I have a lot of favourite punk bands but Los Angeles’ Dead Fucking Last (DFL) is one of my all-time, ALL-TIME favourites! I grew up listening to them in the ‘90s, me and my big brother would thrash their My Crazy Life and Proud to Be records on repeat in our skate shop! So much so that my 60+ year-old mother who’d hang with us (my mum was the coolest!) knew all the words too! That’s RAD. I’m really excited to share this interview with you, I spoke with, Monty Messex (guitar-vocals) and Tom ‘Crazy Tom’ Davis (vocals). To me, DFL embody all the things I love most about punk rock: rawness, honesty, energy, fun and friendship. We chat about the band’s beginnings; what happened when they first took a hiatus/broke up in 1996; what they did on their hiatus; their reunion in 2013; of the new music they’re working on; and what’s next?!! Seriously, it makes my heart so happy DFL are back together!!!
When I first interviewed DFL, around 20 years ago, you guys had just broken up, and one of the last things you said to me, Monty, was: I think we might have a reunion in 2003, don’t ask me why, it’s just a hunch. Fast forward to 2013 (a decade after your initial prediction) and DFL actually did reunite! What contributed to DFL starting to play music together again?
MONTY MESSEX: [Laughs]. That’s a good question. Back then, I thought 2003 seems like a reasonable amount of time to take a hiatus. That time came and went. I started another band, The Family Dog. I wrote a record for that band. Musically speaking, that probably would have been another DFL record, ‘cause it was really just a hardcore record. After that, I kind of got a little bit tired and wanted to do something different with my life so I disbanded, The Family Dog.
In 2013, so much time had gone by. I had touched based with Tom and Tony [Converse, drums] about four or five years prior to that to see if maybe they wanted to get together, but it just didn’t feel right. I really had just written DFL off, I thought I guess we’re not going to do anything. Tom had started GFP [General Fucking Principle]. He had asked me once to play guitar with them. They wanted me to play a Circle Jerks song, which I did with him and Tony Alva [skateboarder, musician]. It still didn’t feel right. I didn’t think a DFL reunion would even happen from that. I stopped thinking about it. I’d been writing and playing acoustic music, I was busy recording that and then just out of the blue Tom came and hit me up. He was like, ‘hey! Do you wanna get DFL back together?’ The time was right.
TOM DAVIS: I would say it was the lack of boredom. It was time to reform and have some fun—to put a little bit of zest in my life! We had a simple conversation and it happened. It was that simple.
MM: I was actually reading your Descendents interview with Milo and I kind of had a similar thing, like what he was talking about at his job in the biotech world. After DFL broke up, I went to UCLA and got a Masters in Public Health degree. I’ve been working in that field. In 2013, I just hit a wall at work and was unhappy; I had some time at home with my kids being older. It was weird because I felt like, yeah! Let’s get back together and start playing music. I really never thought the DFL had any following, we started playing again and found out there was. It’s just been so fun to play!
I can tell you now that DFL are a band that I have never stopped playing on my record player and on my car stereo and adding to mixtapes for friends, even after all this time. Great music is timeless.
MM: It’s kind of funny ‘cause Epitaph [Records], I hit up Brett Gurewitz, who I’ve always stayed in touch with, and asked him if he wanted to do a 20th Anniversary reissue of, Proud To Be. He said, ‘Totally, let’s do it! No problem’. He did the vinyl reissue last year, even though DFL aren’t officially on Epitaph. You’re right, that record really does have a timeless sound to it.
We’ve been playing a lot of music off of all of our records playing shows and I think it’d really refreshing for people to hear that style of music being played again. A lot of people play hardcore, hardcore has kind of evolved into a very heavy sound, very slow, very heavy-ish. I think people are refreshed hearing that early ‘80s style of hardcore, the old school style of hardcore that we play. It’s nice people are enjoying it.
Another reason I think that DFL stuck around with people is that the internet kept things going for us. The music stayed alive online, not just with older people that were around in the ‘90s but also younger people that just found out about us. It’s been really, really awesome. I never thought it would happen, I really thought it was over—it completely surprised the fuck out of me! [laughs].
