DFL's Monty Messex talks pizza, P90s, and My Crazy Life's Beastie-bolstered hardcore
BY GREGORY ADAMS
For a group quite literally co-founded by one of the most iconic hip-hop figures of all time, DFL is a band that kind of got slept on through their initial run in the ‘90s. Blessedly, the L.A. outfit’s debut album, My Crazy Life, just got a deluxe re-release through Trust Records, and it’s a must if you like your hardcore old school, off-the-rails, and above all else, fun.
I recently had the chance to connect with both vocalist Tom Davis and guitarist Monty Essex to talk about not only the forming of DFL in the early ‘90s — alongside bassist/Beastie Boy Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz — but the dawn of their friendship about a decade prior, when they met on a city bus on their way to a skatepark.
My recent Bandcamp feature touches on first wave L.A. hardcore; Monty’s teenage punk band the Atoms (featuring future Guns ‘N Roses member Izzy Stradlin); tracking at the Beastie Boys’ skatepark/recording studio; and writing unruly DFL bangers like “Pizza Man,” a savory pit-starter all about getting a fresh slice from your local pie dealer. You can read that feature here!
While I had Monty on a call, we also got into his playing on My Crazy Life, which had initially arrived as a double 7-inch on Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal imprint in 1993, before being repackaged on CD with a few bonus cuts the following year.
“I don’t consider myself to be a very good guitar player, but I have a very particular taste in my guitar sound,” he says in regards to the streamlined, but jet engine-forceful sound he first brought to My Crazy Life. He adds that his “really warm but still aggressive-sounding growl” might have something to do with the yankable pots of his early ‘80s Mesa Boogie Mark II combo.
“It has these pop-out knobs that really kick it into overdrive; that’s what breaks it up to get the really loose feedback sound that I like for DFL. The combination of that [and my Les Paul Junior with a] P90 at the bridge is what gives DFL that really specific sound.”
Speaking with Gut Feeling, Monty further dove into the drive of DFL and the history of My Crazy Life.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was generally the crazier period for you: navigating the dangerous, burgeoning subculture that was early L.A. hardcore, or linking up with the Grand Royal camp in the ‘90s?
MONTY MESSEX: They were really different times in my life. With the early ‘80s hardcore/punk rock scene, I was pretty young and there was lots of drugs. It was pretty out of control. With the early ‘90s Grand Royal times, I was sober so it was a lot less crazy, at least in my own personal life.
There’s obviously this big stretch of time between the Atoms and DFL. What motivated you to get back into writing classic hardcore songs?
MESSEX: Well, in the early ‘90s I was wanting to play guitar. I had a guitar that I bought in the ‘80s, and I bought a Mesa Boogie [amp] that I’ve since done all the DFL recordings with. That’s a 60-watt Mark II, I think it’s from 1981.
So, I reconnected with guitar and tried playing with some other bands. This was like ’92. I kind of fell out of the punk rock scene — I wasn’t really part of it, per se — but somewhere around then I was listening to this Bad Religion cassette of How Could Hell Be Any Worse, which was their first album. That really influenced me. I just loved those songs and that style of music. It brought me back to the early ‘80s — when I was really into music; before drugs really took a hold — and going to see the Adolescents, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Bad Religion, and Wasted Youth. All the L.A. bands! I was listening to that [Bad Religion] record, and [started] writing songs in that same vein.
Do you still have that guitar?
MESSEX: Yeah, I do. I was told it was a ‘59 Les Paul Junior, but I suspect it was probably made sometime in the ‘60s, the more I research it. I bought it because I loved Johnny Thunders. I still do.
A funny story about this guitar is that it was [originally] a single cutaway tobacco sunburst with a dogear P90 in it at the bridge. My friend who was in the Atoms with me threw the guitar at his girlfriend in a fight — we practiced at his house — and he broke the guitar in half. It broke lengthwise, between the volume knobs and the pickup. When it was being glued back together, I asked the repair guy, “Can you make it into a double cutaway and paint it white so it looks like Johnny Thunders’ guitar?” He [modified the guitar, but] it’s completely the wrong cutaway. The double cutaway of a Les Paul Junior looks nothing like the this one; [this] looks kind of like a Melody Maker. I love it though. I've recorded all the DFL records with that and the Mesa Boogie.
