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Q&A: Double Dagger On Graphic Design Punk, Learning From T.I., and More


This month Baltimore punk staple

releases its

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Thrill Jockey debut,

More

. Well known as an unstoppable, confrontational live band, the album ups every ante on record, sharpening lyrical ideas, experimenting with quieter musical modes, melodies, and just how much you can do with a bass guitar. Earlier this week we sat down with vocalist Nolen Strals, bassist Bruce Willen, and drummer Denny Bowen at Bowen's Copycat building living space. The following interview contains 20 usages of the word "more," not including proper noun usage.

City Paper: One of the things that struck me about

More

is that it seems like more of an album album, with ups and downs, highs and lows . . .

Bruce Willen:

Since

Ragged Rubble

, a lot of the stuff we've been writing has a lot more moods and tones to it. As far the songs that we decided to include on the album, we tried to be pretty critical of ourselves. Like, what makes this a great album as a whole rather than just these are good songs we wrote, let's put them on an album. We wound up leaving off a couple of pretty good songs. Tonewise, they didn't really fit with anything else. We wanted to make it more cohesive.

CP: What made those songs not fit?

Noah Strals:

Lyrically, the songs had a lot of sarcasm in them and a little bit more humor. Like, the songs that are on the album, there's a little bit, a few lines, that might have a biting sarcasm to them but, on the whole, the record is pretty serious. Those are just a little bit more fun.

CP: Sarcasm seems out of character for Double Dagger.

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BW:

We're more against irony than sarcasm. Not that irony doesn't have its place, but we're against forced irony or overdone irony.

Denny Bowen:

We keep it real.

BW:

There's only so many '80s references.

NS:

There's only so many '80s bands that your can band can sound like.

DB:

You can't really sound like Miami Bass and Miami Sound Machine at the same time.

NS:

Someone is going to start that band now.

CP: Is there anything in particular you were listening to when you were writing

More

? Not necessarily guided, but maybe informed . . .

NS:

I didn't listen to much music at all in the past year. I was just so frustrated by what was coming out. Very little of it appeals to me. As we were recording, I was actually listening to, like, T.I., Lil Wayne, and Christina Aguilera. I was hitting this lyrical block, and whenever that happens, I tend to listen to a lot of hip-hop because I appreciate really clever word play. Even though that's not necessarily the kind of stuff I do, it helps kick start ideas.

CP: Is it harder or easier to write music without listening to new music? Like away from that continuum.

NS:

Well, I just write the words.

BW:

During the period these songs were written, I wasn't listening to much music either. For most of a period of about a year, I was mainly listening to bands from Baltimore, just because what I was really into what everybody's doing. I don't really follow what's going on [otherwise] with bands. I was actually listening to hip-hop, too. Which is very obvious in our music. [laughs]

DB:

I guess we all listen to a lot of hip-hop.

CP: Was there a lesson learned from your last record,

Ragged Rubble

, that set a trajectory for the new one?

DB:

After hearing it, personally for me, I was really thinking about myself as a drummer. I was thinking about that more and it led to more of my input into

More

. Half of the songs on

Ragged Rubble

were done with a different drummer. I was thinking more about what I can contribute more musically and it led to us more synching up.

CP: Is that a combination of getting to be a better drummer overall? Or getting to be a better drummer with Double Dagger?

DB:

I think being a better drummer within Double Dagger's led to other lessons about, like, serving a song and being tasteful within just a 4/4 beat.

BW:

I think one of the things that I started to do with some of the songs on

Ragged Rubble

is how to do a really minimal song structure, like base a song of maybe two notes and a single chord. That kind of thing. With this album, in a way I think I sort of took the lessons I learned doing that but also, like, how can I start a song that has this very minimal structure in some ways but make it more melodic and expand, not necessarily make it really crazy or minimal for the sake of being minimal.

NS:

How the songwriting process goes is they write the music and just practice over and over and over again and I'm figuring out what to say that goes along with it. As the music got more developed and nuanced I realized I couldn't just keep yelling, like just ranting, just doing the same old thing. I didn't want to be the one member that held back what they were doing. Like, lyrically and the in the way I sing, I just started to try some new and different things. It was kind of a struggle but I like where it ended up.

BW:

I think all of us pushed ourselves more on this.

DB:

Overall, it's a lot more care.

CP: Double Dagger does a really good job of either transcending or straddling scenes. Like you can move pretty seamlessly between Celebrated Summer and the Zodiac. I wonder about that, if it ever enters the band awareness.

DB:

We're concerned about being a band and whoever likes us and asks us to play, we're stoked to do it.

NS:

I don't think that's ever too much of a consious thing, but we've never tried to sound too much like a certain band or trend or style. We just sort of do what we do and I think that allows it to go across these different groups.

CP: How have your feelings about Double Dagger changed as it's gotten to be a bigger and more serious thing?

BW:

We're putting a little more of ourselves, our personal selves, into the music than we were before. Not to say that we weren't on our earlier albums, but it's a different kind of energy now.

DB:

There's a lot more care that goes into each song. It's not like "beginning of song" to "end of song." It's more, "What can we do in these two minutes or this one minute?"

CP: So, Double Dagger started off as a concept band. Can you talk about that?

NS:

Yeah, it was sort of a concept band. Bruce and I are both graphic designers . . .

CP:

You don't say?

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NS:

Yeah, that information really hasn't gotten out. [laughter] You know how they say,

Write about what you know

? At the start, the art and graphic design were, like, the basis of the metaphors or whatever. But it gets old just doing the same old thing. If you do something for too long and it goes from being a concept to being a gimmick, and we didn't want to do that anymore.

BW:

I think we were just trying to figure out what sort of band [to be].

NS:

The whole design thing was just a lyrical vehicle, like a matrix upon which to build the ideas.

Double Dagger plays May 22 at Floristree. For more information visit myspace.com/doubledaggersucks.

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