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Final Thoughts From Double Dagger on Shoe-Licking, Being Pissed Off, T-Shirt Smuggling, and More

October 21, 2011
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So it is that today, Oct. 21, 2011, marks the last-ever show for Baltimore’s own Double Dagger. City Paper has done an appreciative feature and a do-it-yourself six-panel poster, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer some more words from the band. In researching the former, I sat down with lead singer Nolen Strals and bassist Bruce Willen to discuss the band’s music, funny stories, favorite shows, and much more. Selected highlights are below.

On looking back before heading out on tour:
Nolen Strals: Last night I was actually looking through these folders saved on my computer with all these photos people have sent us over the last nine years. Looking at those pictures of shows from 2003 and 2005 and 2006—just moving through the years made me really happy to remind me of these awesome shows that we had played and all these awesome times we’ve had. But at the same time, it was also like, “Well, that’s the end of that. Won’t be having this kind of fun except for eight more times.” Like Bruce said, it was this bittersweet thing. But that’s what nostalgia typically is.

On earning respect and being sincere:
NS: I’m more proud of this band than almost—almost—anything else I’ve ever done. It seems like a good number of people respect the band. There’s tons of bands that are liked and they’re loved, but I think respect is something not a lot of bands get. And I think we got that just because as the times changed, as a band, we stayed true to the punk ethics and that way of operating we all learned in the late ’90s and early 2000s. We still did stuff mostly, but not entirely, the hard way. And maybe that didn’t benefit us at times, but I’m glad we stuck to our guns.

Bruce Willen: One thing I’m proud of the band is I feel like we’ve been very sincere in the music we’ve been trying to make. I think we’ve all been trying to make music that we like.

NS: We’re not gonna kowtow.

BW: We’re not gonna kowtow to whatever is popular. I know Nolen was very sincere with the lyrics. Even when the lyrics are sarcastic, there’s still a sincere idea and feeling behind that. I think that’s something is not—the sort of sincerity with ideas and putting ourselves out there with the risk of failing or being viewed as whatever, I think that’s something to be happy about.

On the ability to cross over and appeal to different audiences and being mislabeled by critics:
NS: There’s something in what we played and how we played it that’s appealed to this broader base. That’s one thing I have always loved about this band: You can’t pigeonhole us. There’s lots of people who’ve tried to, saying, oh, they’re this genre or that genre. But if they listen to the next song that’s on the record, then they’re wrong.

BW: More recently, we haven’t really thought of the band being a particular genre. I guess it’s loosely postpunk or whatever.

NS: Whatever that means [laughs].

BW: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. Which is the most fucking amorphous term you could use. I think working within this pop music, rock music genre roughly, but I think within that we haven’t ever been focused on the trappings of genre.

NS: We never set out to sound like one particular thing.

BW: I think that definitely has helped us be able to cross, I guess, sort of social boundaries within underground music. I think it probably also has hurt us at times, with reviewers especially. You see so many reviews of us, and people talking about, ‘Oh, these guys sound—they’re like punk, but they’re not really.’ But you can see they’re reviewing us as if we’re a punk band and they’re upset because it’s not really as . . .

NS: “It doesn’t fit my narrow views of how things easily codify.”

BW: [In mocking voice:] “It’s like pop, but then your vocals are too angry or abrasive.”

Which, whatever, that’s fine. People who like the band, like the band. People who don’t, don’t. I don’t think we’ve ever cared too much about it.

NS: We do this for us.

BW: Yeah, exactly.

NS: We don’t do it for a reviewer, and we don’t do it for a point score.

CP: Hmm, I wonder which site you’re talking about with that one.

BW: Citypaper.com. [laughs]

On songs about fonts:

CP: When I asked Dan Deacon [about the band’s ability to cross over], he said, “Because they were a hardcore band that sang about fonts.”

[Group Laughs]

NS: There wasn’t only one song that ever—oh no, there were two—that ever specifically mentioned fonts, and the most recent was, like, four or five years ago. And we still get, “Oh, they sing about fonts.” Fuck you. No we don’t. Listen to the words. There’s a lyrics sheet in there.

[Group laughs].

Even when I did, it was [in extremely sarcastic tone:] a prism to view it through [laughs].

On the fate of Bruce’s hearing protection headphones:
NS: We should have a raffle for them.

[Group laughs]

BW: Oh, God. They’ll be very disappointed when they get them and they smell them.

NS: And they squeeze them and a cup of sweat comes out [laughs].

BW: Yeah, with my first pair, I realized too late that you need to take the foam pads out after every show, because otherwise all the sweat that builds up in them gets in there and they smell really bad.

NS: It’s like a faucet when you squeeze them.

BW: Little-known Double Dagger trivia there.

[Group laughs]

NS: Little-known Double Dagger trivia: We’re gross.

