Dog Meat Records by Steve Gardner
Noise For Heroes #19 in the summer of 1990
This is the third in a series of articles about Australian independent labels. Although fanzines rarely seem to feature labels, they're a critical factor in getting the music from the bands to the listeners, and the vitality of independent music is nearly as important as the presence of good bands in keeping the spirit of real music alive. In addition, many independent labels, including all the ones that have been featured in NFH to date, have a very specific vision of what they are trying to accomplish. This fact tends to bond their bands together, so that the story of the label actually becomes the story of a collection of bands with a common thread, whether it be Bruce Griffith's desire to put out records by bands that don't sound like anything else on Aberrant, or Doug Thomas fiercely supporting his local music scene with Greasy Pop, or Dave Laing and his passion for raw, intense passionate rock and roll.
Operating out of Melbourne, Dave is presently working on his second record label, called Dog Meat records. His first label, which he has now retired, was called Grown Up Wrong! The goals of both were similar; Dave wanted to be involved in independent music and saw this as a way he could contribute.
"There certainly were and still are plenty of other labels around ready to release any half decent Australian band that comes along", he says modestly, "So it wasn't a matter of no one else doing it."In addition, he felt that although there were plenty of independents around, there were none with the particular vision he had for a label. Dave's inspiration for his labels were the French Skydog label, which put out records by the Flaming Groovies, Stooges and MC5 in the mid 70s when nobody cared, and labels like Bomp! Records and Bonafide in the US. The key feature of these labels?
"Whether it be a record label or a group I really dig someone who's doing something against the grain, against the flow of things", says Dave. "Those labels like that which I thought had real guts, doing things against the grain, and a real integrity, real single mindedness of vision, that was the inspiration behind Grown Up Wrong!"Grown Up Wrong! debuted in 1986 with a single by one of the first Melbourne bands with a sort of Birdman - Stooges - 60s sound. They were the Gas Babies, friends of Dave's who recorded two songs with a four track recorder, one of them of cover of "Heading For The Texas Border" by the Flaming Groovies, one of Dave's all time fave bands. The production was real raw and basic, something that is a trademark of many, though not all, Grown Up Wrong! and Dog Meat releases. This raw production was to some extent a conscious reaction on Dave's part to the fact that within Australian independent music it was becoming almost required that all releases had an incredibly high production standard, and if you didn't have a lot of money you weren't seen as competitive.
"This was the time when every second release, especially out of Sydney, was produced by Rob Younger or Chris Masuak", says Dave. "Nothing against them, they did some great work, but I think it was very restrictive on a lot of bands, and I liked the idea of releasing something that had been recorded on a four track or even on a cassette. It was real raw." It was nearly a year to the second release, a mini lp by Melbourne's Penthouse Paupers, a Stones-y r'n'b band that Dave describes as "in the mold of Charlie Pickett and the Eggs or getting back to the 70s Groovies. Good songwriting, a bit underdeveloped as far as the way they played as a band, but they definitely had potential." The Paupers lp was quite well produced, although it maintained a strong feeling of energy never the less. But at this point, Dave went out on a limb for a really raw record, the Survivors Worse Than Perfect. This one opened his eyes to how different his vision of good music was from that of a lot of other people.
