Founder tackles the shocking regroup in the wake of his beloved brother’s death
For a trio that only released two 7” singles and a 7” EP in their brief existence, 1977-1979, L.A.’s (and San Francisco’s) Dils were one of the most hallowed, savagely unique bands in U.S. punk history.
Fronted by two brothers, high-voiced wiry, elastic, blonde dynamo guitarist Chip Kinman and tall, deep/dark baritone-voiced brunette bassist Tony Kinman, they were hardcore before the description became a genre, playing their songs faster than other founding punk contemporaries, yet tempering their tunes with oddly sweet Everly Brothers-influenced harmonies. Meanwhile, the brothers’ provocative stances, interviews, and lyrics paired profound and pointed left-wing politics with straightforward love songs, long before Billy Bragg would turn the same trick. And with their vicious, pummeling, high-velocity power-chord attack, soaring, throaty melodic thrust, and sharp, cut-through-the-B.S. social critiques, they earned a reputation as America’s rip-roaring answer to the Clash.
But as would become their pattern, they were too early, pre-dating but helping to inspire the independent-label explosion punk birthed, so they never made a proper LP. Instead, they eked out eight studio songs, seven on those small-press, micro-label singles (all highly collectible), plus a posthumous compilation track. Like their equally scorching scenemates the Weirdos, Avengers and Screamers, the lack of an album blunted the wider cultural impact that would eventually come from LPs by California contemporaries that hung on longer, X, Dead Kennedys and The Germs, and ultimately, the ’80s West Coast hardcore outbreak molded most in the Dils’ ferocity.
That said, the trio did make some small, wonderfully jarring waves in their time. They were actually seen by millions—but regrettably not identified!—filmed absolutely pummeling their “I Hate the Rich” b-side “You’re Not Blank” live at Hollywood’s Roxy (the stage of Ramones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll High School concert scenes, two years later) in the 15th biggest movie of 1978, The Lou Adler-directed Cheech & Chong comedy film Up in Smoke. Two drummers later, they blew away 3000 people supporting The Clash on the English band’s first U.S. tour, February 9, 1979 at the Santa Monica Civic Center, a key turning moment in that ’til-then still small punk rock scene. And four months later, they remarkably embarked on a bold, perhaps quixotic self-booked tour of North America, somehow managing a dozen gigs on a hostile circuit hardly predisposed to non-major-label-backed bands, let alone groups without an album. Along with fellow L.A. punk originals the Screamers and their Vancouver friends D.O.A.—and in the concurrent power-pop scene, The Nerves of “Hanging on the Telephone” fame—they were among the first West Coast bands that dared attempt such a tour.
But the early signs of the rise of more macho, conformist, less art-attack hardcore disenchanted the hyper-smart brothers (and so many of their original brethren), and, restless, they called it a day soon thereafter—just as interest in American punk was finally starting to swell for the first time.
After a short stint apart, they relocated to Austin, Texas, teaming up with fellow ex-punk Alejandro Escovedo from San Francisco’s Nuns—a noted solo artist these days—and drummer Slim Evans in the country-punk outfit Rank & File. But like the Dils, this foursome was once again way ahead of the curve, this time playing what a decade later would become “alt.country,” garnering a Slash Records/Warner Brothers deal and spearheading a critically lauded “cow-punk” outbreak. As Tony told Flipside in 1986, “We’re brave, we’re not afraid to do stuff, most people are. They’re deathly afraid to do anything different.” That quote neatly/surely sums up the Dils, too, as well as three subsequent bands he and Chip would form through the ’00s, as well as Chip’s current band Ford Madox Ford, whose debut LP last year This American Blues on Porterhouse Records was produced by Tony, introducing yet another virgin style: cosmic, hard psych-blues.
