Interviews: In conversation with Chris Dowd of Fishbone
Fishbone have just released their new self-titled EP. Recorded and produced by Fat Mike of NOFX, this EP sees 4 of the 6 original members reuniting to create powerful, vital music that serves as the soundtrack to the world we are living in now. The five tracks prove without a doubt that even as Fishbone celebrate 40 years, they remain red hot. Fishbone will be playing Punk Rock Bowling this weekend, will be touring Europe in July, and will be supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic on their US tour this summer. Fishbone is out now via Bottles To The Ground. Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with Chris Dowd to talk about recording with the band for the first time since the 90s, working on the new EP, the state of the world, and so much more. Read the interview below!
Your upcoming self-titled EP features 4 of the 6 original members and this marks the first time you’ve recorded with the band since the early 90s.
Since I quit the band. [laughs]
What was it like to reconnect with the band? How did you re-connect with them?
Certain members of the band I always stayed in touch with. Through a series of events and stuff, they asked me to come back to the band. I contemplated it for a while and then I felt as though we had unfinished creative business so I was like, “Cool, yeah, let’s do this”. It’s been trippy, to say the least. As you can imagine. It’s a six-headed monster. It’s like six people with like ten different thoughts on a moment-to-moment basis.
Everything all at once.
Yeah. Everything, everywhere, all at once. [laughs] Instead of flying a dragon, I’m driving a Pinto and I just got hit from behind. They were cars that used to blow up back in the 70s. [laughs]
They were the ones with the wood?
Yeah. People would just tap the back of them and they would explode. Flaming earth car. But we’re brothers and we love each other. It just had to be done and said and lived and loved and all that. So here I am.
The bumps in the road had to happen to get you here.
Yeah, I mean it’s a rollercoaster and rollercoasters are fun and scary.
You just gotta buckle in.
And accept it like, “Hey! I don’t want to get thrown from the car, I’m going to hold onto this safety belt as much as I can”. It’s a fucking trip, that’s all I can say.
How would you describe the atmosphere in the studio when you went in to record?
Crazy. Just fucking mental because it’s Mike. That brings its own set of chaos and then you’ve got us. [laughs] So now the six-headed monster has a can full of gasoline and matches.
How has it been working with Mike?
None of us have gotten this far because of our lack of intellect, you know what I mean? He’s fucking crazy as shit and eccentric and so are we. There are things that you just have to accept and try to move on as best you can. That’s just what it is. There’s a lot of compromise and that’s super hard for me. Especially because of the way music comes in my head, I just hear everything all at once so it’s hard to translate how I hear something. That’s what happens when you bring in a producer, there’s a certain level of compromise. I also think that Mike is also used to a lot of people kissing his ass and agreeing with him and telling him yes. I can’t speak for everybody else in the band – we’re just talking purely Chris Dowd’s opinion – but I am not that fucking person. I don’t kiss ass. I’m probably as opinionated as Mike, if not more. It was a lot of horns interlocking, like bulls. Like we’re in Pamplona and they just let the bulls out and the people are like, “Let’s run from the bulls!” [laughs] I’m just trying to skewer motherfuckers until I feel better, basically. [laughs] But it’s cool. It was a hard process. There was a lot of growing pains. Plus we haven’t been in the studio together for a long time. They’ve made very different records from when I was in the band and there was a lot of compromise. We finally got it done. It took us a very long time to get an EP done. It gets harder as you come into yourself as an artist and you have your own processes. It was crazy. I guess we wouldn’t have it any other way. [laughs] ’m glad it’s coming out. It’ll be up to an audience to tell us whether they love it or not.
Did you have one thing you felt you had to compromise the most on this EP?
Let’s just say in general. I’m leading with diplomacy. Some things I’m not cool with and other things I’m very happy with. I love the way “I Don’t Care” came out. I don’t think I could’ve done that song any better than that. You’ve heard the EP, I should ask you. What do you think? You can get behind the musical prowess that is Fishbone?
I really like it! It’s good.