"The Survivors were a Brisbane band from 1977-78. The bass player, Jim Dickson, went on to the Passengers in Sydney, one of the early Phantom Records bands, and he was in the Saints for a short period, and then he was in the Barracudas, an English band who throughout the 80s were one of my favorite bands. I'd gotten onto the Survivors through my work at Augogo; we dealt with a shop in Brisbane where the Survivors' drummer Bruce Anton was working, and just talking one day about the old days with him he mentioned that he had a real good tape, and I half jokingly said well let me do a record, and he said yeah, yeah, yeah. Neither of us thought it would happen until sometime later it basically did; I started working pretty closely with Jim Dickson and we got the whole thing happening. He took the cassette into Studio 301 EMI, cleaned it up a bit, got it cut, and sometime later, probably a year or 18 months in the making, that came out. That got a really strange reaction...most people who heard it thought why the hell did you release that? That sounds like shit. But I thought it was a pretty cool record. It had a real high energy to it, and it was a good period piece, really. It really captured the energy that was happening back then, and so what if it sounded raw, you know? My way of thinking with releases like the Imperial Dogs and the Survivors is, sure, soundwise it's not what it could be but that's all there is and better to have that than not have those bands, because no matter how small their place in rock history, I reckon it was an important place, so apart from being good records to listen to, there's also a sort of historical thing there and I don't think that's a bad thing for a record to have."At roughly the same time, Dave started working on another project, a record by Boston's Primitive Souls. This band included two members of another of Dave's all time favorites, the Real Kids. Again it was the Augogo connection that got him on the track; a mail-order customer from Boston who knew of his love for the Real Kids sent him a cassette of a live radio broadcast of the Primitive Souls. A few more letters netted Billy Borgioli's phone number for Dave,
"so I sat up late and called him up and introduced myself and said if you've got any studio stuff I'd love to do a record. And he just said there and then yeah, we've got a few tracks that we did in a little demo studio just for radio play, they're just sitting around doing nothing, so send us $150 to finish paying off the studio and they're yours. So I was pretty rapt with that, and to date that's still one of my favorite records that I've done. I think that Primitive Souls twelve inch ep is just a fantastic, fantastic record, and it's really pissed me off that it didn't get much response, but I guess the Real Kids never got that much of a reaction from anyone so maybe it wasn't too surprising. It's a real shame."Dave rates the Primitive Souls record as his favorite Grown Up Wrong! release although it's one of his worst sellers.
Next up was a single by Sydney band the Sweet Ride, more friends of Dave's who played a Hitmen styled rock that sold "really badly" in Dave's estimation. This was quickly followed by a mini-lp by Thrust, which is pretty wild Hard-Ons type rock and roll somewhat different from the sort of thing Dave seems to normally favor, but still very good.
After that was one of the better known Grown Up Wrong! releases, the Third Time's The Charm mini-lp by the Lazy Cowgirls.
"I'd written to them after their first album had come out and never got a response, and then I wrote again just prior to Tapping The Source coming out. Their first album, even though it was badly recorded and stuff, that really knocked me out, so by the time Tapping The Source had come out they'd agreed to do a twelve inch ep with me. Again that took a fair while to get happening, so it came out six months after Tapping The Source or whatever. That was a really good thing to do; they were really good guys to deal with, and of course they've gone on to be a fairly popular band relative to the level that most of these bands are working on. The Cowgirls are pretty much my idea of the ultimate rock and roll as far as what's existing at the moment. They've just got such an incredibly powerful sound, great songs. Just everything about that band is spot on."The connection with the Cowgirls opened up a whole batch of new contacts, resulting in records by Crawlspace and Clawhammer and subsequently many records that have been and will be released on Dog Meat.
The best Aussie band Dave has done has to be Bored! Dave had known Dave Thomas for a couple of years; he'd been playing in the coastal town of Geelong for a couple of years under various different names like White Noise and Sister Ann, with a sound that owed a lot to the Radio Birdman, Stooges scheme of things. They'd recorded a single when they were still White Noise which was at one point going to be the second Grown Up Wrong release. That single never happened because Dave was concerned that the band's total lack of recognition combined with their lack of stability would make the single fairly unviable, though he rates the recording as "really hot in a really snotty teenage Stooge punk sort of way...lots of hot wah-wah".
The band became Bored! when John Nolan arrived to play guitar, and from then on the band took a big step up, and after seeing them a few times as Bored!, Dave offered them the chance to do the first mini-lp. "I was up in Sydney at Sound Barrier when they recorded that first ep", he says, "and I was just blown away with what they were doing. It was just so cool. And I'm still really happy with that record."
But after 11 Grown Up Wrong! releases Dave took stock of what he had done and felt a bit fed up by the whole thing. He wasn't getting the response he was hoping for with the label, and the bands weren't getting the recognition that he felt they deserved, and he decided to give up the label.
After six months of reflection, he reconsidered. The starting point for his revived interest was that he came up with a new label name, Dog Meat.
