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80s Hardcore

CVLT Nation interviews Gary Floyd (The Dicks, Sister Double Happiness, Black Kali Ma)

Photo by Pat Blashill

One of the most important names in underground music, Gary Floyd is able to make his powerful and striking voice easily navigates through various different styles. The list includes everything from the seminal punk/hardcore of The Dicks to more recent projects like the blues-based The Buddha Brothers, including one of the most revered bands of alternative rock in the 1990s, Sister Double Happiness.

Throughout his career, which also includes several solo albums and bands perhaps less known, but no less interesting, like Black Kali Ma, Floyd has always kept as a striking characteristic the mix of different influences, never attaching himself to a specific label or style. “The music was always an expression of what I was feeling”, says.

In this interview, made in April, Gary talks about Dicks ’40 years legacy, the main points of Sister Double Happiness’ career, recalls how it was to share tours and the stage with names like Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden, comments on what it was like to record with James Williamson, from The Stooges, and points out the records that changed his life. Check it out!

CVLT Nation: This year marks 40 years since the Dicks were created in Austin.

Gary: Yeah, May 16th would be the 40 years anniversary. We were going to play. I had tickets to go there. But everything got cancelled. It was going to be like a surprise, I was going to show up. We will do it on the 80th anniversary (laughs).

And how do you see the band’s legacy after 40 years? Do you have a favorite record, song or concert, for example?

Gary: I do, but it can change with my mood. I’ve been lucky that I always liked the bands I’ve been in so I can still listen to most of it. I don’t listen to any of it too much, but if I listen to something that one of the bands has done, I usually like it. Because I’ve always been sort of strict with myself. So if I didn’t like a song or I thought it was silly, or some kind of non-sense, I wouldn’t do it, even back then. I’m surprised that 40 years later anybody is interested enough to do any kind of question about it.

But I do see that what we did have a place. Because we were very outspoken about the political scene. I guess myself as a gay communist, who would dress up in drag, sort of did seem out of the ordinary (laughs). But, you know, I think things needed to be said and this was a time of punk rock that…people were easily shocked. And I took advantage of that, I loved that. Now nobody is shocking anybody. Trump is president, that is shocking (laughs). That’s the biggest shock to anybody, I think (laughs). But we did some things that were pretty cool. The songs were sort of in your face. And the politics were left, very left, obviously. Yeah, I’ve always been happy that we did all that. I think we did it and stopped at the right time. I still do political stuff. And I still do some of those songs, when we play live. But I don’t feel the world stopped because we broke up. We still did it afterwards. Like once every year or two, we would do a show. Everything happens in the right time, I guess. Except for Trump (laughs).

When the Dicks existed originally, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was the president of US. Back then, could you maybe think about the possibility of having someone even worst, like Trump nowadays?

Gary: No. No, we didn’t think. I got one friend and we catch ourselves talking about those things and we always thought…Well, I thought it first of all when Nixon was president, because that was so crazy. Then later comes Reagan. And then you have both old man and young Bush. And you always think: “This is such crazy, it’s the weirdest, it can never get any weirder” (laughs). And we always come back: “It’s the weirdest that it has ever been”. I mean, now it’s the strangest that it’s ever been. I would never think that somebody like Trump could be the president.

By the way, after you moved to San Francisco and reformed the Dicks, the sound of the band became more open, more open rock’n roll, less constrained to hardcore/punk, let’s say. Was this a conscious decision or more of a consequence of the lineup changes and the new city you were now living?

Gary: Well, I had been in bands when I was a kid, so I was always into music and rock ‘n roll. Like everybody from The Stooges and Joni Mitchell – and Janis Joplin, of course, I loved her. So, I was never a stagnant in the music that I liked to listen to. When punk rock really started influencing my taste, I got right into it. But I always still liked a lot of other kind of music. And by the time I moved out here, we had done two albums and some singles. The music was always an expression of what I was feeling. And the punk rock thing was an expression like “I’m really pissed off about the racist, sexist shit that goes on”. But if you stay mad, you go crazy. Of course, I’m still pissed about those things just like back then because…Trump is president (laughs). All of it it’s there. But you have to be able to project any kind of emotion in a more sane manner. I’m not saying that that was insane, I’m just saying that I found different ways through music to express different feelings.

