M.D.C. on Rebellion, 40 years of gigging, their notorious name and exclusive new track, Thinning The Herd

M.D.C. have been around the block and then some, with their infamous moniker, but making noises about all the right things. We had a Zoom with main man David Dictor as he shares a brand new song with us.

Most people aware of M.D.C. will know them as Million Dead Cops.

We first encountered them at Rebellion in 2017 and then again in 2018. So, while there’s no shindig at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool for 2020, we decided we would try and speak to a few Rebellion alumni and get a reflection of the festival and life in general.

This is the latest in the series.

To see M.D.C. live is like watching a stream of invective at everything the band doesn’t like, racism, homophobia, sexism, Trumpism, guns – yano the usual stuff that ordinary people don’t like, but for some reason needs to be made clear. It’s shouted, screamed poetry rammed down your throat. Often without any mercy. They’ve been around a long time, since at least 1980, from Austin, Texas. We can easily see why they’re still here.

The world needs bands like M.D.C. and, although we’ve no desire to put them out of a job, we really rather wish their message didn’t need to be spelled out. But, sadly it does.

And they were good enough to answer our call out for a chat.

After a couple of false starts, we managed to get David Dictor on Zoom. Much to the amusement of the rest of my family, I sent him the wrong link, so when he turned up, appearing to crash a family chat there was some not inconsiderable sense of bemusement.

But Dictor’s personality is engaging and infectious. You can’t help but like him. And after a couple of minutes, which must have been as weird for him – logging onto a room full of people, when he was expecting just me – as it was for us, until we’d worked out what was going on. Then my Mum waved him a cheery goodbye as we got down to business.

P3dro: As you know, I’ve been doing a series of interviews with bands that have played Rebellion in the past.

DD: Yeah, without all this mess, we’d be over there right now.

P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?

DD: I’m living in Austin, Texas, having moved from Portland, Oregon. This is a place I lived 45 years ago and it’s been quite nice because at the same time, I’ve fallen in love and had a wonderful relationship for the last two years.

So, if you have to get sequestered and stay away from the world, it’s nice to do it with a new lover. Not brand new, but we’ve had to really march on and realise we’re not going anywhere. We’re staying in one place and we don’t want to get sick, or get anyone else sick. But it’s been kind of good.

We were supposed to tour in the spring with GBH over here – we had a 35 day tour, which didn’t happen. But, you make lemonade when you got lemons.

I’ve been learning a new way to live, with not being on the road so often and being with my lover in close quarters. We had to learn a lot about ourselves. For a rock ‘n’ roll guy that’s always on the road, be here now.

We’re working on survival mechanisms. We’ve started a B&B with vintage trailers. It’s called Queen of the Road.

Queen of the Road

We’re about 10 miles from town, right on the edge of Austin, Texas. It’s nice; it’s hill country. It’s better then being in town where everyone’s tempted to get together all the time. Being 10 miles out we [get] our separation – people don’t just drop in on us.

It must be very hard for people living in London, who wanna get together with their friends, risking getting sick and all that.

P3dro: Well, I’m in Liverpool, UK, and I certainly don’t go into the city centre if I can avoid it.

DD: I wanna go to Liverpool. We played Liverpool back in 1986 or 87. Only once, we played there. I don’t remember the venue [it was Planet X, 24 October, 1987]. We got labelled Jet Corps because we flew in from London, otherwise we were never going to make it out of London in time. We hit total traffic on the M1, so we decided to fly in instead. The whole thing was surreal. We got picked up at the airport, went to the gig, played and then flew back to London to do a John Peel Session.

It was a great time, but I remember nothing much about Liverpool. It’s one of the cities I’d like to savour. I really like Brighton, I really like Norwich, I really love Edinburgh. That’s just such a lovely place. And I’ve been to Blackpool very often. I love the beach and, even though it’s a bit run down, everyone’s a character.

P3dro: How many times have you played Rebellion?

DD: Do you know, I’m not even quite sure. Maybe four or five times.