On the importance of the live show and liking different types of songs:
NS: This might sound really corny, but this music means a lot to all three of us. And I think through the way we performed it, we wanted to express the way it made us feel. But also, watching a band that just stands there is boring as hell. If I want to go to sleep, I’ll stay at home. Give me my five bucks’ worth.

BW: I think it’s one thing if someone is playing some really complicated music and you’re watching the musicianship, appreciating that. But we’re playing rock. It’s not like we’re gonna do crazy solos or switch between five different instruments in one song—something like that that is going to have that kind of visual interest.

NS: We’re a punk band. If we were playing punk music and standing still, we wouldn’t be a punk band. We’d be Green Day.

BW: [In slightly hushed tone] We just told him we were genre-less, Nolen.

[Group laughs]

CP: Contradicting himself.

BW: Well, I think that’s fine.

[Group laughs]

BW: I mean, we are a punk band relatively speaking.

CP: Like you said, it’s the ethos.

Both: Right.

NS: Punk brains.

BW: I think it’s OK to be multiple, to play more than one kind of music.

NS: I think that’s part of why we can play at these different venues and we can play with such a wide spectrum of bands, because we don’t just like one kind of song.

BW: I think that’s a better way of putting it. That sounds a little pretentious: “Oh, we’re like genre-less.” Which I think wasn’t necessarily what we were trying to get at. It’s OK to be a punk band but to also have pretty parts in your songs.

NS: Or to have adult lyrics.

On why you shouldn’t eat off the Zodiac’s floor and misadventures from wandering into the crowd:
NS: My shoe had come untied. It was really loose. I could feel that it was gonna come off as I was running around. My heel was already out of it. And the space [at the Zodiac] was really confined, so I couldn’t move around much, and I felt like I was not giving the people the show they deserved for $5 or whatever. And I was like, Oh, for some reason, between lines, I will take my loose shoe off my foot, lick the bottom of it, and throw it back on the floor. And it was very wet, covered in grit, and the next day I laid on the couch all day because I was feeling sick from whatever was on the bottom of that shoe [laughs].

There’s other times I’ve accidentally grabbed people where I shouldn’t have because I was stumbling and trying to catch my balance. I’ve taken a lot of people’s elbows and knees and feet to the face.

BW: He’s taken a lot of people’s drinks.

NS: I’ve taken quite a few people’s drinks. I’ve knocked a lot of cigarettes out of people’s hands, and I don’t regret one of them [laughs].

CP: You’re doing them a favor.

NS: Yeah. I’m doing myself a favor so I don’t have to struggle to breathe.

On the More release show at Floristree:
BW: I remember that show, there was kind of like a weird moment: Whoa, I’m in this band and there’s all these people here who are so pumped that this record is coming out—they’re not even my friends. [Group laughs]. They’re a bunch of people I don’t even know but they’re still excited about the band.

NS: I’ve never seen this person before.

BW: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But, I don’t know—it’s cool.

On trying to trick the Canadian Border Patrol:
BW: So we were going into Canada, and we had heard so many stories about bands getting their merch confiscated. We had this fake letter that we’re going to this recording studio in Montreal, this whole story made up. We left most of our CDs and shirts at this friend’s house in New York state so we could pick them up on the way back. We’re so nervous about our merch getting confiscated that everybody put on five or six layers of T-shirts. I remember Nolen and [tour drummer] Ben [Valis] in the back of the van putting on T-shirt after T-shirt, and we’re like on our way to the border [laughs].

NS: Once you put on three shirts, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth one, it’s really tough. And then maneuvering to put your jacket back on and then trying to look natural [laughs], it’s not easy.

BW: I think they didn’t even look in the back of the van.

NS: No, they opened the back doors, glanced in, and closed them.

On lyrics:
NS: Anybody who knows me will tell you I’m really opinionated. The band has always been my primary source of expressing how I feel, mostly about things that frustrate me or they just piss me off. I think when the band started, it was much more, “I’m angry. Fuck this.” When you get older, your life gets more nuanced and complicated, and I think the lyrics still had frustration at their root, but their approach to that frustration was not so black and white.

Because the older you get, the more you realize life isn’t black and white. We think about the state that the city’s in and what the responsibilities as residents here that we have and how we can respond to what’s going on. I think it’s awesome that now there’s this pretty good number of people who care about what we do and what we have to say. I feel like when we have songs that are like [“Luxury Condos for the Poor”], hopefully, maybe it does make an impact. Hopefully it does sort of make people just think more concerning these issues. Because that luxury condos thing is still an issue. So obviously no one in City Hall heard it [group laughs].

Final thoughts:
BW: Start a band.

NS: Yes.

BW: Start your own band.

NS: If you like us so much, then take that energy and that excitement and do your own thing with it.

BW: Or start your own metaphorical band, if you aren’t into being in a band. Take the word band as you will, your own version of a band. Do your own creative projects that you want to put a lot of energy into.

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