BL’AST! is ready for its due. The hardcore skate-punk outfit from NorCal released three genre-defining albums in the late 1980s that helped shape the sound of hardcore punk as much as anything Black Flag had done in the few years before. Their music inspired such luminaries as Dave Grohl, who played a concert with the band long before he joined Nirvana, and Greg Anderson, co-founder of the huge metal label Southern Lord and the beloved drone metal band Sunn O))).
BL’AST’s original members Clifford Dinsmore and Mike Neider recruited Nick Oliveri (of Kyuss, probably the most underrated rock band in history) and Joey Castillo (who played with Oliveri in Queens of the Stone Age). BL’AST! hadn’t put out original music in nearly thirty years, but, after releasing rerecorded albums through Anderson’s label, they decided it was time. Now, with Grohl joining the band on drums, and Chuck Dukowski, of Black Flag, filling in on bass, the band is ready to bring traditional Reagan-era hardcore to a new generation. Essentially picking up where they left off, I reached Neider by email to talk about how their new EP, For Those Who’ve Graced the Fire, came together.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
What do you find is the biggest change music has gone through since co-founding the band in the early 80s?
Mike Neider: The danger element and technology. When we toured we had no cell phones or Internet. Probably enough said. We relied on the club to promote the gigs by local papers and flyering. Then there is the transformation of 8-tracks to LPs to cassettes to CDs and now digital. It took some getting used to but now that there are options being offered, [and] with the exception of 8-tracks its turning out great.
How about socially? How important was the sociopolitical climate of the 80s in writing BL’AST’s first albums, and how important is the climate of today in writing the latest music?
Not much different, although it has broadened but still remain with genres. Just not as violent. Ha… Appreciate it more with age. BL’AST! has always been literal with a positive aggression.
In terms of musical aesthetics, was it a conscious decision to record BL’AST’s new music with better production values, versus the previous work?
Our past was limited, compared to having access to some of the best studios now, thanks to Dave [Grohl] and everyone at Studio 606 [the Foo Fighters’ recording studio]. Musically we do what we do. It’s BL’AST! We recorded For Those Who’ve Graced the Fire [and], after recording, playing it we sat down to listen and we were all blown. Dave instantly said it’s fucking BL’AST! Chuck as well. BL’AST! 30 years later … Slammin!!! On the Blood mix Dave took off all that 80s clusterfuck and left it raw and it sounds way better. So actually we used less technology then we did the 80s.
Since this is the first record of all new material since Take the Maniac Ride, when did the rest of the band decide to get together and make new music? How were the first songs approached and written?
Greg Anderson and I worked together with our companies. Greg has been into BL’AST! and asked about putting out some of our music. I had sent him old tapes that Greg ended up baking to be able to do anything with and use. After it worked he instantly called Dave Grohl to see if he would want to mix the BL’AST! Blood [record], he said fuck yeah! bring it over to my studio 606. Briefly, it turned out amazing. After how great that was, Cliff and I were into the idea of doing BL’AST! again. A year later after touring we were ready to record and get out of the reunion mode and lay down some BL’AST! It was an unbelievable experience to say the least. Releasing the EP with Dave and Chuck — long time friends and fans of the band — was an ideal way to come out of the gates. The first tunes I sent to Dave and Chuck were the two released for the EP… Classic BL’AST! and they were hyped and we had an awesome time. It was classic but everyone also added their personality to it as well. We all dig it!
Dave Grohl said that when he first met you and the core members of BL’AST, he was in awe. He wasn’t a famous rock star when he first met you, right? What was it like working with Grohl, both having him mix Blood! and The Expression of Power, and playing drums for the band on the new EP?
Dave was in the band Scream and we had a gig together at CBGB in New York sometime in the mid-80s! Unbelievable. We dig Scream and seeing Dave drum for the first time was nuts and we were all floored … “Who the hell is this guy? Haha…” Dave slayed the drums and we’ve been fans and friends ever since. Working with him confirmed it even more so how fucking great he is! He didn’t work on The Expression of Power but turned Blood into a wall of 3D sound. Playing [on] Graced the Fire was kick ass. Killed it!
Do you still skate? Does the skater life influence the music you make today?
For sure! It’s a big part of the BL’AST! aggression and energy. I grew up in the skateboard world from being a kid and have been involved ever since. I worked for Santa Cruz Skateboards for 20 year and then Fausto’s [Vitello, founder of Independent Truck] companies in S.F.: Printime, Thrasher, Spitfire, Antihero etc… for three years & continue to roll for life! Playing a gig is like finding an empty pool!
Clifford once told an interviewer that a lot of bands, especially hardcore bands, wouldn’t have existed without Take the Manic Ride. Do you find that to be true? What is it about BL’AST’s sound that makes it so timeless and influential?
Yeah, that’s what I hear. Pretty cool, man. Manic Ride is heavy! It just needed a better recording. If you can get past that and really check it out it gets to be like the title. It was at a time were our label had fallen apart and grunge started to rage. It kind of got difficult to exist… Not sure, we took the rawest and loudest route we could from the beginning and wanted to develop a heavy musical onslaught that was focused on being heavy as we could. Skateboarding & surfing along with our rock & punk hardcore roots… It has more danger. Till this day it is hard for people & promoters to figure out what we are and who to place us with as far as gigs.
With the new EP and the recent tours, you’re reaching a whole new generation of punk kids. What do you hope they’ll take away from the music?
BL’AST! isn’t an easy band to figure. It’s great to be able to have BL’AST! showcase again and a record to show how real and raw this is. We love it and respect it. To have folks see it now is very cool. Once you get it, you get it and you will know!
Going back to my first question about changes in music, has the advent of digital music and streaming services been mostly helpful or harmful to hardcore, and especially BL’AST? Is there any contradiction between the DIY ethic of hardcore music and the mass availability of digital recordings?
I don’t think so. Options seem to be more accessible now and digital music just allows the new generation to access it as well. The biggest fallout I think is adjusting to small speakers rather then the massive ones that dominate for hardcore and rock.
Alumni from Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age have been a part of BL’AST! for a while now. Both are hilarious, tongue-in-cheek bands, while I’ve always found BL’AST! to be a more “sober” project with a sincere message. Has any of the Kyuss/QotSA absurdity rubbed off on BL’AST?
Haha… Yup [it’s sobering] and no [those are different bands]. Joey & Nick are heavy, they hold that element that we have, no fucking around. Balls to the wall. One hundred percent or nothing at all. It works great. Joey was at some BL’AST! gigs back in the day when he played for Wasted Youth. He knows what BL’AST! is. Although I can appreciate everything others do BL’AST! is & always will be 100% & sobering… to one extent or the other.
Tell me a little bit about the title. What does it mean to be graced by fire?
Playing with technology that will light the fuse for catastrophic things to happen.
BL’AST!’s new two-song EP, For Those Who’ve Graced the Fire, is out now.