I think sometimes when you let go off expectations it can give things room to breathe, grow and happen in its own time, it can take heaviness out of a situation.
MM: Yeah, definitely.
As a long-term fan of the band, I’m curious about why you guys took that hiatus/broke up in 1996? I read in an interview with Tom where he mentioned, “I quit on stage in Brazil”.
TD: For me personally, I was just getting overwhelmed with the way the band was headed, the direction. We thought we were going to take a little break for a while but it turned out to be a longer break—it snowballed into many years.
MM: In hindsight, it did seem inevitable but at the time, it caught me completely off guard. I have always kind of fallen into the position of being a bit like the manager for the band. Tom and I write the songs, I write the music and a lot of the choruses, Tom writes the verses, then I do a lot of planning in terms of tours and stuff. Back in ’96 I really had my head stuck in the business side of things. One of the things that I think I should have done better is to be a better friend to Tom; more of a friend and less focused on pushing the band as hard as I was. Once we started moving I started pushing hard for the band to succeed, I lost sight of our friendship and I think that was partly the undoing of the band. When the band got back together this time, Tom and I had a conversation about making sure that we always keep that friendship and that we support each other; that we make sure we communicate with each other and treat each other with respect—that we’re friends first and foremost. Everything else comes second.
TD: We’re listening more to each other and being honest with our feelings about the music again. That’s a part that was lost in the first round of DFL: we got to be friends then the friendship turned into a business and the business turned into a machine. Sometimes it all just got a little bit too heavy. So we took a break and now we’re back to the realisation of what makes the music great, keeping our eyes and ears open to what our friends in the band want to do and hear.
MM: Not that we were ever outright mean to each other or anything like that, we were both just off in our own worlds. I think Tom was just really unhappy with things moving as quickly as they were. We were getting ready to tour Europe, we had just got back from touring South America, we had toured Japan, and we had a new record coming out. I was so stoked! It’s what I wanted to do but, I wasn’t checking in with Tom as much to see what he wanted to do as much as I should have. He just snapped in Brazil and lost it. Literally the moment we got back to the United States he said he was out. It was a house of cards from there.
TD: I personally wouldn’t, and don’t, blame my friends within DFL for what happened in the past. It was my own decision to move on and just let everything go. I did that right at the peak of our popularity, I would say. Sometimes I feel like, who knows what would have happened; we could have been doing this, this whole time, or even broke up a year or two after and never been able to get back together. The decision was made to move on from myself, it was solely based on my own lifestyle that I was living.
It’s interesting that we’re talking about you guys being first and foremost friends and that’s the most important thing to you, because that was something I was going to ask you about! Intuitively, I picked up on that vibe. How did you both first meet?
TD: We met through our friend Drew Bernstein [America’s Hardcore & Crucifix + creator-founder of Lip Service & Kill City], we were just skate rats! We were introduced on a bus, on a Metro RTD (Rapid Transit District) bus, to a skate park out in Van Nuys.
MM: I’ve known Tom since we were teenagers, even before that. We met in the early ‘70s through the skateboarding scene in L.A. and early punk scene. We have a friend [Drew], who sadly committed suicide last year, maybe the year before last, we’d all hang out and go to the early skate parks in L.A. I’d go sleep over at Tom’s house when he lived with his parents; his dad, who has also sadly passed away, lived in Malibu. Tom had a couple of older sisters, I’m still in touch with his older sister, she lives down the street from me. Tom and I would just skate together and be little punkers together, in the early ‘80s scene. I think that’s part of the reason why he and I understand the music of DFL so well. I’ll write a riff and he’ll sing something and we’ll both hear those early ‘80s punk songs from our youth, like when we were at an Adolescents show or a Wasted Youth show or Minor Threat or Descendents’ show—that’s the sound we wanna hear in DFL. We always wanna be there, because that’s where we lived and what we grew up on.
Can you remember the very first DFL show you ever played?
TD: Yes! [laughs]. I believe it was at a studio. We were having a good time, everyone was skateboarding, barbequing, there were ramps, friends and family—it was a really, really great time. It was a given, it was real simple, it felt natural. It was just one of those things where you got up and did it and before you knew it, it was over.