That’s good. You know, the weird thing about being in this band is that there’s so much of our DNA in this genre of music with the people that we’ve influenced and people don’t even realize it. Basically, the whole OC ska sound is a variation of us in a weird way. When we started playing music there was really only one other band in Los Angeles that was hot like that and that would’ve been the Untouchables. The Toasters and The Slakers in New York too. I wouldn’t even say Rancid sounds like us but you can hear our influence in all those records, that’s a fact. Sometimes the innovator is the one that takes the L. [laughs] So this is our way of reminding everybody like, “Hey! Here’s some more shit for you guys to rip off so go right ahead”. We’re still here. I’m proud of what we accomplished as artists. It’s a process like I said and as with anything there are checks and balances and accepting that you’re not gonna get exactly what you want but hopefully, you’ll get as close to that as you can.
That’s what to shoot for for sure.
I’m crazy though. I’m always trying to make something as good as the records that influenced me like Sandinista! or album by The Buzzcocks or London Calling or the first Specials album. It’s all kind of like, “I want to make something that good!” So here we are.
How do you view Fishbone’s legacy?
Crucial. Can you have rock ‘n’ roll music without Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, and Howlin’ Wolf? You can’t do it. Can you have punk music without the Dickies, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, DI, Descendents, NOFX, Rancid, Buzzcocks, and The Damned? I could go on and on. [laughs] You can’t! So here I am.
Carrying it on.
Keeping it moving forward hopefully and hopefully inspiring people. I think we are if not the most, then absolutely one of the most non-compromising bands in the history of music. I think when you listen to what we did, you definitely say we did it our way. Which is weird because you would think that the band that got the first record deal from the biggest record company in the world would’ve had to compromise yet we basically told them on several occasions to kiss our ass. Sometimes you do those things to your own financial detriment but you never see a U-Haul following a hearse. You can’t take any of this shit with you so it’s like, “What are we really doing here at the end of the day?” Of course, it would be nice to have as much financial success as some of our contemporaries but that being said, it doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day either. It’s kinda like what this country is in. You’ve got this 1% of the country trying to tell the other 99.9% of the population what to do and it’s like, “How about you go fuck yourself?”
That’s like what you talk about on “Cubicle” on the EP. The despair and monotony of living in a capitalist society and everything that goes along with that.
There’s nothing wrong with success but I don’t know if you can have capitalism and equity. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s like you always have to step on someone to get ahead.
There’s always some leader or some person who comes along and wants to hoard it all and there are people who succeed who have all the great intentions in the world to change things for the better. I grew up in Los Angeles. I’ve been fortunate to be around for everything from a welfare mom to a person worth a half a billion dollars and I can tell you for a fact that neither seemed very happy. I’ve known guys who have inherited or created massive amounts of wealth and they’re still chasing something and not satisfied. Money doesn’t necessarily buy you happiness but it certainly helps you sleep better when you don’t have to worry about the gas bill. [laughs] But that doesn’t necessarily mean happy.
I got so frustrated with music. People were like, “What did you do for 20 years? What happened, Chris?” I literally walked off of the tour bus and lived with a very close friend of mine for a few years and he was making pretty pivotal albums like top 100 greatest albums ever made. I did manage to make music and I did a record called Seedy Arkhestra which has got me on it with a lot of really cool other musicians. I quietly got people record deals and produced records and stuff like that. Then at a certain point, I got into a project in 2004 and it left such a strange taste in my mouth that I was like, “I don’t want to do music anymore”. So I stopped for about 6 or 7 years and became a full-on Cordon Bleu-trained chef. “Cubicle” is literally about that experience of stopping music and having to exist in the world. Sometimes with doing music or doing something creative, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. There’s a lot of perceptions and everybody thinks you’re rich. There certainly are a lot of successful people, if that’s what’s important to you, but to me, it was always about being true to the art or being true to what needs to be said. That’s one of the things with Fishbone, we’ve always said these certain things. I was walking through the audience to get back to the tour bus after a show and this guy asked for my autograph which is always gonna be surreal. He goes, “You guys were saying all this stuff about what was going on in the world and it’s happening right now! Exactly what you said on The Reality of My Surroundings or Truth and Soul or Give A Monkey A Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe. All these lyrics and stuff are so true right now!” and I’m like, “Well, yeah.”
