An Interview with Dave Dictor of MDC

All images courtesy of Dave Dictor/Grimace Records


By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

Dave Dictor’s grassroots journey has been a wire-to-wire gamut bred through word-of-mouth fortitude and creative selflessness seldom seen.

With beginnings in the 1960s bohemian paradise that was New York City, Dictor cut his teeth amongst creatives with visionary leanings that would shape his young mind.

Searching for something his mind’s eye was unable to grasp, Dictor laid a path to Texas, eventually settling in creative hotbed, Austin, where a new wave of music was beginning to make waves.

Soon, Dictor ditched his acoustic guitar and folk leanings and became enamored with punk rock’s sonic density and bristling aesthetic. Soon, Dictor would make his dreams a waking reality with the formation of Stains, the very bedrock upon which his house of punk would be built.

A fateful trip to California would breed new friends, new relationships, more music, and a new name for Dictor’s band. Now called MDC, the socially conscious outfit tour up and down the West Coast, eventually making headway to the U.K. through D.I.Y. roots and an ethos forged through bonded brotherhood.

To be sure, the ’80s would prove tumultuous; with local authorities aiming to silence their message, MDC found themselves harassed at nearly every venue they played. Still, the band forged on until the mid-90s, when its five-year hiatus began.

In the present day, MDC is alive and well, with Dictor still at the helm. Always erring toward the side of social justice, in addition to his musical career, Dictor is now a partner at Grimace Records.

For Grimace, the objective is clear: help independent bands find their voice, raise money for causes in need, and do so sustainably. For Dicor, his work will never be done; instead, his objective is ever-expanding.

“I started out wanting to create a band to affect the world, and we, in our vision of Grimace Records, have elevated that aspiration to create a label to affect the world and make it a better one,” said Dictor. “We do so one download at a time. Life is good, and I have had a good life.”

On a break from his latest tour of California with MDC, Dave Dictor recently set aside some time with me to recollect his ongoing journey across the vast ocean of punk rock.

Andrew:
What sort of scene were you exposed to as an emerging musician?

Dave:
Well, here goes; I am an alternative/punk expression of the American Experience. At first, a child and then a teen of the ’60s and ’70s that had the good fortune to experience the New York City of Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, Louie Armstrong, and music and expression of the arts of nearly every stripe. I experienced the bohemian Village section of NYC, loaded with bookstores and coffee shops filled with poets. I experienced incredible events; Broadway Shows, Madison Square Garden rock concerts, The Ed Sullivan Show, various rich cultural experiences of Carnegie Hall, the World’s Fair in 1964, and the Museum of Natural History, to mention a few. And all that while the Vietnam War raged, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations took place, and the ensuing massive protest movements and race riots.

Andrew:
How did all of that shape the person and songwriter you would become?

Dave:
I would learn of the significant discrepancies of power concerning wealth and privilege. I developed a philosophy that fit into the times, which also fit artistically into my punk rock band. Here I am at age 66, and I love life and its gifts but yearn for more political justice. I want to share my thoughts to help others and to feel free of the constraints our societies places on us all worldwide.

Andrew:
When did punk rock come into the picture for you?

Dave:
I had a desire to make music in my teens. That came to a head and melded together at the beginnings of the punk rock era. It was a movement that left me feeling free to approach topics of war, racism, sexuality, and the rest of our human dilemmas. I was feeling “punk” watching Bowie and Mott the Hoople, and I moved to Texas looking to share my songs, and it unfolded right before me; I went to an open mic night and played “I Hate Work,” and people started asking me, “Are you were looking to start a band?” It wasn’t long before I said, “Yes.”

Punk music was the beginning of a movement. I was so into it; punk happened for me. Once I became a part of it, I found that I could live, breathe and create with an ethos. After I got to Texas, I was part of the fabulous Austin punk scene, which was great rebellious fun in a progressive, arty scene. The BigBoys and Dicks were great, egalitarian, fun bands with “out” gay singers. As for the D.I.Y. part, it just had to be that way. No one else was going to do it for us, and ultimately, you can only trust yourself to promote your art and music.

All images courtesy of Dave Dictor/Grimace Records

Andrew:
Take me through the formation of R.Radical Records
.

