A Night With Dillinger Four
"It's one of those nights! I just want to touch it! Do you guys want to touch it?"
Dillinger 4 lead singer St. Pat Costello is drunk. He's a big fat party animal. Woo hoo. He has taken over the stage, playing a blistering punk show for a punk audience mostly there to see the evening's headliner Pegboy. We should all be excited to see Pegboy, he tells us. He's just getting us started, but Pegboy is coming soon, and by the time they get up on stage, Costello tells us, everybody in the audience is going to be having sex, right there on the floor at Chicago's Empty Bottle. "Touch it!," he tells us. "I wanna see you touch it!"
Three and a half hours earlier I'm sitting in the basement lounge at The Empty Bottle discussing extremely minor rock and roll stardom with Dillinger 4 members Erik Funk (guitar/vocals) and Pat Costello (guitar/lead vocals). They've been out of their van for only minutes after a six hour drive from Minnesota and haven't had a chance to relax with some cheap beer and Golden Tee, which they're looking forward too greatly, but the guys are equally as impressed by their idols, Pegboy. "They sound fucking awesome," Erik tells me as the sound of Pegboy's soundcheck tears through the ceiling. "We didn't think this show would happen. You might just as well have said like you should play with Led Zeppelin in London-we'd have been like, you bet," adds Pat. Eight years and five full length albums into their career, the guys are clearly still fans, not pretending to like the elder statesman Pegboy just in the name of being gracious.
It doesn't occur to me until hours later, watching four musicians on stage in seemingly perfect cohesion, that everything Erik and Pat said during our conversation was sincere. Halfway through their set, in an effort to inspire people to "Touch it!", Pat Costello is bare-ass naked, gyrating his big belly, etc., mere inches away from the dozen or so Dillinger 4 rowdies who were camped out front and center. It is one of those vistas that is difficult to look at, but difficult to ignore. As songwriters, members of the band, and subjects of an interview (as I discovered personally), Pat and Erik are on equal footing. On stage, however, Pat emerges as the charismatic frontman, escalating the excitement with his wit and outrageous personality. He is the fool there for our amusement, but is secretly in control of everything in that room. Yes, he is drunk, but the energy he brings is more than a chemical reaction in his liver, and even more than a calculated move to yank a response out of the audience; all four of those guys are at the Empty Bottle as part of a great bill and are having the time of their lives. Sincerity.
All during our interview I had tried to bait the guys into some pseudo-scientific insight into their strategies for songwriting, tour survival, record company selection, and recording. Invariably, they responded by saying that they don't have specific strategies for most aspects of band life. Instead, they just do their best at every turn and things seem to work out favorably. "A laid back, Midwestern ethic," as Pat describes it.
In songwriting, for instance, that ethic is manifest in a desire to not be preachy in political or social songs, or to not have their often irreverent, often biting wit sabotage a genuine sentiment in an emotional song. In both cases, however, they don't make any rules, don't worry about it, and the songs come out just fine. When it comes time to perform the songs, the emphasis is always on the fun playing in front fans and friends, not to pretend to be angry or sad, or whatever they were feeling two months ago when they wrote the song. "Lyric sheets are a product of something a guy or a group of guys were thinking at three in the morning one night, and shows are shows," Pat says. "Pretending anything would be a lie-we have fun on stage, we don't lie about anything," Erik adds.
Dillinger 4 has been going since 1994. Pat and Erik grew up in Chicago together, then went to college in Minnesota. They have picked up Lane Peterson and Billy Morrissette along the way, and are very happy with their musical station in life. They don't want to change the way they do things, acknowledging that the way they do things and sound isn't going to get them on the radio ($$$)."The radio has nothing to do with me," Erik tells me. But unlike other bands of their genre, the guys are not at all bitter about anyone who does get on the radio and make money. As performers and songwriters, they don't want to be pushed around and affected by the musical opinions of anyone but themselves, and graciously give other acts the same courtesy. "I bought a Pink album," Pat admits without much prying on my part. The advice they would give to young bands is to make sure and play the music they want to play without imitating anyone, and also to play as many house parties as possible. "The important thing is not to get a record deal or make money, it's to play the music you need to play."
Their fifth album is coming out in June on a new label, Fat Wreck Chords. It is a move that didn't have any particular genesis, it just sounded fun to work with some new people. Eight years, and they'll keep on going.
"I turned 16 on tour," Erik tells me in response to a question about the maturity of the band. They tell me stories about seeing other bands collapse. "Two weeks before you could call them up and ask them to do a party at some guy's house, and two weeks after they tell you to call their booking agent," Erik recalls. Pat is proud of the fact that they can sell out 1400 seat venues in certain parts of the country, and they still haven't asked for a deli platter. These are two guys who are obviously pleased as hell to have a microphone in front of them and the occasion to talk as much as they want about themselves, but to their credit, nothing they say is out of vanity or gregariousness. Calm, rational, and intelligent, the guys repeatedly assure me that all they want to do is express themselves in their music and then go out and have a blast playing that music on stage in front of fans and friends. And then, hours later, they go on stage as a drunken riot, managing to stay perfectly in sync with one another, and they have a ball in front of fans and friends. Pat does so buck naked. Oh well.
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