By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The Dwarves harken back to a time when punk was more of an insult than a marketing term. Rebellious teens trafficking in outrage and anything else they might procure with $20 and offers of warm beer, they formed in Chicago during the mid-'80s, quickly making a name for themselves with outrageous stage shows inspired in part by the antics of G.G. Allin, including physical violence and onstage sex acts.
"Back then, we were kind of new and people didn't really know us," says frontman Blag Dahlia from his home in San Francisco. "So if I felt like people were ignoring us, things would get kinda out of hand. They don't ignore us anymore."
Over the last quarter-century the band has released 11 albums with titles like Toolin for a Warm Teabag and the darkly suggestive Thank Heaven for Little Girls. Though the music has morphed, spanning the spectrum from hardcore to pop-punk to rockabilly and garage, the Dwarves have retained their same twisted penchant for crude comic overstatement ("Lesbian Nun," "We Must Have Blood") and serial offensiveness (the statutory rape ode "Let's Fuck"). Like chronic crotch rot, their sick affliction shows no sign of abating. And certainly not as frontman Dahlia dreams up the perfect 25th anniversary party for his band.
"It definitely involves teenage girls with braces, the ritual burning and stoning of the critics and ends with all the record companies we ever dealt with giving us a big refund and an apology for being assholes," he says.
Like Allin before them, The Dwarves have constantly courted controversy, from album covers featuring naked women covered in blood or crucifying a dwarf to slagging Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme to faking the death of longtime guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed.
This last stunt featured a press release suggesting the guitarist had been stabbed to death in Philadelphia and that their third album for Sub Pop, 1993's Sugarfix, was a tribute to him. When the truth came out, the label was not amused and quickly dropped the band. But The Dwarves are not that easy to kill. They returned four years later with Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking, inaugurating a new pop-punk chapter in their story with the arrival of producer Eric Valentine (Good Charlotte, Smash Mouth), who's worked on each of their subsequent albums.
"Sub Pop had kind of jumped the shark on us, and were making boring grunge records," Dahlia says. "They didn't really see the whole pop-punk thing coming up in their rearview mirror. We wound up going to Epitaph and Young and Good Looking was the result. In a lot of ways that's still our most popular record, with pop-punk standards like 'Everybody's Girl' and 'One Time Only.'"
But pop-punk was just a stop for The Dwarves. They'd go off the rails into an odd fusion of punk, industrial and dance, sounding at times like Green Day in the midst of an Atari Teenage Riot on 2000's Dwarves Come Clean. By 2004's Dwarves Must Die they'd settled on a free-ranging amalgam of punk, metal, garage and pop-punk, which also provides a template for their latest, Dwarves Are Born Again.
For this anniversary release, they've brought back nearly all The Dwarves from throughout the years, as well as other guests (Josh Freese, Dexter Holland), creating one of their finest collections of songs, ranging from the electro-punk paean to their legacy, "15 Minutes," through the metalcore "We Only Came To Get High," the hilarious garage-punk "I Masturbate Me" and the boisterous Blink-182-ish "Happy Birthday Suicide."
"[When I was young,] punk had a more anarchistic quality in that it wasn't a genre of music yet — it was more like a way of doing things," Dahlia says. "The people that were outside the mainstream were lumped in as punk, so you had a lot of different genres you could go to. That's the whole Born Again thing. This band survived all the different hypes and bullshit, and represents a real freedom to say anything you want, and play anything you want. You combine the most commercial aspects with the most disturbing aspects and that's what we've been trying to do all along."