In a city that prides itself on being politically correct, it’s hard to believe that one of the rudest, dirtiest, and nastiest bands alive has roamed the streets of San Francisco for two decades. Though they formed in Chicago in the mid-’80s, the Dwarves soon made it to San Francisco and quickly established themselves as punk-rock troublemakers, putting naked girls covered in blood on 1990’s Blood Guts And Pussy and eventually getting kicked off Sub Pop for faking the death of guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed (who’s known for performing completely nude, save for a Mexican wrestling mask). Over the years they’ve been attacked with shards of broken glass while playing live, leader Blag Dahlia got into a well-publicized scuffle with Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and more than a few people have taken issue with the band’s lyrics and imagery. Decider spoke with Dahlia about the nature of shock value and whether all of those beatings have been worth it.
Decider: Is shock value an important part of what the Dwarves do, or is that simply a term created by people who are unable to comprehend difficult subjects?
Blag Dahlia: I’ve never done anything for shock value. Really, most bands are just plain boring, so we come off as shocking. That phrase “shock value” has gone more with Howard Stern than anything else. But what’s so shocking about Stern? He talks about his life. I think talking about your own life is normal. I like looking at naked girls, so I put them on our album covers. A lot of albums have four guys in flannel shirts on the covers—what does that say about them?
D: Speaking of those naked girls, especially the ones covered in blood: Do you fear being labeled a perpetuator of violence against women?
BD: That has been an uncomfortable byproduct. We have been labeled misogynist, but that’s not accurate at all. All those photos are beautiful pieces of art. Every single woman in those pictures is portrayed as strong, poised, and aggressive. There’s nothing misogynistic in it. It’s really just minimalist. In rock ’n’ roll, if people see nudity, they think there is no talent. But if they see someone from college in a sweater, they think he’s got talent. Ha!
D: The Dwarves have continually changed their style of music. Is this an effort to keep the audience feeling uncomfortable?
BD: Yes! But it’s also to keep us interested. Most punk bands do the same thing for 25 years and call it integrity. We have done different things for the last 25 years and call it integrity.
D: You’ve been beaten up onstage, attacked with sharp objects, and maimed multiple times. Has it all been worth it?
BD: No, it hasn’t! I’ve been getting attacked in this band since day one. I’ve gotten stabbed, cut, knocked out. But I’ve given back as good as I got. I’ve knocked out a few people that might or might not have deserved it. It’s sort of karmic. If you are on the receiving end of mindless violence, you may begin to dish it back.
D: Your most recent album, The Dwarves Must Die, features a parody of the crucifixion on the cover. Is that an allegory for the continual self-destruction and rebirth of the band?
BD: That album represented for me the end of me making the most commercial record I could make. I was able to explore pop shit and good production value. But by the end of that record, I wanted that part of me to die. The next album will be more nasty.
D: Why does your guitarist often play shows completely naked?
BD: I think because he has got a good physique and a big penis. He’s not particularly cute, so he wears the mask.
D: The Dwarves are headquartered in San Francisco, which can be a pretty PC place. Does the city ever push back?
BD: PC folks the world over don’t really like our lyrics or don’t get us. But I’ve never worried about that. I’ve never wanted the Dwarves to fit into one category. Really, we’re like old prostitutes: We’ve been around so long that we’ve become respectable.