An Oral History of New York City’s D Generation, As Told by D Generation
Sick and tired of the music scene they were surrounded by in the late-'80s, a group of childhood friends and neighbors decided to put their money where their mouths were and make a statement with a new band, D Generation. In the days when CBGB was just one of many killer clubs spread across New York City, that statement was a big middle finger to anyone who stood in their way.
Sitting down with Loudwire following a rehearsal at Bowery Electric -- just a few doors down from where the original CBGB stood -- frontman Jesse Malin, guitarists Danny Sage and Richard Bacchus, and bassist Howie Pyro reminisced about the rise and fall of D Generation in the '90s and their return to the spotlight as they celebrate the release of their highly anticipated studio album, Nothing Is Anywhere, out now via Bastard Basement (drummer Michael Wildwood was unable to hang for the chat).
Though it's a long story -- one that's far from over -- and we're only scratching the surface, we start at the beginning ...
Danny Sage: It's such a convoluted story. Me and Jesse came out of Heart Attack, but we've all known each other for 25, 30 years.
Howie Pyro: Yeah, we're from the same neighborhood, though I was a little bit older.
Jesse Malin: It's been a long time, but in those hardcore days, we were all really young. Howie was ahead of us, but he was extra young in his band, we're all underage, so we met and got involved in music. Me and Danny played in Heart Attack in the early '80s and made a record together.
Sage: We all played together in different incarnations. I didn't know Rick but they all knew him, and I remember going to some gig just to see him play. It's all been such crazy incarnations of us together.
Pyro: But before that, before playing together, we just knew each other.
Richard Bacchus: Yeah, we've been friends a long time.
Malin: I was a roadie for Howie's band the Freaks in the late '80s actually.
Sage: Oh yeah, I think that's actually how I formally met Howie.
Malin: Howie is one of these guys who has been through the progression ... I guess we all have, but his seems a little more extreme. Facelift, Nine Lives, he was in this grunge-ish band, the Freaks. Rick was in Viva La Wattage. This was all after Heart Attack, and we were all just not really happy with what was going on in rock music, you know, the current stuff in the late '80s. By the early '90s, we had the guts to do something about it. Yeah, there are some good bands in that grunge scene and in the funky shorts, sock-on-the-penis scene and all that stuff, but it felt like it was a bad time. It was the end of the hair band thing in L.A. and now that's still plaguing us, it's infected everything.
We wanted to make a band that would be the band that we always dreamed about wanting to go see, a band that really didn't exist anymore. We'd throw parties, we'd DJ, we'd hang out together on a street and listen on a boombox to a world that we had heard about, but we didn't really see in the rock scene. We came out of hardcore so we figured we could take this on and take it into our own hands and actually make something. We started to rehearse in a loft and put on shows there.
Pyro: Yeah, at Giorgio Gomelsky's house.
Sage: We knew him from when we were in Heart Attack. We'd play his house.
Malin: His house became a laboratory for us, as he would say. We didn't want to work a straight job so we'd DJ there and throw parties. One night it would be an S&M club called Paddles, one night it would be The Green Door because the door was green. Danny would come and drink and talk to the girls. Rick would DJ, Howie would DJ.
Sage: I would clean up the next day to make money. I once found a hundred dollar bill. [Laughs]
It was still that point in New York where you could live and do nothing. Rent was like $100 and you'd split an apartment three-ways.
Malin: We were in Greenpoint before it was popular to live there and Williamsburg is where we rehearsed. We lived in Greenpoint and it was very cheap to do stuff there and stay out of having to worry about real work.
Pyro: It was still that point in New York where you could live and do nothing. Rent was like $100 and you'd split an apartment three-ways.
Sage: And we all lived not even a mile from each other. Rick lived in Williamsburg and we all lived in Greenpoint and we were just so close, we walked back and forth.
Malin: I found myself in a mess after Heart Attack broke up. I had this band with Danny but we never got anywhere. We were kind of like the Replacements and Elvis Costello, but this time period was such a weird time ... I became a moving man, a roadie guy, so I'd move bands, I moved Swans ...
Sage: I think we moved [German filmmaker] Wim Wenders! [Laughs]
Malin: We found a house in Greenpoint, so a lot of us lived there, and that was the energy we needed. Rick would come over, Danny would come over, Howie would be sleeping. [Laughs] Just hanging out, we decided to take this thing, this idea that we shared, and take it to the stage. Our first gig was at Giorgio's and after that we recorded some stuff with Andy Shernoff [of the Dictators] and Daniel Rey [who worked with the Ramones], a couple of singles. We decided to just put them out with a guy from White Flag, Bill Bartell, he had a label, Gasatanka Records.