Sadly, Tony Kinman left us on May 4, 2018, aged 62, the victim of pancreatic cancer. In our interview below, Chip’s emotion over the loss of his beloved sibling and lifelong collaborator are palpable. But a funny thing has happened as a result. After exactly 40 years of stalwartly refusing to reform any of the seven bands they were involved with, passing on lucrative offers every decade, since Tony’s passing, Chip has decided, apparently on a whim, that he’d like to sing The Dils’ old songs again. Three shows have been booked under that name. The first in 40 years will be in L.A. January 27 at Grand Star Jazz Club, a benefit for “Save Music in Chinatown” with old Madame Wong’s/Hong Kong Café-era friends The Alleycats, Rhino 39, and Hector Penalosa of the Zeros’ new band Neko Neko. The next night, January 28, they appear at San Diego’s Casbah with fellow reformed ’70s punks the Executives and Gary Heffern of the Penetrators, plus early ’80s mods Manual Scan. Eventually, they travel north for a Tony tribute show at Vancouver’s Rickshaw Theater April 5, with final Dils drummer Zippy Pinhead sharing the bill, along with Mary Armstrong (known as the more risqué/darkly funny Mary Jo Kopechne in her Modernettes bassist punk days), plus original Red Cross drummer/second Black Flag singer Ron Reyes. There’s further talk of a fourth show in their other ancestral grounds, San Francisco, with still more old friends from the ’70s.
(Speaking of the Vancouver gathering, Chip and Vancouver friend Mack MacKenzie of Three O’Clock Train have released a charity 7” Tony tribute, comprised of new versions of “It’s Not Worth It” and Rank & File’s “Lucky Day”—the latter produced by Tony before his death—with proceeds donated to Tony widow, Kristie White to help pay his medical bills. Reyes, Armstrong, Pinhead, and Pointed Sticks’ Tony Bardach and D.O.A. roadie/soundman Chris Crud sing backups on the new Dils’ cover, which is interestingly enough produced by Bob Rock, reprising his role from the original EP version 40 years ago!)
One thing is for sure, the timing is strong. Just two months ago, popular underground rocker Ty Segall’s revamp of the Dils’ 1978 classic “Class War” in his own slower, ringing-guitars style—as if it was conceived by Alex Chilton in his Big Star period—proved one of 2018’s best singles, and has helped kindle interest from a new generation of fans.
Good time, then, to reconnect with Chip, who this writer has interviewed several times previously for my own The Big Takeover and ’80s fanzine Sporadic Droolings. Questions, we have! And despite the crushing blow of Tony’s sad demise nine months ago, Chip sounds optimistic at the thought of what’s to come. Not only does he go forward with his brother’s blessing, but also on a mission of tribute to what they created together in a bygone era.
Rock and Roll Globe: I was surprised when my San Diego writer/colleague Greg Sahagian told me there was a listing in the paper down there that said “the Dils” were playing. I told him I found it hard to believe. But obviously, it’s turned out to be true. And now there are two other shows booked as well. Can you tell us how this all came about?
Chip Kinman: The Casbah [in San Diego] wanted to book our band Ford Madox Ford for their anniversary gig, but our drummer, S Scott Aguero, was unavailable. So my son [FMF guitarist] Dewey Peek said, “What about the Dils?” I’ve spent 40 years saying no, so I thought that was a great reason to say yes!
Have you done your first rehearsals yet? Who’s in the band?
Yes, the band sounds great. Dewey is playing drums and his friend, Brian Melendez is playing bass. These kids have been playing punk rock together since elementary school! They are the real thing and they add the youthful zeal needed to play proper punk rock. It’s a young mans game, right?
Was it really that easy to say yes to playing as “the Dils” with your son when he suggested it? A snap decision? Did it hit you like a thunderbolt after four decades? What were your emotions and thoughts like?
It was an easy decision, but it is difficult to do. First, the sheer physicality of playing and singing these songs, eighth notes!!!!!!! AAAAIIIIEEEEEE!!!! Then of course, no Tony…that affects not only playing our music but everyday life. I miss him.
That’s understandable, and condolences. And, beyond that, obviously Tony was not only your close brother for six decades, and your bandmate through five different bands, but he also sang lead on several Dils songs such as “Class War” and “Red Rockers,” and crucially harmonized on all of them. How are you approaching that?