We didn’t go last year. I decided to take a year off from going to Europe. If you play every year, then everyone expects you every year. It becomes not so special. We went to Japan last summer and focused on that. It has a great hardcore scene, maybe not the same size as England, but we did it with a band called Naked Aggression and it was a sweet, fun time with old friends.

FliPOUT A.A were our hosts – they have a club out there called The Moonstep and it was a great time. We played eight or nine shows, including Tokyo two or three times.

P3dro: What’s the Rebellion experience like for M.D.C.?

DD: I’ve had a very good time there. I’ve been treated very nice. M.D.C.’s one of the biggest, little bands you’re ever going to meet. Always treated with respect and friendship from all the people there. I have nothing to say, but really great things.

And we’ve driven to the show and got there at the last minute, just before stage time and they’ve always been very [great to us], I’ve always had a great experience and the last couple of years have been very, very special.

Three years ago we played and our drummer, Al Schvitz, [got ill] in Frankfurt and had to immediately stop playing. That was about a week, nine days, before we were due in Blackpool to play Rebellion. So, our guitar player, Russ Kalita, who plays drums as well [stepped in]. He’s not Al Schvitz on drums, but he knows the songs. We started practising with Russ on drums and we kept playing shows.

We were DOA in Germany and Poland at the time and we were just getting 12 – 14 songs because we had to break in a whole new guitar player. The driver of our van was the brother of our bassist, Mike Smith and he joined us up on stage. We literally got up on stage two nights after we started practising. We didn’t cancel any shows. We just kept going.

I think the rumours had hit Rebellion that we weren’t the full M.D.C. and I kind of walked us through a short, 12 song set. The crowd was really loving.

P3dro: Yeah, I was there for that set.

DD: It was just a very simple set, but the crowd gave us love. And, then two years later we came back with Al and we played our [then] new album and that was just great. You could feel there was an anticipation – we were playing one of the bigger sized rooms there. We played right after Dick Lucas with Culture Shock, I think after us was The Adolescents.

It was a great time, people were so warm and loving. It felt so good coming back a year later. So, it’s been two years now and we’ll come back in 2021. I look forward to it. I look at Rebellion like it’s The Mecca. I know it’s not always perfect, it’s a business, but everyone has a story about Rebellion and what it means to them.

P3dro: I think it’s quite interesting because nearly everybody I’ve spoken to, whether they be a band or a punter / consumer about Rebellion, they say the same thing – it’s a really friendly place.

DD: Yeah. I think to have so many people in one place, pretty much peaceably gathering, with all this energy and all these bands – I find it very comfortable. Through years, watching The Business and then the Dead Kennedys and then Leftöver Crack and The Subhumans, all within one hour, going from one stage to another is great.

P3dro: I think there’s always something for every taste.

DD: Oh, yeah. Stiff Little Fingers, for example, so many bands I hadn’t quite gotten to see over the years are at Rebellion.

The last five years we’ve toured a lot. We’ve played between 120 – 140 gigs a year. I also play acoustically. I’ve been doing book reads, so I’ve been very busy. It’s nice to be just in one place and see everything. Because, when I come home from tour, I don’t want to go out. After being on the road for two months, then when you come home for three weeks, I just relax and pet my cat and disengage from all the people, the noise and all the racket. It’s good for me.

But then, I usually find at the end of three weeks, I miss it and I’m ready to hit the road again. I’m very lucky to have the life I have. I’ve gotten to make music, people know who I am. I’ve been doing it for forty years, now.

I’d been a teacher, I’d been a janitor. I’ve had other jobs. I have a son who’s over 30 years old now, but back in 2001-02, 1995, I had to really focus on being a father. But now that’s over – I mean, I’m still a father – but it’s fun. I’ve had a great ride with it and I feel very lucky to be who I am.

