INTERVIEW: Blag Dahlia

Punktastic meets the infamous and outspoken Dwarves' front man to talk cancel culture, life in the industry and the fight to get your music heard - "I'm not shocking, you're just boring"

INTERVIEW: Blag Dahlia

By Tom Walsh

Jun 19, 2020 14:02

In 1985, against a backdrop of Cold War tensions, a group of suburban politicians’ wives took it upon themselves to defeat a bigger evil than the supposed threat of communism - explicit language in music. Led by Tipper Gore, wife of would-be Vice President Al Gore, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) sought to hand control of artists’ content to protective parents, with the aim of ensuring little Timmy and Tiffany wouldn’t join a Satanic cult after listening to Twisted Sister.

While the PMRC gave up the fight in the mid-1990s, it left a legacy of the ‘Parental Guidance Explicit Content’ sticker and a cultural shift, which according to Dwarves’ front man Blag Dahlia, saw the rise of a softer, non-confrontational attitude within music. “Everything is PC nowadays,” he tells me via a Zoom call from his home in San Francisco, “everyone gets offended and it’s like ‘welcome to my world’, I’ve been hearing that bullshit since the mid-80s”.

The self-professed “James Brown of punk rock”, has never been afraid to push the boundaries of acceptability which, at times, has even ruffled feathers within the normally open-minded punk scene. In their infancy, the Dwarves were famed for their chaotic live shows which would last only a few minutes before a mass brawl would break out. Their album covers would be daubed with naked women drenched in blood, and their lyrics – still to this day – are unfiltered opinings of sex, drugs, and everything else in between.

It’s an unapologetic approach that Blag believes is missing with contemporary artists. While he describes the Dwarves as being like a “crying baby” screaming “give me sex, give me drugs, give me satisfaction, give me love, give me everything”, he says that today’s artists have lost this rawness as the need to be accepted both by the public and suits in ivory towers becomes more and more important in an industry where the days of lucrative deals are long gone.

“People aren’t as interesting now, because they have to be something, and their art isn’t as interesting because it has to be something,” he tells me. “Most artists censor themselves, and they censor themselves before they’ve even written anything. If they think about sex or violence they’re not going to write it down because their fans might object or they think someone might get offended. So then you’ve allowed yourself to think about what you want to think about and write about and self-censoring before it even starts.”

If there’s one thing the Dwarves couldn’t be accused of it’s self-censoring; they’ve penned songs which confront rape, paedophilia, heavy drug use, and murder. However, when I raise the notion that the act could be perceived as a shock tactic, Blag laughs and retorts in his trademark charismatic manner with, “I’m not shocking, you’re just boring.”

“There’s a level of dumbness that comes with closing yourself off and only reacting to shocking things and not really understanding deeper stuff,” he says. “We wouldn’t have had social movements throughout history if that had been the case. Sometimes you can’t back off: it’s the same with art sometimes – you’ve got to push your art and try to push things forward.”


While many other artists will conform and produce records that won’t rock the boat to be commercially successful, the Dwarves are openly opposed to that idea. 

Embodying that wailing baby of punk rock, stamping its foot and screaming all its unfiltered desires is why Blag believes “it speaks to people. It doesn’t sound like we’re holding back or trying to give you something that’s safer. I want you to feel that my band is for all the fuck ups, for all the misfits, for all the people that don’t fit in, that’s what we’re for, and people don’t always get that.” 

However, this approach has come at a cost. Blag and the Dwarves are somewhat of a boogeyman of the punk scene. Labels were reluctant to publish their records, festivals were wary of putting them on their bills, and even basic promotion had to be done off their own back. “Make no mistake, we’ve paid the price for the way that we are,” he explains.

While he considers the Dwarves to be trailblazers in their approach to songwriting, his inherent mistrust of the music industry leads him to believe that his band fails to get the recognition they deserve. “The Dwarves were one of the first bands to start using samples into punk rock, one of the first bands to sequence drums in punk rock, one of the first bands to be willing to use Protools and cut things up and bring in beats from other forms of music – we don’t get credit for any of that.”