Does it feel the same now for you when you perform?
TD: It’s still very exciting! The shows have been incredibly fun with lots of fans, young and old. It’s a good time, it’s everything that it was. First show we played back was in a pizza place in the San Fernando Valley. And, you know how much DFL like pizza! [laughs]. It was a good time.
I think Tom has previously said that when you guys write song together the process is quite quick?
MM: Yeah, we write songs very quickly, we give each other a lot of space and trust each other a lot. We actually wrote a new song, we haven’t written anything new since our album, Grateful, in 1996. We just recorded it and it will be out next month.
TD: We’ve done a new couple of songs. We have a shared compilation with the lyrics, we worked on them together.
MM: Do you know the website punknews.org?
Yes. The new DFL song, Shut It Down is going to be on a compilation they’re releasing called, The Banned from P.C. mixtape cassette (which you can pre-order HERE).
MM: Yeah. It comes out August 8.
TD: I think, Shut it Down, was inspired by the police shutting down the punk rock shows. It’s pretty simple. It’s about getting chased out of punk clubs by the police. Sometimes there’s riots, sometimes there’s helicopters, and sometimes there’s just fun! [laughs]. We’ve all been to those gigs like that.
MM: We’ve written a bunch of songs. Tom and I also have made a commitment that we don’t want the sound of DFL to change. If we wanted DFL to change, to be heavy or a power-pop band or whatever, we’d just start a new band. We want to sound how we always sounded. The song we recorded and all the songs we’re writing and hope to record in the coming months and years, intentionally sound very, very much like all our old stuff, as much as we can make it sound that way.
MM: It’s short, it’s fast, it’s lo-fi, it sounds like DFL circa ‘90s [laughs].
Often I’ll fall in love with a band and think their first couple of releases are great but over time, whatever it is, that energy, that magic, that rawness and honesty gets lost as the band goes in a more polished, bigger sounding, shiny direction, sometimes crafted for the listener or market rather than what’s in their heart, if that makes sense?
MM: I get that.
I understand people wanting to evolve and grow… I love that you guys have done that but, I feel you’ve still kept that essence of what makes your music great. A lot of it has to do with honesty and authenticity.
MM: Thank you. It’s always been our goal to keep that sound. Some bands get money and they retire their roots, like, oh wow that was fun, now we can produce, sometimes it gets over produced, they kind of fuck up that way. With, Grateful, we produced that ourselves but we still kept it lo-fi.
This last song we did, Shut It Down, we recorded it very quickly and intentionally lo-fi—that’s our sound. Fortunately during the whole time DFL were broken up, I kept the same amplifier and guitar, which is really central to the DFL sound. For some reason I never got rid of it, I just kept it in the garage. It produces a really loud guitar sound.
I was going to ask you if you kept that setup from back in the day and were using it again, thanks for answering my question.
MM: We want our bass player to use the same type of bass too, an old Fender P[recision] bass. I use a Mesa Boogie, a 60-watt combo, it’s small but extremely loud! We went on tour with Pennywise and Fletcher [Dragge, Pennywise] would give me shit and tell me to buy a bigger amp [laughs]. I play a Les Paul Junior guitar too. It’s a combination of older instruments also, that I think contributes to the more organic sound we have.
I often find with some musicians I’ve encountered over the years, that they can get judgemental of other musicians gear and give them shit for it, which I think is really fucking lame. I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s what you do with what you’ve got that makes a band rad or have their own sound, not like, oh I have the biggest most expensive amp or whatever gear that’s like everyone else ‘cause that’s what you should have.
MM: Yeah. I like things that have a warm organic feel to it too. Often stuff now days will get dumped into computers and you’ll lose that warm feeling. I do appreciate you can do a lot of adding and stuff with computers though. I think that warm, organic feeling is important to our style of hardcore. Our style is short, loud but packed with a lot of feeling.
What’s one of your favourite things about making music?
TD: The recording process, the process is really fun and interesting. It reminds me of editing a film-based system. I only noticed the direct similarities, and it’s just a really interesting thing working with the engineers, being directed to push yourself. Most of our records were recorded as a live band. We would do vocals live as well. If things needed to be fixed once in a while, we would have to add vocals in extra areas that weren’t recorded live.