Pyro: Rest in peace.
Even a few decades ago, people loved throwing labels at bands, and it didn't take long for D Gen to get labeled "glam punk" -- a label still used to describe the band. Though on the surface it might seem like it made sense, it couldn't have been further from how the band felt.
Pyro: We never embraced that glam punk label.
Sage: No way.
Malin: We never thought we were a glam thing.
Sage: It's really weird. We're talking about our history, and we have such eclectic tastes ... everyone in the band knows a lot about music, and everyone in the band likes really weird s--t. Everyone in the band likes weird s--t that the other guys don't even know. We're not rock and roll idiots, so whenever we got this label, this pigeonholed thing, it's f--king annoying. If you look at who we are and what we sound like -- hell, what we look like and what we smell like -- we're not glam. Twenty years ago, sure, that was an easy label, but it always rubbed me the wrong way.
Pyro: It was too close to glam, Hollywood, '80s, to make sense to us.
Bacchus: That band Hanoi Rocks probably feels the same way. They were always called glam and they were anything but. Those guys are crazy gypsies, they're all over the place.
Malin: We definitely wanted to create a band that had a look and a style, we were a reaction to the grunge and the funky butt rock thing. The bands that we liked, maybe not Black Flag and some of those hardcore bands, all had a style. They all looked like they were really doing something. If you get on the stage, you should look like something and you should be connected, whether you're Beastie Boys or the Clash. It mattered to us so we started wearing s--t that not everybody was wearing at the time.
It's always hard to look in your own mirror, though, with all these labels thrown at you. We once had a write up in a magazine called New York Press after we played Madison Square Garden with Kiss ... I had this very gay, crazy hairdresser guy and he'd put extensions in my hair. My hair was all f--ked up and I was putting dreadlocks into it to make it bigger with these hot glue guns and I'd have him travel around. I didn't realize how big my hair was getting.
Sage: It was big!
Malin: So they wrote an article about him, my hairdresser, and about us being backstage. It came out, this big piece, and the guy who did my hair who was now my friend and was absolutely flaming, he's reading the article and he says, "They made me out like I'm some f--got hairdresser!" So you know, people don't always see themselves clearly. We wore eyeliner, lipstick ...
Sage: We did all of that on purpose, but we'd all agree that the reason we did any of this was a direct "f--k you" to all the cock rock, Hollywood, '80s bulls--t that was in the scene.
Malin: We liked the freak thing ... we hung out at drag queen clubs ...
Bacchus: Another big thing was the AIDs thing, man. Our friends were dropping like flies. No one knew what the f--k was up back then.
Malin: It felt like not only was the music bad and the clubs were bad, but there was this war on sex and this war on drugs. We wanted to create a decadent scene, this wild place where we'd f--k every night and get f--ked up and break things.
Sage: We liked breaking things. We were good at it.
With or without a proper label, following the work they did with Andy Shernoff and Daniel Rey, D Generation were raising a lot of eyebrows and attracting like-minded individuals who were looking for that decadent scene in rock and roll.
Malin: We started to play a residency at the Continental on 3rd Avenue. We'd get to stay there and kind of had our own clubhouse, but you know, it was someone else's house, so we'd stack the chairs up and set them on fire, we'd f--k on the stage with the lights on us.
Pyro: We'd be f--king in the back and set the whole place on fire. A friend who was a photographer would take pictures of this every night. People were burning and bleeding, there was broken glass everywhere, bottles were sticking out of the walls.
Bacchus: Yeah, we'd do knife throwing but with beer bottles. [Laughs]
Pyro: It was madness. Madness.
Malin: I took this girl downstairs once, and she became known as "The Garlic Shark" because when you fooled around with her, she'd bite your tongue and then eventually she'd urinate when she got excited. [Laughs]
Sage: And she smelled like garlic.
Pyro: She looked like a piece of pizza we once had in the van. We were looking at it and it looked like her!
Sage: This is like a f--king Captain Beefheart interview.
Malin: So I took her down in the basement of the Continental, and it was kind of late, and I didn't realize but these guys tried to smoke me out. They lit the whole stage and hallway on fire, so I came running upstairs with my pants still open thinking the whole place was on fire.
But anyway, we played a lot of shows there and the crowd would build and we kind of found out that there were other people who wanted to see this thing that we needed to do. As we did it more, the crowds grew and it was this beautiful mix of punk rock guys, skinheads, drag queens, old-school New Yorkers ...