So, with that second group of the Dicks – Lynn, Sebastian and Tim Carroll – I started expanding the ways I was feeling. And it didn’t always mean screaming and yelling “I hate this” and “I hate that” and all that. Because seriously I don’t want to hate everything. I don’t want to hate anything. I mean, I do, but I would prefer to handle my hatred in a way that didn’t heat me up. So, that’s what started happening. And then the whole scene was getting…a little stagnant, I felt like it. Anytime you would like any other kind of songs, the hardcore scene would give you shit. And I never wanted to be pigeonholed into not being able to express myself with any kind of music that I wanted to. So, Lynn, the drummer…she and I were sort of sick of it and we were seeing a lot of sexist shit in the scene, a lot of skinheads were showing up. So, we thought “You know what? Let’s take a break and start another band”. And we literally did that.

We met Ben Cohen, who was the guitar player for Sister (Double Happiness), and we practiced for about a year before we ever played. And we wrote almost all of the songs on that first album before Mikey, who had been in a punk band called Offenders. He was a great bass player. He moved from Austin out here to San Francisco and I asked him, and he said yes and joined the band. By the time we started playing, all of us were a little…we didn’t want to be told “You can’t play this because it’s not punk enough”. There was a song on the “These People” album (by Dicks), called “George Jackson”. And people would yell “faster” when we played this song. And it would be like: “No. I’m not playing it faster. I will slow that motherfucker down if I have to” (laughs).

But then quite a few people were expanding their musical taste around the same time that Sister started. So, we sort of very quickly had a nice bunch of people coming to see us. And we developed a fanbase pretty quickly. The first album was recorded, produced and mixed in 48 hours (laughs). It certainly had a punk ethic, like “Let’s do this, let’s keep it real”. It was done pretty quickly, with very minimal overdubs and all this. I think those songs were pretty good, but they were also not overproduced. So, it sort of created a nice scene for us. And a lot of other bands were starting to expand a bit. Keeping the punk ethic, but not being prisoned into any sound, like “You play whatever you want to”.

And do you think that Sister Double Happiness got the recognition that it deserved over time?

Gary: What I wish is that we have been given a chance to do another album, like on Warner. We had a little parting of the ways there. We wanted to be more representative of live shows. And the label wanted it to be more representative of a studio band. And our whole thing was live. So we decided we didn’t want to record a second album with them and they were fine with that. I mean, they were very fine with it. The albums we recorded after that, like Horsey Water and Uncut, I wish that those albums had been distributed better. Because I think they were the best albums. After a while, we went to Europe and things were going great there. But Europe was a long way from home, we couldn’t live there. I mean, I could have, I could have lived there in a fucking second (laughs). But I don’t know, so many people seem to know about the Dicks, but not that many seem to know about Sister. Is that true or not true?

I mean, I only got to know about Sister Double Hapinness many years after I heard the Dicks for the first time. So yeah, there was like a big gap for me between the two bands.

Gary: And do you have those albums?

Actually, no. I only listen to them online, on streaming services and YouTube, for example. It’s hard to find those records over here.

Gary: Yeah, it’s hard to find them anywhere. Horsey Water is an album that I really, really like. It’s the last album we actually did together. But we had the most freedom in the studio then. The guy that produced was asleep in another room the whole time. Actually, he would come out every day or two, stand there and listen for 15 or 20 minutes and then go back to sleep (laughs). But we had been in the studio enough then that was like we were producing it really. That’s my favorite album that we ever did. If you ever get a chance to get it, listen to it. Really, it was sort of the “defining Sister thing”. I’ve been always really proud of it. But I’m always sort of sad that people had never even heard it.

