All images courtesy of Earshot Media
The Chitown punk dishes on his latest music, exploring the many musical sides of his multi-layered personality and why he’s unafraid to take on new challenges in a world that seems intent on burning itself alive.
By Andrew Daly
Blag Dahlia likes to play dirty by staying busy; more importantly, he’s unafraid to ruffle feathers. And his fans have certainly gotten used to him diversifying his punk rock portfolio by perpetually burning the candle at both ends. So, it’s no surprise that the 56-year-old ball of latent energy is lending his talents to yet another project, Ralph Champagne.
For Dahlia, each passing day, week, month, and year seem to present challenges steeped in opportunity. Be it through his main gig as the mouthpiece for Chitown-based act Dwarves or Ralph Champagne, Dahlia always seems to find ways to keep the hamster wheel of life spinning on its axis.
If you’re a fan of Dahlia, then you’re probably full of joy with the knowledge that five essential Dwarves reissues are on the way and on vinyl, no less. And it’s a safe bet that you’re monitoring the gradual recording process of the Dwarves’ still untitled and forthcoming 2023 studio album. But have you unclogged your earholes and taken a moment to soak in Introducing Ralph Champagne? If not, you’ve got your marching orders for your next random Spotify playlist-building session.
And, of course, who could forget the sequel to Dahlia’s two novels, Armed to the Teeth with Lipstick and Nina, the scintillating third act, Highland Falls? For Dahlia’s latest foray into fiction-based storytelling, he tells the sorrid tale of a young Chicago woman, recounting her exploits, love for ice cream, and penchant for mixing it up with gangsters. It’s a can’t-miss word soup de jour that’s jonesing to occupy space on your bookshelf for years to come.
Blag Dahlia has been a lot of things: a rebel, an anarchist, an instigator, an artist, and an author. When asked what’s next, who else would instinctively intertwine vintage Monty Python humor with hyperbolic morbidity in saying, “Oh, well, only the end of the human race as we know it. Blood in the streets, mayhem, drug-fueled orgies, and of course, Ralph Champagne.”
In a brief respite from the controlled chaos that he calls life, Blag Dahlia settled in with me to run through his new music, latest book, the Dwarves, and more.
Walk me through the origins of your latest release, Introducing Ralph Champagne.
In January 2020, I recorded a couple of dozen songs with Andy Carpenter, just vocals and guitar. Then the world imploded, and the next year was spent creating Ralph Champagne. I stole the name from Josh Freese, who played drums on the record, along with a bunch of great players from San Francisco and L.A. We just built it from the vocals out.
What themes are you exploring with your latest music?
Americana, outlaw country, ’70s sugar pop, rockabilly, novelty songs, all kinds of stuff, really. There were a lot of songs to start with, and as it became more of a record, it settled into a very retro American kind of record musically. Lyrically, it’s still Blag, but you can actually hear what he’s saying now.
You’re generally known for punk music, but as you mentioned, you’re touching on outlaw country and Americana with this release. How big of an influence has that music had on you in the past?
I’m a music guy, and all kinds of things influence me. I love old country music, bluegrass, mountain, folk, blues, jazz records, and anything with some soul to it. Sometimes the stuff I hate is more of an influence than anything else. This time around, it was really about me just writing the songs and singing them but letting Andy and the rest of the players create the sound of the record. It feels like the best record of my life.
What does this project allow you to explore that the Dwarves don’t?
Diving into all the retro stuff musically and also getting to dial it back some lyrically, so the clever gets out in front of the gross. Dwarves are two-dimensional music by design; that’s what makes it fun. This solo stuff and Ralph Champagne is more of a complete package.
All images courtesy of Earshot Media
How has the current state of the world changed you as a songwriter?
My music is pretty walled off from the state of the world. In the Dwarves, it’s just run wild; in Ralph Champagne, it’s an ironic detachment kind of thing. I do think about what’s wrong with the world a lot because that’s easier than thinking about what’s wrong with me.
At this stage of the game, is this music more representative of who you are personally and musically than punk?
Music, for me, centers around sex, death, hate, anger, fear, angst, humor, and those kinds of things. Those things are universal; the same themes come up in every genre. Singing Ralph Champagne is way easier on my voice, though. Singing Blag style shreds it every time!
Walk me through the origins and recording of “Lolita Goodbye.”
We’ve written a lot of Dwarves songs about the lure of young women; I wanted to switch it up and do something celebrating the charms of more mature women. All it took was some accordion, xylophone, and a violin right out of a bad Italian restaurant, and: Whoomp, there it is! I can’t resist passing on this link to the video by Joe Cardamone; it’s fucking hilarious.
Can you dive into any other tracks which hold particular meaning and why?
“Contraband” is the trucker epic. Its kind of like Convoy meets Smokey and the Bandit. The animated video is being done by the Mad Twins, a really cool animation team from war-torn Ukraine. The video is chock full of guns, blazing truck chases, and mayhem! This is the outlaw country track you didn’t know you’d love.
All images courtesy of Earshot Media
What can you tell me more about your book, Highland Falls?
This is the follow-up to my last novel Nina, the story of a young woman from the suburbs of Illinois and her nasty, hilarious exploits. It’s got everything- sex, violence, ice cream, gangbangers, funeral homes, South American diplomats, and Hollywood awards shows; what else could you possibly ask for? Now is the perfect time for Highland Falls because things are going around full circle, folks are bored with safe material, and they need Blag like little green apples need sunshine. It’s available through Rare Bird Press; check out the limited vinyl, too!
Where do things stand on the Dwarves front?
Monumental stuff is happening for the Dwarves! Remastered reissues of five classics are coming soon: Blood Guts & Pussy, Thank Heaven, Sugarfix, Come Clean, and Radio Free have all been expanded with bonus tracks and additional art. Finally, all of the Dwarves’ material is back in print on vinyl. And we’ve been busy beavers in the studio as well, recording a full double LP that we’re currently mixing that will be out by Fall 2023. It runs the gamut from hardcore and thrash to pop and retro and experimental stuff; it’s all over the map. We recorded basic tracks for 25 songs in two days, so it has that punk rock immediacy to it, and a whole cast of Dwarves; Saltpeter, Fresh Prince of Darkness, Rex Everything, Nick Oliveri, Snupac, Black Josh Freese, Andy Now, and a whole slew of guests. Let’s face it; Dwarves are the last punk band standing!
What’s next, Blag?
Oh, well, only the end of the human race as we know it. Blood in the streets, mayhem, drug-fueled orgies, and of course, Ralph Champagne. Should be fun!
– Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org