I played acoustic [at Rebellion]. I played ‘Chicken Squawk’ and this girl came up to me, embraced me and said ‘Thank You, so much’. It’s an animal rights song and the animal rights people are a special breed of people. There’s extra consciousness and extra thought about everything they’re doing. That was a wonderful time, I just have these experiences. I get to meet people I haven’t seen for 5, 10, 20 years.

When we started playing in the UK in 1982 with the Dead Kennedys we did 10 dates, made it out to the Crass Farm … the Disorder chaps in Bath and Bristol at the time, it’s been wonderful.

English punk has really given us a lot of love and friendship. I’m very appreciative of it.

P3dro: Just give us a potted history of the band.

DD: I was a child of the ’70s. I ran through High School and I was looking to see what I was going to do. I knew from watching The Beatles when I was seven, that I wanted to be a baseball pitcher for The Mets, or if I couldn’t do that, then I wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I knew that really early on.

So, when I’m 17 or 18, I came to Austin, Texas and I was looking to be a part of something musical. I was very lucky, I found the beginnings of the punk scene here in ’77 and ’78. Had a great ride with all of that – saw DEVO and Patti Smith, 999.

I started a band [The Stains], we got very lucky and got taken with the Dead Kennedys to England. We were The Stains, originally and then we turned into MDC Stains and then just M.D.C.

P3dro: I have to ask the question, because it is kind of the elephant in the room, isn’t it? About what M.D.C. stands for. Notoriously, it’s been Million Dead Cops, but you’ve used different names as well, haven’t you?

DD: Yeah. Here we go. I have one here. We did a shirt recently which is Mismanaged Disease Catastrophe.

Mismanaged Disease Catastrophe

So, we use the M.D.C. acronym for whatever we feel like talking about, whatever is important to talk about. And, of course, this last year has been a mismanaged disease catastrophe.

We have a new acoustic album coming out [it’s out now, in UK at least] called ‘Millions of Dead Cowboys’

P3dro: Obviously the label, for want of a better word is you’re a punk band. But ‘Millions of Dead Cowboys‘ sounds very different.

Millions of Dead Cowboys

DD: Yeah. Surprisingly enough, I wrote some of these songs in the ’70s that way – eg ‘Chicken Squawk’ and some of the others always had that country feel.

Before I got into a rock band I was pretty much into bluegrass. I was young. I was looking to go to bluegrass festivals when I was 17, 18, because you could just play this easy kind of rhythm, and all these banjo pickers and mandolin pickers and guitar pickers would love just to play with you for hours.

So, I would just play: G,G,G,G,G,C,C,C,C, D and then back to G,G,G. And I learned all these easy rhythms. It was a crash course on playing rhythm guitar. I’m really glad I did, because when I got back into wanting playing rock ‘n’ roll, when I started seeing things like Patti Smith, The B52s, The Clash and, of course, The Sex Pistols. So, when it became time to start covering ‘Pretty Vacant’ or ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, I had a handle on it.

P3dro: What’s next for the band? New music? Touring?

DD: New music – I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve just got one called ‘Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire’ There’s the pandemic song we did called ‘Thinning The Herd’. It’s very much about what’s going on with our politicians, how they’re so interested in keeping the economy flowing. They don’t care that a certain amount of people die.

Thinning The Herd
Have no fear it’s under control
Get back to work and do what your told
The budgets broke you have no choice
Patriots, hear my voice
Don’t you doubt me, we own your soul
Folks will die , bury ‘em in a hole
Call them heroes look a little sad
When the money flows we’ll all be glad.

Thinning the herd, for the economy
Thinning the herd, its a strategy
Thinning the herd, it’s a sacrifice
Watching the virus exact it’s price

This time it’s war, you’re out of your mind
Cut our healthcare, leave us all behind
Infectious greed, like virus spreads
Leave millions unprotected dead
Lies and tricks, dash our hopes
Heartbreak, illness, try to cope
Drink bleach, listen to your lies
What are you fucking high?

