“Everyone used to have a BL’AST! sticker on the bottom of their fucking skateboard,” says Dave Grohl, who first met the Santa Cruz hardcore act while touring with his ’80s punks Scream. Despite a busy schedule that includes recording the eighth Foo Fighters LP on his Sound City console, Grohl recently found the time to tinker with the original, unmixed tapes of the 1987 BL’AST! album It’s in My Blood.
“When I first met [BL’AST!], it was a huge deal for me. I was in awe,” Grohl says. “Now, mixing the record here at my studio, 20-some-odd years later, I found myself back in that same place emotionally. I felt 18 again, like I was back in the room with some of my heroes, and they were the older, badass kids who let stupid grommets like me hang out.”
Although BL’AST! haven’t garnered the same legacies that fellow puffed-chest, ragged-voiced, crossover thrash bands like D.R.I., the Accüsed, or Void have over the past 30-or-so years (they’re not even mentioned once in Steven Blush’s American Hardcore tome), the new mix of the retitled BLOOD! (done on the Sound City board) gives the group back its bite — something savage for a time where bands like All Pigs Must Die, Trash Talk, and Centuries are looking back lovingly to that era. This new version, which avowed BL’AST! fan and Sunn O))) member Greg Anderson is releasing on his Southern Lord label, oozes primordial hardcore menace unlike the original, which suffered from fuzzy ’80s overproduction. Moreover, Grohl and his team at Studio 606 unearthed a lost guitar track on the tapes that belonged to the band’s short-lived second guitarist, William “Kip” DuVall — better known as the current singer and guitarist for Alice in Chains.
Now rescued from oceans of reverb, songs like “Ssshhh” seethe with a rejuvenated anger: Vocalist Clifford Dinsmore strains his vocal cords as he claims the future for himself, guitarists DuVall and Mike Nieder play jagged riffs, and drummer Bill Torgerson jerks in rhythmic spasms. Vicious and ferocious, BLOOD! is positively bloodthirsty. “I’m excited for people who’ve never heard the band to hear this, because it’s a great example of where music was at in that scene at the time,” Grohl says. “I hope people get into it.”
Hear the entire vintage tantrum below, and catch up with Dinsmore, DuVall, and Grohl as they revisit one of punk’s great forgotten legacies.
Why did BL’AST! form?
Clifford Dinsmore, vocals: We were all in a band together called M.A.D. Then I quit for a little while, and the rest of the guys formed BL’AST!. I was actually going to move out of town to go to college, then I heard them. I was just so sold on it that I cancelled any other plans.
What was Santa Cruz like back then?
Dinsmore: It was an ideal, peaceful hippie town. BL’AST! contrasted with the rest of the Santa Cruz scene. Stuff started to get really wild, and this guy Richie Walker opened up an all-ages venue called Club Culture where everybody played. It was just a really bitchin’ place to be. I thought it was really cool how the whole energy of really, really insane violent hardcore mixed with and fueled the skate and surf scene. Now Santa Cruz is yuppified like everywhere else, and there are more cops, more laws, more traffic, and more people.
How did you get associated with SST?
Dinsmore: We never thought about signing to SST until we noticed Chuck Dukowski showing up at all our shows. I had known him since I was a young kid because I went to all the Flag shows. And he started showing up in the front row with this really intense look on his face. I remember thinking, “He’s gonna kill us or something.” [Laughs] We literally played Greg [Ginn] a ghetto-blaster recording of the song “It’s In My Blood,” with no vocals or anything. He was just like, “Oh yeah, man, all right.” And that was that.
In a 1984 [Get in the Van] entry, Henry Rollins wrote, “Every song [BL’AST!] plays sounds like [Black Flag’s] ‘Thirsty and Miserable.’ The rest of the Flag are watching them, laughing when they’re not looking.” Did you ever make up with him?
Dinsmore: We had eliminated that Black Flag sound when It’s in My Blood came out. I was 16 or 17, I’d go hang out with Black Flag, see all the shows, so I knew Henry on that level. He’d never mentioned anything to me about how he hated BL’AST!. Over time, I lost touch with him. I don’t really have a problem with what he wrote, I just thought it’s kind of weird. I always thought that was petty.
What do you remember about recording It’s in My Blood?
Dinsmore: It was at a place called Mars Studios, in the country part of Santa Cruz. At that time, people just didn’t know how to deal with our kind of music. I knew the engineer there, since my mom kind of knew him, and he took this really open-minded approach to making that record. For the time period, he did a good job. When we went in there and did Manic Ride [in 1989], he wasn’t there and everything went to hell.
How did William DuVall come to join the band?
Dinsmore: Steve [Stevenson], the first guitar player, quit and gave us this letter that Kip had written — at that point William’s nickname was Kip. He had written a couple of letters to bands that he liked saying, “If you need a guitar player, I’m in.” We talked to C.O.C. [Corrosion of Conformity] and people who knew him, and they said he was really good. So we were like, “You want to be in the band? Come out here.”
William DuVall, guitarist: I was only about 18 years old at the time. My group from Atlanta, Neon Christ, had broken up and BL’AST! were probably among the only other people in the country at that time that had the same basic aesthetic sense as I did about how music should sound. [Laughs] We even played the same kind of guitars. We were kindred spirits, so I moved to join their group.
Dinsmore: Being the age that we were and just being in a punk band, we didn’t have a lot to offer. He came out to Santa Cruz and lived in my small, two-bedroom apartment in a room made of sheets in my living room.
