THE DIRTY CALLAHANS
Stepping On Toes
Sounds of Unity Records
Norway may be dark and cold most of the year, but the adverse conditions do breed some of the best rock ‘n’ roll. Oslo continues to impress with the rise of The Dirty Callahans, an ass-kickin’, high-octane, rock ’n’ roll machine of the finest order. Formed in 2002 and named after “The Enforcer” himself, the five-piece nailed down an impressive debut back in ‘04’with “Fucked Up and Standing.” They gained serious momentum in 2009 when they hooked up with Texan’s Bexar County Bastards for a whirl-wind tour of the US. Chasing the exhaust of their rented van was a trail of first-rate reviews salivating over the Norwegian quintet. With fire in their belly, the band jumped back in the studio and captured the sonic power that is Stepping on Toes, a full-throttle, road-bred hurricane. No sophomore slump here just adventurous, bone-rattling punk ‘n’ roll. For a visual, go to YouTube and checkout their mini-film/video for leading single “Can’t Get Far,” and a live version of the classy “Lick My Fingers.”
In fact, “Lick My Fingers” kicks off this magnum force with a hypnotic drum patter, thundering bass riff and a layered triple guitar ménage a trois. A raucous opening that sets the pace for the next eleven tracks. Singer Kjetil is a commanding force with a melodic undertone. He has that burly biker growl that can nail down a hook and pull the most out of a chorus chant. On either side of the ominous front man are guitarists’ Dr. Love and Pech locking horns in a slash and burn, no mercy assault. “Like A Dog,” “Sweet Talkin’ Junkies” and “Don’t Try to Fight It” have as much in common with Motörhead and the MC5 as they do the Ramones and Hellacopters. “Tip of Your Tongue” is all groove with drummer Lars and bassist, Sniz finding that sweet spot in an old school blues riff. The song is one of the heavier ones on the record and comes off like Godzilla in a theme park. “Where Do You Get Off” is just as heavy with the guitars driving the song through an anthem salute with the band joining in on the universal chorus rant that we can all relate to.
“Can’t Get Far” was picked as a single for a reason. The sudden impact of a roaring riff that repeats itself throughout the track keeps it forever imbedded in the cerebral cortex. The change in vocal dynamics from a squawk box to a throaty chorus gives the song massive texture and appeal. The bass playing is stunning and even the psychedelic bridge keeps the whole thing interesting allowing the solos to turn and burn. Oh yeah, and that’s Raldo Useless of Gluecifer fame on the psychedelic guitar solo. Amidst the loud and proud is “Fair Aming,” a slow burner that injects a healthy dose of soul into the band’s power-amped barrage. It’s here we get the title in the lyrics, “no stepping on toes /with everything to hide…and nothing to live for” among the distorted guitars and haze of feedback. It’s emotion on eleven. Stadium rockers “Get Up,” “Take It All Off” and “Dead Women” are in need of a big stage with sonic density and enough fuel to light up the night sky.
*We passed the questions around the band members giving each a chance to comment and here’s what we came up with. It’s a long one, but very informative. Comments are credited to the entire band.
The Cutting Edge: How did you guys meet and end up forming a band?
The Dirty Callahans: Dr. Love, Kjetil and Peder (Pech) have been friends since they were kids. We grew up together listening to different kinds of rock music and basically learned to play together. We had all been trying out our instruments in different settings and bands, and it never really got us anywhere except for some good experience. After a long night at a beach party in the late 90’s, we decided to meet up and try out some riffs together. It didn’t take long before we went into studio and recorded our first self-titled EP (with the Dirty Harry “44” cover).
TCE: So the band formed in 2002 with singer Kjetil, guitarists Dr. Love and Pesh and later added drummer Lars and bassist Sniz from the band Bercedes-Menz. I assume the name of the band came from Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character?