The only thing that’s changed with that guitar is that it’s a senior citizen now. I can’t really take it out live. Now I play a classic Les Paul.
In the lead up to this re-release, you’d explained that the suggestion to start up a hardcore band like DFL was done half-jokingly, but Adam took you up on that offer full-force. Do you think you would have started up a band like this, had Adam laughed off that suggestion?
MESSEX: Before DFL, I’d been jamming with some other people. Not hardcore; kind of grungey stuff, although we didn’t think of it like that. That was ‘91-ish, with this woman Carla Bozulich who went on to be in Ethyl Meatplow, and this guy Eric Avery who played bass in Jane’s Addiction. The band didn’t go anywhere.
But I guess to your point, I would’ve kept trying! Definitely, though, this band was centered around the whole Grand Royal scene, in terms of the people who ended up playing in [DFL], like Tom and [My Crazy Life drummer] Tony Converse.
How long was Mike D a drummer for DFL?
MESSEX: He was our drummer for a day or two. We were in the early phases of looking for a drummer. He sat in and played drums, but not for very long.
My Crazy Life was done live off the floor, right?
Had you been practicing these songs for a while?
MESSEX: I had a couple of songs that I had already written, and they kind of gelled with Adam and Tom. I think we practiced a handful of times, and then one night we came to practice at the Beasties’ studio and Mario [Caldato Jr., producer] had miked everything up and said, “Ok, lets record!” It wasn’t a lot of preparation or thought put into it. We weren’t even signed to Grand Royal [at the time]. It was just us doing it for the hell of it.
What was the vibe like at G-Son Studios?
MESSEX: There’s actually a really good diagram of G-Son in the Beastie Boys book, but they had the top floor in this older building in Atwater. There was a small control room [with] a couch in it, a big 24 track board, and their Ampex 2-inch tape machine. Then there was a gymnasium next to it. It had a hardwood floor. It had a basketball hoop at one end, and a stage with all their gear set up [on the other side of the room]. There’s also a good picture of the stage on the inside of the Check Your Head record, you open it up and you see them all playing on that stage. And in front of the stage they had built a skateboard ramp, so people could be skateboarding while people were playing. There was graffiti everywhere. It was a cool vibe.
Did you skate between takes?
MESSEX: I might’ve skated the ramp a little bit. I’d skated in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, but by the ‘90s I’d gotten out of it. After DFL I got into skating again, though, and quite heavily.
"Pizza Man" is a DFL anthem. Was there a legit pizza man you’re referencing on the track?
MESSEX: There was a place near where I grew up in Hollywood called Pizza Man, and their motto was “He Delivers!” So, that’s where I got the name of the song, and the back-and-forth chorus of “Pizza Man / He Delivers.” I grew up ordering stuff from them, and for some reason it just seemed like a funny thing to write a song about.
There’s a 'zine inside of the Trust reissue, and one of the pages of the 'zine has a Pizza Man menu.
What’s the story behind “Think About The Pit,” either the song or the sentiment?
MESSEX: It just seemed like a funny thing to say! Just ridiculous. But also, one of the first punk bands I listened to as a teenager was the Germs. They had a song called “Shut Down,” which has this long, repeating bass line, a crazy guitar lead over that, and Darby Crash growling. I’ve always felt that every punk album should have a version of “Shut Down” on it, so “Think About The Pit” was our version of that. We did another long freakout song on Proud to Be as well [ed. “What’s the Difference”].
How active were DFL, as a live entity, while Adam was playing bass?