Thinning the herd
First the old were told to die
Then brown folks and you and I
Build a mausoleum by the border wall
A moment of silence to remember them all
Round up the homeless and malcontents
Lock ‘em in a stadium live in tents
Both criminal and negligent
Prison’s, where you’ll be sent.

Thinning the herd

DD: We have this ad hoc band called Millions of Dead Elected Officials, because I’m living with Sophie Rousmaniere of The Elected Officials and there are a few of them around here.

We have one of the guys from Piñata Protest and Felix from Dirty Rotten Imbeciles – he’s playing drums. So, we’ll see, we’re trying to put a whole album together.

Well, we have nothing better to do, thanks to our President for just refusing to acknowledge that we have a problem and we needed to close things down for a month or two. He’s just denying reality and now he can turn into a total hater and traitor. Which we always knew he was. But he’s really sunk his own boat. [But for the virus] he probably would have been re-elected.

But he likes stirring up racism, the ultra-right wing. It shows your true colours when you’re in office and now [some people] are saying he will refuse to leave office after the elections. It’s going to be very interesting here.

Average people are buying guns, because not just the right wing should have guns. I’m voting in the next election because I feel like it’s one of the things I can do to help get rid of a bad seed in the American culture.

P3dro: It’s been a pleasure talking to you. The last question we always ask is whether you can recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now?

DD: Well, on a soulful kind of part, Days N Daze is good – in that kind of cross court thing. A really sincerely kind of band. We’ve played with them many times. We’ve had a wonderful time with them.

I really like Potbelly from Washington – really great people. I like the Elected Officials – they’re my friends, so, much as they’re people I work with, then I wanna plug them as well.

But, who am I listening to? I listen to Neon Christ, from America, Vicious Circle from Australia.

I like the old school, too. I love Joey Shithead from DOA he became a politician in Western Canada. I’m just like thumbs up for that.

We had a tour in England with Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and that was a lot of fun, two years ago. I also like Italy, I like Svetlanas. Round Eye from China – we’ve met them through being on the road from time to time and we keep hooking up again – they’re a really great band.

I like The Restarts a lot. They’re like my kissing cousin band or something. They’re just my type of people.

The guys from In Evil Hour from Newcastle – we’ve played with them a few times. I really, really like them.

In the States, I like The Adolescents, some of those old bands like D. I. , we just really relate to each other – we’ve come from the same neck of the woods.

Also look for Piñata Protest if you haven’t seen them.

I love the Japanese hardcore scene. There’s a slew of them – my brain isn’t [working], but they just jump up in the air and they’re on fire. We’re sitting there going strum, strum and they’re jumping out of their pants.

And then I look at my band and say ‘We gotta jump’ We need to act like we’re excited. People are paying to see M.D.C. and they want a good show, so lets give them one back.

Also, Contrast Attitude was the band from Japan I was thinking of. Really lovely folks. Great band.

I can’t wait to come over to UK and play for you guys.

These are very scary times. I’m having a wonderful time with my partner on a personal level, and we are becoming a songwriting team. We both worked on ‘Thinning The Herd’ and we’re working on [another] 6 – 8 songs right now. It’s feeling very fruitful.

This portion of history is sad and catastrophic. Scary for elephants and large mammals and so many people being hurt in so many ways. And the fear of someone like Trump and the fear of Brexit – your Trump – and what’s going on in Poland and Bulgaria, with the fascists rising. It’s a scary time, but it’s also a very [productive] time artistically. It would be fun to come back next year and show what we’ve done.

I have nothing but love for the people in the UK, you and that’s what keeps me going – love.

Love in my heart, the love of my life, the love of making music, the love of being with people that have an edge and a concern that wanna share their emotions. You know, from social items to political things.

And hopefully, we’re moving the ball of history a little closer to a better place.

Nothing but love from M.D.C. and Dave. Even though, I don’t drink ale, I’ll kiss a cold one. Rock life hard. Write a poem or a song. Do something to make your mark.

Hardcore!!

And that seems a fitting place at which to finish up.

Dave – it was an absolute pleasure.

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