TDC: After a couple of years with different bass players and a drummer, the band needed some change. Peder’s brother Sniz was brought in on bass, and his good friend Lars stepped in on drums. This was in the writing of our debut album Fucked Up And Standing. By the end of the first rehearsal, we knew we had something really good. That was a great relief, and since those times TDC has been a great fit for all of us. We are great friends and coexist well on a personal level as well as creatively.
Initially we called the band “The Dice” but found out that some German band had taken the web addresses, so we changed it. We have always been big movie fans, and after a blurry brainstorm the name suddenly was decided.
The name is inspired by Dirty Harry. He solves problems in a way that has a lot in common with our music. It’s hard, in your face, without compromise, and unstoppable. He shoots first and asks questions later. We get a lot of reactions regarding the name. A lot of people get it right away and like the metaphors it brings up. Others don’t understand it at all, and think it is some Irish name like “The Calligans” or something.
TCE: I imagine it’s a hit in Texas…and San Francisco. I dig the 45 cover using “Dirty Harry” to accentuate your branding and marketing appeal. Do you have any plans to re-issue it?
TDC: You’re right about TX and SF, but the US crowds in general liked the name a lot. The name definitely fits our music. We’ve been fortunate by knowing people in different trades that are willing to work with us regarding design and different art work like covers, posters, web etc. We also liked the 70`s vibe and strong contrasts like on the 44 cover. We followed that up with posters, stickers buttons and the “Do I feel lucky” T’s. We still use the T`s, and have talked about a reissue of the 44 cover. Maybe a vinyl cover…
TCE: Let’s talk about your influences. Where did you start and what do the other guys bring to the band, as far as their individual tastes go?
TDC: Well, we grew up listening to AC/DC, Guns ’n Roses, Rolling Stones, The Who and Metallica. These bands are the ground-influences so to speak. Later on, the Hellacopters and Gluecifer influenced us in a certain way. Mainly, we have the live experiences from the Scandinavian rock scene. Scandinavian rock bands are just dynamite on stage. That is important for us, to deliver the entire package live on stage. Not only musically, but also performance wise. We have been fortunate to experience bands like, Hellacopters, Gluecifer, Amulet, Rumble in Rhodos, Backyard Babies, and The Soundtrack of Our Lives among others.
When we write music we all have different preferences and influences, and we all take part in the writing. Kjetil writes the lyrics, and the others write the musical parts. Everyone has a word when we arrange the songs. When everyone is involved, everyone is happy. The different influences colour our music.
TCE: Are there current bands playing your style of high-octane rock and roll that you’re listening to? Of the newer bands, who would you like to tour with?
TDC: We have done a lot of gigs with awesome Norwegian bands, and some international. A Norwegian band we have had a lot of fun with is Grand Cafe. They are working on their second studio album. In 2009 we did a US tour called The Dirty Bastards tour with The Bexar County Bastards. We were supposed to tour with them in Germany last autumn (2010), but the tour was postponed due to some booking problems. We are working on setting this up again soon. We have also played great gigs with Entombed, Zodiac Mindwarp, Backstreet Girls and El Caco. They would all have been good tour compadres as well. We have also done a couple of gigs with the Swedes from Mustasch, and they are great guys too.
Some friends of ours have started a new band called Wolves like Us, and they have something great going on, and are now recording their first album. Smoke Mohawk is also worth checking out.
TCE: I was able to get a hold of "Fucked Up And Standing" (2004) easy enough in the US. But, it was impossible to find the new CD. Did your distribution change for Stepping on Toes? How has “Fucked up and Standing” done sales-wise outside Norway? Bytheway, “Mustach Man” is a classic!
TDC: Ha, “Mustach Man” is one of the songs we still have with us on the set list today. A lot of positive feedback on that song. We have changed the distributor for Stepping on Toes. Unfortunately for an underground band from Oslo it’s not easy to find a worldwide distribution. We got both albums out on ITunes and Spotify though. We own the rights ourselves, so if anyone drops a deal on us for Stepping on Toes, we’re armed and ready.