When people were like, “You guys are so all over the place” with what we did musically, I think they missed a major theme of what we were doing. Our mission statement was that we wanted to touch everybody. We want to speak to everyone and be like, “The way you feel, the things you like, the music you’re attracted to, they’re all valid. They’re all important. It’s all special. You aren’t crazy, this is really happening. This is how the world is, how it functions, how it works. We’re your tribe”. This tribe is inclusive. This whole misogynist, transphobic world that we’re living in now where you have such far-ranging extremes like a woman can’t do what she wants with her own body. I gotta say this, do you know one of the things that scares me the most about that?
Where does it end? Once you take the humanity away from someone and take away the choice they have to do what they want with their own body everything goes downhill. I often find that people don’t realize something’s bad until it happens to them and it shouldn’t have to get to that point. It should just be like, “I told you about this thing. You should be able to step outside of yourself and have empathy.” Some people are just narcissistic as fuck and that’ll never happen and that’s fine. I would like them all to go to Fuck Off Island or wherever it is we can send these people and they can just be as hateful and racist and fucked up as they want to be.
I’m Black but my skin isn’t light-complected because there’s nothing else in my lineage, somebody’s Caucasian or something in my family. People don’t want history to be told because let’s be honest, in slavery those women were sexually abused without any recourse. They had no say in it. We are 423 years past that and we’re still on “a woman can’t choose what she wants to do with her body”. When we start doing that to women, then who’s next? There’s a lot of different ways to have slavery. In England when you couldn’t pay your bills, they put you in pauper’s jail. That’s a type of slavery in a certain way. What if you have this society where the incredibly powerful decide that they’re going to enact this law where they’re just going to incarcerate anyone who can’t live up to their financial requirements? That’s not too far-fetched.
It’s happened before.
They said they would never get rid of Roe v. Wade and here we are. It’s such a small percentage of the country that is controlling the larger percentage of the country. It’s kinda like Apartheid in South Africa with a minority group controlling a larger group. All the people who say, “It’ll never happen here!” Star-Spangled Banner, my ass. It’s happening. It has happened. If you think about up until the last 6-7 in this country the greatest perception of what the most evil thing of all time is was the Nazis. Hands down, the Nazis are the most evil. I remember on one of the last tours I did before I left the band we were playing Germany. I’m such a history person and I remember this group of people who were following the band and we would have these conversations. The people who I talked to in Germany were like, “We have to talk about this and we have to talk about what happened to us as a society. We have to teach about what happened to us as a society so that it never happens again. We recognize these things and we put these things in place as guardrails in case some other power or person rises up to this point where it puts us all in jeopardy again as a society”. In this country, the exact opposite is happening. 1984 is on a banned book list in states in this country. 1984, you mean the book that warned against authoritarianism and is a cautionary tale of fiction is now banned? Someone told me Catcher in the Rye was banned too and all this stuff now, they can’t teach it. Now they don’t wanna teach the actual history of the United States either. They want, “The pilgrims came. They were really nice and they got turkeys for everyone and everything was really great”. I’m like, “My ass!” If we don’t pay attention to these things and really start accepting each other where we are, we are fucked. We are fucked right now. Super fucked.
I know that wasn’t the question you asked, I just went on this whole thing but it bothers me! I’m talking to you, I don’t know how you identify but however you do, it’s all good. Do you. Everybody, as long as it’s not hurting anybody, do you. Be love to each other. That’s all. I grew up around South Central in the 70s and it was not all love. It was quite fucking dark and fucked up, to be honest with you. Getting shot at is not cool. Being in a violent situation is not cool. There’s nothing fun about it. This band is kind of a walking miracle in that sense. Any of us could have definitely been taken out and somehow we survived it. I feel like if you survive those things you have a directive to speak on that chaos from your perspective and how it affects us as a society.
A lot of people just think that “Everything is going to work itself out and I don’t need to pay attention to this”.
Or they don’t want to pay attention. It’s too emotionally upsetting or too intense. It’s cool. Just leave the rest of us to fucking figure it out, asshole. You wanna reap the benefits but you don’t wanna be a part of the change. That’s not how life works.
You gotta put in everything to get anything back and you need to lift people up.