"Once I had the new name I liked it a whole lot better", he says. "There was nothing on Grown Up Wrong! that I didn't like, and I still like all that stuff, but maybe some of that stuff just didn't quite fit into what I was in the long run looking at doing. One of the things I didn't like about the Grown Up Wrong! name was the fact that the Johnnies had used that name for their second album, and that sort of took away whatever made that name special. Grown Up Wrong! came from a Rolling Stones tune off their second album. Dog Meat I think has much more impact as a name; it's got a better sound to it. A lot of people think it's sort of hardcore sounding or something like that, but in fact it's taken from a Flamin' Groovies tune from 1971 back in their real raw and high energy sort of period, which is my favorite period of them and pretty much my favorite period of any band."Dog Meat has only been going since early 1989, but already the catalog exceeds that of Grown Up Wrong!, including lps or mini lps by Antiseen, Jeff Dahl, the Imperial Dogs (a raw, live recording of an LA band from 1974-75), Bored, and the Varmints, Billy Borgioli's latest band. There have also been a few singles, and it appears that singles are the wave of the future for Dog Meat, as it has proved to be a very difficult and expensive proposition to push lps for Dave. He tells the story of the initial release of the Cowgirls' Third Time's The Charm, which was an exclusive for his label, and how he tried to get distribution of it for the west coast of the US, which would logically be the best place to sell it since it's the Cowgirls home turf. He went to the biggest west coast indie distributor, basically told them to name their price for the record, and received an order for 17 copies. For the entire west coast of the US. Stores and fans wrote him saying they couldn't get the record, yet the distributor wouldn't budge. Eventually they did reorder, but the story is typical of the difficulty getting Dog Meat records into US import bins. Europe is a bit easier, but it's still a struggle. The Jeff Dahl lp has been another source of frustration...it's one of Dog Meat's best sellers, but still is at a pathetically low level considering how great a record it is.
"Having done the Jeff Dahl record in particular I realized that having that as an exclusive Australian release and trying to sell it to the rest of the world as an Australian import just wasn't really viable" says Dave, "and from that position I wasn't really able to exploit the full potential of the record. Hence I've gone ahead and licensed that to an English label, Shakin' Street, and a Spanish label, Impossible Records. Basically the situation with that record was that when I approached Jeff it was going to be an ep with three or four new studio songs and a couple of live tracks. Once I sent him the money that just sort of blew out to a full album, and of course I wasn't going to say no to a full length album, but I learned something from that experience, and in the future I won't be approaching overseas artists or American groups or whatever to do albums on an exclusive basis."So next up for Dog Meat is a batch of singles in fairly limited edition and exclusively available on Dog Meat. The limited nature of the singles is not a product of any desire to create sham collectors items, since Dave feels strongly that there's little point in putting out a record if the people who want it can't get it. Rather the limited release quantity is a means of minimizing stocks of records sitting around waiting to be sold. The plan is that if the singles sell well, the quantities of succeeding singles will be increased. Dave sees this as a winning situation for both him and the bands; his financial exposure is reduced and the bands get recognition in Australia and a bit of help to their world profile, especially since Dog Meat gets fairly good distribution in Europe.
In the near future you can be looking for a pile of Dog Meat singles, including a live one by the Lazy Cowgirls with two non-lp songs from the Radio Cowgirl sessions, singles by Jeff Dahl, the Devil Dogs, Thee Headcoats, and a Geelong outfit called the Dirty Lovers who Dave compares to the Kingsmen with an exceptionally sloppy Johnny Thunders on lead guitar.
It's very interesting to compare Dave's outlook with that of Doug Thomas of Greasy Pop. Where Doug has found that singles are a sure way to lose money, Dave has found exactly the reverse. A lot of this springs from their view of the role of their labels; Doug is a fierce promoter of bands from his hometown, figuring that if he doesn't put out their records, no one else will, while Dave is out to find the brand of gritty rock and roll he loves where ever he can. I asked him to comment on the difference in attitude.