TCE: Ok, let’s get to the new CD, Stepping on Toes: Did you record the album in Oslo? Where? Who was producing? You mentioned Raldo Useless played on the record. Which song or songs?
TDC: We recorded it in “Studio Laan” the same studio as for “Fucked up and Standing,” which is just outside Oslo in a small Town called Ås. Our producer, Sondre Larssen, has built a studio on a farm there, so it is really easy to focus on only the music that counts out there.
Sondre is a pretty amazing guy. He has a great musical understanding both technical and practical. We feel that the work we have done with Sondre has lifted TDC to another level and we are most thankful for the experiences with this amazing friend and musician. Raldo Useless and Stu Manx, who are great friends joined in on two of the songs. Raldo did some psychedelic guitar and a solo on “Cant’ Get Far,” and Stu laid down the backing vocals on “Get up.” We are still huge fans of Gluecifer, and we are thrilled to have some ‘Kings of Rock’ on our record. All of these factors; The Glue guys, Sondre and all of our influences brought together in “Studio Laan” took the record and TDC to a level that we are very proud of.
TCE: “Lick My Fingers” jumps right out as a single. It’s the rhythm that grabs you first. That chest-pounding drum-beat and thumping bass gets your attention right at the start. You guys have a real sense of your own musicianship. The guitar knows just when to come in and the vocals are snarling without getting lost. Are your songs written and rehearsed before going into the studio? How do you sort out who takes what part?
TDC: We usually write all the songs before hitting the studio. When we are ready to record, we have in most cases tried the songs out live first and played them for hours in our rehearsal room. We know the songs well when we start recording. On Stepping on Toes we also did a pre-production session in the studio before recording. We worked through the songs with our producer and re-arranged and tuned most of them. So, on the record our producer played an important part in how the record turned out.
TCE: Where did the inspiration behind this song come from?
TDC: Our drummer Lars had this drum beat that we wanted to use, but hadn’t really sorted it out yet. It was something he played several times, and we decided to just add each instrument as it came along. The idea was to build a song from the bottom as you hear it, opposed to many of our other songs that explode right away. So the drum part was broken down, and that is what you hear first. Then the snare comes in, then the bass, then Dr. Love and then Pesh. We don’t have to tell you when Kjetil shows up.
Lyrically the song is basically about how we don’t like people who “suck up” their way to the top. It’s about being yourself and doing things your own way. For us that has always been the only way. We are not rockers in the old fashion way - dressed to kill and drink till you die. But we know how to make and play rock music that will hit you in the face when you see us live. That’s why we play concerts, make music - and that’s why people show up at our shows.
TCE: As a band, how do you develop such a thick bottom end? Do the bass and drums have complete freedom? How different is their playing in TDC to Bercedes-Menz?
TDC: We try to create dynamics, and give room for the vocals. We are all fond of the pure bass and drum sound, and it gives a great on/off feeling when the guitars let the drums and bass have some freedom. In Bercedes Menz, Sniz plays the guitar and not the bass, so that makes it all different. But the fact that Sniz and Lars play together in a different band and have done so for a long time, makes them tight as hell and that contributes to our music in a unique way. Their part in writing and arranging the songs is significant to the TDC music.
TCE: In “Sweet Talkin’ Junkies,” the bass lays down the rhythm pattern and everything else follows along. I dig the guitar ‘chirp’ - just a scrap across the strings, during the verse and right before the open chord of the chorus. There is also the fade before the second verse which adds suspense to the song. Do you work the dynamic of the song out live first or assemble the parts in the studio? How much of it is the band and how much of it is the producer?
TDC: The dynamics is an important issue for us, so we try to think about that from the moment we start writing a song. This song has been with us for a long time, but it didn’t make it on the ‘Fucked Up’ record. We didn’t think it had the right feel. When we did the pre-production with our producer, he suggested tuning our guitars in D instead of E, and playing the riff with open D chords. In addition he wanted to slow it down, and that really lifted the song for us.
