Vital Vinyl: BL’AST! Frontman Cliff Dinsmore Discusses Influences, Reissues + The Future
In the summer of 2013, punk and hard rock fans around the world welcomed a brand new album from legendary Santa Cruz outfit BL’AST!. The only thing was, it wasn’t exactly “brand new.” Taking the original tapes from the band’s second album, ‘It’s in My Blood,’ the music was remixed and remastered with the help of Southern Lord Records, Dave Grohl and a few other individuals. Less than a year later, BL’AST! are celebrating another new album of sorts with another reissue, this time of their debut record, ‘The Expression of Power.’
Gearing up for a tour in Europe and planning out some East Coast shows for the summer, founding member and frontman Cliff Dinsmore took some time to chat about all things BL’AST! related. From the new release of their debut album — which includes three different recordings in the form of a triple-LP — to who influenced him back in the ’80s, Dinsmore is far from a rocker who is living in the past. With the power of BL’AST! and a passion for music that can’t be diminished, he’s constantly looking ahead.
How did you get to the point of remixing ‘It’s in My Blood’ — and releasing it as ‘BLOOD!’ — last year?
Basically, a lot of things have been remastered, but with the ‘BLOOD!’ release, we actually found the original tape, like the big analog tape. When that happened, Greg Anderson [co-founder, Southern Lord Records] mentioned it to Dave Grohl and he was just like, “Oh my god, you’ve got to come here and I’m going to remix it.” When they put it on the machine, it started to flake off immediately. So they had to do the process known as “baking” that revived it enough to actually remix it. That’s how me and Mike [Neider, guitarist] ended up down there for the actual remix. That was a big surprise to everyone. The coolest part about that was bringing up those lost tracks of William Duvall’s and putting them in the mix. That really gave the record a multi-dimensional effect because when he originally left the band, Mike had done his own version of what William did to double up the guitars. So, we basically had this third track in the mix and that turned it into a totally different record.
So coming off of that release, did you always want to remaster ‘The Expression of Power’?
There had been talk of doing all of that, you know? Greg Anderson had been talking about doing it for years. We wanted to remix that one, but we don’t have any of the original tapes. The real tragedy of not having the original tapes is actually for our third record, ‘Take the Manic Ride.’ That’s such a horrible recording. Song wise, the songs had gotten to the most exaggerated point in terms of what BL’AST! was all about, really technical hardcore. Songs on that album were over the edge. If any record could really use some remixing, it’s that record. You’re limited in what you can do when you’re just remastering. That’s a bummer. If we could remix ‘Take the Manic Ride,’ that would be it for me.
How was it working with Brad Boatright on this release?
He’s like a miracle worker. If you’re going to do a remaster with anything, he’s the man.
Was he involved with ‘BLOOD!’?
He was actually. He was at 606 Studios when we got there. We just had this incredible crew of people down there for the ‘BLOOD!’ thing. Dave Grohl’s engineer was just amazing, absolutely amazing. Brad was great, Greg was in there with us everyday. Scott [Hill] from Fu Manchu was down there, Nick Oliveri who’s playing in the band now was there. We just had so many good ears contributing to what happened down there.
Taking a trip back to the 80s, why did you record ‘The Expression of Power’ three times?
We don’t see it like that. Basically, the first recording that’s on there, I was probably in the band for like a week or two at that point. It was basically just a demo. We did a recording to see what we sounded like. We had no intention of putting it out. Then what happened was, back in the 80s, there wasn’t computer technology so people just traded demos. We turned into this huge thing off of that demo. People started winding up with that tape. At one point Corrosion of Conformity tried to hook us up with Metal Blade Records. Bill Metoyer, who recorded their ‘Animosity’ record, did the second recording. That was after we played a show in L.A. or somewhere down in southern California. We got to the studio probably at one or two in the morning and went all night and into the next day. The songs are played a lot slower, and I think that’s probably why, because we were so tired. When it came to actually getting signed off of those demos, that’s when we went in and did the real record.
It’s such a cool experience for fans to have all three of those recordings now.
