In addition to being the author of some great hardcore-era books (The 30-Day Diarrhea Diet Plan, Notes From The Nest, Whore Stories, See the Loud Feeling) and owner of his own publishing company (Dirty Rotten Press), Kurt Brecht is the vocalist for Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (D.R.I.), one of my all-time favorite bands. From their high-speed hardcore days through their crossover speed metal years and into their future career in modern R'n'B (well, you never know; who can predict the future?), D.R.I. has never failed to keep the zone thrashing and the speed full ahead! Recent arrivals in your local record stores include brand new reissues of their first two CDs (The Dirty Rotten CD, Dealing With It) complete with truckloads of bonus tracks both audio and visual. While preparing to embark with founding guitarist Spike Cassidy on yet another arm of DRI's 20th Anniversary Tour, Kurt was nice enough to spend 45 minutes on the phone with me discussing the legacy of his Imbeciles, as well as such other classic hardcore outfits as the Dead Kennedys, Dixie Chicks and Misfits. My questions are in bold; his answers are in plain text.
Hey, this is Mark Prindle!
Right on time.
Well, you know me!
So.. uhh.. do you have time now?
Did you get a chance to read my interview with Spike?
Oh. Well, what are you up to? What's a normal day for you like at this point?
I work construction sometimes and I garden a lot. We have a place here in Texas where I live, a ranch. I play with my son a lot and spend time with my wife.
Did having a son change you at all?
Mostly you just start thinking of him rather than yourself.
Do you think there will ever be another DRI album?
I don't know. Now that we're on Beer City, things are looking up. There's a better chance now than there was when we were still on Rotten.
Were you involved in the - Spike told me about how that guy at Rotten totally ripped him off.
Yeah. No, that wasn't my deal, so. I don't have much to say about that, except I guess Spike lost a lot of money.
Have you had time to do any writing?
I haven't been writing much, but I have time.
Are you interested in doing more writing?
You mean putting out another book?
I am, but I don't know about what yet. I'm more interested in putting out an updated version of See The Loud Feeling, my book of poetry and song lyrics. And keeping the others in print as well.
Who are the other two guys whose books you've released?
Mark Sperry disappeared off the face of the earth. I don't know what happened to him.
What about Dave Cantrell?
I didn't really put Dave's book out. I was just selling it for him. He's in Tulsa, Oklahoma playing in different bands.
Any bands I would have heard of?
Okay. So what was it like for you growing up? Was your father always the "Mad Man" like in your song, or was that just a particularly funny incident you got on tape?
Well, I grew up in a family with five boys so we were always pretty rambunctious. He was just trying to keep us in line. "Mad Man" was just a fun nickname we made up; we didn't call him that to his face. He was the "Mad Man" because he was mad often -- especially when we were practicing.
Do you look back with nostalgia at your nomadic days living in a tree and a van, or are you just glad those days are over and you're settled down?
(laughs) Uhh, I guess I look back on it fondly. Because I wasn't working at the time which was nice, so I had time to go to the library, browse through book stores and go on tour whenever I needed to. I had just enough money to barely survive and there was always another tour in the works.
With the DKs or the Circle Jerks?
Yeah, I was lucky enough to always have something to look forward to, unlike the average bum.
So the band was originally called "US-DRI"?
And that was - what did that -
It was just like "Us - Dirty Rotten Imbeciles."
How long did you keep the "US"?
Not that long. Maybe a few months.
How did the band get started anyway? Did you already know those guys?
My younger brother Eric was a drummer, and we jammed a few times with different people but nothing ever worked out. Then we got a bass player named Dennis who didn't really know how to play bass. My brother taught him; we just had him play something real simple. Then when Spike came along, everything just clicked.
How did you meet Spike?
We met him through a friend of a friend kinda thing.
What exactly WAS "Dennis' Problem"?
Just his parents giving him a hard time.
Did they make him quit the band?
Why did your brother leave the band?
He wasn't into the whole touring life, and he wasn't getting along with everyone in the band. He actually got married while we were on tour, to a woman who was also his roadie. And after that....
Did everybody in the band agree that crossing over was a good idea or was there some hesitation?