"You've got to realize that Adelaide is a very different town to what Melbourne is", he replied. "Melbourne is a lot closer to Sydney in that there's a lot of labels here and even if it wasn't me doing a Bored! record then I'm sure someone else would be doing them. Adelaide is a bit different in that it's pretty much isolated from where Melbourne and Sydney is, and Melbourne and Sydney are pretty much where all the labels are based. So there's truth in what Doug says. However, I'm probably not as loyal to my city as Doug is...I don't think that the local music scene or whatever is worthy of support just by virtue of it being local. There's a lot of really sucky bands around, real shit bands, that are getting support from public radio stations or whatever, just because they're local bands. They're encouraged because they are local bands. Some of these bands should be fucking shot, basically. So yeah, I'm not one of these people who's just into supporting the local thing."
"On the other hand, one of the reasons I think I like to release things like the Cowgirls, Antiseen, or whatever, is because I think there's a gap to be filled in the local music scene. There's just no one in this country making music like those guys are making, and very few people are really listening to that sort of stuff. What I was saying earlier about local bands spending a lot of money on their recordings and stuff; that's sort of spilled over into a mentality where what is considered to be underground music here is more often than not very safe and very conventional pop or rock. Possibly with a fair amount of competence and sophistication, but certainly not underground in any truly revolutionary or exciting sense of the word. I guess a case in point of that would be the Trilobites, who when they put out their first couple of singles, they were fairly highly touted. They were good singles and people thought they were an out there, exciting rock and roll band. I think they've since shown their true colors. They're just an incredibly mundane sort of band; a run of the mill, doing nothing exciting rock band. Bands like the Trilobites are like a prime case of that; they're one of my pet hates, basically; just your average rank suburban, do nothing of interest sort of band. And the only reason they were ever doing anything that was of interest to anybody was that they grew up in Sydney where it was very easy to be influenced by great music because of the influence of Birdman and all that. If they'd grown up anywhere else they would have been just as likely to be influenced by JJ Cale and be playing "Cocaine" or something like that. Maybe that's not quite fair, but I can see a bit of that in them."
"I think basically that in the overall scheme of things here there's a real lot lacking; there's very few groups that are doing real raw, gut level emotional sort of rock and roll stuff like the Cowgirls. That's not to say there aren't bands doing real gut level powerful stuff. There are bands like a lot of the ones that Aberrant have released; Venom P. Stinger, King Snake Roost, bands like that, but I guess I'm into a more traditional rock and roll form."
"There was a time in the mid eighties, and even early eighties, when those qualities were quite prevalent in a lot of Australian groups. There was the Scientists, the early Lime Spiders, the New Christs, the Rifles, when they started off the Gurus even, even the Johnnys when they started off were real good. But along the way a lot of those sort of qualities got watered down through overproduction or whatever. So hopefully some of these records that I'm releasing are making that sort of spirit available out here. I guess I'm trying to shove it in people's faces. Obviously it's not working too well, but what the hell. Keep trying."Following this Dave talked for a long spell about what qualities he looks for in a band. I found all of it to be real interesting...like reading some old Greg Shaw article or something, but after his long discussion he finished by saying that he thought he sounded like a pompous old rock critic talking and PLEASE could I not make him sound like that in the article. (Don't worry Dave, they're too busy thinking that about ME!)
But in a fairly large nutshell, Dave says that the ideal Dog Meat band in his mind would be someone like the Lazy Cowgirls, the early Saints, the Real Kids, the Flaming Groovies, or the Stooges. The qualities he sees in these bands are that they have their own sound, great power, real soul, and a way of doing things that's against the grain of what everyone else is doing.
