Why Down By Law Chose to Get Back Up In the SoCal Punk Scene

Bands like Bad Religion, Blink 182, and the Descendents are well known among music fans, and helped punk rock transition from its old school roots, to new school sounds like emo, indie rock and pop musical influences. But within these progenitors of the second and third generations of punk, particularly with the bands from the ’90s, LA band Down By Law, might be one of the most under rated and overlooked.

When Dave Smalley exited the band ALL(featuring former Descendents Bill Stevenson, Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton) in 1989, he formed Down By Law, a band that toured with everyone from Pennywise, The Offspring, NOFX and tons more throughout the decades. Down By Law was a band that was able to hit the nuances of both the old school punk bands before them and the contemporary sounds of where punk was, and is going. Citing influences such as Dag Nasty, Minor Threat, Stiff Little Fingers, the band is bringing back a classic incarnation of a line up to perform a mini West Coast tour. Vocalist Dave Smalley recently took time to reveal to the Weekly the line up for the tour, their local shows with Guttermouth and Pulley, the political and personal inspiration for his music, and more about his life as a punk rock musician.

OC Weekly(Alex Distefano): Tell us about the West Coast tour Down By Law has with the band Pulley, and shows with Guttermouth in Southern California.

Dave Smalley: Yeah, this tour is literally shocking, almost one could say historic in the punk rock sense, as it has the DBL lineup from [our third album[ Punkrockacademyfightsong. That album is by far the best known DBL album, but we didn’t tour long with that lineup due to multiple reasons back in the day. We thought it would be fun to do this time, and we hadn’t played in California in way too long — which is crazy since that’s there the band is from, LA. Now to do these shows with two amazing bands, Pulley and Guttermouth, that’s just a great show for fans. And for all the bands too — we all love and respect each other’s music, and we played together often in the day they are friends of ours we all go way back. We are doing this mini West Coast tour, consisting of seven shows in Las Vegas, a few in Arizona, Hollywood, Ventura, Santa Ana and ending in San Diego, we know it’s going to be such a blast.

How do you you maintain a level of energy to be involved in punk rock all these the years?

Well, I believe in it. Punk rock helped shape me, kept me independent, stopped me from following the herd and gave me the courage to be myself and walk my own path. So I really view it as important, and real. And, as important, it’s the soundtrack to my life, from DYS to Dag Nasty, to ALL and Down By Law. And all the amazing bands since 1977 who I’ve met, played with, listened to, loved. I’ve been really lucky and blessed to have been in bands that people like, so that helps you keep creating. I played with some amazing musicians. I mean, Sam Williams from DBL is one of the best rock guitarists playing today. But still, having said all that, I’m definitely feeling it more the next morning than I used to, and it’s a little harder to do all the driving and late nights it takes its toll on our aging bodies for sure. So, come see us before I retire, kids. Just kidding there…kind of.

When it comes to politics, do you think it’s true that so much anger, alienation, frustration and dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs make for good angry punk music? Tell us more about how you fell in music the political cannot be separated from the personal.

There’s so much motivation for music, and punk rock is no different. I’m trying to follow my own personal code, taking care of my brothers and sisters in the punk and rock worlds, living my own life and following my own trail, and trying to make the world a better place through music and hopefully inspiration on the personal level. I find inspiration in many places, not all on the front page. For me this is all about independence. Many of my favorite punk bands were not political or at least, not overtly political, think Husker Du, Black Flag, Misfits, Ramones, Undertones, and others. If someone wants to be a politician on stage or in their lyrics, or if that’s what motivates someone as a fan in life, that’s totally cool. But for me, I’m a musician, a storyteller, and hopefully a good person. We can make a positive dent in the world, but there’s a lot of ways to do that, and they don’t all have to be politics. There’s a lot of inspiration out there and sometimes it can be positive too, right? If you want to have some fun, and some introspection about the world and where we all fit into it for this brief amount of time we’re on Earth, that’s more where my spirit is.

Do you resent never being as big and famous financially, as Blink 182, Bad Religion, or The Offspring?

I’m the luckiest man on the planet. Only a very few bands in punk rock ever survived completely off of music. Some, like the bands you mention, did do that, and that’s great. Blink 182 and DBL shared a tour bus on one of the Warp Tours years back, and I’ve been a friend and fan of theirs ever since. DBL was a fulltime band for a while, and it was fun as Hell. But I walked away from full time touring to spend more time with my children, and I never regretted that. For me, making music is about bursts of inspiration. It’s art and power and passion. It’s more like moments of lightning in a summer sky. I love getting to do what we do.

Over the years, what was your favorite venue to play in the Southern CA/OC music scene and why?

Well, we are from the LA area, and throughout Southern California there are So many. I’d definitely say the Whiskey and Roxy, in LA, plus Als Bar, the Coconut Teazer, Doll Hut, Country Club, Iguannas, SOMA. Those are just some that spring to mind. I’m sure I’m forgetting some great ones. We played tons of shows in our heyday all throughout the LA, Hollywood, OC and Long Beach areas and everywhere in between.

Do you have any future plans/tours/announcements? Any new music?

The cool part about this tour is what it might be, or might not be. If it goes well and the chemistry is back, we’ll very likely write and record together again, which would be really something special. As it is for the moment, I’m just really happy to see these excellent musicians again, and create and share with our fans and friends. Fans can contact us on the DBL page on FB, or my pages on FB. (dave smalley or punkrockdays).

Down By Law performing with Pulley, Guttermouth and more at the Yost Theater(307 N. Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701)

Alex Distefano is an established freelance writer and music blogger from the Los Angeles area. With over a dozen years under his belt as a published Journalist, he covers the worlds of heavy metal music, punk rock, current events, cannabis culture, comedy,  radio, food, tattoos,  the paranormal, and ‘conspiracy theories.’ He graduated from California State University Long Beach in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in both Journalism and Ancient History. Aside from his professional writing endeavors, Distefano works as an Educator, and delivery/rideshare driver.

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