With the new music you’ve been working on, have you been recording it together and live too?
TD: Yes. I believe me and Monty share the same attitude with recording, just doing it live and as raw as possible, that way when your audience, your friends and fans come to see you live, the songs don’t differ too far from the recording, the record, the cassettes. It does bother me when you go and see bands that have been tracked and have many layers of audio dubs; you go and see them and you’re like, where’s the other half of the band? That’s not what you sounded like on the record.
Have you recorded the new stuff yourself or have you been working with someone?
TD: We recorded it ourselves, our drummer right now has a recording studio. It was a one room, three mic operation onto a 16-track digital tape machine. We took the masters from the hard drive and reloaded them somewhere real quick, listened to them and evened out the ins and outs and sweetened them a little bit, that was it. It took no longer than eight hours to record and get it to the label that is putting the song out. It’s pretty easy for us. It has a lot to do with keeping in that, it’s how the first couple of records went down. We didn’t take weeks or months to prep for recording. Even writing, it’s not something I take weeks on. There’s so many things that just need to be said, it’s like, pick a few topics.
What is song writing for you?
TD: Song writing is about putting things in perspective and writing them down at face value. It’s sometimes challenging, but also very fulfilling in an artistic way.
Who are the vocalists that inspire you?
TD: Some of my early inspirations would definitely have been, Dez from Black Flag and Jack Grisham from T.S.O.L. Also, the New York Hardcore band, Gorilla Biscuits. Those are the bands that I really like the way that they word their choruses and verses.
Can you tell me a little more about your writing process? Do you keep a notebook that you write ideas in?
TD: To be honest, I do have a small way that I go into it. I get Monty to give me the song, the music, in its most rawest form – like intro, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown, fast part. I’ll take those sections and start writing lyrics onto those sections. A lot of times when I go record them, my verses aren’t totally written down. I’ll make stuff up as we record, in a sense it’s freestyling how I feel about the song at that exact moment. Nine times out of ten, it’s those vocals that are the realist and most live and sound the best because they’re put out in that matter. When we have to go out and play those songs live, I have to listen to those recordings and actually figure out what I was saying. If we need to play them on a couple of shows or a small tour I’ll have to learn the vocals for the new songs in that manner.
Lyrically with the new songs, what’s inspiring you?
TD: It really is still stuff that’s being put in your face going from spot A to spot B; things that you see or hear like news radio in traffic or things that are going on within your home life. You take them things and combine them into lyrics. We try to write things that are more fun, kinda serious but not very political or not relationship driven. I know a lot of people get really intense with their lyrics and really worry about it too much—sometimes less is more.
What can you tell me about the new songs?
MM: I like to write songs that are like mosh songs. One song we’re working on that I think is a good song, the working title of it is, We Stand Strong. In the vein of our song, Function At the Centre or It’s All In Your Head. To me, those songs were inspired by Social Distortion’s Playpen. Are you familiar with that song?
Yes, from Mommy’s Little Monster .
MM: I think it’s one of the all-time great song. I’ve always felt a punk band should have a song like that [laughs]. Our song, in my mind, I’m not sure what Tom thinks, but for me it’s about us coming back together after all this time. It’s also inspired by current events in terms of what’s going on in the world.
Do you do engage in other forms of creativity, beyond writing, Tom?
TD: I do film making. I make exotic manipulation of sampling videos from YouTube and reediting them and adding our own soundtrack. Sometimes a narrative soundtrack as well, they’ll be words, not just music driven images. Film is in our background, I grew up in a film environment. I have a sister that does films, so we were always helping her out.
Will you be making clips for DFL with the new music?
TD: Yes, we will. We’ll put together, maybe, some live performance type of short films. I believe we’re going to record the next concert with Voodoo Glow Skulls in Santa Ana [July 29 at The Underground].
Before, Monty, you mentioned your acoustic solo stuff you did during DFL’s hiatus that was released on David Lynch’s Transcend music label…
MM: Yes. I had a friend that was managing that label, they kind of started it. I had recorded some songs and I was talking with him, he said you can donate a song and if it generates any income it goes to the David Lynch Foundation. I said, sure.