I didn't really want to. I fought it the most or whatever. I liked the songs and everything, but I was against being on Metal Blade because it was a metal label. I was hesitant about that. But we've always operated the band as a democracy and I was outvoted, so I didn't make a big deal out of it. During the time that the Crossover album was written, I had a job for a while so I only made about half the sessions. So a lot of the songwriting was going on without me. I would just get my lyrics, come back and there would be a song written and I would just sing along with it. My vocal style didn't change all that much anyway, even though the music did. And then slowly but surely, after getting lots of free tapes from Metal Blade like Slayer, Metal Church and Trouble, I started getting into it more. I really liked Exodus too. Still do.
They're the ones that did "Open Season," right?
I don't know.
(sings) "It's open season on you!"
They're the ones with the singer that sounded like Bon Scott?
So when D.R.I. crossed over, you really weren't into any metal at all?
Some old metal like Black Sabbath and stuff, but not speed metal. That was new at the time, so I hadn't heard much.
What kind of music were you listening to when the band formed?
Black Flag, TSOL, the Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys - mostly American hardcore.
You actually played shows with most of those bands, didn't you?
Most of `em, yeah.
Were there any instances when you were especially impressed or disgusted by what they were like in person?
Nah, they were pretty much what you would expect. I never met anyone who was an asshole. I was actually surprised and still am at how many of those people know who I am. I looked up at them as heroes, not as a groupie, but you know, impressed by their music and stuff. So to have them recognize me years later. Like the guys in DOA or Dead Kennedys, we still play with some of those bands. We're supposed to play with the Dead Kennedys in Central America, actually. Costa Rica.
What do you think about that whole Dead Kennedys controversy? Do you have any opinion on that?
I think they should have started playing a long time ago without Jello. I mean, they have to make a living too; I don't see why he should get mad about it. They got a singer who's really good; he has his own band and he still takes the time to play with them. I saw them in Europe last year and I got chills. They sounded so good and so amazing - it was incredible, it made me really happy. And it sucks that they're getting a lot of flack all over the place. A lot of people like them, but there are always people up front with banners saying like "No Jello, no DK's" and things like that. They're just trying to make people feel good and have fun. If I felt good watching it, then it was worth it. If one person isn't feeling good, it's Jello. But they gave him a chance and he wasn't interested. He could probably still step back in if he wanted to, or tour with his own version of the Dead Kennedys, but he's never wanted to do that.
When I first heard that they were touring without him, I thought it was ridiculous, just because he's such an integral part of the band. You know, his lyrics, his politics.. But after a while, I started to really like the idea. I wish they'd do a new studio album without Jello!
What do you think about the Misfits without Glenn Danzig?
We were supposed to tour with the Misfits this year, but Spike said that it fell through. I've heard a lot of people say that there have been a few different versions - apparently one of them sucked real bad but another one is tremendous.
The newest version has Dez Ca-
Yeah, from Black Flag.
And Marky Ramone.
Yeah, but I heard that they were actually doing hits from other bands too. Hits of that era. Black Flag songs and stuff.
Have you noticed changes in your crowd representation over the years? I mean, you've gone through hardcore and speed metal, and you've survived hair metal, grunge and nu-metal..
The main change happened during the Crossover. Since then, the only change is that there's more variety of ages at the shows. Actually, it was kind of always like that. Even at the beginning, there were young kids and older guys there. Especially at the all ages shows.
Was there a point when you felt like you were at your absolute peak in popularity? I mean, did you seem to get larger crowds when you were hardcore, or during the Metal Blade era when you had some MTV videos, or now because you're doing a big 20th Anniversary tour?
During the Four of a Kind and Thrash Zone years, we were doing pretty good. We reached a certain point where we weren't getting any higher and lower, so for Definition, we decided to open for a lot of bands - like Ice-T & Body Count and Testament. We lost a lot of money because we were trying to get a new audience, but it was a good way to introduce DRI to a lot of people who hadn't heard us before. Opening for Testament, we got to play for a lot of metal crowds, and then with Body Count, we played for more. I guess straight hard rock fans. And it worked out good because I think Definition is our biggest selling album ever.
Cool! I didn't know that!
Yeah. But then we went back to doing our own thing because that's the only way we can make a living.
