Sex, drugs, and Dwarves

Bay Area shock rockers The Dwarves talk about their 30-year habits

Album artwork from The Dwarves's 1997 LP 'The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking,' set to be reissued by Recess Records this September as 'The Dwarves Are Younger and Even Better Looking.' The Dwarves are performing material from the album, as well as others from its catalogue and yet-to-be-recorded material at stops along its current North American tour, which stops at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern tonight.

Album artwork from The Dwarves’s 1997 LP ‘The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking,’ set to be reissued by Recess Records this September as ‘The Dwarves Are Younger and Even Better Looking.’ The Dwarves are performing material from the album, as well as others from its catalogue and yet-to-be-recorded material at stops along its current North American tour, which stops at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern tonight.

With a back catalogue consisting of 14 albums, two DVDs, a number of both EPs and seven-inch records, San Francisco Bay Area punks The Dwarves exhibit a career that is anything but dwarfish. And over thirty years as a band, the group has racked up quite some habits. They’re currently in the middle of quenching one of their less illicit ones.

Touring across Canada and the United States’s Midwest and Northeastern states, The Dwarves make a stop at Toronto’s Legendary Horseshoe Tavern tonight, but fans that only know the mythology around the Dwarves shouldn’t let those impressions inform their decisions to catch the band on its current tour, Dwarves vocalist Paul Cafaro (a.k.a. Blag Dahlia) says.

In their salad days, onstage antics involving self-mutilation and live sex acts often turned Dwarves sets into abbreviated 15-minute performances, earning the band enemies among their earlier audiences and concert promoters. But as his band’s van rolled into Lincoln en route to a Chicago, Ill. gig, Cafaro – who has been one of The Dwarves’s two solely consistent members since its formation – explained over the phone Aug. 23 that fans who come out to Dwarves concerts these days will get more show for their buck.

“It’s generally like 45 minutes – the usual kind of thing,” Cafaro said.

Without any new material recorded since their 2011 10-inch record Fake ID, Bitch, the band is using its more lengthy sets to showcase material spanning its entire career.

“There’s songs from everything – from the Blood, Guts, & Pussy stuff and Sugarfix, [The Dwarves] Come Clean… then stuff from the last couple of records – [The Dwarves] Must Die, [The Dwarves Are] Born Again, even some brand new stuff – so new it hasn’t even been named yet,” said Cafaro.

The singer didn’t divulge much about the new material, but framed it and its contribution to the band’s sizeable (and ever-growing) discography as something that displays the band’s virtue when held up in comparison to those of other bands.

“Most bands suck. They make one good record and then they just flog it to death after that,” said Cafaro. “The Dwarves is just an embarrassment of amazing records. 30 years now. Mayhem.”

Also in celebration of The Dwarves’s career, the band recently announced a Recess Records reissue of its 1997 Epitaph LP The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking, from which fans can also expect to hear songs at the band’s upcoming shows. Rebranded as The Dwarves Are Younger and Even Better Looking, Cafaro explained the Recess reissue will come complete with 40 minutes – or 22 tracks – of bonus material, all recorded during the “same time period” as the album proper:

Ten of them are from the solo EP that I did and the outtakes from that, which came right before Young and Good Looking, and then a bunch of it is a radio show that was never released. It’s The Dwarves live on the radio, Stanford. And then there’s like b-sides and stuff from the Young and Good Looking period.

Marking the band’s exit from Seattle, Wash. independent record label Sub Pop following a hoax the band propagated claiming the band’s guitarist (and only other consistent member) HeWhoCannotBeNamed (a.k.a. Pete Vietnamcheque) had been stabbed to death in a Philadelphia, Penn. bar fight, the original Young and Good Looking served as somewhat of a vehicle for a kiss-off to The Dwarves’s former label, containing a “modified” version of Sub Pop’s press release detailing the band’s departure in the liner notes. No word on whether that will also be collected in the reissue, but if Cafaro’s dismissal of even the mention of the group’s former label is any indication, don’t count on it:

I don’t get the fascination with those guys. No one’s cared about them since the ’90s. They’ve got nothing to do with me or anything. So I don’t know about them. Whatever they do is what they do. I have this band called The Dwarves. Not affiliated with whoever those guys are or whatever they’re doing.

The group’s website does promise the collection will come with “more classic photos of the naked skater chicks,” though: images consistent with the cover art for albums like Blood, Guts, & Pussy, The Dwarves Must Die, and The Dwarves Are Young And Good Looking itself, which all feature naked women covered in blood, wearing ski masks, or surrounding a dwarf pinned to a cross.

Such artwork has been known to bring The Dwarves condemnation from feminists and other critics in the past, but when asked about such controversy, Cafaro didn’t address how the band has been identified as exploitive and objectifying in its promotion of its material, but instead insisted, “these are classic shots,” and identified himself and his band as sex-positive, feminist crusaders, going on to discuss the reflections his artwork has received as “slut-shaming” type arguments that fail to see the album covers as glorifications of the female form.

“I consider myself to be a feminist, you know?” Cafaro said. “And I think one of the best things about femininity is nudity, so you know, we’re a great feminist band with all our naked album covers.”

“Lots of wonderful naked women. Lots of drug abuse and sex from The Dwarves. That’s what we’re about,” said Cafaro. “We’re very socially conscious and we’re on dope.”

Ah, yes. Dope.

That’s another thing The Dwarves have a thing for, and Cafaro says it’s something that excites him for the band’s Toronto visit.

“There’s nothing like Toronto drugs,” Cafaro meditated. “By the time cocaine gets to Toronto it’s been stepped on many, many times.”

Specifically Cafaro favours the idea of being in the same town as embattled Mayor Rob Ford, who admitted today that he has “smoked a lot of” marijuana and whom news media such as the Toronto Star alleged smoked crack earlier in the year.

“Don’t you guys have that mayor that smokes crack? That excites me. The idea of going to Toronto and smoking crack with a public official,” Cafaro said. “If he wants to come to the show, we’ll get him in free, and if he brings a prostitute, she can get in half price.”

The Dwarves play The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto tonight with The Queers.

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