"The Stooges were a lot more than what a lot of people seem to think of now days", says Dave. "The Stooges are such a commonly listed influence, but a lot of people haven't really gone and actually listened to them, and people think that they were just another one of these wild and long haired rock and roll bands, but there's such a depth in their music; it's loud, it's wild, it's incredibly experimental, and it's got as much soul as any old blues record. The Stooges basically were the greatest rock and roll band EVER!"Although Dave thinks that the worldwide rock and roll scene is healthier than at any time in years, he says that in Australia things "pretty well suck, at least on a general level". He has kind words for a number of Aussie bands, however, including Joel Silbersher's (ex-God) new band Hoss, which includes two Seminal Rats (another Laing favorite), the Cosmic Psychos, the Sunset Strip, the Splatterheads, the Psychotic Turnbuckles ("their records maybe a little too throwaway...") and the Philisteins, who he fairly raves over:
"Sort of sixties based, but within that 60s sort of genre they've got a very distinctive and very individual sort of sound. Great song writing, singing, really great lead guitar, and I think the thing I really like about them most is the mood and the attitude of all their songs. They might be sixties, but they're not a pop band...they're not sort of "Hang On Sloopy" or anything like that, it's the real dark side of 60s rock and roll. Some of the real killer sort of Pretty Thing's songs they'll do live. "Can't Stand The Pain", stuff like that. They do a couple of songs by Arthur Lee's Love. Just an incredibly well chosen set with the covers they do and some originals that are very much in the league of those great covers they do."But getting back to bands on Dog Meat, the future seems to be brightening a little. Although Dave doesn't get the support within Australia he'd like, it is improving. The Bored! records sell consistently well, and he's done reasonably well with the Jeff Dahl record and the Cowgirls mini lp as well. It's clear that his level of involvement with the label has grown steadily from the Grown Up Wrong! days; in addition to the singles mentioned previously there's the new Bored! mini-lp Take It Out On You, a 7 song 12" mini album from the Red Planet Rockets, a new Sydney band, with Sly J. from the Splatterheads, Carl from the Space Juniors, and Natt, an original member of the Mothers. Dave is enthusiastic over their sound, which he describes as "50's rockabilly with some sort of real noisy blues ad a bit of hillbilly twang in there. Real good songs and a good chunky sound. It's really great to hear that sound coming out of Sydney out of three people who are coming from a post-hardcore sort of thing." Much later this summer will be a mini lp by Pennsylvania's Original Sins including a remix of their "Just Fourteen" single, some tracks that were included as a bonus on their last CD, and some new tracks.
More singles coming further out by Boston's Johnny and the Jumper Cables ("that's Kenny Highland; he's a legendary Boston figure, though he's not originally from Boston, but that's real aggressive, hard rocking sort of stuff."), Slickee Boys guitarist Kim Kane with his new band, Date Bait doing the Groovies' "Dog Meat", Boston's Varmints, and the Creamers. Also in the pipe are two compilations, one a batch of real raw and crude tracks called Thanks For Making My Stumps Bleed which began as a project of God's Joel Silbisher to pull together tapes of way underground Melbourne bands but has grown into a world wide sampler, and another big double compilation that features something like 27 bands doing Troggs covers.
"I guess you'd call it a tribute album", says Dave, "But I don't like the term tribute. It reeks of Dick Clark or Shanana or something. The concept of the album isn't to pay tribute to the Troggs; that's more a by-product of what it is. The Troggs were an incredible band, and they had something in their sound and their nature that I think a lot of bands since have knowingly or not picked up on. Whether you're talking about the Stooges, who really had a primal, crude sort of nature, or the MC5 who had a similar thing and actual made their debt to the Troggs apparent by covering "I Want You" on their first album, while renaming it "I Want You Right Now" and taking songwriting credit for it, but it's essentially the same song. And I thought it would be a good idea to get a bunch of contemporary bands who were in someway or another following along those same lines. So the bands lined up so far for that are Antiseen, Bored, the Fluid, Date Bait, Kings Of Oblivion, the Boys From Nowhere, Mooseheart Faith, the Philisteins, Thee Headcoats, the Devil Dogs, the A-Bones, the Honeymoon Killers, the Dwarves, the Tommyknockers, the Varmints, the Telltale Hearts, the Morlocks, the Pandoras, the Psychotic Turnbuckles, and a whole bunch of others. The title is Groin Thunder, taken from a term that Lester Bangs used to describe the Troggs music in the legendary 25,000 word rave that he wrote on the Troggs in 1971 in the pages of "Who Put The Bomp?" So that's the big one...I'm looking at trying to have that out in August. It should be a real good fun record."So it's quite a plate full of Dog Meat that we're looking at, and maybe with a little luck people will pay more attention to the piles of great records Dave Laing's remote little label is putting out.