Interviews

Doug Carrion (Dag Nasty, Descendents) on Revisiting His Past with Field Day + More

As a bassist growing up, I always admired Doug Carrion's work in the bands Dag Nasty and Descendents. With the latter, he appeared on the excellent and underrated Enjoy! album in 1986. But it was through his time in Dag Nasty where I first discovered Doug's bass work. Wig Out at Denko's (1987) and Field Day (1988) are albums I've played countless times throughout the years, so it was a pleasant surprise when it was recently revealed that Doug and singer Peter Cortner [both appear on those aforementioned Dag Nasty records] would be heading out a run of shows under the name Field Day this summer.

I recently chatted with Doug via phone while I simultaneously battled through Los Angeles afternoon traffic to discuss the upcoming tour. Since I was pressed for time, we didn't get a chance to talk about his many other bands from throughout the years (Doggy Style, For Love Not Lisa, Humble Gods, etc), but we still managed to get into some really interesting stuff related to Dag Nasty, including his thoughts on the polarizing Field Day album.

Tell me a bit about your childhood. Are you a native Southern Californian?

I was born in Queens, NY—home of the Ramones—and grew up in Hermosa Beach, CA. My mom moved us out here when I was little kid. When I was a kid growing up in the '70s, Hermosa Beach was deeply rooted in the counterculture of the time. Yes, there was a lot of the bikini babes and all that kind of stuff you would expect, but there was also a lot of "fuck you" towards all authority. I grew up in the middle of all that. I grew up very poor. My mother was like a Mother Teresa that would always freakin' adopt kids [laughs]. I grew up in the Hermosa Beach that came before the '80s when it became the yuppie version of beach culture. I'm kind of part of the weirdo, jazz culture kind of era of Hermosa Beach.

Since you mentioned growing up in the '70s, I'm curious about your musical path, from a fan standpoint. Did you start out with the rock of the day (Led Zeppelin, etc.) and then get into punk later in the decade?

Actually, it was jazz music for me. The first place I ever went to see live jazz music was at this place called The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. Guess who's dad and mom booked that place? Dez Cadena from Black Flag! So, I grew up on stuff like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Chet Baker. Anyway, one day I was riding my skateboard down the street and I see a Black Flag flyer and was like "what the fuck is that?" You know what I mean? Part of my crew of friends was all about surfing, skating, drinking beer, and going as fast as they could go, so I kind of just moved slightly to the right and got into the punk world.

But here's the connection, the first couple of times I heard Black Flag, because Greg Ginn's guitar style was always so different, I always thought that it was kind of like jazz, in the improvisational sense. It is no surprise that I would go on to find the Minutemen. So, I came up the ranks more like a bebop kind of guy and very angular music. Was I knowledgeable about KISS? Yes. Was I knowledgeable about Ted Nugent and Aerosmith? Yes. But the stuff that I listened to most of the time, pre-punk, was always jazz music.

The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, circa late '60s.

I know you played in bands like Con 800 and Anti when you were still a teenager, but how old were you when you started touring as a member of the Descendents?

Yeah, my first major tours were with the Descendents. Let's see, I would have probably been 20 at the time. I remember I wasn't even old enough to get into some of the clubs we played back then [laughs]. Through the Descendents is how I met [Dag Nasty guitarist] Brian Baker and all of the Dischord people. 

So, let's get into that. How did your connection with Dag Nasty come to be?

The first time I was in DC with the Descendents, there's this knock on the back door of the van and who's there but Ian [MacKaye]. He worked at the 9:30 Club at the time and we stayed at his place that night. He was such a nice guy. Anyway, the next time we went through and played at the 9:30 Club, Dag Nasty were on the same bill, so I got to see them with [original Dag Nasty singer] Shawn Brown. In fact, I've seen every singer of Dag Nasty perform with the band live. I also got to do two records and a billion shows with Peter Cortner.

But I got to meet the Dag Nasty guys when I was still in the Descendents and I remember we went up to do some shows in Canada with them and Brian Baker brought along Dave [Smalley]. It was like, "whoa! You've got a new singer!" The next summer, Descendents was getting ready to go out and tour the States and Dag Nasty was going to come out for 30 or 40 shows and who's the singer? Well, it was this other guy named Pete, who I had never met yet. Every time I saw the band, they had a diffrent singer! [Laughs] It was amazing! But that's how my connection with Dag Nasty started.

Dag Nasty collage

Like Black Flag, Dag Nasty is one of those bands where there are people who love every era/singer, but then there's those who just prefer one over the others.

It's a phenomenon that I've obviously always been aware of, but with this new Field Day project, I'm getting more information about it on a daily basis. So, my understanding is that Dave was only in the band for 8 months and sang on Can I Say during his original run. Shawn never sang on a record during his first run with them. Peter sang on two albums and did most of the touring, so a lot of people that I'm talking to, the only live version of Dag Nasty they've ever seen is the Peter one. I was on the phone earlier today with a writer who's entry point to Dag Nasty was the Field Day record and then he worked his way backwards.

I have people who are fanatics for the Wig Out record and don't like Can I Say or Field Day. That's fine and I totally understand that. For example, when it comes to Black Flag, I'm a Dez Cadena guy. That doesn't mean I don't love Keith [Morris], Henry [Rollins], or Ron [Reyes]. I just love something about Dez's voice, the raspiness of it. But I totally get it when it comes to people loving certain eras of Dag Nasty over others.

Dag Nasty photo from the insert to Wig Out at Denko's

I want to get your thoughts on the Field Day album since it's definitely one of those records that people are divided on.

I think Field Day was a very ambitious record. What I mean by that is that the safe bet would have been for the band to write a bunch of songs that sounded like Wig Out. But the reality was that everyone in the band at the time was listening to all kinds of different styles of music. We were at a spot where we kind of made the decision to spread our wings a little bit further. Whether that was right or wrong, that's up to the fans to figure out. We had just gotten to a point where everyone in the band could really play their respective instrument proficiently enough where we wanted to explore other areas of musical styles. That's what that was all about for us. 

I'm a fan of the material on Field Day and I also like the way it sounds.

What's interesting about the Field Day album is that before it, we had released the All Ages Show 7". Now, we spent a lot of money recording that 7", and for my ears, it was a bit too "metal" in the way it sounded. There were times when I would listen to that 7" and think to myself, "is this a punk band, or is this Poison?" It just sounded a little weird to me. Well, the band decided that we were going to approach things a very different way for Field Day. We did pre-production for like a month straight for that record. We also used a smaller, less expensive studio, for Field Day, so that we could take our time on it. Everything went really smoothly and quickly. When I look at it now, I can't think of too many punk bands of that period that were putting so many different types of guitar tones on a single album. So, that's why I always refer to Field Day as an ambitious album.

But there are times when I've thought what would have been different about Field Day if we had brought in a producer. Would they have scrapped some of the material and made it a tighter record? [xXx Fanzine founder, record label A&R executive] Mike Gitter would probably say that he loves Can I Say, tolerated Wig Out, and by the time Field Day came out, he was probably like, "what the fuck is this?" [Laughs] You know what I mean? But I seem to remember Mike telling me back then that it was like Dag Nasty was trying to make an R.E.M. album with Field Day. He was like, "I don't know what you guys are doing!" [Laughs] The truth is that we didn't know what we were doing either!

Promo photo from the Field Day album campaign

Let's talk about the Field Day band and tour that you guys recently announced. What can people expect to see and hear if they come out to one of the shows?

OK, so the band is me on bass, Peter on vocals, and Mark Phillips of Down by Law playing guitar. We're going to be playing a lot of material from the Wig Out record, a couple of songs from Field Day, and a couple from Can I Say. We're intentionally front-loading the Wig Out stuff only because people haven't had the opportunity to hear that stuff live for a long time. It seemed like the right place to start because of that. Is there going to be pyrotechnics, dancing girls, and fog machines? Probably not [laughs]. Think about it like if a Wig Out-era show was putting into a time capsule and it reappeared in 2019 [laughs].

Dag Nasty at City Gardens, Trenton, NJ, circa late '80s. (Photo: Ken Salerno)

Before I let you go, of all the songs you recorded with Dag Nasty, which one would be your favorite and why?

[Pauses to think for a few seconds] I'll go with two. Let's start with "All Ages Show" from Field Day because it's a great song. I'll also go with "Safe" from the Wig Out album. Both of those songs are interesting. In "Safe," I love how it starts off with the fast hardcore stuff at the top and then goes into an almost Damned ringing guitar kind of thing in the chorus. [Laughs] And yes, we will be playing both of those songs when you come to our shows this summer. Come say hello!

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Follow Field Day on Facebook for more info.

Field Day tour dates:
July 12 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
July 13 - Garwood, NJ @ CrossRoads
August 23 - Los Angeles, CA @ Viper Room
September 7 - Quebec City, QB @ Envol et Macadam Festival
November 8 - Chicago, IL @ LiveWire Lounge
November 9 - Chicago, IL @ LiveWire Lounge

Tagged: dag nasty, descendents, field day

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