Spazz Guitarist Dan Lactose Recalls His Days in the Band
During their eight years together (1992-2000), Spazz churned out one of the most impressive discographies in recent memory. Through an endless array of 7"s, splits, compilation appearances and three studio albums, the Northern California-based power trio went on to become one of the most influential bands in the punk and hardcore communities.
I had the pleasure of playing a bunch of shows with Spazz when I played in band called Black Army Jacket and there was nothing like them. Their guitar riffs (courtesy of Dan Lactose) were lean and mean, but always catchy. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of bassist Chris Dodge and drummer Max Ward were as comfortable with the blast parts as they were with the doomy, stomp parts Spazz often rocked in their songs.
These days, Lactose is a DJ/producer for Grand Invincible, a Bay Area hip hop group, and is still heavily involved with the punk and hardcore communities up there. With the Spazz albums being reissued in the last year or so, Noisecreep decided to catch up with Lactose and talk about his days in the band.
The first time I became aware of Spazz was through Metal Maniacs magazine around 1994 or so. Did you guys get a lot of other metal press back then? Did you have any kind of publicity help?
None whatsoever – that Metal Maniacs thing was a total fluke. I believe our connection was Alicia from the band 13 who was working at the mag at the time and got in touch with Chris [Dodge, bassist/vocals] about doing a write up on us. I think we confused a lot of people when we first started out. We were too noisy and chaotic for metal heads and the songs were too fast and short for the punk/HC types. We didn't have a manager or a publicist or anything like that. We were all avid record/tape traders and had pen pals all over the world. This was long before the Internet took off, everything was set up through hand written letters or expensive long distance phone calls.
Everyone talks about the crossover scene that popped up in the late '80s. What was it like in the early '90s in Northern California? Were your shows attended by both punk and metal kids?
The metal and punk/hardcore scenes in the Bay Area in the early '90s were pretty much two completely different worlds. The metal scene had fully succumbed to the "pay to play" bar and club circuit and the punk scene was saturated with sugary sweet pop punk. It was tough for a tuneless thrash band to fit with either camp (not like we wanted to anyways). Since we wanted to play all ages DIY shows, 924 Gilman St. was really our only option and since Capitalist Casualties were the only other band within 100 miles that played 200 mph, we both ended up supporting every brutal band that came through town.
Back then, it was actually the straight edge scene where there were some of the biggest supporters of heavy, brutal and fast music in the Bay Area. This was back when the "picking up the change" and windmill style dances were really big and the straight edge dudes would often clash with the circling pit heads at fast hardcore shows.
Watch Footage From a '90s Spazz Show
Bart Thurber is to Spazz what George Martin was to the Beatles. How did you guys initially connect?
Both Max and I had recorded with Bart before we even knew each other. Bart was the only local, affordable studio that we knew of and he specialized in recording punk bands which was a rarity at the time. I was originally introduced to Bart through Eugene Robinson of Oxbow who, at the time, was running a record store in the building that also housed Bart's studio (the original House of Faith). I had played some tapes of my band Sheep Squeeze for Eugene and he suggested that we record with Bart and brought Chris Heeee (Sheep Squeeze vocalist) and I back to the studio area to introduce us to Bart. I was blown away and Chris and I started riding our bikes from Redwood City to Palo Alto every weekend to hang around the record store and see who Bart was recording.
I remember we were down there when Neurosis was recording their Dead Kennedy's cover for the Virus 100 comp. They were one of our favorite bands back then and it was crazy to be sitting there on the couches bullshitting with them. Keep in mind we were 14-15 years old at the time! Chris was the youngest person Bart had ever recorded. Max had recorded all the Plutocracy stuff with Bart so it was only natural that when we started doing Spazz that Bart would record it. We also rehearsed in the live room at House of Faith and stored our gear there up until that entire area was destroyed in order to build a medical center. Bart and Eugene were both HUGE influences on me at a really early age. I don't think I would be sitting here typing this right now if it wasn't for their encouragement and support.
The audio sampled intros you guys used was another popular aspect about Spazz. How did you guys handle that part of the recordings? Did you each contribute sample ideas?
We all contributed samples. Max and I lived really close by and skated almost every day so I think we were constantly inspiring each other and compiling stuff based on themes we would come up with at practices and then further riff off of during skate sessions. And then Chris would come with stuff from a totally different perspective which really helped to make it even crazier. You know that sample where the guy is talking about the skate shop and the gun store – Max had actually heard that on the news and later contacted the TV station to get a VHS copy of the newscast so we could sample it!
I think it got to the point where we were just constantly listening to everything like, "Could we sample that? We could sample that!" Almost all the samples we would dump to 1" tape off of cassettes. Bart would either drop it in live over the music or if it was an intro or outro he would splice it in and we would end up mixing songs in chunks so there would be no gaps. Bart could splice tape like a motherfucker! I remember one time we were mixing down and Bart was splicing and there was tape everywhere. At one point he was like "Shit!" The song was so short he was trying to slice it and it ended up somewhere on the floor with all the discarded tape! All the Spazz stuff was recorded and mixed 100% analog. On our Crush Kill Destroy album, I triggered some of the samples off my MPC which allowed us to do some pitching and get more precise with where they were triggered.
Listen to a Few Tracks Off of Crush Kill Destroy
You guys were famously linked to the powerviolence scene of the '90s. When you think back to that time period, what pops in your head?
The fact that I was lucky enough to see No Comment play their benchmark Downsided 7" live sticks out in my head. Also that I got to see Crossed Out play twice and was spoiled with Man Is the Bastard making fairly regular trips up to the Bay Area to play. I also got to play with some of these now legendary bands. I'll never forget that s---. Personally, I always kinda felt weird being called "powerviolence." I'm from the school of thought where the bands mentioned in the song 'H.S.M.P' were the "powerviolence" bands – period. I was honored to be referred to as "powerviolence," but also kind of offended at how loosely the term began to get thrown around in the late '90s and ended up getting co-opted into micro genres like "emo violence." Get outta here with that s---.
Do you have any regrets when it comes to Spazz? Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Personally, I wish I had had better gear back then. I was in high school when we started and didn't really have a job so I kinda just used whatever I could get second hand or borrow from someone. What little money I did have I spent on rehearsal space rent, gas and records. I also regret cancelling our Minneapolis gig on our 1997 tour because I was sick with a fever. Looking back, I should have just powered through it, but when you're sitting in a van on the road for hours with a crazy fever and nowhere to lie down, the last thing you want to do is scream your head off in the wee hours of the morning in some hot ass room.
I wish we would have toured Europe, but it seemed like we started getting offers to go over there when he band was winding down. Working on these reissues and rereading some of the lyrics I wrote when I was 18 years old is also pretty embarrassing, but if it was any different it wouldn't be Spazz, right? You can always look back and say you should have done stuff different, but I gotta say feel lucky that I had a chance to do it at all.
You can follow @DanLactose on Twitter to keep up with his various projects. Check out Grand Invincible at this link. For more info on Spazz, and to order their reissues and other merch, cllick the following links: