Few musicians have careers like that of Dave Smalley. The man has found success in practically every musical venture he’s undertaken. And there have been a plethora to date. From his early days in the Boston hardcore scene, with DYS. Moving to Washington and taking on the microphone duties in Dag Nasty. Then forming All with the members of the Descendents – minus Milo Aukerman. Leaving that to start Down By Law. And adding both Don’t Sleep and now Dave Smalley & The Bandoleros to an already impressive list.
The dictionary defines the word bandolero as the following; An outlaw or bandit, specially of Spain or Mexico. So let’s start from there. We’ve established who Smalley is, but who are these mysterious bandits? “Down By Law had played several times with G.A.S. Drummers, who honestly were (are) one of our favorite bands in all of Europe”, said Smalley. “Just excellent. Dani Llamas is a true light as a singer. And the entire band is insanely talented. They caught my eye and ear immediately. And then we became friends.”
“Along the way, Down By Law also played with a band called the Rockweilers, explained Smalley. “Fronted by a crazy boy from Argentina named Marcelo. He and I instantly became good friends. I did some solo dates in Spain playing with Marcelo. Then again in other parts of Europe with Marcelo and Pablo, the guitarist for G.A.S Drummers. It was musically magical, and we knew some special music spark was there. The guys asked me if I would sing on an album and of course, I said yes. When you have friendships and talents like these guys have, it was an easy choice and honestly very exciting. And our first album, “Join the Outsiders”, is one of my all time favorites of any album I’ve ever made. Really a special album, songwriting, spirit.”
The Bandoleros debut album, “Join The Outsiders”, is indeed a triumph in Punk rock. Today, their second effort sees the light of day. An EP named “Ignited“. Equally as boisterous and refined as the first – only shorter. Its five tracks lasting roughly fourteen minutes. With the members of the band dwelling in the three separate countries, difficulties must be inevitable. Global pandemics and that sort of thing. Closed borders and social distancing. The things we are slowly becoming to know as the new normal. How terrifying.
Does that mean that “Iginted” was recorded before COVID-19 broke things, I wondered. “Yes, we recorded before all the chaos,” confirmed Smalley. With that cleared up, I wondered how an international coalition such as this goes about the song writing process. “Basically those guys practice in Spain, and write music” begins Dave Smalley. “Then they send it to me and I spend a lot of time feeling the music, letting it take me where it will. That is the spark for the melodies. It is true to the music. And then I use all of that to write lyrics, again inspired by the music. So it is very true to the music.”
“Then I go into a studio run by a friend of mine and track the vocals,” he continues. “What is interesting to me is that this friend, Jeff Covert of Wally Cleavers recording studio, has been doing this a long time. And he kept saying Holy Shit, this is really great. He was so excited hearing it. I knew then that this album would be something special. Then, when I was done tracking the vocals for the new EP, Bill Stevenson, who is of course my longtime friend and musical brother, and a stellar producer, was so excited by it. And you can hear his excitement in the work he did mixing this EP. It’s so beautiful, so vibrant. He really digs this band. That means so much to me, because he doesn’t just say things. He feels it.”
They say the key to a good joke is timing. Perhaps the key to releasing music before a global pandemic locks down the world is also… timing. Not to say “Ignited” is a joke. What I mean is. Umm. Ah nevermind.
Speaking of this pesky pandemic, rolling around, messing up all our shows. Wiping out festivals and stuff. Not cool, Covid-19. Not cool at all. Total dick move.
Although it is still too soon to fully grasp what this situation will leave us with. How big of a lasting impact it will cause. Nor the repercussions it will have on musicians, on festivals and the clubs required by both for these live events. For the record shops and the record labels that supply them. For the fans. To the arts themselves. There are bigger, more pressing matters under fire here as well, of course. But we’re talking music here, at this moment.
“I am very concerned”, said Dave Smalley, when asked about the current situation. “Fans are the first ones hurt, which truly sucks. And we should all be fans. Then let’s consider the musicians. Musicians often don’t have a steady paycheck from a job, and while some of the bigger punk bands have had great financial success. The vast majority need to support themselves by touring. Record sales incomes are far from what they were in the golden days. So cancellations of tours are disasters for most musicians. Then let’s consider the great people who put on the music.”
Now is the perfect time to get back into – or to bulk up your record collections. We are all struggling in these unprecedented times. But the people that provide us with the arts we love are generally not able to apply for government grants. Many are considered self-employed. Help out if you can, and we will all get through this together. Walk together. Rock together. But stay six feet apart though.
The most recent festival to announce its submittance to this pestilence, locally at least, was the wonderful Pouzza festival. One that should have had Dave and his motley crew of bandits and outlaws up on stage. “Pouzza fest is one of the coolest around,” said Smalley. “Takes many months of planning, budgets, advertising, rental of space and equipment, and on and on. It’s a huge effort. Now the organizers have to juggle and reschedule and there isn’t even a sure date when this horrible virus will be beaten. Terrible. Then let’s consider the small clubs and bars who still take a chance on live bands. And the promoters and booking agencies. It just has a negative spiral on so much art and music and life.”
Down By Law, All and days of yore
Dave Smalley has an incredible history in music. Spanning close to forty years, he is possibly more active now than ever before. Count them, he currently has three bands on the go. The reason Smalley left All was thought to have been because of the groups busy schedule. Maybe the timing wasn’t right at that time. Or perhaps All’s touring reason was that maniacal. “It was more touring than I had ever done”, reflected Smalley, “and I definitely was tired after being on the road almost non-stop for a year and a half. I loved every minute of it and cherish the music and the two albums we made in those two years. And I’m grateful to the fans for still loving All and going for All.”