The ‘chirp’ thing is something Dr.Love did when recording the song and it ended up on the album version. The fade before the second verse is fully invented in the studio by our producer. It is meant to give you a smack in the face, so you don’t take the muscle of the song for granted. On this particular song our producer had an important role as to how the song turned out in the end. But in general, all the dynamics on the record were worked out before we recorded. That being said, we feel that our producer lifted all our songs in the recording process and has his own way of seeing the finished album during that process. We have always wanted to bring the live sound into the recordings. On Stepping on Toes we tried lots of different sounds, both on the instruments and the vocals.
TCE: Who does the majority of the songwriting? The majority of the lyric writing?
TDC: Kjetil writes all the lyrics, and the rest of us write the music. Everyone works on arranging the songs. It’s important to us that everybody has a vote in how the songs turn out in the end. We have a strong internal statement that includes all the members in the songwriting. It works for us, and it makes the writing process demanding but creative. It is a challenge to have an open mind to all the suggestions that comes up. Even after we have tried the song out on a gig and the audience and half of the members really dig it, we are still able to try out new arrangements without going after each other’s throats.
One song may start with a riff, or just an idea. Some ideas are easy to work with and end up being a song in no time. Others, we have to work with for several years. When we head for the studio, we don’t have thirty songs to choose from. But still, the songs that we bring to the studio have all gone through a strict selection and lots of rehearsals to get approved for recording.
TCE: “Can’t Get Far” must be one of those songs that went through a stringent process. It’s also the first video. Is it the only one for the album so far? What is the story behind the video and how does it feed into the song?
TDC: Yeah, it’s the only video for the album so far. The guys from NOREEL film came up with an idea for the video, which was about a drunk guy that doesn’t fit in anywhere and he is too drunk and stupid to understand that.
We found a great spot for the video shoot at the former national airport in Oslo. It is filmed in the testing area for airplane engines. The vocals on this one are more staccato and low on the verse, but open up through the chorus. We wanted to try out some different ways of singing, and this was all tried out in the studio.
TCE: Let’s talk guitar here. What is your set up like (both live and studio)? I hear (and see) a lot of Les Paul’s. What is your guitar of choice? How did you develop your own sound? How do you and Dr. Love sort out your own separate parts?
TDC: Mr. Pesh plays Les Paul’s, (Dr. Love has a lot of different guitars). Pech plays mostly the SG, but his living room is literally full of guitars, so he has a lot of alternatives. Finding the right guitar sound is an ongoing thing for us, and we consider this issue every time we write a new song. On our first record, we recorded the whole album with the same guitar sound, but on “Stepping on Toes” we change the guitar sound on different songs. When it comes to amps, Pesh uses a Marshall JCM 2000 with Marshall cabinets. This gives the classic sound you get from that rack, and he switches between two levels of distortion.
Dr. Love has spent hundreds of hours developing his own sound, and he uses a lot of boxes and pedals. He even makes his own boxes. Dr. Love has finally decided that the JCM 800 is the one! He has “hot rodded” his amp to and tuned it to the point that it almost cracks when playing it hard. He got his great Marshall cabinets from Raldo Useless (Gluecifer). Dr. Love prefers Japan made guitars, and is really satisfied with Tokay SG with Bigspy and Tokay ES335. He also uses Fender Telecaster in some of the songs. He has a good deal at his friend’s shop in Norway called “Cream T Pickups”! That is where pickups sound as they should, Dr. Love proudly claims!
It has become an important issue for TDC that the guitars don’t sound exactly the same and that the listener can separate them in the sound image.
TCE: I have to ask this. Why is it Norwegian bands have a tendency to take on pseudonyms? Dr. Love, Raldo Useless, Capt. Poon?
