some of them are very expensive now. I've seen some of them go for thousands of dollars. I try to buy them on Amazon or eBay, if I can find them for under $100, and sell them.
Have you considered compiling them into a collected works type of book?
I tried to at one point. I sent them out to some smaller book companies, distributors, publishers, that sort of thing. I told them how many I'd sold on my own, how we could put them together and sell them on the road, but everybody said no. Maybe that's changed by now. I could try again. You're not the first person to ask about that.
I hesitate to ask, because in every Youtube interview with you, I've seen someone bring up, "What's up with a new D.R.I. record?"
Laughs We came out with the But Wait... There's More! EP about a year-and-a-half ago. That was us kind of testing the water to see if the record company is happy with the sales. And to see if it's worth doing another record. We recorded the EP in a day or two while we had some time off from the road in L.A. It wasn't too difficult. What we cringe at is stopping the tour and going into the studio for months, or however long it takes, and writing the songs like we used to. I'd say another EP is probably a better possibility than a new LP at this point.
But Wait... There's More! has received really positive reviews, though. People come up to me to say how much they like it, so I guess that's a good sign.
What strikes me about the EP is that it feels like the group really focused on creating straight up hardcore songs.
Yeah, that's what we did, and that's why we put older songs like "Couch Slouch" and "Mad Man" on there. We play a lot of our songs a little differently now some a little faster. So with technology being so much better now we might as well throw them in there with a few new songs. And I am excited to record another new EP. We have some new songs ready to go. We'll see what happens.
... And now you finally have a recording with Harald Oimoen playing bass!
Laughs Yeah, he was happy about that. He was worried that he would never actually be on a D.R.I. recording. He's not with the band any more, but he was probably with us for about 15 years. Greg Orr is playing bass now. He's an old friend of ours from Attitude Adjustment and a few other bands.
And you're still using Walter "Monsta" Ryan on drums?
Yeah, he's really good, and his playing has definitely brought the band up a notch.
How is Spike's health? He's battled with cancer, but he appears to be doing well.
He's doing much better now. He has to watch what he eats and take care of himself even more than the average person has to. We didn't have to cancel any tours or shows this year, so that's a really good sign.
Is Pasadena Napalm Division still a living, breathing band for you?
Not really. P.N.D. was basically Dead Horse with me singing. So once Dead Horse got a singer, and their bass player was back with them, they started doing their own shows. They're not really interested in traveling much outside of Texas, but they're really big in Texas. They play here all the time.
P.N.D. got together when D.R.I. wasn't touring for a while. So when D.R.I. started touring again, the idea was to still play some shows, usually Dead Horse would play, then I'd jump up and do a half-an-hour of P.N.D. songs with them. We'd switch off headlining shows for a while, but when D.R.I. started touring there just wasn't time for it anymore.
Over the years, D.R.I. has tucked politically-minded and socially conscious songs onto its albums songs like "Reaganomics Killing Me ..."
Spike wrote that one. I don't write all of the lyrics, but I do write most of them. We try to mix it up, be a little bit lighthearted, but at the same time there are a lot of social and political type of songs in there.
Is there danger in being too pointed with political subject matter?
I never thought about it back then, but now, I can tell bands seem to be very concerned about it. You have to be careful about what you say or you could lose half of your audience. People are so sensitive now.
There's the "Gun Control" song on Thrash Zone.
Spike wrote that one, too. I wasn't really into singing it, you have to pick your battles. We don't play it live. If you read the lyrics what he's talking about is fully automatic weapons, and he's saying they're meant for the war, but they were already illegal. What he was saying is we need gun control to stop that. He was living in California when he wrote that, and they already have super strict gun control in place, so it didn't really make much sense to me. But he felt strongly about it.
Tackling those kinds of subjects seems more divisive in 2017 than ever before. I think it's because the internet has created this perception of reality where there are no gray areas in the world.
It's pretty rough when you have friends say "If you like so and so, delete me immediately off your friends list. I don't ever want to speak to you again!" So it's like wow, really? You're literally willing to lose half your friends? Some of them are just Facebook friends so it doesn't really count. But they're talking about anybody. If you disagree with them, that's it. You're done, over something fairly small.
After all these years is there one D.R.I. record that resonates with you more than the others?
Probably Dealing With It. It's so diverse and it was our best quality recording to that date. It has some of the same songs that were on the Dirty Rotten LP, but better quality recordings. It was a well-rounded, popular album. It started out with a little bit of crossover in there, but only a few people noticed it at the time.