Well, we are playing the two singles, the EP, [their old cover of The Velvet Underground’s] “What Goes On,” and “Wimp” by the Zeros. I sang lead on most of those songs. Singing the others is no problem! In fact, it’s a pleasure. Harmonies well…that’s a trick! Brian is a good singer so all is well! Oh yeah…we’re playing “Blow Up” [a first single outtake posthumously released on the 1982 compilation, Rat Music For Rat People, Vol. I] as well…now that’s reaching back!
So for now, there’re no plans to do any of the other old songs like “Citizen” or “Tell Me What I Want to Hear” [heard on various live Dils collections/retrospectives and concert videos on YouTube]?
Not yet. I figured I’d take the easy way out for now!!! I’m lazy, don’t you know. It would be great to record those songs with this lineup. There are sooo many great Dils songs!!
Yeah, some I remember hearing about in Search and Destroy, like one I never forgot and have never heard called “God’s a Korean”—because apparently it was about Sun Myung Moon! I cracked up when I read that 40 years ago. Do you remember that one?
Yes I do!! We used to play that early on, along with “C.A.R.,” “The King is Dead,” “Tell Her I Love Her” [later recorded by Rank & File], and of course “Blow Up.”
So what’s it feel like singing these songs again? Apart from “Tell Her I Love Her” and “It’s Not Worth It” [from the EP, but rerecorded in 1984 by Rank & File], which I imagine you haven’t sung since the mid 1980s, am I correct in thinking that you haven’t sung any Dils since 1979?
It feels right. I thought the hardest part would be the anger and attitude inherent in the songs. How to approach that at 61 years of age? But the songs are so tuneful and well written that anger doesn’t enter the picture. In the fullness of time I am able to appreciate the audacity and exuberance. I mean, I’m sure no one who saw the Dils said, “I can’t wait until these guys are in their 60s, this will really rock!” [Laughter.] But you know what???? It does. Weird, huh???
And what was the date of the last Dils show, do you remember? I’m guessing that might have been in Vancouver, with Zippy Pinhead on drums, in late 1979.
Our last show was at Blackies in Los Angeles with Black Flag opening! [It was December 16, 1979; sounds like a real “changing of the guard” show.] Oh yeah, Zippy was drumming!
Maybe now is the right time, as there is new interest in your old band. For instance, what do you think of Ty Segall’s new cover of your song “Class War?” Wonderful re-imaging, I’d say. And boy, do those words fit 2018 even more than 1978!
I love Ty Segall’s version of “Class War!” It’s a real bonus that he is my son’s favorite guitar player. Think I’ll ask him to produce my next record!!!!
Who else, other than D.O.A. [with the same “Class War” back in 1982], and Dillinger Four [“You’re Not Blank”], have covered the Dils that you know of?
The Dils have been covered by soooooooo many bands, Ty Segall, D.O.A., countless versions of “Sound Of The Rain,” Sator, Alice Bag, and Monte Warden come to mind. Other covers include The Everly Brothers [of Rank and File’s “Amanda Ruth,” on their 1986 LP Born Yesterday], Mike Watt [of Blackbird’s “Quicksand”], and…me! Can you cover yourself????
No. Is there any thought to inviting Zippy or any of your other three ex-drummers to the shows? And/or maybe sit in for a song or two? I mean, when was the last time you spoke to Endre Algover [drummer on the first single], Pat Garrett [engineer/drummer on the second] or John Silvers [the longest serving, found on the live recordings on the posthumous LPs]? I saw Zippy playing at a 2014 San Francisco reunion festival that your old Dils manager Peter Urban did a spoken word thing for, so I know he’s still active.
They probably will! I expect to see Endre in San Diego and Zippy in Vancouver [since he’s on the bill]. They should dig the band, I mean Dewey is playing their parts! Hahahaha.
