Santa Cruz Punk Legends Bl'ast on the Band's Resurrection and That Show Where They Nailed a Guy in the Head With a Skateboard
In the modern age, the endless reissue of classic albums in new, improved and remastered iterations has become a standard cash-grab maneuver for the beleaguered recording industry. However, when metal/punk imprint Southern Lord announced earlier this year that it was putting out a new version of the 1987 album It's In My Blood by Santa Cruz punk legends Bl'ast -- taken from a set of newly discovered unmixed master tapes -- it promised to be more of a complete rebirth than a reissue.
Bl'ast is back!
Label head Greg Anderson (of celebrated metal bands Sunn O))) and Goatsnake) took the tapes to friend and longtime Bl'ast fan Dave Grohl. Using the famed Neve console featured in the musician's acclaimed Sound City documentary, Grohl and his engineers stripped away the original effort's dated, reverb-heavy '80s production and reintroducing tracks played by briefly tenured second guitarist William "Kip" Duvall (better known as the current singer with Alice in Chains) to stunning effect.
The violent, visceral results heard on the rechristened Blood! reveal the envelope-pushing mix of headlong hardcore fury and dissonant, metallic riffs that made Bl'ast one of the leading lights of the West Coast scene during the post-Black Flag era. Corrosive sonic grenades like "Only Time Will Tell" and "Something Beyond" leap from the speakers with a bristling intensity that the original release only hinted at.
With Blood! sparking a resurgence of interest in Bl'ast, singer Clifford Dinsmore and guitarist Mike Neider convened their first new line-up of the band in over a decade. It features bassist Nick Oliveri (of Dwarves, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age and his own Mondo Generator) and Mondo Generator/Exies drummer David "Hoss" Wright. Dinsmore recently spoke with All Shook Down about the rescue of the original tapes and the chaotic early days of the thrash metal/hardcore crossover ahead of the band's Dec. 29 gig at the Regency Ballroom supporting Neurosis.
When the tapes were first found, how major were the initial concerns about their integrity as far as whether them even being useable?
The thing that happened when Greg Anderson brought it over to Dave Grohls' studio, it immediately started to flake off. When they put it on the reel, it just started flaking [laughs]. And we were like 'Crap!' For a week or so, we thought 'Oh, the deal is off. We'll just go back to the remaster plan.'
But then they did this process called baking, and it actually totally restored the tapes. Still, even as we went back to the actual studio and were listening to the tapes for the first time, there was some concern. [Mastering engineer] Brad Boatwright was concerned they might have lost some of the brightness on the guitars. He was worried they might not be able to get that to where it was.
And then Lou [mixing engineer John "Lou" Lousteau] just started doing his magic and somehow got this incredible sound. He basically brought everything back. But that was definitely an initial concern. Like I said, the tapes were deteriorating and they were brought back to life through that process.
The thing that's awesome about it is William Duvall's tracks being brought up. It really adds so much to it. It was this huge void that was missing for all these years. It's just such an awesome addition to have that back, you know?
There's a dramatic difference from It's In My Blood. It almost makes me wonder how many old albums from the '80s can we go back and rescue?
I wish we could rescue our third record, Take the Manic Ride, but we don't have the big tapes for that. That's the one that really needs the most help for sure. So Dave Grohl just stripped out all the cheesy '80s effects off of it too. He's said in a couple of interviews how everyone back then thought it was necessary to add all these kooky effects to everything. All it did was take away from the intensity of the music and suppress stuff that should be out front like it is now.
The dissonant elements of Mike's guitar reminded me of some West Coast punk contemporaries like Victims Family from Petaluma and NoMeansNo from Vancouver. Did either of those bands have any influence or did you cross paths with them?
Oh yeah. We used to play with those guys; they were awesome. We definitely crossed paths. The first time we hung out with NoMeansNo we played with them at Gilman Street [May 2, 1985] and it was just amazing. Naturally our music really complemented each other and they were such great people. Their manager Laurie Mercer ended up hooking up some great shows for us in Canada. They were just really awesome people.
To this day, if I get any opportunity to see NoMeansNo, they're still one of the greatest bands that ever lived for sure. I think our time frames just paralleled each other. When we met up, we realized we had a lot in common, musically for sure. That was such an incredible show at Gilman. I've seen so many times where they've just completely blown me away. I wish they would play more [laughs].
Doing research, I came across a number of flyers for shows that look absolutely insane. The Slayer gig at Olympic Auditorium in November of '85 was one that stood out for me. Do you have any specific memories from that show or the East Coast dates with D.R.I. and Corrosion of Conformity?
Oh yeah, all those shows were great. Anything that had anything to do with C.O.C. or D.R.I. was awesome. Those were our friends back in the day. The Slayer show was at the beginning of that crossover era. D.R.I. and Bl'ast were the token punk bands on that bill.
I remember that night was funny, because back then we used to throw out skateboards. Santa Cruz Skateboards would give us all this product to take on tour so wherever we'd go, we'd throw stuff out in the audience. For the most part, people would get really excited about it and happy we were doing it.
But that particular night, Dave [Cooper]- our bass player - threw a skateboard out into the audience and it nailed some Suicidal gang member guy in the head [laughs]. He came over and was really pissed and getting all confrontational. We thought we were doing something nice, and he was like "Fuck you! I don't need Santa Cruz skateboards. I ride for Dogtown! I don't want this shit! You fuckin' nailed me in the head!"
That show in particular was really chaotic. It was really fun. Just seeing Slayer come out and play in front of all those people, the place just went completely apeshit. It was insane.
What are your plans beyond the few shows you've announced so far? Given how busy Nick is with Mondo Generator and other projects, do you see yourselves looking for other collaborators if you want to keep the band going more long term? Or do you just figure you'll work the schedule out with Nick and Hoss as best as you can?
Definitely. They're in it for the long haul, for sure. It's all doable these days. It's not like either Mondo Generator or Bl'ast is doing real extensive touring. It's just here and there. So far nothing has conflicted. They give us their schedule and we give it to our booking agent and we just work around everything. It's going to be fun. Playing with them is great.
We're definitely doing South By Southwest and I think we're doing a show in Atlanta too right around that time period. Then we do Rain Fest and another show in Seattle in May. Then we go to Europe in June. And there's an East Coast swing with a hardcore festival in Philadelphia that includes Boston and New York. Then we go back to Europe. And it's looking like we're going to Japan in the fall, so that's in the process of being set up now.
With the new Bl'ast line-up, it's just incredible having that new blood infused in it. Some people bitch about it original line-up stuff, but the truth is Steve [Stevenson] played guitar for a really short period in Bl'ast. The predominant time period was without Steve. And then Dave quit before our last tour, so we had Ron Isa [play bass on the tour]. Bl'ast has always kind of had interchangeable members. We've had four different bass players. It's always been that way.
People try to claim that "Oh, fuck this! They're not the original members!" That's a crock of shit. Especially now when you're pushing 50 years old, who's really up for it? You've got to find the right people for the job that are going to make it what it is. And with Nick Oliveri and Hoss, it just got a great chemistry. It's even better than it ever was.