That’s what makes this a really fun release, the fact that there are three vinyl records in the package. It’s insane. You get three records in one release, I think that’s really cool from a collector’s point-of-view.
How important do you think vinyl is to the music scene today?
When you look at the whole concept of the CD, it’s just the absolute worst format possible. It’s defective, if you get one scratch the CD is pretty much toast. Especially for heavy music, vinyl just gives it a heavier, more molten, fuller sound. I remember first hearing stuff on CD, I really thought it was too separate and picked apart. It didn’t sound as full and together. It seems inappropriate for heavy music. Sound just comes together on vinyl, it just sounds heavier.
And part of they vinyl experience is the cover art, too. Both ‘BLOOD!’ and ‘The Expression of Power’ have captivating covers.
The graphic arts lady, Samantha [Muljat], at Southern Lord did a great job. That was really fun redoing the covers. That is a huge part of vinyl. The artwork just doesn’t come through on a CD. There are a lot of classic vinyl record covers that I still have hanging up.
How close is the new cover of ‘The Expression of Power’ to the original release?
It’s really close. The original was a painting by this guy Joel Loya, and it’s got amazing similarities – especially when you consider that this new release is actually a photograph. Samantha found this place, like a place that really was similar to what was painted on the cover of the original record. It’s just completely out of someone’s imagination. She found this place and hiked up to it with a friend and photographed it. That makes it really cool for us.
It’s like she brought the original cover to life.
This release has it all. It’s packed with three high-quality records, killer artwork and even has a 28-page booklet of old-school photos. Where did those come from?
Those just came from all kinds of different sources. Over the years, people contributed them. Greg reached out to people and just gathered them.
Now that you’ve released ‘The Expression of Power,’ taking a step back, were you ever worried about revisiting your early music?
With the ‘BLOOD!’ record, there was no hesitation in our mind. We just wanted to do it because it is such an incredible record. With ‘The Expression of Power,’ there was a little bit of hesitation for sure. With ‘In My Blood,’ that’s what pushed us into an original terrain. It broke us away from any Black Flag comparisons. That was our record where we went, “F–k you, check this out.” Overall, I just think no matter how you look at it, even ‘The Expression of Power’ has more obvious influences, it’s still an incredible record we did in a time period where we stood out. It was a pretty damn good first record. It’s great to have it out in its best form. People love the history. So what if there are some embarrassing pictures? [Laughs] It’s fun for everyone. That’s what I’m looking for when I buy a release, pictures, information, stories, you know? It’s all for the fans.
What are your plans for the future? With all this talk of remastering old stuff, is there interest in making a new album?
There definitely is. Mike’s got a bunch of stuff in the hat. We had to replace the current drummer we were using, and we replaced him with Joey Castillo from Queens of the Stone Age, someone Nick has played with a lot. That just really cinches up the rhythm section. We’ve been so busy re-learning the old stuff. The first couple of projects will be split 7-inches with two of our favorite bands but I can’t mention anything yet. [Laughs] Keep your eyes open for those.
Back in the 80s, who were your influences for ‘The Expression of Power’?
The influences are really obvious at that point I think. Mike was always into this own trip, he wrote some of the songs that sounded freer. Steve [Stevens], the guitar player at that time, was really, really, really influenced by Black Flag and SS Decontrol. Those were two prominent influences. But musically, besides being influenced by punk, we were also influenced by early Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Rush and Led Zeppelin. There was always that standard of being as heavy and hardcore as you could be in that spectrum of punk, but also we didn’t want to play it in that sort of generic way, we wanted to play it in a really technical way.
Looking at your upcoming 7-inches, do you find yourself being influenced by the same music you were influenced in the 80s?
The way we would try to go about writing new BL’AST! songs would be to just use all three records as our main influence, try to be devoid of any influences outside of those three records. You know, just take what we really like about BL’AST!, the really manic build-ups, the really crushing breakdowns, some of those intros, the stuff that really brings out the best of the band. In writing it, we want to stay true to that time period and what our music sounded like at that time.
‘The Expression of Power’ is available via Southern Lord Records in CD, digital and triple-LP format. Get your hands on the vinyl here.
BL’AST! – ‘The Expression of Power’