Dave:
R.Radical Records was created because Radical Records, who put out the Dicks turned us down. So, we created RRadical Records; “R,” meaning “our.” We played our first in April 1980 at a vegetarian restaurant in Austin, Texas, and went on a tour to California and played four shows in three weeks. We started hand mailing out our recordings to fanzines, and eventually, we hooked up with Maximumrocknroll and the Dead Kennedy’s. Thanks to [Jello] Biafra of the Dead Kennedy’s, Tim Yohannan of Maximumrocknroll Magazine, and the band Black Flag, we gained an incredible amount of exposure within the California punk scene, which was exploding with a very fresh energy.

Andrew:
Early on, the band was called Stains. What prompted the change to MDC?

Dave:
We had been going by the name “Stains,” but we realized there were a few other bands named the Stains, and we knew we had to change it. So, a friend, Buxf Parrot, of the Dicks came up with the name “Millions of Dead Cops. It seemed to fit and hold people’s attention, becoming MDC. D.I.Y. culture was a massive part of those early days for us. While it was a huge part of the identity of the east coast punk scene, particularly Ian McKay of the band Minor Threat. We didn’t claim the title as such but naturally were doing it on the west coast too. We were starting local fanzines, typing out our lyrics, and making our own flyers with art, political issues, and sexual expressions on them.

Andrew:
What was the reasoning behind the interesting method of titling your records?

Dave:
The alternating MDC titles came about for a few reasons: I was incredibly influenced and a huge fan of the British band “Crass.” In 1982, after a show in London with a band called the Subhumans, we were invited by Steve Ignorant and Phil Free to the Crass Farmhouse outside of London. They made a big vegan shepherd’s pie. I met Penny and Gi, the senior members of this politically driven music and art collective. Penny pointed out, “Intellectual people would understand the name of the band, but felt some might take it as encouraging people to kill the police,” and we weren’t for that. We also talked about it all night; we shared thoughts on art’s ability to change the culture and on political matters concerning nuclear power, war, and Prime Minister Thatcher and President Reagan. It was a warm and nourishing atmosphere on a rainy night. Truly was having a dream come true. 

At the same time, the reality of going across every border with working papers and documents that read we were “Millions of Dead Cops” was just plain scary. Punk in 1982 was a real threat to the governments of various countries and locales. I had my life threatened by police agencies in three different places. We were harassed, anal cavity searched, barred entry into Canada and the U.K., and had these gigantic targets on our backs. The world in 1982 was a very different place. We started putting “MDC” on legal documents, and it came to me; if we wanted to explain ourselves intellectually, it was Millions of Dead Cops protecting the “Multi Death Corporation,” bought and sold by Millions of Damn Christians.

I stopped trying to explain to them that the cops killed Christ. We even put the title “My Dog Charlie” on some Canadian papers and flyers where there was a fear of being raided by the cops. Back in those days, I’d say 25% of our shows were raided, halted, and we would be harassed. We were arrested by the L.A.P.D. twice at shows backstage. Once, we were raided, and the cops asked me to sign an album and give them one, and yes, I complied. Actually, I have signed album copies for police officers on five or six occasions.

All images courtesy of Dave Dictor/Grimace Records

Andrew:
Would you say the scene you came of age in was defined by danger coupled with defiance?

Dave:
Yes, I would. Punk back in the day was this incredible feeling of disrupting the culture in this cool manner. We were speaking truth to power and making our statements in our songs. Whether it was the Dead Kennedy’s singing “Holiday In Cambodia,” MDC singing “John Wayne Was A Nazi,” or Black Flag singing “Rise Above,” these statements need to be made. Punks were making important statements to challenge society, the movement got bigger, and human nature started kicking in. Side movements within punk, like emo, began concerning themselves with personal feelings and emotions to explore people’s inner demons. It was all good until bands like Green Day started singing about shit and turds. And before that, you had fucking Milo of the Descendants singing about going back to college.