True! They’ll probably be amused, having played those songs with you so very long ago. And will you be reconnecting with other old friends and musicians from that era doing these shows? Like Greg Ingraham and Penelope Houston, your friends from The Avengers who obviously still play [note, Tony was their fill-in bassist 40 years ago), or The Zeroes, who you are covering and still play now and then?
Except for Silvers I speak to many of those folks often! Social media and in person. It’s good to connect.
Which is part of this question. A reason I didn’t think it could be true that the Dils were playing when I first heard about it was because you have resisted reunions, in any of your bands, for 40 years now, and you must have had plenty of interest. How many times in all that time have you been asked to come back? And Rank & File are similar proto-pioneers of alt.country, which likewise became 10 times bigger after you were done. Why didn’t you do reunions all that time, when it seemed like everyone else you came up with did? And isn’t it odd that this one finally happens right after Tony died and can’t join in any more, although maybe it never made sense while he was here?
Right, Tony and I never did reunions because we were always doing something new. Didn’t make sense to us. We were constantly being offered good money to get our bands back together but being ornery we always said no. It makes sense now, not sure why. I think the Dils will work but there is no way I could do Rank & File, Blackbird, or Cowboy Nation without Tony.
Good point. You have three confirmed dates to far, from Southern California to British Columbia. What are others that might be likely? Might you do a full tour or festivals, or is that jumping the gun?
Right, three shows, San Diego, Los Angeles and Vancouver. Sure, I’d love to play out, make a record…that’s what I do! We’ll see if anyone wants to hear more Dils, right?
Now for any naysayers…There are some for every reunion, but perhaps especially this one of yours since Tony is gone and you’re the only original. I saw one person express reservations on your Facebook page announcement.
I’m surprised there was only one! It’s a matter of perspective. It’s not really a Dils “reunion,” that would be impossible. It’s not a reboot or even a tribute. Simply put, it’s me, Chip Kinman, playing songs I wrote with my brother. Since I’m only doing Dils songs it makes sense to just call it the Dils. OK, now this is a true story…one of the last things Tony said to me was I could “rattle his bones” to make a little money if I wanted to. Consider them bones rattled! [Laughter.]
Great story. Do you have a flood of memories of those late teens and early 20s years? When both you and D.O.A. opened for The Clash in 1979, small pockets of us thought you two were in fact the American and Canadian answers to their power and relevancy.
I do. We met the Clash [in 1978] when they were in San Francisco recording [their second album] Give’ Em Enough Rope. Nice fellas. I should write a book! Tony and I were there for all the big moments at the end of the 20th century. Punk rock, noise, Americana and more Americana!
True. And even before that, to the extend that the Dils are remembered by normal people, or musicians beyond original punk fans and historians, it’s probably for your live appearance in 1977 in the infamous  Cheech and Chong movie, Up in Smoke. How did that happen and what’re your memories looking back? [Jokes:] I totally thought you stole the show and should have beaten [Cheech and Chong’s hilarious group] “Alice Bowie” in the battle of the bands “fight.” It was clearly rigged!
We heard about the gig from Peter Urban who heard [supportive KROQ DJ] Rodney Bingenheimer mention the Dils in connection with the filming. So we hopped in our van and drove up from Carlsbad and bum rushed the stage! A year afterward the movie came out and we were horrified! Because by that time we were fire-breathing commie punk rockers and there we were in a dope smoking hippie movie! [Loud laughter.]
Were the shows here in New York with D.O.A. and Link Wray highlights of the Dils one national tour in 1979? You even got your picture in Lisa Robinson’s magazine Rock Scene!
That was a great tour. Went all the way to Ottawa. The disgraced #metoo restaurateur Ken Friedman was our tour manager! We kicked Silvers out of the band! And we met many punks who became lifelong friends!
Do you remember that shot in Rock Scene? I was surprised to see that! Especially a band with only two singles out!
Yes! That was a big deal for us! We grew up reading Rock Scene. That was how we learned about the Ramones, New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, etc.!