And they’re sort of judging us on the first album, on SST, and the Warner album, when there are two other albums after. And there was another album even. It was a live album, it’s an acoustic album. It’s a really good album. I cringed when it was happening because it was a big sold out show, we were at the peak of our popularity here in town. It was a big beautiful venue, Lynn played the piano and it was all acoustic. And I was like nervous, I was so nervous because acoustic is so different. If you mess up the words during an electric show, nobody hears (laughs). But if you do it on an acoustic show, everybody thinks that you’re a dumbass (laughs). So we have all these other albums and it’s sad to me, I wish people have known me from the Dicks, but I really wish they’ve got to know Sister Double Happiness better.

By the way, Sister played a more alternative rock, were physically close to Seattle and had one record released by Sub Pop. So I wanted to know how did you see the Seattle scene. Did you have any relation with those first waves of Seattle bands like The Melvins (that later went to SF), Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Green River, Mudhoney, among others?

Gary: We used to play there. And we did…Screaming Trees, one of those guys, I can’t remember his name…I was always a bit aloof from a lot. So, some of the other members knew people better than I did because after we played, I would usually leave – or I would get drunk. I haven’t drink for a long time now, but I missed a lot of my career by drinking (laughs). What’s is this guy name, sort of a big guy, that was on Screaming Trees? I don’t remember now, but he wrote me an email one time, said that he had been a big fan and I was very touched, it was a very kind letter.

And the Nirvana guy, Kurt, was a fan. That’s why we were on their Nevermind tour. It was really good. We were on tour with them for, I don’t know, two weeks. And it was during the time…When we were on that tour, Nevermind hit heavy rotation on MTV and sold a million. It was cool for us, but when they have booked the tour, the album was just about to come out. And the venues that were booked were not big enough for them. So every show was chaos, which was great. They were very nice, nice guys to be on tour with.

So yes, we did have…When we would play there (Seattle), it would be big shows. I don’t remember exactly who we played with. Because once again, like I said, I never paid really attention to all that. I was just fluffing around doing my own thing. But they were always nice to us. When we would play over there, all these bands would come and see us. But I never…if they came up and said “Hello”, I would always be very friendly, but I don’t remember much of it.

And were you into their music? Like Mudhoney, that covered the Dicks, and Nirvana, these bands that had a bigger connection with the proto-punk sound of Detroit and also the punk scene.

Gary: You know what? We were also on tour with Soundgarden. We were on tour with them when they released Badmotorfinger. We were the bride’s maid, they were the bride. But it was great, we got tons of exposure during that time. And Mudhoney, yeah, they always came and saw us. I sang “The Dicks Hate the Police” with them on stage here in town. They asked me in Brussels, Belgium, once, when we were playing on the same venue. I had just got to Europe and I had really bad jetlag. I was backstage and we hadn’t played yet and they said “Hey, later on would you sing ‘The Dicks Hate the Police’ with us?”. And I went “No, I’m too tired” and they went “Oh really?”. So later on I read that they got interviewed on a magazine and were asked if they had played with me and they said: “No, he was an asshole, he wouldn’t sing with us”, and I was shocked (laughs). So later they played here (San Francisco), I think it was Black Kali Ma and Mudhoney on the bill. And the guy came backstage to me “Hey, do you wanna sing that song with us” and I said “No, I’m tired”. And he looked at me and we all started laughing and I said “Of course I’ll sing it with you”. Then we were able to talk about that, I said “Hey, you called me an asshole” and he said “Well, you were” (laughs). Anyway, it was done, we were all laughing, and I sang with them.

A few years ago, you recorded a Stooges song (“Cock in My Pocket”) with James Williamson, that played in the band and with Iggy Pop in the 1970s (and on the reunion era). How was this experience for you, to meet James and record with him? I know that Iggy Pop and The Stooges were a big thing in your life.

Gary: Well, it was wonderful. It’s funny, I’ve been talking to somebody else and got asked if I wanted to do it and I said “Yeah, but I don’t really know the song”. So they sent me the song and I said that I would do it. They told me that the recording would be on Berkeley and I said that I didn’t really have a ride. So James called me and said “I will come and get you”.

Oh wow.