MESSEX: Not very active. Beastie Boys had just finished Check Your Head, so they were pretty busy with that. I think we played a show at this local bar in Hollywood, and then Mike D got us a [slot] at Lollapalooza where we played on the second stage; we were the first band to play, two days in a row. And then Mike also got us a show with Fugazi. They were all local L.A. shows; we weren’t really touring. I don’t think we ever played with Adam outside of L.A.
What do you remember about the transition, then, as he exits the band?
MESSEX: Beastie Boys were getting ready to tour. I remember Adam being up front with me, being like, “It’s a great band, but I’m in another band and I’m going to be really busy. So, I think you guys have to find another bass player,” which I thought was fair! So, we found another bass player. Adam did say that he would produce our next record, though.
We talked with Mike D about doing another record with Grand Royal, but Mike wasn’t that interested. [Epitaph Records founder] Brett Gurewitz had reached out to us right when the first 7-inch came out. He said he really loved it, so later we reached out to Brett and he offered us a record deal. I think he spoke to Mike just to make sure everything was cool. We [also] recorded [Proud to Be] at G-Son; you can actually see us in the control room on the back of that record.
Prior to this re-release, you’d put out the YRUDFL 7-inch in 2021. Are you in the midst of writing any more DFL material at the moment?
MESSEX: We’re writing another record right now, and the plan is to get it out sometime in 2024. We’ve got about eight songs written, and they’re just like YRUDFL. I want to write songs where it sounds like, “Wow, these guys did Proud to Be, then they did [1997’s] Grateful, and then they did this one,” as if there wasn’t this big gap of time in between. We’re still dong that old school hardcore sound. That’s what I want to do.
Does DFL remain “America’s Most Hardcore”?
MESSEX: Definitely. We’re still carrying that flag.
DFL is still delivering old school hardcore, but has the band's pizza order changed much between My Crazy Life and now? Or, per the lyrics of "Pizza Man," are you still ordering Pepperoni with extra cheese?
MESSEX: Well, Tom’s a vegetarian, so he would probably only eat vegetarian pepperoni. With my pizza order, I’m also less pepperoni and more just a good old fashioned cheese pizza. I love a good New York pizza with a really crispy crust. We still eat lots of pizza!
DFL's My Crazy Life reissue is out now via Trust Records.
d.b.s. - Demos & B-Sides 1996-1999
You know what, let's stick with '90s punk rock bands billed under a three-letter acronym that starts with "D." Earlier this month, the Boat Dreams From The Hill imprint unearthed a trove of demos from North Vancouver's d.b.s., and the resultant Demos & B-Sides 1996-1999 is a goldmine.
d.b.s. got their start when the band members were pre-teens in the early '90s. This mostly covers the mach 2.0 version of d.b.s., which had guitarist Andy Dixon, vocalist Jesse Gander, and drummer Paul Patko entering late teendom, joined by new bassist Ryan Angus.
So many things to dive into, here. Maybe it's that this is the period where Andy's guitar playing gets more expressive and limber, fusing the melancholy French hardcore of Jasmine with the melodic pop-timism of Lifetime, all while trying to diffuse the rich twin guitar synergy of Braid's Chris Broach and Bob Nanna into a single SG. Maybe it's that this is the era where he pushed his vocal range up a few octaves, towards an earnest and uniquely endearing yelp.
Maybe it's how Jesse honed his rasp with a more nuanced, conversational approach to life and politics. Maybe it's that these rawer takes of songs like "Will You Accept the Charges?" reveal that Paul — his third-part harmonies noticeably absent — was a secret weapon on the mic.
There are a trio of unreleased tunes on here too, all of which apparently have a long forgotten title. "Unknown 1" is the strongest of the three, and I'm fairly certain they played this one a bit back then. Not too sure why it got axed from an official studio session, but through a nostalgic, yearning lens, its chorus of "don't blink this July, you just might miss it," is landing really bittersweet at the moment.
Truly one of the greatest bands I got to see transform in real-time in-and-around Vancouver (I checked my list, and I saw them 26 times between 1996-2001. Also, at least a handful of practices at Paul's house). Essential listening!