If you were going to compile a list of the most influential early punk/hardcore bands in America, you’d have to include Black Flag. Likewise, if you were going to name record labels in the ‘80s that really helped promote and develop the punk and alternative scene, SST Records would have to come up in that conversation. Chuck Dukowski played a huge role in both. He was the bassist for Black Flag from 1978 to 1984, went on to manage the group for a short time after his departure, and can still be considered one of the longest-running members of a band known for a very busy revolving door of membership. He also co-owned SST Records with founder and Black Flag bandmate and founder, Greg Ginn until the 1990s. Dukowski has always remained busy playing music with various projects, but his latest band is garnering a lot of buzz. The Chuck Dukowski Sextet is a family affair, featuring Chuck, his wife Lora and oldest son Milo. The group also includes current drummer Ashton Slater.
I first learned of the band when I sent Chuck a friend request on Facebook about a year or so ago; he not only accepted but sent me a message to inquire about the gear I was using in my profile picture. We discussed gear and his connections to New Orleans through both a local musician and a transplant. Throughout our correspondence, I also learned of the Chuck Dukowski Sextet (or CD6), and that he was also gearing up to perform a surprise Black Flag reunion (under the name FLAG) at a festival with Keith Morris and Bill Stevenson, as well as Stephen Egerton of the Descendents. Now that CD6 is finally heading our way, I caught up with Chuck to discuss CD6, FLAG, bass gear and more. This time, I get to share it with you.
How did The Chuck Dukowski Sextet come to be? How long have you been playing music together as a band?
Chuck Dukowski: Lora and I started the CD6 in late 2002. I do feel lucky and proud to be playing music with my family and I am super proud of the music itself… After our youngest daughter got old enough to give us a little time to ourselves, I started calling up some friends to start playing some music with the goal of eventually forming the group that became the CD6.
Are there any boundaries you find yourself setting, especially on the road, or limitations you’ve experienced that you wouldn’t with other musicians? Because come on—this is your family. Surely some awkward situations must arise from time to time.
Your question is funny to me because being family, we really have less boundaries than I would have with acquaintance band members. We do sometimes bring the whole family and friends to the shows but that’s not awkward, that’s awesome.
The CD6 version of “My War” has been all over the web. What a treat! Lora really kicks ass all over the stage and I saw one video where Milo’s even in the pit with the crowd. The energy of CD6 really breathes new life into that classic anthem. Can we look forward to any more songs from your vast catalog of early work?
I doubt we will play any of the other songs that I wrote when I was in Black Flag besides “My War,” which we will play.
What is it that separates this project from all of your past endeavors and how does the family dynamic play into that?
The family dynamic is a big, positive, unique attribute of the CD6 that helps make it great and special. Lora, Milo and Ashton are awesome, creative people and teamed up with them, I make very different music than I did in any previous bands… It really gets down to people. Music is an active expression made by a group of people and each unique group of people necessarily makes a different music from the next if they are bringing honesty to [it].
I understand that Lora handles all the visual art for the band. What other artistic endeavors does she pursue? Has she ever been in any other bands? She’s got great stage presence, a truly natural performer.
She is a great natural performer and a truly great musician. She has a wonderful voice and brings a lot of creativity and emotional depth to her performances. She is also a writer and visual artist.
How about Milo? Has he ever played with anyone else? Does he have any other projects that we should look into?
Milo started with us at 16 and is now in his 20s. He plays all the time in a number of different combinations of musicians. The first group he formed on his own is Insects vs Robots. They have two albums available and I highly recommend them. We play shows with Insects vs Robots fairly often. He also plays wonderful classical guitar, which we have incorporated in one of the songs we just recorded called “Lament.” We will be playing this song at our upcoming shows. He performs around town as a solo guitarist. Maybe you’ll get a chance to hear him play some of his magical classical/Spanish guitar before our shows there. Milo also is quite good at sitar and is becoming a really good vocalist. He’s working on a new band with some of his friends, Look Out.
The sextet isn’t entirely comprised of family. There have been a few drummers through the years. How did early drummer Tony Tornay come into the fold? I understand Tony’s also a talented photographer. Were you able to work any of his skills into your band’s imagery and promotional photos?
Tony Tornay was the drummer for our second album, Reverse the Polarity. He is a great drummer. We shared him with a band we love called Fatso Jetson. He did all of the photos for and around the time of Reverse the Polarity. He didn’t really have time for us and lives on the other end of Los Angeles so for a while, we shared Tony Peluso with Insects vs Robots, and eventually found Ashton. Ashton has been our drummer for several years. He plays on the Haunted album along with Tony Peluso, who played on a couple of the songs.
The band is called “The Chuck Dukowski Sextet” but it’s a four piece. Were there more members in the band at some point, simultaneously?
I’m into thumbing my nose at literalism a little bit and “sex-” sounds better than “quar-,” right?
Ha, very true! So, what lies on the horizon for CD6? Do you see this being something you and your family will be doing for years to come?
It seems like it. I would love to continue for a long time. Lora and Milo are taking off creatively and I really love playing with our drummer Ashton. We just recorded four songs for an EP or some split 7” releases.