His relationship with “the industry”, as he calls it, has not always been a strained one. In the early-1980s, a fresh-faced Blag would speak to anyone that would listen to put out a record from his 1960s-inspired garage rock band. Rejection became second nature until the opportunity to feature on Sub Pop Records’ – home to Nirvana and Soundgarden and any grunge band worth their salt – ‘Singles Club’ arose. The format called for bands to record one or two songs – the Dwarves did ten and released an album.

Life at Sub Pop only lasted three records before a prank which involved the band faking the death of guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed, without informing the label it was a hoax, saw them dropped. They bounced around labels, even culminating in Blag pretty much delivering a fully finished album – 1997’s ‘The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking’ – to Brett Gurewitz’s Epitaph before it was deemed worthy enough to release. Even today, Blag says he’s constantly fighting to get records released, noting Fat Wreck Chords’ decision to pass on their most recent LP ‘Take Back The Night’.

“I didn’t start out distrusting the industry, I was looking for the industry. I was like “hey, who wants to do my record?” and the answer was “no, no, no, no” and then some people were like ‘wow, that’s really cool but no’ – you get rejected enough times,” he laughs. “We were willing to do whatever, we were willing to work as hard as we could to just get a little bit of help and it took everything.” 

Being an artist in the boom times of the mid-1990s, when bands would be picked up on deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Blag would regularly see some of his contemporaries win “the music industry lottery”, while the Dwarves would go underappreciated. However, this rejection allowed the black sheep of punk rock to embrace DIY culture and essentially stick a middle finger up at the machine that shunned him.

“It was hard to watch bands I was friends with get promoted and me not. That was hard and will make you jealous, no question. It didn’t make me hate the bands, but it made me hate the label. I’m there saying ‘I’m here, I’m trying, can I get some promotion?’ and it’s like ‘no, fuck you, you put tits out, so you don’t get anything,’ he explains.

“I’ve been marginalised my entire career, so I’ll go out and do my own shit. If you had your big record deal, I might’ve been jealous of you back in the nineties, but now you can’t do anything because you can’t handle it. The Dwarves, we’re used to it. We’re like cockroaches, you can’t throw us away. You can’t get rid of us.”

He pauses, before adding, “Artists have been fighting me for a long time because they’re afraid of me. They’re afraid of my work because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

That perceived shunning has allowed the Dwarves to become a fiercely independent band, and have been able to avoid the “learned helplessness” which he says comes with the larger bands. “Some people are lifers that are doing this for real and other people are not, the Dwarves managed to stay a good band. We play like we’re competing with the young bands, and we’re going to still make the best record we can.”

While Blag is content in the DIY world he now thrives, there is an ever so slight tinge of disappointment that the Dwarves were not better appreciated by the industry, “it would’ve been nice had it happened but we went a different way and I’m glad,” he says, before laughing and adds “this job is not rocket science, if you can’t do it you ain’t that fucking smart. Make a good record, get a good shirt and get a good show going. It’s that simple.”

Today, Blag is currently in the midst of penning a new solo record which he describes as an “Americana version of the Dwarves”, and is writing a new book about the travails of a teenage girl. It includes everything you’d expect from the mind of Blag Dahlia: “cocaine, there’s a rock band with no talent, an ice cream truck, urban gang bangers, you know, all types of things”. He’s also revived his Candy Now! project – an eclectic compilation with producer Andy Carpenter, penning retro-modern songs for female vocalists, including Lisa Kekaula from the ‘rock n’ soul’ outfit The Bellrays.

“I like to push my own buttons as much as other people’s,” Blag laughs. “You definitely wouldn’t expect it [the style of songs from Candy Now!] from me but hopefully by now people have to come expect the unexpected from me.”

Despite thinking we’ve moved on from the stuffy attitude of the PMRC, we now live in a culture where we’re quick to cancel anything we deem as ‘shocking’. Artists like Blag Dahlia and the Dwarves demonstrate how we still need someone to be the “screaming baby” of punk to cut through the polished and approved sound groups like the PMRC thought we needed.


‘Take Back The Night’ is out on Burger Records and available here.

Visit for more on the band that just won’t die.