I regret not asking Dave if ALL, like DYS, is an acronym. It’s always written in capital letters. Unless I write it. It sets my OCD into hyperdrive. I had a case of l’espirit de l’escalier, as the French say. The spirit of the staircase. That moment when you think of the perfect thing to say once you’ve already left a conversation. Nuts. C’est la vie.
All was basically the Descendents with Dave Smalley instead of Milo Aukerman. At the time, the Descendents were huge. I suppose they still are. Normally, when a band moves on with all but one member, suspicions of a broken relationship may seep in. Given that Aukerman sang back-up vocals on All’s debut album, though, squashes those thoughts.
“People love their singers. Whatever the band, that’s the voice they love, and the one they sing along with. No one could be Milo, just like no one could be me, or Trevor Keith or whoever. Bill and I and Karl and Stephen didn’t want to be Descendents Junior. All four of us wanted to be our own, original band. Which I think was the right call. We loved Milo, but needed All to be… All. And yes, good relationships all through. It’s a punk rock family.”
As I alluded to earlier, Smalley was exhausted by the hectic pace of All. The non-stop touring. As such, after just two records, he left the band to form Down By Law. The first Punk rock show I ever went to, just happens to have been a Down By Law gig. It was sometime around 1995, and Down By Law were in town with Anti-Flag – who hadn’t yet released their debut album. Albeit foggy, I still remember that gig. We always remember our firsts. That show was part of the support tour for “Punkrockacademyfightsong” – which is amusing given that the band’s current roster has returned to that from the era.
Full circle. I suggested that Down By law should play “Punkrockacademyfightsong” in it’s entirety. Or perhaps a second volume. A sequel album. “That’s a great idea!”, exclaims Smalley. “I had not thought of that at all. Excellent; I’ll bring it up to the guys. We did some shows with that classic lineup but due to different people’s lives and families and schedules, we have explored different lineups too. Sam and I still write the songs and lyrics, and it’s fun to see what other musicians bring to the journey.”
“I think Down By Law is just this amazing music group,” Smalley says. And he isn’t wrong. “We have explored so many different horizons, musically. I literally compare us to Husker Du in that sense. A true musician’s band. In the beginning, not surprisingly, Down By Law was a lot more in the melodic hardcore vein. But as we grew as musicians, we really grew as recording artists. Songs like Radio Ragga, or Concrete Times, or a new song called Lonely Town on the upcoming album. All of those and many more are what music is meant to be- art, exploring. Life’s soundtrack.”
I had to know – had Down By Law’s 2018 release, “All In”, been a tongue-in-cheek nod to his former band. Smalley laughs, adding “Believe it or not, I hadn’t thought of that until this question. No, the title for me meant really going for what you believe in life. Push all your chips into the center of the table, making your bet count. So in that sense, I suppose it is like going for All, but I wasn’t thinking of it at the time.”
Smalley’s voice has also evolved a great deal over the years. Musician’s generally do continue to evolve and to explore their instruments. Be it a guitar or a saxophone, or a microphone. If you go back and listen to those early 80s versions of Smalley – the DYS and Dag Nasty years, then to the new Bandoleros EP – the difference is monumental. There are definitely moments were the DYS style can be heard on the new songs. Albeit brief. “I think if you’re a true musician, you let the music take you on a journey,” said Smalley.
“I grew up singing in church choirs and musicals on stage,” explains Smalley. “Then I let DYS call out my inner demons. Dag Nasty was me starting to train the dragon – still a dragon, but less violent and more inspirational. All was one of the first times I just sang, without the demons or dragons. It was so pure and fun. And then Down By Law has been where I’ve surfed so many different musical waves. Sometimes I rode the curl and just rode it all the way. Sometimes the waves knocked me on my rear. Don’t Sleep is getting back to the hardcore. And the Bandoleros is just magic. Really. It’s such a spiritually uplifting band. The Bandoleros is joyful.”
Nearly four decades in, Smalley’s musical journey must have seen much. Not just on the road, driving from city to city. Countless countries and territories. The good, the bad – probably some ugly, too. Memories that will last a lifetime. What would those be, though. The best of times. “Wow, that’s a good question and a tough one, says Smalley”. I like to challenge people.
“I think the best moments have been those moments when you knew you had something magical in an album, as you were recording it. While there is always magic to an album, or there should be, you don’t always know right away when that absolute electric spark will be there. When every moment in the studio feels like the most exciting, important thing in the world. It happened with DYS “Brotherhood”, with Dag Nasty “Can I Say”. With ALL “Allroy For Prez”. With Down By Law “punkrockacademyfightsong”, with Don’t Sleep’s upcoming album “Turn The Tide”, and with the Bandoleros “Join The Outsiders.” Those realizations are the best. And the shows where the audience and band are just on another level together.”
“The worst moments? I don’t like to focus on those. To quote Captain Jack Sparrow – Now, bring me that horizon.”
Dave Smalley & The Bandoleros soon to be acclaimed new record is out today, April 17th. Through Little Rocket Records. If for some truly bizarre reason, you haven’t yet been convinced to score yourself a copy – maybe this will help. Copies both physical and otherwise can had at this location. And hopefully, we will see The Bandoleros on a stage very soon.