Pyro: Hells Angels, flaming hairdressers ...
Malin: And kids who just moved to the East Village. You have to think, this is before Williamsburg was the hip place to live. So this early '90s scene in New York, our dreams were to come to Manhattan and take a f--king bite out of it. We couldn't afford to live in the city until we got our first record deal, you know? When we made those singles with Andy Shernoff and Daniel Rey, we were living in Brooklyn. Now with these shows at the Continental, we were starting to get some interest from Chrysalis Records. A woman there, Debbie Southwood-Smith, wanted to sign us. The president of the label, Daniel Glass, he really got us. He was a Brooklyn, funny, Jewish guy who DJ'd and knew some of the drag clubs that we liked and we just connected with him. After trying to figure out who the right producer was, we decided to go with David Bianco. We made the record at Electric Lady, it was a great experience to be in a big studio. We all got a little bit of money from the major label so some of us moved into Manhattan. Things were going pretty good, we were in Rolling Stone, we were touring with the Ramones, playing bigger rooms like Limelight and Irving Plaza, we were on a rock radio station like 35 times a week ...
Pyro: We were also very much liked by the New York Post, we were on Page Six all the time for some reason. People would see that and it would shape their opinion of us I think.
Malin: At the Continental once we bumped into this guy who worked for Prince, and he just wanted to always push us to get in the papers. He would tell us to go to a restaurant and trash the tables, that kind of thing. He'd always egg us on.
Sage: He didn't really have to egg us on too much. [Laughs]
Malin: The press started to fill up and we got out of New York a little bit with the Ramones and learned some good lessons, some hard lessons. They were really good to us, it was like a dream to play with them, it was surreal.
Bacchus: They helped us a lot.
Pyro: Yeah, we were thrilled to pieces to get to do that.
Following being on the road with the Ramones, D Gen's self-titled debut album finally hit the streets. As great of a time as it was, it also marked the beginnings of their troubles dealing with record labels.
Malin: The album came out and it was getting us a real big buzz. The shows were getting bigger, and then the president of our label got fired. The new guy came in, came to a sold-out show and told the radio programmer at Q104 in New York, "Don't play this anymore." The programmer told him people were digging it, but he told him not to play it.
Sage: That program director actually told us all this. He had balls of steel. He came backstage and literally said, "Your label told me don't play this record. Play the new Queensryche."
Malin: All of a sudden we're back in a van after being in a bus touring around. We were pretty much dropped. I figured that was it. We already watched all of our friends and people we didn't know make one record and then they'd end up selling cassette tapes on St. Mark's out of an attache case. Next thing you know, the publicist at the label said to me, "You're gonna get another deal. It's going to be even better." I didn't buy it, that just didn't happen. That was our shot and it was gone. So the publicist gets that radio programmer and a few other people on record and makes this whole story about how we got dropped ...
Pyro: About how we got f--ked.
Malin: And now everyone wanted to have us.
Pyro: Yeah, and one of the stories that got in the paper was something we made up, that we asked the label to drop us and we stole back our tapes from that record and threw them in the East River. We made it all like it was our idea, but as a joke.
Sage: We knew all this about the radio programmer and everything so we got to f--k with the label. I remember this one gig, we knew they were coming, all the top label guys, and we opened with "EMI" by the Sex Pistols. Chrysalis was owned by EMI. Within 30 seconds, they knew we were f--king with them.
Pyro: I made a shirt for that show that said, "EMI: Every Mistake Imaginable."
Sage: It was great. We didn't care. We knew we were going to get dropped anyway, so we might as well have fun. It worked for us. It helped. We met these guys from Sony, from Virgin, they all loved it. They were killing each other for us.
Malin: After a lot of that, we decided to go with Columbia/Sony because they introduced us to Robert De Niro at a Grammy party.
Pyro: I peed next to him in the bathroom and he gave me a dirty look.
Malin: We actually got Sony to buy back that first record because we didn't like it, so this next record [No Lunch] would kind of be our first again. We met with a lot of producers, a lot of great people, and we went with Ric Ocasek. We loved the Cars and he was so sweet to us. He worked with Bad Brains and we felt like he would get us to respect him just by being him, so we'd shut up and focus. With all of us together, most producers couldn't get a lot out of us, so that was important. Everybody shut up when Ric came into the room. We made the record really quick ... he dealt wit the intensity really well.
Pyro: We also liked that he was an artist and not on the other side of the record company.
