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An Interview with Dog Fashion Disco

Interview by Christopher J. Kelter - November 27, 1999

As the cool weather finally descended on Baltimore, Dog Fashion Disco took time out of their busy schedule at the beginning of their Ballzout Tour '99 to sit down with Rough Edge. Read the transcript of this engaging conversation with Todd Smith (vocals), John Ensminger (drums), Greg Combs (guitar), and Steve Mears (bass).

Rough Edge: I'm not one to pick on a band's name, but a band's name will trigger an image or a perception in people's minds.  I remember getting a sampler CD at a Clutch show earlier this year and I remember seeing the name Dog Fashion Disco and saying to myself "This ought to be interesting!"  Was there a reason or a plot to utilize the three particular words that make up the name Dog Fashion Disco?

Todd: It's not a very exciting story.  We were all throwing out band names and Greg's cousin suggested it.  Personally, the name has grown on me over the years, but the 'Disco' aspect of the name has kind of haunted me just because people will not want to hear the band because they'll think it's disco.  It's been a blessing and a curse; it's also nice because we're not called Morbid Death and we're not pigeon holed. The best part of the name is the contrast - our music illustrates the contrast and the name contrasts what we are.

Greg: The name is memorable.  People remember Dog Fashion Disco because it's not your average band name.

John: We still want people to like the music with no concern for what the name of the band is.

Todd: Yeah, the name Tool - that's a pretty shitty name, but they're the greatest band in the genre as far as I'm concerned.  So, what the hell is a name?

John: Bands like us can get away with calling ourselves anything because we not so big and famous.

Rough Edge: The Dog Fashion Disco sound is unique to say the least.  I know the band has toured around quite a bit and you probably get some pretty unsuspecting audiences.  What are the reactions like?  How do people respond to the band?

Greg: Sometimes people just stand there with their arms crossed. 

Todd: People are literally asking us "What the hell are these guys trying to do?"  Sometimes we get a really good response, other people just don't get it.  Sometimes they buy the disc and they really get into it.  It all depends on the individual.  It also depends on the bands we're playing with - it depends on how open-minded their fans are. 

Greg: Mostly the reaction is astonishment. 

John: It's not what people expect, especially with a name like Dog Fashion Disco. 

Steve: Generally, we get a good reaction. 

Todd: We played with Morbid Angel once - that was pretty interesting. We thought we were gonna get raped on stage - it probably would have been fun, but not at that moment.  I was feeling very vulnerable. 

Greg: People in the Morbid Angel crowd were screaming "Jesus loves you and my cock" and shit like that.  We were a little nervous about playing to that crowd, but it went over well - we sold a lot of CDs that night. 

Rough Edge: The music is quite heavy - but the word "heavy" is losing its meaning.  Reviewers have start talking about music being heavy, but without becoming too mind-numbing.  Dog Fashion Disco is definitely not mind-numbing; there's variety, differences - the musical contrast which you mentioned before.  A lot of bands can't pull that off.  Where does Dog Fashion Disco get its sense of musical dynamics?

Greg: We can sum it up in two words: Mr. Bungle.  We're huge fans of Mr. Bungle and Frank Zappa - people that do something interesting.  Those bands have an affect on us - we listen to them and we ask ourselves "how the hell did they do that?"

Todd: The element of surprise is critical - we think they are going to do one thing, but they do a complete 360 to our expectations.  It's refreshing to hear somebody who really makes you think and put their minds totally into what they are creating instead of heavy riff after heavy riff.

Greg: We hope to convey that to our audience with our music.  So far so good, I guess. 

Rough Edge: How challenging is it to combine different styles?  Is it an easy challenge because of the vibe the five of you have when you're in a room creating music?  Or is it a difficult?  Has Dog Fashion Disco found its stylistic niche?  How will the Dog Fashion Disco sound evolve? 

John: I hope we evolve; I hope we keep getting better. 

Todd: We have gone through several different styles and I think we've found the niche that we like.  We have evolved and it is just a matter of perfecting what we've decided works. 

Greg: It's definitely difficult, because the song writing process is not as easy going from heavy riff to heavy riff.  We try to challenge ourselves to make something that's more creative than the run-of-the-mill music.

John: There are so many visions, too, with everyone in the band.  It's hard to put everything together.  We all come from various musical backgrounds.

Rough Edge: Obviously, that's a good thing. 

Todd: Absolutely, we get five different points of view.  We always end up meeting on common ground - eventually the songs get to the point were we all like it.

Rough Edge: There seems to be an underlying seriousness in the band's lyrics ...

Todd: There is? (stunned look on Todd's face - everyone cracks up)

Rough Edge: Well, when I looked at the lyric sheet I couldn't escape the idea that the songs were social critiques, but from your reaction maybe your lyrics are just lighthearted wordplay?