Gary: Yeah, I know (laughs). So I’m waiting outside and about 20 minutes before he comes by, I thought, “Ok, James Williamson from The Stooges is coming to get me”. I mean, I wasn’t to nervous for meeting him, but I was a little nervous about that. It was like “Good lord, this guy is from the fucking Stooges”. That’s, like, some high royalty right there. He came by, anyway, like “Nice to meet you” and it turned out he was from Texas. And we just talked and talked, we got along really well and I was at the studio for about three, four hours. We did the song and mixed it a little bit. And then they basically said “Ok, you can go now, we got a car outside for you to leave” (laughs). We shook hands, said goodbye and I never really chatted with him much after that. He sent me the album and also a T-shirt. It was a very nice experience, he turned out to be a really nice guy. If he had been a little bit different, it would have been very nerve wracking. But he was easy to chat with, a nice guy and he was really cool in the studio. So I have nothing but good things to say about him.

I always like to ask this one. Please tell me three albums that changed your life and why they did it.

Gary: Well…(laughs). I think probably the White Album, by The Beatles. And the Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters’ Hard Again. And then probably, I got to say the Ramones first album.

When that Beatles album came out, the White Album, it was the perfect album. It was just such a…I mean, I don’t know what to say, just that the music was so beautifully put out, it was so great. That Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters album, with “Mannish Boy”, was the greatest blues.

And the Ramones first album because fucking the Ramones first album (laughs). It was like “This is so right”. It was sort of between that and Never Mind the Bollocks, by the Sex Pistols. And I know that everybody seems to hate them. It’s sort of in fashion to say that you don’t like that and all that, but the Bollocks is a fucking great album. But the Ramones, that “1, 2, 3, 4” at the beginning of the songs. And I saw them when they first came to Austin. And I don’t remember it being really, really crowded, it was sort of crowded. So we were able to stay right up at the stage. And that album…it just gave you permission, man. Like “This people do it so good, but you can do it too”. It was just a perfect fucking album.

Is that good enough? I can name like a hundred and fifty thousand albums. On Facebook, everybody always says to put your top albums and I’ve done like that five or six times, but with totally different albums. I have probably like a hundred top albums (laughs).

These are the last two questions. What are you most proud of in your career?

Gary: What I am most proud of? That I’ve always done the way that I wanted to do it. I’ve always done sort of what I wanted to and I never hurt anybody doing that. But when it’s all over with, I’ll be able to say that: “You know what? For better or worse, I did it my way” (Note: at this time, Gary starts to sing the Frank Sinatra’s “I Did it My Way”) – (laughs). It sounds a little schmuck to say, but I survived and here I am and I’m happy.

And the other thing is that I always knew when it was time to move on, not to hold on to things. That can be just the death of…not just creativity, but of your spirit or whatever. I’ve had some people telling me things like “Oh, back on those punk rock days. I miss them so much. They were the best days of my life”. And I go: “Really? You’re fucking kidding me (laughs)”. I was miserable, flat broke. I had nothing, I was pissed off. And they go “Yeah, that’s great”. Now I’m just old, but I’m just as happy as an old cat (laughs).

So, playing by my little game and not holding on when it was time to let go. I think I’m pretty happy about that.

And how do you want to be remembered?

Gary: As very, very thin (laughs). “Oh yeah, Gary Floyd, he was very thin” (laughs). But seriously, I don’t know. As somebody who was serious but who could laugh. Just to know that you could laugh, but could also be serious. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who was in your face telling you how to live and all that kind of shit.

That’s one reason that I was really happy that I discovered my spiritual and giving towards spirit. The Hindu part of me, that keeps me focused, has never stopped me from laughing. So yeah, there are several things, but I think we better just say “thin” (laughs). “Wasn’t he fat?”, “No, not at all, very, very thin” (laughs). So, anyway, there you go, buddy.

Written By

Directly from Sao Paulo, in Brazil, Luiz is a music journalist since 2010 and writes about everything related to heavy music, from the slowest sludge to the most chaotic grind, including some brazilian bands you've never heard of.

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