TDC: Growing up in small farm in Norway, some of the typical Norwegian names don’t give the right vibe on a rock stage. For us, the whole issue with pseudonyms is kind of random, and not a strategy of any kind. They are all earned nicknames. Dr. Love was earned when recording the first album. Our producer reacted to all the great suggestions and advice Dr. Love gave us regarding women and sex. After that session, we had a big laugh about how fortunate we were to know the doctor of love. Since that day he has always been Dr. Love.
TCE: With such a guitar driven album, how do you find the balance? What are you favorite ‘guitar” parts or songs on the new disc? Mine include the riff in “Take It All Off,” “Get Up” and “Dead Women.” Can you tell us a little about each of these songs?
TDC: “Dead Women” is one of the oldest songs on the album. We wrote that song just after recording “FUAS” and played it for the first time at the “Norwegian Wood Festival” in front of thousands of people. DW is basically built around the intro riff, and it returns throughout the whole song. We are really satisfied with the chorus on this one: “We want all the dead women on the front row.”
The riff for “Take It All Off” was made in the rehearsal room when Sniz was warming up his fingers on the bass before the rehearsal. Pesh heard what he played and said: “That could be a song”. After two hours the demo was recorded and it was pretty similar to the one you hear one the record. That was one of the fastest ones we have ever done. Unfortunately it is not always like that.
We all have different favorites, but “Take It All Off” and “Get Up” are definitely in that league for us as well. One of the things that are important for the TDC is to get the dynamics right at the same time build that massive wall we would like to raise.
TCE: “Fair Aming” is a little different than the other songs. The slower pace is a nice refrain and allows the song to stand on its own. I like the way it builds. I can only image it’s huge live.
TDC: It is huge, especially in venues with a good PA. It took us a while to figure out how to play this song live as it should be played. This is one of the songs on Stepping On Toes where our producer played an important role. When we went into the studio, we only had the opening on this song. We wanted to write one song for the record that wasn’t a typical TDC song. So we wrote the song together with our producer in the studio, and had to learn how to play it live later. That was a new experience.
TCE: My two favorite tracks are “Where Do You Get Off” and “Tip of Your Tongue”. These are huge songs. Both have a great swagger and have that ‘classic’ rock vibe. Kjetil’s voice is right on the money. He has such a unique look and sound which reminds me of Rose Tattoo a bit. What can you tell us about these two songs that allow them to stand out?
TDC: These two songs where written around the same time just before we went in to record the album. For us, these two songs represent two different sides of the album. “WDUGO,” is fast and has massive changes before and after every verse and into the chorus. The vocals have the right punk scream attitude. We wanted this song to be hard and big and with the repeated chorus screaming “Your constitutional rights don’t mean shit in my backyard”!
With “Tip of Your Tongue,” we tried to take the tempo down a notch to make it really heavy. The riff is actually just a well-known blues scale that repeats through the whole song. It sounds great live and usually breaks up our set list in a good way.
TCE: How was your first tour of the US? Any surprises along the way?
TDC: First of all it’s important to put this question in the right context. Norway is a small country with four and a half million people. The rock scene in Oslo is pretty small, and it is amazing that so many great bands come from this city. Everybody knows everybody. We have played all the venues in Oslo and are getting close to having played every corner of our small country. So you can imagine that coming to the US for us and playing in cities with the same amount of inhabitants that our entire country has, is a great experience. We grew up listening to American music and we are influenced by the American culture in that way.
What we really liked about the US were the venues. We don’t have many pure rock venues in Norway anymore. The venues in Norway have to adapt to fit a broader audience to survive. But venues like the ones we played on “The Dirty Bastards” tour were amazing. Please check our website for details.
The mileage we covered on this tour is a whole different story. We drove like maniacs! I believe we drove something like 3500 miles and did 12 gigs in 13 days. That’s a stretch. Our next US tour we are hiring a nightliner, that’s a promise!
Live photos by Christian Hafsengenoto
A special thanks to Pech for helping us out with this interview. Cheers mate!
Website: The Dirty Callahans