It led to where people are now singing about how hot they look or where to get their nails done. So, undoubtedly, through the years, a lot of the passion has been drained out of punk rock. Content has been watered down, and it’s all about going to hot shows and hooking up with cool people. Maybe to some extent, that is the nature of things, but we with Grimace Records are trying to keep the focus on our ideals, having a safe, sustainable planet with enough food and healthcare for us all. We want to be free from the hatred of racism, sexism, homo, and transphobia. There is still a ton of great, caring, hot punk music to be had. We want to help get it out there.

Andrew:
I’d argue that major record companies suddenly throwing big dollars around had a lot to do with that, too.

Dave:
Yes, big labels bred commercial punk, which turned into big bands getting huge amounts of money. There are concerts I have played where the headliner might receive $20,000 a show, but some bigger bands must earn $100,000 or more for a show. It’s like what happened to rock in the ’60s and beyond; it becomes a scene led by the very wealthy and, in some cases, multi-millionaire “artists.” You’ve got posers where everyone is buying a million-dollar house or three. The leader of Blink-182, that guy owns fifty high-end luxury cars. Punk was, for me, my reaction to the indifference of the rich and powerful people. I guess I’m a big socialist trying to prevent people from the liberty to be filthy rich.

As Spock – a fictional character – so wisely said on Star Trek – a popular television show – and I paraphrase here, “The needs of the many outweigh the pleasures of the few.” Why does anyone in the world need more than 5 million dollars? Slow down, consume less and stop being so selfish. You, in the end, are not measured by your possessions. Sadly, with punk having gotten so big, I can say there are more than a few punk bands in that category. Most of our society is like that, but that is a big part of being punk now. Being a band in it for themselves is not what the punk movement is for me. 

Andrew:
Do you feel like punks care in the same way they used to? If not, why should they?

Dave:
No, they don’t. The worst part is they know it and actively don’t care. But punks should care because we were a tribe where art, culture, and resistance were our common denominators. We need to get back to that. Today in the Ukraine and tomorrow in Taiwan, Mexico, or anywhere, punk rock should always be a community. All these divisions of national constructs are temporary. One world, one love is our template. We want everyone’s music to be heard as well. International events bring us together. 

Andrew:
On the subject of events, is there one defining moment of that era for MDC?

Dave:
Here is a story that goes back to July 3rd, 1983, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was a Rock Against Reagan gig put on by the Youth International Party, or the “Yippies” as they were commonly known. We had done a nationwide tour at various state capitals and on a float on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, so the momentum had been building. We were touring with DRi, the Dicks, the Crucifucks, and at a few events, the Dead Kennedys. It was a crazy time with Reagan and the politics he was pushing, where he seemed to feel that it was time to go back to a “normal America.” He wanted a world without black rights and women’s rights, and it seemed the Republicans were trying to push the social and political climate back to the ’50s.

So, there was a lot of tension at these various events due to the police hassling the crowd. This was certainly true of the event in Washington. Band after band played, and finally, the Dead Kennedys stepped onto the stage after an all-day event. The Capital Police were going all out, pushing the 10,000 plus people around. Biafra of the Dead Kennedy’s observed this and criticized the police, and fights were starting to take place between the police and the crows. Biafra pointed at a large helicopter now hovering over the crowd shining large spotlights out into the crowds. It was hovering over with loud bullhorns blaring speeches by the police.

Biafra pointed to the helicopters across the way circling around the Washington Monument at the far end of the Lincoln Memorial. He said, “The evil police circling the Washington Monument are shaped like a klansman to remind us all that Washington owned slaves and this country was built on slavery.” It was pretty profound, and the crowd roared back in appreciation of this poignant statement at this tense moment of the event. The Dead Kennedys finished up with “A Holiday In Cambodia,” and I guess, as the song reminds us, “It’s tough, kid, but it’s life.”

All images courtesy of Dave Dictor/Grimace Records

Andrew:
You mentioned Grimace Records. What led you to become involved?

Dave:
I have been working with Grimace Records these past 24 months, helping bands get out on the internet. I can see sales from internet down streaming are far surpassing physical copies. It is challenging for labels to succeed in selling records and C.D.s. You have to invest in them, ship them, store them, send them out to stores or individuals and pray that these copies sell quickly enough to pay the rent and press more copies. Many labels do good for a while but pressing up too many physical copies that you can’t sell is a death knell to these small and medium size labels. So, they have become cautious, signing fewer bands and going with sure things. Many outstanding bands are not being represented right now. 