DuVall: I remember I scraped together enough money to come home to Atlanta for my first Christmas, having lived in Santa Cruz for a little bit, but BL’AST! had a gig at the Anti Club in L.A. on, like, December 26. [Laughs] So I actually had to leave on Christmas night to fly back to L.A. for this gig, and Chuck Dukowski picked me up at the airport in the old Black Flag van. We drove to the SST compound, their office space. I napped on the floor.
Dinsmore: I think it was really hard for him to be away from his family. Anyway, it just got to the point on a musical level where I think Mike decided we didn’t need two guitar players. He just went back to Atlanta.
DuVall: Eventually, sort of differences creeped in. So I went back to Atlanta to form my own group. It was a really strange experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It influenced my own work ethic in Alice in Chains.
Dinsmore: I think that last time I saw him was probably the next tour we did after that. The first time I spoke to him again was 25 years later when we were down at Dave Grohl’s place.
What was Dave Grohl like when you first met him?
Dinsmore: We were good friends with his band Scream, so they told us, “We got this great new drummer. He’s awesome.” Then at CBGBs, seeing him play, going like, “My God, where did they find this kid?” It was insane. He’s a super awesome dude, pretty much the same as he is today.
Dave Grohl, mixer, fan: That was the first time I ever played New York City and it was the first time I’d ever been to CBGBs. BL’AST! sounded like a fucking bomb. It’s funny, they had this one particular trick up their sleeve where they have a moment of hesitation before the beat drops. Every time they would hit a downbeat, it was just a couple milliseconds too late and Clifford would stomp his foot on floor and his body would tense up like he was a prizefighter punching someone. It was insane. I’d never seen anything like it.
And for a band that tight, they were so fucking loose. It was really weird. We didn’t have those bands in the D.C. hardcore scene. And of course I’d seen Void and Black Flag and really heavy hardcore bands. But BL’AST! had something to them that was a little more sinister. And the aesthetic, the shoes that they wore were like a California cholos surf thing, and they all talked like they were from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and they toured in this handicapped airport shuttle van. [Laughs] They were just fucking rad. I fell in love right there and then.
Were BL’AST! intimidating?
Grohl: Well, I don’t want to paint them as a bunch of Spicolis spilling out of a smoking van, but they were kind of like a bunch of Spicolis spilling out of a smoking van. [Laughs]
Dinsmore: Before he was in the band, Scream had a history of coming to Santa Cruz and hanging out with us when they were on tour. I had this theory that they broke down on purpose every time they came to visit us because they would always spend, like, multiple days. Everyone would just go to the beach and have fun. Dave just fit right in to the whole scene.
Grohl: My first night in California was spent in Santa Cruz with the BL’AST! guys, and it was like I’d flown to another planet. It was nuts. They lived in an A-frame a couple blocks from the beach, where someone’s mom made everyone pasta and rolled joints. [Laughs] I was like, “I want to stay. This is where I belong!” And then I saw a drum circle, and I was like, “This is not where I belong.”
Dave, how did you come to work on BLOOD!?
Grohl: I’ve known Greg for a super long time. That dude loves BL’AST!. He once told me, “I’m just going to say it: They were better than Black Flag.” And that’s a pretty heavy statement, but that’s fucking Greg. He had uncovered these tapes and he wanted to remix, remaster, and re-release those albums, so he asked if we could do it at my studio.
How did the tapes sound?
Grohl: The original album was mixed in a way that was very ’80s. There was a lot of reverb. When we played the isolated, unaffected tracks, I heard a super powerful band in a room that just needed some clarity. So we stripped it of all of that other stuff and put it through the old Sound City board and cranked it up. And it fucking rips, man. I wanted that sound I heard when I was 18 years old on the side of the stage at CBGBs. That’s fucking BL’AST!.
Were DuVall’s tracks on the tapes a big surprise?
Grohl: He had recorded that record with them, but then he left the band, so they just muted his shit. They were like, “Fuck it!” They hit the mute button, that’s it. So we just fucking turned it on. We were like, “Can we use these?”
Dinsmore: I texted him about including them and he said, “Yeah, that sounds cool.” It was cool to work out his inclusion on the album, and it just sounds so much better with him playing. It gives it a bitchin’ new dynamic.
Clifford, how did it feel to hear all the songs on It’s in My Blood again?
Dinsmore: It was pretty awesome. There are songs on that album that stood out in my memory, but then all of a sudden, there were ones that jumped out, like, “Holy crap, that song is heavy.” I had just forgotten how heavy they actually were.
What does BL’AST! mean to you now?
Dinsmore: I think BL’AST! was maybe slightly underrated for its time period. When I look at the Dillinger Escape Plan or Botch or Converge or newer hardcore that’s really pushing the limits, I think, “Wow, that’s where it all went.” It’s hard to say if those bands would have existed in the same way if our music hadn’t existed, playing that really technical style of hardcore that we stumbled upon. I feel like we made a contribution to that kind of music and paved the way for sort of heavier stuff to come about.
What’s the deal with the apostrophe in the band name?
Dinsmore: That’s a really good question. I don’t know. [Laughs] The straight-up truth is that Steve, who was in the band at the time, designed a sticker for us and put the apostrophe or accent mark or whatever it’s intended to be in there, as well as the exclamation point. I was just like, “What the hell is that? This is stupid. Why is this here?” [Laughs] It bugged me at first, then it just stuck. I definitely think it had some sort of weird subliminal appeal because those stickers ended up everywhere.