Every time I've seen you guys play live, it's always bugged me that people yell at you to just play stuff off your first two albums. Does that annoy you at all?
That doesn't bother me. Spike asked me once if I'd be interested in doing a tour with just the old stuff, the first two albums. I think some club owners had been asking about it or something. And I told him I'm not really interested in it unless someone offered us a whole gob of money. But I can't imagine people would pay that much more to hear just the first two albums. I think we play so much of our old stuff anyway; the songs are so short that we can throw most of the albums in there and play some newer stuff too. The reason why bands want to play songs from all their albums is because either it's a good song or they want to turn people on to that album. We try to have all our albums on sale at the shows so people can buy them who can't find them in stores. And people will buy Full Speed Ahead if they like what we played from it, or they'll come up to me and ask which one they should buy, and I'll point `em to the greatest hits thing that came out a few years ago. So they can hear stuff from all of those albums.
Do you have a favorite D.R.I. album?
I'd say Full Speed Ahead.
Are there any songs, either musically or lyrically, that you would say are your top three or so - or are there too many to choose from?
There's one called "Out of Mind" that I like, that me and Rob Rampy did. I don't think Spike liked it.
I don't have that one! That's only on the album copy of Definition or something, right?
I only have the tape and CD. Dammit!
I have it because I have the CD from Japan and it has everything on it. It's kind of a commercial sounding song. That's what I play for grownups or parents who want to hear our songs. So what's your opinion on the Dixie Chicks committing career suicide?
At first it bugged me that she apologized for it, but now it looks like things are coming back pretty good for them. Bruce Springsteen came out in support of them, and they're on the cover of some magazine with uhh..
The nude cover.
Yeah! So I guess they're not apologizing anymore.
I think one of them refused to apologize.
I love the fact that she said it, but I was absolutely horrified when I read that radio stations were boycotting them because of it. I was like what year are we living in anyway?
Pop bands don't usually talk about politics. That's the whole thing. Because that's not going to make anybody any money. And when they do it, they do it against the record company's wishes and against their managers' wishes. We've been committing career suicide since day one, because we know we're not a pop band and we never will be. I just thought it was funny that a pop band would go out and say something like that.
Have any other popular bands said anything against Bush? I know Bruce Springsteen supports the Dixie Chicks, but I don't think he specifically said anything against Bush.
Nah, Springsteen wouldn't do anything like that. He's an All-American boy. He especially wouldn't say anything against the troops.
That's true - he wouldn't say anything bad about the soldiers. So what do you think about the whole War on Terrorism? War on Iraq?
War on Terrorism. That's a big picture, you know? You can consider anyone a terrorist. What's the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? If you look back in history, we say good things about freedom fighters that rose up and had a coup and won. Even if people died, whatever happens in the final outcome is how history is gonna record it. As far as I'm concerned, a terrorist is just a freedom fighter at the end of their rope. But I don't believe in killing innocent people. And Iraq, I'm glad they're free, but they don't seem too happy that we freed them.
Yeah, they really don't. They hate us!
Well, a lot of them probably know people who got killed in bombings. There are probably a lot of emotions going on over there right now.
Speaking of hate, one DRI show I went to back when I lived in Atlanta had a ton of Nazi skinheads in the crowd, and they were Sieg Heiling you. I remember you said to them, "Where were you the last time we were here - when we were touring with Body Count? They would have kicked your ass!" or something like that. Does that sort of thing happen a lot?
Not anymore. One of the last times we played in Atlanta, a skinhead came in with his girlfriend and he had a swastika on his shirt. This big black guy working there came up and wanted to fight him. He said, "You came to the wrong place wearing the wrong shirt." So the skinhead guy said said, "Okay, I'll fight ya." And the skinhead guy almost got killed. Finally they threw him out and told the police that he started it. They have that tight-knit a group there that they do not put up with any shit from Nazis. His friend just got the hell out of there.
They have the same mentality in Europe; people police themselves in clubs and send a strong message to Nazis: Don't even show yourselves here or you'll get the fuck beaten out of you immediately.
