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Double Dagger on Sophisticated Urban Living

August 5, 2008
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| Image by Nancy Froelich

Baltimore’s revered post-hardcore trio Double Dagger floored even its most enthusiastic fans with last year’s explosive Ragged Rubble. This week, DD releases two 7-inch EPs that pair new versions of the band’s best-loved songs with previously unreleased material. Sophisticated Urban Living (Terra Firma Limited) features an extended version of “Luxury Condos for the Poor,” City Paper‘s Best Song of 2007, and live favorite “No Allies.” Bored Meeting (Toxic Pop) includes a mind-melting remix of “I Was so Bored I Wanted to Hang Myself on the Dancefloor,” from the band’s debut album, backed by outtakes from the Ragged Rubble sessions. We e-mailed with band members Bruce Willen, Nolen Strals, and Dennis Bowen to chat about the new releases, the next full-length, and the bizarre reactions Double Dagger has elicited over the years.

City Paper: You’ve joked that you’re getting sick of playing “Luxury Condos for the Poor.” Is releasing a new version a way to get it out of your systems, once and for all?

Bruce Willen: We recorded the original version of the song shortly after we’d written in it. While performing it live for two years, the song evolved and improved beyond how we originally played it. It’s one of our favorite songs, and we wanted to document it more definitively–I don’t think we’re sick of playing it. It’s also a good song to put on its own record. Our friend Michael Cataldi did a series of beautiful drawings based on “Luxury Condos for the Poor,” and he made two original pieces for the album artwork.

CP: For a few years, Double Dagger was Baltimore’s best-kept secret weapon. But lately, you’ve had more nationwide press attention and have been playing bigger and bigger shows in other cities. DD is notoriously intense and confrontational live, and while Baltimoreans know you guys well, I can imagine other audiences may get more than they bargained for. Have you had any notable run-ins on tour?

Nolen Strals: A few years ago in Madison, Wis., there were some very weak attempts at heckling coming from the audience. I called them out as the worst hecklers I’d ever heard and during a few songs interrupted the conversations of audience members who weren’t watching. On the way out a few people were overheard mumbling vaguely threatening comments. The funniest occurrence was last year after we played a CMJ show with Jay Reatard. The delicate sensibilities of a Village Voice reporter were highly offended. To
quote: “Frontman Nolen Strals staggers about, limp wrist to chest, lurching into the crowd and sticking his fingers into the mouths of audience members–if it doesn’t bother them, it shouldn’t bother me, and of course some would argue that I’m missing the point. But I’m not sure I know what the point is, and I don’t care. That shit gets on my nerves.” If we’re offending the Voice we must be doing something right.

Dennis Bowen: Actually, a bizarre “run-in” wasn’t out of town, but at the college I recently attended just outside of the city. The show was with Thank You, and it was in the student union building in a room called the “Sports Zone.” This room, painted in school colors, displayed every piece of athletic equipment for every sport the school played. Meanwhile, the admissions people were bringing in potential students for a campus tour and looked pretty confused. They later mentioned that the show was giving the school a negative image.

CP: The last time I saw DD perform, in early July, you were having some amp troubles, and I think you mentioned something about a neighbor and some flooding. What exactly happened there, and has your equipment made a full recovery?

BW: Some d-bag on the upper floors of the Copycat building turned a sink on, then went out to get pizza or something. A lot of our equipment (two floors below) got wet. Luckily, we seem to have fixed the amp for the moment. Or maybe we just need more amps?

DB: We need more tarps. He was washing “a dish,” and everyone else was sleeping. This was the second time a flood like this happened to our stuff, but it all seems alright now.

CP: The Chalmers remix of “Dancefloor” is a fantastic but completely unexpected way to revive a beloved DD track. How did that come about?

BW: We’d been talking for a few years about doing a “dance” remix of the anti-hipster-dance-party song “I Was so Bored I Wanted to Hang Myself on the Dancefloor”. We never got around to it, but our friend Rowen Frazer had been collaborating with Denny on some of his Smart Growth songs. We were really into some Police remixes that Rowen had made, so we thought we’d ask him to remix a Double Dagger song. We’re all really psyched with how the remix turned out. It doesn’t sound at all like something we would have written, yet it still has some of the spirit of the original. The remix is great in its own right–it definitely moves beyond its source material to create something new and really exciting.

DB: A funny anecdote about this remix: About five years ago, before I was in DD, I put “I Was So Bored” into a WAV editor on my computer, looped the “to your party” lyric (so it sounded like “do you party?”), and prank-called Nolen with this concoction. He wasn’t amused in the least bit. But the idea was there to do an actual remix, and Rowen definitely made it happen for real.

CP: Now that the 7-inches are out, what do the next few months look like for DD?

BW: We’re currently finishing up songs for our next album. This fall we’re planning on recording and touring. We’ll be doing a big Baltimore Round Robin tour that Dan Deacon is organizing with a whole bunch of other Baltimore bands. Then we’re working on a West Coast tour in late October.

DB: The new songs are dope–I’m really excited about them. The next record will be the first in which this lineup has written all the songs together (other than the Sophisticated Urban Living 7-inch).

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