- Cult of personalities: Dwarves frontman Blag Dahlia (left) compares himself to Jesus and Jack the Ripper.
Blag Dahlia wants to have his cake and eat you too. The pop records that the slim, shady Dwarves frontman (who compares himself to both Jesus Christ and Jack the Ripper) makes with pop producers often sound sweet -- until you pay attention to the words. With spit-polished sing-alongs about statutory rape, Satan, and doing more blow than a dozen Darryl Strawberrys, the Dwarves are punk rock's id, the Beach Boys in bondage gear. They decorate their album covers with blood, guts, and pubic hair, and their live shows usually feature a combination of all three.
"Some people will always view our music as 'We're just trying to shock you,'" Blag understates from his home in Los Angeles, shortly before playing a sold-out gig at the Troubadour. "My feeling is that you could never shock me -- it'd be pretty fucking impossible -- so I'm not trying to shock anybody. I'm just making music. It's rock and roll. I do it to enjoy myself. I've always done it to enjoy myself. I always did it to have sex and get high and do what I wanted to do. I was in a rock band in high school, getting pussy, getting arrested. I've always been who you see, for better or worse."
What we've seen in Blag over the past 20 years is a man hellbent on reestablishing punk's libido. In the early '90s, when the rock-and-roll underground became increasingly introspective, the Dwarves put the hipthrust back into punk, coming with raw, randy rippers like "Let's Fuck," "Fuck 'Em All," and "Fuck You Up and Get High." These days, the Dwarves are tempering hedonism with harmony, stirring rock's nether regions after all those Limp Bizkits.
"Rock-and-roll music has become largely desexualized -- that's part of why hip-hop music took over," says Blag. A chatty, quick-witted guy, he speaks with the kind of fervor normally reserved for used-car salesmen and televangelists.
"Everybody got into rock and roll so that they could fuck, everybody thinks they're better than everybody else's band. There's a tremendous amount of competition, there's a tremendous amount of hatred and jealousy, but the rock bands have removed that from the discourse that takes place on their albums.
"In hip-hop, they put it in, on wax. If they're angry at somebody, they'll come out and say it. If they think that they're having a lot of sex, they'll come out and say it. If they think they're going to hurt somebody, they'll come out and say it. That's why America took to hip-hop and largely abandoned rock and roll. And now rock and roll is basically a way for white people to say 'We have music too.'"
But if, in Blag's view, rock and roll has flatlined, he offers an adrenaline shot on his band's latest, The Dwarves Must Die. The Dwarves' most eclectic and unbounded LP, Die pairs chest-pounding rap battles that diss everyone from Good Charlotte to the Queens of the Stone Age with foreboding gospel that imagines Christ as an MC. Whiplash punk butts heads with tender acoustic ditties about having sex in a public john. Blag's tastes have always been fairly diverse -- he released a bluegrass album under the name Earl Lee Grace and has written tunes for young rock chick Skye Sweetnam and ska-inflected popsters Smash Mouth -- but this is the first time the breadth of his influences has been so palpable on a Dwarves record.
"We've only scratched the surface of it," Blag says of the diversity of Die, whose cover features a crucified dwarf surrounded by three naked women. "Part of what happened on this thing was taking garage records and looping them like they were hip-hop records. There's a whole new movement of garage bands, but they don't seem to have understood the innovations of hip-hop. And then you've got hip-hop guys who are still looping the same Isley Brothers record. I mean, at some point we're going to have to start looping some different records.
"I think that there's a lot of room to maneuver in all of these genres, and the thing that seems to separate it all is a kind of mindless adherence to genre. We're truly an underground punk band in every sense of the word for way longer than anyone else, and yet we love all genres of music and can play around with all of it."
Play time ends, though, when the Dwarves take to the stage. The band is notorious for gigs that closely approximate a prison riot. Masked guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed often disrobes. Blag bloodies lips, breaks teeth, and makes enemies by the roomful by swinging his mic at anyone who happens to raise his ire. The band used to be infamous for tearing through frantic, drug-fueled 20-minute sets and then bolting, and there's still an air of uncertainty at every show.
"We're still like an old punk band in the sense that you don't know what's going to happen at our shows. I mean, shit explodes," Blag chuckles. "I keep waiting for some young bands to come along and make us look old and lame. The problem is the young bands are so fucking tepid that I laugh. I go out and see them, and I'm like, 'You're kidding me, right?' This is not a pussy band. This is the real deal. The fact that we've stayed alive is amazing to me."
Blag's not alone in being taken aback by the Dwarves' longevity. The band has gone through dozens of members and numerous labels, parting ways with SubPop in the mid-'90s after faking the death of HeWho, a prank the label could not forgive. The Dwarves then landed on Epitaph, where they released the overlooked classic Come Clean in 2000, an equally slick and severe album full of potential radio hits that should have been the Dwarves' breakout LP. But internal troubles at the label ensured that the album was not adequately promoted, and it failed to live up to expectations.
Four years later, the Dwarves are back for another row.
"When I get up on that stage to play rock and roll, it's take no prisoners," he boasts. "All eyes are going to be on us; we're the best band in the world that night, and that's how it's going to be. I think most rock and roll comes from a kind of 'I apologize for being up here' mentality. But we're just not apologizing for shit."