I think you were in Creem, too. What are your memories of that, your first ever time on tour? Looking it up, I was able to find some, if not all, of the dates listed on the net these days, which were: June 10 at Raul’s in Austin, June 12 at Gaspars in Chicago, June 13 at Bookies in Detroit, June 14 at the Edge in Montreal, June 15 at Hotel Nelson in Montreal, June 16-18 at Hurrah’s in New York, and maybe St. John’s. But there wasn’t an Ottawa show listed. I’m guessing there may have been more. Toronto? Boston?
That sounds about right. Except, we didn’t play in Montreal that tour, the Edge was in Toronto. I remember many shows, but playing with Link Wray in New York was indeed a highlight! We kicked out Silvers on the way home. We had played that sold out show in Toronto and he had taken acid or some shit. After a few songs he ran off stage and we had to cancel the show and give everyone their money back. A real douche bag maneuver! But it worked out OK because we got Zippy!!
What is your best memory you have of each of the bands you’ve been in? The reason I ask is not rote: Perhaps it will illustrate why a 61-year-old is still playing both brand new songs, as you always have almost exclusively for 42 years, and now for this first time ever, your oldest ones—and with your son to boot!
Hmmmm. The Dils: Making punk rock revolution. Everything seemed new and possible and it was new and possible. Rank & File: Living in Austin in 1981 was an adventure and a half! Playing country music had never been so wrong and right at the same time! Blackbird: This was the band that really brought Tony and I close. It was me, him, and a drum machine against the world. The Horny Lads: We thought we would put together a band just playing our catalogue. No one gave a shit!!! Hahahaha on us. A valuable lesson! Cowboy Nation: My God, I love this band and the records we made. The best time of my life was going to Tony’s apartment every morning and recording. PCH: A family affair for sure! Who wouldn’t want to make a punk rock record with their wife and son? Ford Madox Ford: My wife kicked me in the ass and said “MAKE RECORDS!!!!” Tony produced, and my son who’s turned into a world-class guitar player helped me drag my ass into the 21st century.
Looking back, was it frustrating that original punk rock bands like yours didn’t have the impact in this country that The Clash, Sex Pistols, Jam, Ruts and others that similarly spoke up did back in England, regularly making the Top 40 there and being on the cover of the music weeklies? Those English bands were also much bigger here as well; after all, that Clash gig you opened along with with Bo Diddley was a sell out, 3000 punters at the Santa Monica Civic, I imagine the biggest gig the Dils ever did.
We tried! Hahahaha…England is smaller, homogeneous, and has an active national music press. A different scene altogether. Time has caught up with the Dils and I’m alright with that. Tony’s right, time to rattle some bones!!!!!
Quickly, tell us about Ford Maddox Ford, since you’re still in that as well and just had an LP last year that Tony produced, and many may not have heard much about the group.
I used the same formula that Tony and I always used, that is, what do I have to add to what has gone before? I figured I have never made a blues record, so that was the ticket! I’ve always avoided playing black music because, well…I’m not black, but it felt right. As it turned out I made a glitter rock record!!!—to my ears, anyway. I had a few rules when I put the band together. 1: No one can be older than me. 2: No one can be fatter than me. And 3: No one can suck more than me. It seems to have worked. Tony loved the band and was eager to produce. I’m so grateful that he did because… you know why, right?
Right. Any summing thoughts on Tony? I know that his passing must have broken your heart. Great sense of humor, real wry, to go with the fiery heart, and that deep voice. It must have been sad for the whole Kinman clan.
The sadness is overwhelming at times! Musically I’m a bit adrift, but he is there when I need him the most. I played music with him since I was a teenager and his absence is felt everyday. The outpouring after he died was unbelievable, and I was not prepared for it. He knew though, before he died, what an impact he had. We talked about it and it made him happy and gave him comfort.
Anything you think is most important that people know, or you’ve been thinking about?
Tony and I did something very American. We came from humble beginnings and created something new. We had the opportunity and the landscape to do it and we did it. I will always be grateful to all the people I have met and for all the encouragement received. I really do love you all.