Sage: He made that first Weezer record, which I really liked, too.
Malin: Yeah, he was doing younger stuff like Hole and Weezer and Bad Religion and Bad Brains. He's a guy who has always kept himself pretty happening. It was a great experience. We met Alan Vega during that process and he came in and sang on the track "Frankie." I remember him hanging out, smiling, smoking cigarettes, drinking, and I asked if he wanted to sing on it. He asked me what it was about so I told him and then he went into the room and he told the engineer to take all of the guitars out, all of the drums out except the kick, and keep the bass guitar and my vocals. He went in there and just f--king went off with the idea I gave him about the song. He improvised this whole wacky thing and then just came out. That got incorporated into "Frankie."
Malin: It was a really good experience. The record was mixed in L.A. by two guys who would go on to do a lot of cool stuff, but at that time they were a small team, Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf. Rob would go on to do a lot of stuff with Foo Fighters and Rothrock worked with Elliott Smith, but at that time, they were a new team. So the record came out in July 1996, 20 years ago, and we found ourselves on tour with Kiss.
As kids growing up, certain people thought Kiss were bulls--t, but we were at that age with the old '70s Kiss and we were seduced by that. It was definitely one of my dreams when I was 10 years old to play with them ... and to play Madison Square Garden with them. We had a lot to learn, you know, there are things that work in clubs and little theaters that don't really work in the arena. It's a different kind of show and we had to learn quick.
A lot of things that went on with this band was like a war, a war between us and the audience. Throughout the years we'd learn the hard way that there would be a battle between us and the crowd, it's not going to be this perfect love fest. We finished the tour with them and then started to get into weird s--t with the label again. They weren't putting our records out in Europe. They signed us for the whole world, but the records weren't available anywhere in Europe. It was frustrating. Then we started touring the States with Social Distortion ...
Pyro: Talk about a battle with that audience.
Malin: We were getting disillusioned, but a lot of cool things happened. We got to play with a lot of our heroes and bands that meant a lot to me. Then we'd meet other musicians through all of this. We opened for Social D and we met the Green Day guys and that parlayed into us going to Europe with them. We made our third record with Tony Visconti. We got hooked up with him through the label.
Pyro: He was at a "lower" time in his career.
Malin: Yeah, he wasn't talking to Bowie then. In fact, he had his first call with Bowie while in our studio.
Pyro: I was peeking over the door watching that conversation.
Malin: Yeah, he started crying. It was wild. We worked with Tony and did that record [Through the Darkness] at a studio that doesn't exist anymore, of course. Then we went out on the road with bands like Offspring and some of those new bands that had hits. It was a tough thing because when we were received in the right places, we were loved. The people that loved us, it was such a great, beautiful mix. In other places we were always misunderstood, that glam thing, like we were some tribute to L.A. or the past or the New York Dolls -- who we don't sound like at all. We really tried to write lyrics that meant something to us socially, lifestyle-wise ... we used a lot of imagery.
Pyro: That's what separates us from all that kind of music. Lyrically, our songs are very serious.
It's a bummer when you make a critically acclaimed record for a corporation that doesn't give a flying f--k about you.
Malin: We played these audiences that just didn't care, all they wanted to do was mosh. We could've been singing the phone book, it didn't matter that we were singing these songs. I was getting really frustrated. No one was listening to us. After seven or eight years and three records and more battles with record companies, it just felt like it was time to f--king pause it and try some other things. We all went our separate ways. When Offspring asked us to go out on the road with them, we were working really hard and the label just didn't give a s--t. We were already battling the world to be this band that we wanted to be. It started to be if you didn't have a DJ on the stage or a baggy potato sack around your waist, it wasn't rock and roll. So we stepped out of the frame for a little bit. Then of course, just after that, rock and roll started to come into the picture with the Strokes and White Stripes and Jet and all that. To this day people like everything. There isn't that type of adversary thing, that judgment. It's cool that people love what they love, but it kind of sucks because people like everything! Sometimes it's nice to see someone get really pissed off because all they want to do is see Glenn Danzig and nothing else, you know?
Sage: There was internal bulls--t, too. It was everything. We grew up together, we all know each other too well for too long of a time. People get different aspirations, people get different ideas. It's a bummer when you make a critically-acclaimed record for a corporation that doesn't give a flying f--k about you. It sucked.
From the never-ending issues with labels to the struggle to reach new audiences, the band pressed pause at a seemingly turbulent time in their careers. That wasn't the end of D Generation, though, and around a decade after taking a break, chips started falling in their direction, first with some "reunion"-type shows and then with new studio material.