Have you tried the Transcendental Meditation his foundation facilitates and educates people in?
MM: I haven’t. They offered it to me and they said I could get involved with it if I wanted to. I just never connected with my friend Jason, who hooked it all up, because he moved away. I do meditate actually. I try to on a daily basis. I think meditation is a really, really important practice in terms of staying ‘right sized’, being flexible in terms of dealing with life and what comes along and in keeping a positive attitude. Meditation has been very helpful to me in living life on life’s terms, one day at a time. I have a meditation app on my phone that’s really helpful.
How did you first come to meditation?
MM: I’m a sober member of a 12-Step Program. One of the steps is a meditation step, so I came to it through that.
I think I remember reading an old interview with you and you mentioned that you were a person that struggled with drugs and alcohol.
MM: Oh yeah! I’m lucky to be alive to be perfectly honest. If it wasn’t for AA I would probably be dead. I had a really nasty problem with narcotics in my late teens and early 20s. I feel really grateful because I have friends that actually were not as fortunate as me to get sober. I got sober relatively young, when I was 23. I’m REALLY grateful. I was out of control and a complete maniac. I grew up in the punk scene in Hollywood in the early ‘80s and it was a free-for-all. There were a lot of people that didn’t make it out of there alive.
Was there a catalyst that motivate you to get sober?
MM: It just got really bad! My mom had friends that had got sober and she said maybe you should go to a meeting with these people. That put the seed in my life. I started going to meetings, other people I knew did too. Some got it and some didn’t. I went to meetings with Hillel [Slovak] from the [Red Hot] Chilli Peppers, he didn’t get it. He was a friend. I was friends with Darby Crash [Germs vocalist] and he didn’t get it. Darby dies, Hillel dies, a lot of people did. Here I am in my mid-50s getting to play punk rock again! I am so grateful, that’s all I can really say.
Is all of what you’ve experienced and seen what happened with your friends, part of why you decided to go into health work?
MM: Partly it is. That definitely led me into public health and staying close to that.
Thank you for sharing what you have with me, I know how full on it can be to talk about that kind of stuff to someone. I always hope that by sharing such stories it may inspire someone reading to take action to make their life better.
MM: It can provide a sense of you’re not alone.
Yes, that’s right.
MM: I want to add too that it’s not because a person like Darby, who O’D, or Hillel who did too, is a bad person, and I made it because I’m a good person, it doesn’t have anything to do with it… it’s just I got it and it was dumb luck. I don’t know… I’m just still here by the grace of god and dumb luck.
Has there been a life changing moment you’ve had you could share, Tom?
TD: There are so many intricate parts to life. A lot of things happen in life for many different reasons, I’ve had a lot of really great experiences in life. I’m lucky to still be alive and that we can still do what we do. The only thing that really stands out is when my wife told me that we were going to have twins. That was definitely was a wakeup call—that was an excellent wakeup call! That’s the one thing where I knew, things were going to be different then.
What’s fatherhood meant to you?
TD: Maturity. Trying to be a father that teaches them right from wrong, at a casual pace. Most of all, fatherhood is about love, honesty and maturity.
I believe that love and honesty are the two most important things in the whole world. And, creativity, the ability to create something from nothing, not only in an artistic way but being creative and approaching life creatively is important. That’s part of why I was drawn to punk, it gives you a platform to be who you want to be, gives you a vehicle for your voice, you can be who you are, be yourself.
TD: Yeah that’s a good way to put it.
What’s something from punk rock that have stayed with you over time?
TD: The bond between friends and the music—it still exists very, very much. The friends I’ve had from 20 years ago, we still like to share music that was written and recorded back then, we didn’t even know about those bands. It’s really fun to go back and find and like new bands, old bands but new to us again. It feels like there were so many great bands from the ‘80s but a lot of if got overlooked by just being in your own band. You’re inspired by the bands that you hang out or tour with, but sometimes you get lost and don’t really get to hear about other bands.