Andrew:
Having said that, what’s the mission statement?

Dave:
Grimace Records, who is John Hale, Sophie Rousmaniere, and myself; we want to change that. We are getting many bands heard and paid through this down-streaming. No plastic or petroleum is used, and you don’t have to have a room donated in your home for your music library. We can also get many bands out in this manner without investing tens of thousands of vinyl that might not sell. So, we can put the money into publicists who can promote this process so people can learn how to downstream and, more importantly, about these bands.

Our label Grimace Records’ other mission is to be activists supporting various causes with music from our scene. I produced the P.E.A.C.E. Compilation double album back in 1984, and we raised over $10,000 to give to multiple causes back in the ’80s. Some grassroots anti-nuclear groups like Greenham Women’s Peace Conference, Seeds Of Peace, the Seabrook Alliance, Big Mountain- Navajo Group – who are fighting plutonium mining on their lands – and other social causes like Food Not Bombs, Tractors For Nicaragua, The African National Congress and Greenpeace. We at Grimace reissued the P.E.A.C.E. Compilation and digitally released it a year ago, and over $1000 plus dollars has been given to the Mutual Aid Relief Organization. They have been involved with inner city revitalizing of neighborhoods in New Orleans by supplying equipment and know-how to houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Andrew:
What additional releases are planned, and what will they be in support of?

Dave:
In the last 12 months, Grimace has released a compilation internet release benefit for Food Not Bombs in the country of Myanmar. We have come in contact and released music from Rebel Riot, an incredible activist band that spearheads community activism through their local Food Not Bombs. As well as distributing free food, clothing, and health care supplies, they find aid and provide childcare for economically stressed women and children. Buddhist Peace Punks!

In these last few weeks, we have been preparing to release the first six volumes of music for Punk For Ukraine. We are raising money and awareness over the invasion of Ukraine by Russia by supporting Doctors Without Borders, as we genuinely feel we are punks without borders. The Subhumans, MDC, Conflict, The Varaukers, Toxic Reasons, the Elected Officials, All Gonna Die, and 250 other bands from around the world, we’re all a part of it. It’s important to model positive efforts and actions of punks from around the world, including Ukraine and Eastern Europe, to express our dissatisfaction over the nation of Russia overtly attacking Ukraine and harnessing the energies of punks from across the globe.

Two other compilations are in the works: Mexico City University’s Che Guevara Auditorium Compilation is in the works with bands from Mexico, the U.S., and worldwide. This is a female-run squatted auditorium on the campus that has been going on for a while. The police took the building back, but the student workers took it back immediately, and the government hasn’t returned. Grimace is providing money for a sound system. Viva la Mexico! For any bands who are interested, please message us at rradrecords6@gmail.com.

Lastly, a Women’s Compilation is coming together within our collective. David Ensminger, a friend, and partner of sorts, is tackling this with a benefit for Texas women’s reproduction rights. The Republican Party has been closing abortion clinics in Texas. Many women-led bands are spearheading the effort on this compilation. If any bands are interested, write us rradrecords6@gmail.com.

Andrew:
When you think back on that young kid in the ’70s, who only wanted to be a part of something real, did he accomplish what he set out to do?

Dave:
Well, I’ve been searching for what I’m looking for my whole life. First, it was to bring my acoustic guitar to Texas to play a few songs, and the songs turned into punk songs. Then, as the punk movement took off, I moved with my band to catch that wave in California. Portland was a side thing. I created a baby in San Francisco, but the mother moved to Portland. I needed to be around him, and he grew up there and was very used to Portland, so I stayed. But this whole time, I’ve been a traveling minstrel going everywhere; I have spent many years traveling to play 120 gigs or more. 

Now I am back down to Texas to hook up with two people with a vision like mine and start Grimace Records. I might end up on the beautiful beaches of Yucatan, Mexico watching the turtles bury their eggs and then watching them weeks later as they hatch and crawl to the water. Maybe what’s left for me is traveling. I want more experiences outside the United States. You get one life, so enjoy it. Be true and be blue. Punk rock forever.

All images courtesy of Dave Dictor/Grimace Records

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

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