Lift up people, for real. And not assholes! I’ll tell you this, and people are probably going to think I’m a dick and whatever for saying this but I don’t give a fuck. This is me, Chris Dowd, saying it, not my band. Just so everybody understands, if they want to know who to send hatemail to it’s Chris Dowd. Fuck Florida, for real. I’m good. I’ve never liked it. Ever since I read Zora Neale Hurston, I’m like, “I’m cool on that place!” Keep that hateful bullshit to yourself. People talk shit about California all the time. It’s like, “How would you survive without our tax money and the food we provide the rest of the fucking country?” You like to talk all that bullshit and you don’t know anything. The people who are like, “Oh you’re woke!” Oh, somebody is conscious of how they affect people and would like to leave the world a better place than how they found it? God, yeah, I guess that makes me a woke asshole. Fuck you.Anyways, that was my fucking tirade. [laughs] Emily, you’re like my therapist, we’re talking it out.
I hope you feel better after this! On the EP you have a song called “Estranged Fruit” which is a collaboration with NOFX. How did this collaboration come about?
Mike said, “You better do my song or else”. [laughs] No, we had a lot of collaborative discussions and he had an idea. We’ve been living in the twilight zone that is America or as one of my favourite standup shows by Judah Friedlander says “America is The Greatest Country in the United States”. [laughs] This is sort of how some people see America on a global scale as if only it exists, like that Team America movie, which is pretty narcissistic.
That song updates Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”. How did the idea come about to focus on that song in particular?
If you know anything about the history of the United States and even if you didn’t, there are some songs that you would know, like “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. It’s about lynching. Now, it’s like cyber-lynching. We live in the time of cyber-lynching where somebody could get convicted for saying something that isn’t perceived by the public as being politically correct or whatever. I’m all for people having some sort of decorum for how we speak to each other and how we treat each other in society but it’s a slippery slope. Whether I agree with it or not, people should still be able to voice their opinions in a free society. However, you don’t go yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre and it seems to be a lot of people doing that and being like, “Oh, it wasn’t me. I didn’t say that! I said tire”. Like throwing rocks and hiding your hands. People are so concerned about their Tom Ford sunglasses over human beings, just like keeping up with the Joneses. This thing, this material value of wealth means more than what it costs humanity. Ok, so you got some nice shit, is that all your character is built around? The accumulation of fucking things? America has always been racist. I think when Barack Obama became president, a lot of people were like, “Racism’s over now!” I never believed that. Just because we had a Black president, I didn’t believe that racism was over. I was hopeful that things would get better but I feel like in this country you’re not allowed to have any fucking hope anymore unless it’s like been sanctioned by the NRA. You can have hope but it has to be the right kind of hope. “Estranged Fruit” speaks to all these ideas and the power of the media and where we are as a society right now.
Going back to who has what platform and what they do with it. It’s wild.
It is, isn’t it. I mean you’re Canadian, you know this country has always been fucking rife with insane duality.
It’s here too and people are like, “Well, at least we’re not America!” But we still have huge problems. A lot of work needs to be done.
I’m exhausted. Just emotionally. It’s a lot. I feel so blessed that I can at least express this sort of frustration and be a voice for people. Music helps you exercise all that stuff.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
Oh boy. [laughs] I wrote this song called “Change” and that all came to me in a stream of consciousness. The lyrics came all at once like ChatGPT, that’s my brain. Or it takes me forever, that’s the worst. I’ve got songs that I’ve been working on for 20 years. “Cubicle” was like that. When I wrote “Cubicle” the lyrics just kinda came out. “Black Flowers” took me forever to write. There was so much that I wanted to say and so much I wanted to be creatively. I haven’t really put out a solo record since the one I put out when I left the band and I’ve been working on one for a really long time. It’s finally coming to fruition and those songs have taken me forever. It’s all over the place.
Some people would disagree with me but I think it’s easier to work on somebody else’s music, producing-wise. Like if you asked that question of me to Angelo, he’d be like, “He can never let go of a song. He’s stubborn”. [laughs] And I am, definitely. I hear something a certain way and I’m not going to fuck with it and don’t you fuck with it either, it’s perfect. I don’t do a lot of shit good, I fuck up a lot of things but when it comes to music that’s where I have a pulse. I’m not one of those guys who are like, “I don’t listen to anything past 1991”. Like who are you punishing?