Once when we were playing in Australia, there were 5 or 6 skinheads terrorizing the entire crowd. Finally I said something because we had to keep stopping the show because of all the fights. I said, "All you people in the club - you can gang up on these skinheads and stop this right now" and a guy said, "Yeah, but you're leaving tomorrow. We have to live with these people and they know who we are." Finally people did start fighting them and drove them out. I don't know what happened next day; we were gone. But it had to happen, or we would have put down our instruments and left.
Wow! I can't believe they ganged up on the skinheads. I've never seen anything like that happen! Has the band itself ever been subject to any attacks from skinheads or anybody else?
That night in Australia - our bass player was Jewish - he had a Jewish Star earring, and a Nazi tried to grab it out of his ear when he walked by. But I guess they like our music - they don't ever try to kick my ass.
Do you consider your audience when writing lyrics, or do you write for yourself? Like do you ever finish something and think to yourself, "Hmm, that might be misinterpreted; maybe I shouldn't use that one"?
I write for myself. But after I write the song, I might say, "This is not as good as this other song; it's not going on the album." I'm one of those people that usually writes 20- 30 songs and gets 10 good ones out of it.
Do you write any of the music?
No, I don't play an instrument but I give ideas. We write the stuff together. Spike'll write the melody, but I'll say, "Why don't you play that twice before I come in" or "Put in a lead here." That sort of thing.
Do you ever write something and then decide not to record it because it's "not like DRI"? I ask that because in between all the political stuff and angry stuff, every once in a while you'll do something like - I hope you wrote it anyway - that. oh, that last song on Full Speed Ahead. Or, no, the song before it. "You" or something? No, that's not it.
We do have a song called "You."
No, it's. Man, I can't believe I'm forgetting the name. It's one of my favorite songs! It's the one that ends with "Relationships as a whole fall apart and break down."
Yeah, that's it!
Wow, that's funny that you say that because like nobody likes that.
I know! But I think it's a great song. So different from what you usually do.
Our engineer hated it.
What is there to hate about it?
The way it just kind of goes around and around and around with no real chorus, no strong hook..
Well, I kinda like that about it. It's interesting.
I try to write songs about personal stuff as well as political. But I don't want to be one of those bands that just sings a bunch of songs about girls.
No, I know. But what's cool about "Sucker" is that, coming after all your other sort of social complaint songs, it seems like you really MEAN it. As opposed to bands that sing about nothing but girls, where it all seems made up and dumb.
I just write about whatever's happening to me at the time when I'm writing it.
Have you tried to alter your vocal approach at all over the years?
Not really. I never took any singing lessons.
That's why it was so funny when - I've been a fan since Four Of A Kind came out. So it was hilarious to follow you guys for a few years and then have you release the song "Tone Deaf."
Yeah! That's a popular song.
It's really funny. So okay, let me ask you this; your debut album is an absolute hardcore classic, unless I'm crazy and live in my own little world about how amazing it is. Plus you've gone on to record a lot of really great speed metal albums too. As you celebrate your 20th anniversary, do you ever get disappointed in the amount of appreciation you get?
No, I think we get more than we deserve!
Really? How so?
Like people letting us play at these giant festivals, flying us to Japan -- all the hoopla and everything. And so many bands say that we inspired them -- metal bands, death metal bands, hardcore bands, even more popular bands, like the drummer for Nirvana said that when he was young, he went to our shows. And I saw the singer from Pearl Jam wearing a DRI shirt once.
Wow! So you ARE a legendary hardcore band - it's not just me!
For us, we were just kinda doing the kind of music everybody was playing back then - hardcore. We didn't really innovate anything. A lot of people think we had a lot to do with the crossover, but I think at the time we were part of like Bad Brains, COC - bands letting metal into their style.
There's just something about that first album that blows me away every single time I listen to it. It doesn't sound like any other hardcore album! The drums are so military and the songs are so catchy. I mean, not at first, but after you've listened to the album about 10 times and you realize the differences between each one - there are just so many great songs on there.
That's funny, because I try to play that first album for people in Texas, and they can't even listen to it!
What kind of music do you listen to these days?
I like Garbage. I don't have a CD by them or anything, but I like what I've heard. And I like Alice In Chains. I still like Trouble a lot.
I've never heard Trouble.
No! Are you serious?
Man, I wish I'd never heard Trouble. So I could go back and rediscover them all over again.
What are they like?