Sage: We were always getting asked to do stuff, to get back together. We just turned everyone down, but we'd always talk to each other. It was something like 2007 or 2008, we were asked to do a small show as a favor for someone and we did it and it was really fun. The next year we got some offer to go to Europe and said no, but then another couple of years later we were offered to play Azkena [Rock Festival in Spain] with a great bill and a great offer. We wound up not doing it, but then six months later we accepted another big European festival. We've been together ever since. Some of the gigs that we did in 2011 and 2012 were some of the best gigs we ever did, and we all knew it.
Pyro: And in 2011 when we had our "reunion" thing and played at Irving Plaza in New York, there were a couple of moments in that show that were the most touching moments we've had from an audience. The most touching things I've ever experienced onstage in my life. We played the first song and then turned on all the lights and there was just this overwhelming amount of applause.
Some of the gigs that we did in 2011 and 2012 were some of the best gigs we ever did, and we all knew it.
Sage: So the natural progression was to get new material. We knew we could all do it, so yeah, that's what we started thinking. Why not do it?
Malin: And we've written in different mixes, too. Rick wrote a lot on this record, and Rick and Howie together, and me and Danny together. It's a nice mix of people. Michael wrote some, too. We started jamming and a lot of what we thought were just demos, when we went back to them, they were basically used as some of our tracks. It just felt good. Danny produced the record, and we had no budget ... not low budget, no budget.
Doing it in the basement in the rehearsal room gave it a rawness. We really built this thing over different pockets of time, and I think it makes us sound like more what we sound like live in a small club. We were recording in basements. Danny kept pushing that we had to finish it. For awhile it seemed like we might not even have a new record because we had so many songs, it seemed unreal. But it was time. It was time for this thing to come out.
As an introduction to fans, D Generation partnered with Record Store Day in 2015 and released an exclusive 10-inch album that featured "Queens of A" backed with "Piece of the Action," both brand-new studio tracks that would later be featured on Nothing Is Anywhere.
Sage: I liked doing that 10-inch. For me it's really nice. Maybe it sounds corny, but "Queens of A" in particular, that was a song that we all actually put something into it. I remember writing lyrics ... I wrote the first verse, he wrote the second verse, then he wrote the last verse ... it was rare for us to do things like that where everybody put something really significant into it. I love that song. I got bummed out a lot about the record because it kept getting sidetracked and f--ked with and we took a couple of detours that people know about, but then when we did that for Record Store Day, I was like, "That's a really f--king good single." That made me think, we have 30 of those songs! We're lucky we had so much to work with. "Queens of A" made me think that we could do this, that we're good at this and we should put this f--king record out.
As D Generation look back on their history, the consistent vision was always to do whatever they wanted, say whatever they wanted, and sing about whatever they wanted. They were active and they pulled no punches when they stood up for what they believed in. Now in 2016, as they celebrate Nothing Is Anywhere, where will D Generation fit into the social conversation and beyond?
Pyro: It's an apathetic world. Our little world was apathetic in the '90s and now the whole world is apathetic.
Sage: Today is way worse. Look at TV today. It's like the f--king '50s.
Pyro: Not even.
Sage: It's like the '50s without Elvis and Little Richard!
Pyro: But nothing is changing ... we're gonna get in our little tank and steamroll over as many things as we can.
Sage: Lyrically and psychically, I think the new record obviously has so much to do with what's going on right now. As long as that record stands, as long as we can go and play shows, that's what we do. That's what we've always done.
We're figuring it all out, but we're gonna take it as it comes. We always keep moving forward.
Bacchus: I guess we'll have to write new songs about Pokemon, though. [Laughs]
Pyro: We'll have to write songs about male/female bathrooms now, too.
Malin: We had those songs before all that happened. [Laughs] We even had that bathroom, too.
Sage: We always did whatever we wanted when we were actually recording. We were just getting f--ked around with labels and whatever. That's why we didn't get along with Sony and EMI, because we did whatever we wanted. With this new album, though, we had freedom. Now, we're hitting the road. We're hitting the West Coast. We're going to the U.K. We're figuring it all out, but we're gonna take it as it comes. We always keep moving forward.
D Generation's fourth full-length studio album is out now. Visit your local record store to pick it up or buy it online here. Stay up-to-date with everything happening in D Gen's world -- including their tour plans -- at their official website.
Watch D Generation's Music Video For "Apocalypse Kids"