Chuck Dukowski was the founding bassist of Black Flag, Wurm, SWA, October Faction and United Gang Members before forming his current band, The Chuck Dukowski Sextet. He is also busy raising four children and running his own record label, Nice And Friendly. As such, I was quite gleeful when he agreed to an email interview in early 2007, and even gleefuller when his answers finally showed up several months later. See below!
My questions are in bold punk rock print; his responses are in skinny new-wave tie print.
For more about the author please visit www.MarkPrindle.com.
This is something I always wonder about artists who choose a pseudonym when they are very young, and then wind up using them for very long careers (ex. Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra). Do you ever regret the name you chose? And has anybody ever mistaken you for Bukowski?
Nah, I like it. No one has ever mistaken me for Bukowski but I heard that Bukowski was annoyed by a lot of misdirected phone calls and other inquiries for a while back in the 80's.
In your first album's liner notes, you say "Punk rock is dead"? What do you mean by this statement? And do you feel the same way about rock music in general?
We mean that it's dead. Music in general is alive and well. It's bizarre to me that there would even be any controversy about the state of "punk". Of course it's been completely co-opted. That doesn't mean that punk music isn't still great or that the ethos of "punk", especially the DIY stuff, isn't still valid, it is. But the name "punk" and even the sound of the music has lost its original meaning. When you give something a name, when you define it, you actually restrict it. That's what happens in cultural movements. They get defined and then they start to die. Say you're a person who likes unusual music and you have friends that are into this music, too. Soon enough people notice they say "look at all those crazy people listening to that weird music, what are they all about?" Then someone coins it, usually a journalist, they're hippies or they're punks. And punks are like this, they have short hair, they're angry bla bla bla. Or hippies have long hair and are into free love -whatever. And that's not even really a bad thing necessarily. It's good for people to feel like they are part of a community of like-minded people. The problem is for the artists. I don't want to be "punk". I never even thought of myself as a "punk". And I sure don't want to be restricted to making "punk" music.
It could be that punk will be like Jazz and people will work the "Punk Rock form" for a long time until they somehow go beyond the form to come up with some interesting vital art. I don't know. To me the most interesting art hasn't got a name yet or surpasses it name altogether.
Do you feel that the mainstream `co-opting' of an underground movement can ever be a good thing, or result in a greater social awareness that could not have been achieved without the `big money' pushing it? If so, can you give an example?
The popularization of the true spirit of a movement allows the ideas and ideals to reach the mainstream, though in a watered down form. The assimilation of the 60's ethos brought with it some enlightenment like social tolerance, environmentalism, the peace movement. I'm for and peace and organic food. Punk brought us a respect for a more striped down and essential form of expression. It allowed us to scream out our frustration, to make our own product. The philosophy of a movement is very different than the symbols of the movement. Exciting philosophy and emotion can charge art and the objects associated with it and give them value. You can sell spiked bracelets and anarchy patches and you can wear them, too, but that doesn't mean you have anything interesting to say! So those symbols that used to mean something (kind of) are totally neutralized. Same thing happened to the hippies. But counter culture people are always going to come up with some crazy style, and it's actually helpful, because it lets us identify each other.
But I don't think the "big money" creates the social change from underground movements. Good Charlotte hasn't created any social change and they've got plenty of "big money". On the other hand I think Dischord has created some social change and they don't have any "big money" at all.
I hope that answers a good question. I want to say also -it's important not to be a snob. It doesn't matter how cool you are or early on whatever scene. The main thing is that we try to be decent human beings.
Let's popularize being nice and not killing each other. That can get totally mainstream as far as I'm concerned!
Rumor has it that you have four children. How would you describe your fathering style and child-raising philosophy?
Every child is unique. They aren't smaller versions of you -just like you aren't a younger version of your parents. Parenting is interesting because for many it has a very conservative making quality. You may have hated school like poison but you hope fervently that you child will flourish in that system.
It's so ridiculous to me when the government talks about punishing the parents of gang members. As though any parent wants their kid to be a fuck-up. Even if the parents are gang members themselves I bet you a million dollars they'd choose for their child to be an honors student if they had that choice. EVERYBODY wants his or her child to be a success in the school system. The schools are really structured to pit you against your child. Schools really want to have parental love and approval be dependent on the grades they give your child. Parents are scared to say that the school system itself is deeply flawed and hateful of young people in so many ways.
Becoming a parent is the most radicalizing thing that ever happened to me. It makes me even more deeply invested in this world being a decent humane place. We must have peace. No one's child should have to die for our stupid leader's greed.
Have you ever heard a band that sounds like the Chuck Dukowski Sextet before? If so, how do you distinguish yourself from your influences?
Not really. Have you heard a band that sounds like us? We're kinda weird. Lots of music influences us though, we all love music.
Is it difficult to perform in a band with your wife? Are her musical tastes similar enough to yours that no discord ensues?
It's easy to be in a band with Lora. She is an awesome natural musician and a great visual artist; she makes all the CD covers and posters. We have an easy and productive musical rapport and we actually have very similar musical tastes. I think it's actually easier to have a band with my family. Milo, our eldest son, is our guitar player, and it's great. And our drummer Tony is like family. Lora and I love to make music together, we're good at making things together.
How will the upcoming sophomore CD6 release differ from the first?
Reverse The Polarity is more rock because Milo's guitar is the primary melody/ harmony instrument in most of the songs. I think the arrangements and songwriting are better and better realized. It's a great record.
Do you maintain contact with any of the old SST/Black Flag folks? If so, whom? If not, any particular reason or just drifting apart?
