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Wild style
The Dwarves’ latest tour de force

Blag Dahlia, the leader of the Dwarves, prides himself on being able to write convincingly in almost any genre. Although the Dwarves began, in the mid 1980s, as an especially crude California garage-punk band, their latest album, The Dwarves Must Die (Sympathy for the Record Industry), bears this contention out. It boasts wrestling songs, acoustic punk, horror rap, Christian liturgical music, pop punk, Mexican surf, doo-wop, hardcore, and numerous sub-species of metal, sometimes combining several of these elements in a three-minute span. It’s the kind of virtuoso display that makes others want to donate their services. The last two Dwarves albums have been helmed by big-budget producer Eric Valentine (Third Eye Blind, Queens of the Stone Age, Good Charlotte), and the guests on Must Die include Offspring’s Dexter Holland, Urge Overkill’s Nash Kato, A Perfect Circle’s Josh Freese, and former Queens/Dwarves bassist Nick Oliveri.

The most notorious Dwarves album, 1990’s Blood Guts and Pussy (Sub Pop), the one Spin once named the most offensive album ever, featured a Michael Lavine photo of two nude women and one nude dwarf all covered in blood. Lavine photographed the same scene as a bubble bath for the Dwarves’ 2000 comeback album, Come Clean (Epitaph), as well as a take-off on The Passion of the Christ — dwarf on the cross, three nude women — for Must Die. "The Beatles had that enormous controversy years ago of ‘bigger than Jesus Christ,’ but with the Dwarves, that’s where we start," says Blag, who on "Christ on a Mic" does his part by rhyming "Jesus Christ" with "Heidi Fleiss." The song begins like a church hymn but quickly devolves into a quirky, sample-heavy hardcore romp. "When I wrote it, the opening part was a negro spiritual, but when I brought it to Eric Valentine, he said, ‘Why don’t we make it super-white-folks church music?’ Then he went out and found a church with a big pipe organ, and he arranged this whole elaborate batch of harmonies. The guy’s a genius. And this is kinda how the record went. I had a vision for it, but it’s more like the Wu-Tang Clan: everybody does what they’re good at."

And the Dwarves are good at quite a lot. The disc’s first single, "Salt Lake City," is a classic bubblegum-punk tune in the tradition of the Ramones and the Queers. But neither of those bands could’ve produced "Blast," a grindcore song with garbled lyrics like "Tender virgins give head eating toilet kids bread." The mention of the lyric provokes a laugh from the man who wrote it. "Toilet Kids Bread was the name of an album I produced by a band called FYP, who were a hardcore band from San Pedro in the mid ’90s. A lot of people who might really like a pop-punk song or a heavy-metal song have no use for a death-metal or a grind song. Genres are what separate people. What it comes down to for me is that I view all musical genres as equal. I don’t like hip-hop more than I like surf music more than I like punk more than I like pop. I like every genre: the real question is what you’re doing with it."

Although the Dwarves record for indie labels, Blag has gained a reputation for being a go-to songwriter and producer. He’s currently producing an album by the Holograms, a Hollywood girl group. And two years ago, Capitol Records asked him to write a song for the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy soundtrack. "They said, ‘We need something funny we can play on Howard Stern, can you make a track?’ " The result, a clever, jangly pop song called "Metrosexual," was rejected by the album’s producers, so Blag released it himself, and the song became a novelty hit on West Coast morning zoos and drive-time jock programs. In a better world, he agrees, the Dwarves would have a dozen novelty hits. "The most brilliant novelty song I’ve heard in a long time is that D12 song Eminem did, ‘My Band.’ And isn’t that what that song is? It’s a funny song that depicts a novel situation, it’s well done, it has an element of reality but it’s funny — that’s why Eminem is one of the great geniuses of the modern music business. But it’s a shame you have to be as huge as him now to get a novelty song through."

The Dwarves appear this Saturday, October 16, upstairs at the Middle East, 472 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square; call (617) 864-EAST.

Issue Date: October 15 - 21, 2004
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