They're a metal band from Chicago. They're on Def American, or what I guess is now just called American. But they were on Metal Blade for years.
Neat! I'll pick some up! Is all their stuff good?
Their first album on American is just called "Trouble" like they started over - that's a really good album. They started out as a white metal band on Metal Blade. Their first albums that came out - our bass player said they were billed as white metal at the beginning, singing about the Bible and stuff like that. They're one of those bands that should be huge, but they don't tour very much. I got to see them live a couple of times. Incredible guitarwork.
So did Spike send you a copy of the Dirty Rotten CD reissue that Beer City just put out?
Yep! I have that one and I have Dealing With It.
Dealing With It is out?
Yeah, I think it just came out. Each one will come out - like two a year. And Restless Records is putting out Four Of A Kind and Thrash Zone as 2 CDs in one package under the title "Dirtiest Rotten." They just sent me the deal. We don't have anything to do with it really. We didn't help them as far as extra material or anything.
Was your deal with Metal Blade only three albums, or -
No, it was originally for a bunch of albums, but we got traded to Enigma and we asked to be let loose and they let us go. They gave us all the albums back except for Four of a Kind and Thrash Zone.
Why did you not want to be on Enigma?
I think they were going bankrupt at the time. They were having major problems. That was when Spike wanted to start Rotten with Ron. We just figured it was a good time to do it ourselves basically.
So would you like to make a new DRI album?
I would like to, but it would take a long time, and it would be very expensive and very time-consuming.
Because you all live in different states?
Yeah. We tried sending tapes to each other, but it doesn't work for us. We need a constant pow-wow to bounce ideas off each other. The only way we can do it through the mail is me sending Spike lyrics, him sending me a complete song and me practicing that.
What does Spike's new material sound like?
It sounds pretty good! He's written a lot more hardcore stuff, and some others that are more like Full Speed Ahead.
Does your son like DRI?
Not very much, no.
How old is he?
He's 5. He got up on stage and sang with me twice - once in Italy.
So they go on the road with you sometimes?
No, they don't travel with me. They just happened to meet me there.
Oh okay. Well, I guess I'll let you go, since I've kept you for 45 minutes already!
It's no problem. Who set up this interview?
Umm. nobody. I just emailed you!
Oh, that's fine! Beer City's been sending me a lot of interviews so I wasn't sure.
No it's fine! It just means I don't have to call them and say "I did this interview."
So you're doing a lot of interviews?
Yeah, we always do a lot right before a tour.
I'm looking forward to seeing you guys in NYC.
What's that place like?
Where are you playing?
Oh, that's. hmm. I've never been there but I know it's been around for a long time.
Oh, it has?
Yeah. Since I moved here anyway, and I've been here for seven years.
It seems like nobody has ever heard of it.
I don't know that it's normally a rock place. From the listings, I know they have some dance night called something like "Beavher."
Because they want to put a lot of people on the guest list, but we have friends and stuff in the area and I don't know what the capacity of this place is or anything.
How much are tickets?
I don't know. I don't usually ask.
I'm just wondering why somebody would ask to be put on the guest list rather than paying to get in so you guys can make a living.
Maybe they don't care about us - it's just an assignment. Or maybe they're just there to take a photo. I know there's gonna be someone from MTV interviewing us in NYC.
No, I don't mean interviewing us FOR MTV. He just works for MTV.
He said he's gonna try to sell it into MuchMusic. But I know in Japan, it was 50 dollars to see us.
Wow! Do you have a lot of fans there?
The shows weren't real big, but we did four or five shows in different little places. The advertising wasn't too good. Our bass player couldn't find his passport and had to get a new one right before we left, so they held off on advertising until they knew for sure that we were coming. They want us to play again and we're interested, but he is no longer allowed to handle his own passport. Now Spike holds his passport.
Well he lost it again while we were over there!
What's wrong with this guy?
I have no idea.
Okay, so I'll type this up and send it over so you can look through it and change anything you want.
Remember that we're leaving May 1st to go on tour, so try to get it to me before then.
How long will you be on tour?
It's a three-week tour
Oh that's alright then. Actually, I'll probably be able to do it this weekend.
Well thanks again for your time. Have a good evening!
For more about the author please visit www.MarkPrindle.com.