You’ve also started a new record label, “Nice and Friendly.” Is the name intended to counter some of the drama you’ve had to contend with over the years, especially from some of your former bandmates?
Nice and Friendly is intended to reflect my spirit and the spirit I would like to see prevail in humanity. I got real sick of the tired and ugly macho posturing that became ubiquitous in the culture.
How do you feel about the state of hardcore in particular? What do you find yourself listening to lately?
The state of rock music is great. I hear a lot of great music when I play shows lately. I listen to all sorts of music both old and new. The local scene has great young bands like Insects vs Robots, Voodoo Merchant, Jeffertitti’s Nile and the Shrine, who are a part of an up-swelling of new music that is happening nationwide and are putting out self-released and independent records. In addition, a lot of bands and musicians from the ‘80s music scene are still making great music. I love Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina’s band the Evens, and Saint Vitus rocks my world. Saccharine Trust are amazing and most everything I hear Joe Baiza do is great. Mario Lalli’s bands (Fatso Jetson, Auto Mowdown) are great as well. Of course, I never stopped listening to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Captain Beyond, Cream, the Stooges and all sorts of other bands. I think the best music these days is drawing from a really wide range of styles and musical eras. People are putting a lot of different stuff in their gumbo and it’s getting tasty.
With a metaphor like that, sounds like someone’s getting ready to come to New Orleans! So for the gearheads reading this, what kind of rig are you using these days? What’s been some of your favorite equipment through the years? What kind of newer technology do you find yourself researching and dabbling in, if any?
I play the same amp I’ve played for a long time now. The heart of it is an Alembic preamp that I run into a DBX 160x compressor. I can plug it into any power amp and speaker combo and usually get good results. I have been dabbling with some Sioux pedals, distortion and flange mostly, but I have not integrated them into my live music. I’d like to, but not yet.
Do you remember auditioning New Orleans punk rock staple Dave Turgeon, aka “Dee Slut” of the Sluts? Can you tell some of our local punk rock history buffs what that experience was like and how the opportunity to work together arose?
Dave was there, either in the audience or performing, at all of our shows in New Orleans and we became friends. I thought he was a great performer. We tried him out as a vocalist but his style didn’t really fit the highly-structured Black Flag approach and so we only did one show with him singing. He was great on “Louie Louie” and “Damaged,” which featured a looser structure and vocal improvisation. I really liked Dave and his whole band a great deal and always looked forward to spending time with them in New Orleans.
Dave said some tracks were recorded but he never got a copy. Do you still have any of those tracks laying around somewhere?
I don’t remember that, but it makes sense that we’d record it. I have no idea where those recordings went.
Not too long ago, you reunited with Keith Morris, Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton of the Descendents for a Black Flag reunion. Well, the rumor mill has since been abuzz with a tour featuring that line-up. Is this true? What made you guys decide to get together in the first place and did you foresee it becoming an ongoing thing like it apparently has?
The band No Age invited Keith and I to play a few Black Flag songs with them as a surprise at a free show they did in MacArthur park in the summer of 2011. That was real fun. I hadn’t really even spoken with Keith since he left Black Flag in the late ‘70s. It was super cool to hang out and really exhilarating to play music with Keith and the No Age guys. So when Gary Tovar, the founder of Goldenvoice, called and asked me to do a speech at their 30th anniversary celebration, I suggested Keith and I might do the same thing we’d done with No Age with Bill and Stephen of the Descendents, who were the headliners for the show. That was truly an amazing experience. I hadn’t played music with Bill since 1983. It was super fun and totally crazy. Bill and Stephen are really amazing musicians and wonderful people. The energy was overwhelming. We’ve been offered some shows and we’ve decided to go ahead and play a few.
In related news, apparently Greg Ginn and Robo are putting Black Flag back together, too, with similar plans for festival appearances and a tour. Did you know that was happening? Did Ginn force you to change your project’s name to “FLAG” or was the name change voluntary?
We decided to call ourselves FLAG on our own several months ago. It was not a change.
Do you care to talk about Wurm, October Faction, SWA, Fishcamp, United Gang Members or any of your other past projects at all?
WURM was my first band formed with my high school friends and continued until a year after we graduated college. I was playing in WURM when I met Keith on the Strand (boardwalk) in Hermosa Beach and was introduced to his guitarist, Greg. Several lyrics from WURM worked their way into Black Flag, including “Padded Cell,” “I’ve Heard It Before” and “Modern Man.”
You said during the interview on The Decline of Western Civilization that you were “searching.” Have you found “it” yet?
Nah and I haven’t given up. I know it’s out there.
The Chuck Dukowski Sextet invades Louisiana beginning Friday, February 8th when they’ll host a pizza hangout at Euclid Records (including a solo acoustic performance by Milo) and play a later show at Checkpoint Charlie’s. The CD6 will also be in Houma on Saturday, February 9th at the Boxer & the Barrel; Monday, February 11th at Mud and Water in Baton Rouge and Mardi Gras day (Tuesday, February 12th) at the Dragon’s Den, with Secret Society in Smaller Lies supporting all shows. For more information, check out myspace.com/thechuckdukowskisextet