I'm in contact with Joe Baiza, Jack Brewer, Henry Rollins, Watt, Kira and a couple of former rank and file employees. The others I've drifted away from. I've tried to talk to Ginn about getting paid but he won't talk to me about that.
In my recent interview with Tom Troccoli, he made two interesting statements I wanted to run by you: (1) that Ray Pettibon was actually the founder of Black Flag, and (2) when he first saw Black Flag live, you were such a commanding and vocal stage presence that he assumed you were the leader of the band. What is your view on these two statements?
Ray did contribute the name and the logo. He's so talented -but he did not found the band. The band was rehearsing as Panic in early 1978. We wanted to have a new name. Ray suggested Black Flag. The name had been kicking around for awhile. I remember in 1977 Greg and I discussing forming a new band, in addition to Panic, with a heavier sound called Black Flag. When Robo joined the sound grew heavier and it all made sense. Tom was right, I was a leader of the band.
What was your goal with SWA? Were you trying to continue the Black Flag musical ethic or move on to something new? And do you feel you achieved your goal? What do you think of these records today?
The goal was to make some music. I had tried to stop playing after the bad break up from Black Flag but I couldn't. I heard Greg Cameron playing drums and I started to jam with him. It all just developed from there. I started from scratch with the song arrangements and stuff. Merril Ward asked to join as vocalist. Joe Carducci suggested the name, which the rest of the band liked, and I went with it. I regret it in retrospect because people took it the wrong way. Merril, though talented, is tough for a lot of people. I like the playing quite a bit and am proud of our music.
Can you tell me more about Wurm? I didn't even know you were a member until you told me! All I've heard is "I'm Dead." Was that a typical track?
Yeah I'm Dead was fairly typical. Most of the songs were co-written by the guitarist, Ed Danky, and I. We shared vocal duties in the band on most of the songs with one or the other of us picking up the lead. Ed and I went to high school together, he's dead now.
I know you enjoy performing improvisational rock - do you like listening to it as well? If so, what artists do you feel do it well?
That's a funny one, you know, because though I like listening to improvised music it's not what I listen to most of the time. When a group can bring a good improvisational feel to a song and then take off and take it into the unknown and bring it back that's what I enjoy the most. Sometimes a straight improvisation can get me there. That's a game of odds for the player and ultimately the listener. As a player I get incredible peace and flow from improvising.
In Henry Rollins' "Get In The Van," at one point he surmises that you purposely booked the band on difficult tours out of anger for being forced out of the band by Greg Ginn. I wouldn't ask you about this except that so much time has passed, I can't imagine the truth would bother anyone at this point. Is it true? If so, isn't it hilarious!?
No, I tried hard to do the best job possible for the band. I would never do something like that. I felt I had a stake in their success. I discussed all of the plans with Ginn and we went back and forth on what would be best. One of those tours turned out badly though because we miscalculated on how harsh the early winter would be cutting across from Winnipeg to Vancouver. We had been up there a few years earlier and it had been fine but this time they hit a cold snap. I felt bad for them; I know what it's like to be cold on tour.
What is your overall impression of the L.A. punk scene as you think back? For you, who started it, what marked its high point, and was there a specific time when you knew that it had reached its nadir?
During 77-78 there was some amazing music coming out of LA. That was a very prolific period. The best punk shows were at the Masque or the Whiskey and the best live bands were probably X, The Plugz, The Screamers and The Weirdos. They were great. I think we played some of the best shows, too. Black Flag was a powerful band. But there was great music later too; I love the minutemen, The Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. I don't think I saw it in terms of an arc. I never found the nadir!
What current bands would you like to "give a shout-out" to, about how good they are or what have you?
Decay of the Angel from Tokyo are wonderful, amazing, they are the first band to come out on our label Nice and Friendly Records.
Also, I love The Evens which is Ian MacKaye's current band with the super talented Amy Farina.
We don't know them but we are fans of The Comets on Fire album Avatar -it is really good.
It seems like several former members of Black Flag chose to move on to a more improvisational/jazzy style - Greg Ginn with his Gone guitar improv, Kira with her double-bass duo Dos, Rollins with his. well, he always talks about how much he loves jazz. Even Keith Morris put out an improvisational album with "Midget Handjob"! Why do you think this is the case? Is there some emotional link between punk and jazz? Or was the move to improvisational music a reaction to having played such structured, aggressive music for so long?
I think doing something different is a draw for people. For me improvisation is where I start in forming a group. I think it's important to have an improvisational rapport with my band mates. When I called Lynn Johnston to jam it was because I was curious to play with a woodwind player. I'd played with guitarists all of my life. I wanted to try something new. Though I listen to a little jazz it's not a big part of my music. Our new album isn't really jazz at all. It has much less woodwinds -more guitar.
I'm told that you're almost 53. Do you feel that age, either physically or mentally?
I am? Crazy eh. I don't really think about it much. I'm very involved with people of all ages. I feel like dividing people up by age is akin to dividing up by skin color. Furthermore I think that the pigs in our society work to divide the generations in much the way George Orwell posits in his book 1984. Divide and conquer.
I think people with experience can bring something to younger people and younger people can share their active curiosity and energy. That is normal and natural. Our culture has a very aberrant relationship to aging. Most cultures in the world are not so divisive. I had some experiences with some musical families from Mexico that were mixing up the generations, like three generation all playing music together, and it hit me that that was the natural human way. A family is the most basic human unit and by definition it will have a variety of ages.
Final thoughts on your back catalog? Don't forget United Gang Members or October Faction!
Crazy how much stuff I've done. The next CD6 record is really good.
What's in the future for Mr. Chuck Dukowski?
More music and Lora's art. I'd like to take the whole family on tour.