Yeah, yourself, mostly. I was like that for a very long time. Then my friend – I don’t remember who it was but I should send him a bottle of champagne or flowers or chocolates or something – was talking to me and said, “All this music comes out and you can’t find one thing you like?” I was like, “Well, I do like James Blake. Well, I do like Run The Jewels” and he was like, “I thought you didn’t listen to anything past this point!” then I was like, “Ok, I guess you got me”. [laughs] But there’s a lot of shit that I don’t like that’s currently going on. I try to remind people, “You know this is going to sound stupid as fuck in five years”. Fetty Wap will be not even a memory. You’ll be on to the next thing. But something tells me Lianne La Havas and Moses Sumney and people like that will be around for a while.
What are you listening to now?
Modern stuff. I like C. W. Stoneking, Liam Bailey, Tom Misch, Little Dragon, Son Little, and The Skints. I love the Skints and I love Liam Bailey right now, those are my top two. That Frightnrs album is always going to be up there for me though. They were on Daptone Records. The singer passed away the month the record came out. The Night Owls too, not because I’m on it either, I just think it’s a cool record. And Kendrick Lamar. He’s the undefeated heavyweight champion of hip-hop, period. No one’s fucking with Kendrick.
Un-fucking-paralleled. I was telling a friend of mine that the only person you could compare Kendrick to was Prince if Prince was doing hip-hop. Nobody’s fucking with those records, none of his contemporaries. Not even close.
What’s next for Fishbone?
That’s the six-headed monster that is unpredictable. So I will say this, in the words of the immortal Joe Strummer, “The future is unwritten”.
Do you have anything that I didn’t ask you that you’d like to add?
Be excellent to each other. Oh wait, that’s Bill and Ted. [laughs] Shoutout to my man Keanu Reeves! Somebody asked me if I knew Keanu Reeves the other day.
I don’t know, it just kinda came up. I don’t know him. I know Bill in that situation, I don’t know Ted. I haven’t seen him since I lived in New York. We used to be down back in the day. [laughs] Shoutout to my man Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure!
|5/27||Punk Rock Bowling Music Festival||Las Vegas, NV|
|5/28||Punk Rock Bowling Music Festival||Las Vegas, NV||W/Son Rompe Pera and HR|
|6/4||Le Gueulard plus||Nilvange, FR|
|6/7||La Laiterie||Strasbourg, FR|
|6/9||Le Rockstore||Montpellier, FR|
|6/10||BockSons Festival||Valentigney, FR|
|6/11||Fauché dans la Noirceur||Regnéville-Sur-Mer, FR|
|6/13||Zik-Zak||Ittre Virginal, BE|
|6/14||Le Zénith||Lille, FR||supporting Sum 41|
|6/16||Le Bataclan||Paris, FR|
|6/17||CopenHell Festival||Copenhagen, DK|
|7/29||Bossanova Ballroom||Portland, OR|
|7/30||Paramount Theatre||Seattle, WA||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/4||The Criterion||Oklahoma City, OK||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/5||The Pavilion at Irving Music Factory||Irving, TX||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/6||House of Blues Houston||Houston, TX||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/8||Atlanta Symphony Hall at Woodruff Arts Center||Atlanta GA||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/9||The Ritz||Raleigh, NC||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/10||The Fillmore Charlotte at AvidXchange Music Factory||Charlotte, NC||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/12||Altria Theater||Richmond, VA||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/13||Ardmore Music Hall||Philadelphia, PA|
|8/15||Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric||Baltimore, MD||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/17||MGM Music Hall at Fenway Park||Boston, MA||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/18||Capitol Theatre Port Chester||Port Chester, NY||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/19||The Wellmont Theatre||Montclair, NJ||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/20||Great Cedar Showroom at Foxwoods Resort Casino-Complex||Mashantucket, CT||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/22||Roxiam Theatre||McKees Rocks, PA||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/24||Center Stage at MGM Northfield Park Complex||Northfield, OH||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/25||Vogue Theatre Indianapolis||Indianapolis, IN||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|8/26||Old Forester’s Paristown Hal||Louisville, KY||supporting George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic|
|9/9||Ska Brewing Anniversary||Durango, CO|
|9/15||Supernova Festival||Fort Monroe, VA|