Todd: That's a good assumption.  I am mostly influenced lyrically by Neil Fallon and maybe Captain Beefheart.  I like how they put odd words together and somehow make sense of it.  Even if it doesn't make sense it sounds cool.  Writing lyrics is basically whatever comes to my mind - certain words catch my interest and I just play around and see what happens.

Rough Edge: Usually the lyrics aren't that important to me.  But sometimes I look at a lyric sheet and I say to myself "Wow! That's a word I haven't read let alone said in the last ten years!"

John: We've all given stuff to Todd throughout the years as far as what we think the lyrics should be - he probably just throws them away. (laughter) 

Greg: As far as I'm concerned I'd just as soon have Todd write all the words as he has to sing them all the time. 

John: I think Todd would be more interested in singing the lyrics if they were his own. 

Todd: I like to visualize what I'll be saying or singing when I'm on stage - how am I going to convey what needs to be said to get a strong reaction.  I want people to think about what I'm singing about. 

Rough Edge: To me there are a lot of lyrics that deal with suburban America - does this mean Dog Fashion Disco is rejecting the middle-class lifestyle or middle-class notions of normalcy?

Todd: There's no real deep social message at all.  I just put words together that run together.  On some songs there is an overlying theme. For instance, "9 To 5 At The Morgue" is about how people waking up to do their day jobs feel like they're just walking through the day like they're half-dead.  For the most part the themes should be pretty obvious, but some times there isn't an obvious theme.  

Rough Edge: Well, I'll take full blame for interpreting it that way. (laughter all around)  Maybe I read the newspaper too much today. (more laughter) 

Greg: We're not saying anybody's right or wrong - everyone has different interpretations. 

Rough Edge: Drew Mazurek.

Todd: What a great guy.

Rough Edge: Drew Mazurek is somewhat of a local legend in the Baltimore/DC area - he's been really involved in the local music scene here in Baltimore and it was cool to see that he helped you out on "The Embryo's In Bloom."  What did he do to help bring out the Dog Fashion Disco sound? 

Todd: He made us sound good in the studio. (more laughter) 

Steve: He helped us not get in our own way in the studio.

John: He was more picky than any other engineer that we've worked with. He was hearing stuff in our sound that we weren't noticing.  We must have worked on my drum sound for three hours - I've never had anyone do that for me.  He was being more of a perfectionist with the drum sound than I was.

Greg: And he was like that with everybody.  He wanted us to listen, re-listen, and re-listen.  He was making sure that the sound that was captured on tape was exactly what we wanted.  If there was a take of a song that he didn't think was dead-on, he told us straight up.  But it was still a laid back environment.

Todd: I think the most important thing was that he knew our vision and understood it.  Then he let it go and captured it as good as he could. We've heard that maybe he could have done a better job, but we recorded the CD in ten days so it was a rush job, but I think it sounds great for something that was done in ten days.

John: We highly recommend him to anyone - he's got an amazing ear. 

Greg: We plan on going back in the studio and using Drew every chance we get, for as much time as we can, for as much as we can afford. 

Rough Edge: If there is one thing each of you could change about the world what would it be?

Todd: 24 hour Howard Stern radio. (everyone laughs) 

Rough Edge: Any one else?

Todd: 24 hour phone sex booths? (more laughter) 

John: As you can see he's the visionary in the band.

Todd: I wish every club in America came equipped with its own audience! (everyone cracks up)

Rough Edge: I wanted to have a little fun with this interview and I thought we'd close out the interview with a bit of "Word Association."  This was an idea I thought of a while back, but Dog Fashion Disco is the first band I thought worthy to use it with; let's have some fun. 

Greg: Steve doesn't have fun. (everyone laughs)

Rough Edge: CNN. 

John: Ted Turner.

Greg: Money.

Todd: Televised wars.

Rough Edge: Tom Green.

Greg: Awesome.

Todd: Genius.

John: Funny.

Todd: Very creative, putting shit on a microphone is genius. 

Rough Edge: Y2K.

Todd: Bullshit.

Rough Edge: Jennifer Lopez.

Todd: I don't know why she's wiping her ass; she has nice little tits, but now they're smaller - what's up with that? 

Rough Edge: Right-to-die.

Greg: Everyone has a right to die.

Rough Edge: William S. Burroughs.

Todd: Genius.  Absolute genius.  One of the most underrated writers of all time.

Rough Edge: High school.

Steve, Todd, Greg, John (in unison): Sucked!

Greg: Actually, I got chicks in high school, but that's stopped. (everyone cracks up)

Todd: Acne.

Rough Edge: Network television.

Todd: Gotta love cable.

John: Big time.

Rough Edge: Touring.

Greg: Awesome.

John: Best thing in the world.

Todd: Just begun!

Rough Edge: mp3.

Steve: Great.

John: Real good.

Greg: Great for promotion.

Rough Edge: Last, but not least: adversity.

Todd: Meeting challenges.

Rough Edge: Any last words?

Todd: To Derek Brewer, our manager - Thank you!

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Copyright 2000 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
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