MM: It really shaped my childhood and my teenage years. It’s the music I grew up with. I went to my first punk show when I was sixteen. The show was Halloween 1979 at the Hong Kong Café in downtown Los Angeles in Chinatown. Black Flag was playing with Keith Morris singing, they were the opening band; Fear, the Germs and an art band, Chinas Comidas played. I remember going to the show and thinking, wow, these people look as bad as I feel [laughs]. On the inside I just felt so fucked up. I felt like the music just really matched my insides; their look match my insides. I loved it! I thought to myself, I’m home! We started going to shows every single night. I loved the music and everything about it.
I had a girlfriend at the time who was a little older than me, I was sixteen and she was eighteen. As far as she was concerned I got into punk rock late, I got into punk 1979/1980. She got into punk in ’77-’78, she was always so snooty about it [laughs]. She used to give me shit about it. I got into it in the second generation when bands like Adolescents and Circle Jerks were coming in. She just wouldn’t have it, she got into with the Germs, X, Screamers and Weirdos. Something that has always stayed with me, she said, this was in 1980, punk rock is dead! She told me to take all her record collection and flyers, that she was done. I still have it all. Even through all my insane drug addiction, I still kept it all, to this day.
I love all the bands you mentioned. I had a really amazing chat with Paul Roessler from the Screamers for my punk and spirituality book, Conversations With Punx, that’s coming out.
MM: I love Paul, he’s great! He lived right next to my mom on a street called, Beechwood. I’d go over there all the time. I’d hang out with Paul and Helen and Kira when I was sixteen.
My favourite style of punk rock is the Southern Californian ‘70s and ‘80s punk.
MM: Me too! It’s in my blood. When I started DFL in 1991 and we were hanging out with Adam Horvowitz [Beastie Boys] and Ione Skye, they were recording Check Your Head; I was goofing around writing punk rock. I was listening to, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? the first full-length Bad Religion record and I started writing punk riffs that were from that style of punk. I told Adam that I wrote these songs and asked him, just kidding, do you want to start a punk band? He was like, yeah, let’s go to the studio. We thought we’d get Tom to sing and Tony to play drums, Mike [Diamond] played drums for a minute. Tom came in and wrote the vocals for it and we just recorded it. They put it out on their label, Grand Royal, as a kind of joke. It really struck a chord, one thing led to another and we had a band.
It happened organically!
MM: Yeah! It was done by really just messing around without even really thinking about seriously starting a band.
You weren’t having expectations!
MM: [Laughs] yes! Expectations can be a real killer.
Anything else you’d like to tell me or add?
MM: On the topic of expectations, I think we’re just trying to keep things realistic and we’re happy to just be playing music together again. Hopefully we’ll get to come to Australia this time and play all kinds of places again. It’s best for us to just take one day at a time. We’re just enjoying ourselves, that’s what’s most important.
Do you have any idea when DFL will release something or are you just taking your time and it’ll be out when it’s out?
MM: It’s up in the air. I’d like us to put something out on our own label, maybe end of the year or early next year… we might do another re-issue with Burger Records next year. With the new music, we have to just get the time to record. We’re taking it slow.
In hindsight, instead of breaking up, I just wish I would have talked to Tom and said, hey, if you’re feeling too stressed out… even if we would have been friends, and I really would have been more thinking along those lines of friendship and partnership – which now is my goal – I would have suggested that we just take a break; have six months off and we can come back to it, as opposed to, we should just torch this thing! [laughs].
What’s your favourite things about Tom?
MM: One thing I really admire about Tom is his creativity. He’s an amazing poet. He writes great lyrics. He has great stage presence, I love playing music with him. He is a super creative person. It’s just exciting playing with him again!
Anything else you’d like to tell me or add?
TD: DFL really wants to come to Australia! We’re ready to come couch surfing and we’ll try to get out there as soon as possible. I’ll try to catch a ride with Fletcher [Pennywise] on his back when he next goes out there [laughs]!
*Images: courtesy of Monty Messex & DFL’s IG @officialdeadfuckinglast; pic 2 & 7 by Sofia Coppola; pic 3 live at Programme Skate & Sound by @ramsedge; pic 4 Tom live by @tim_mendez; collage art by me, original pic by Sofia Coppola. If you see a pic that’s yours and want it removed contact me.