Interview with Dirtbag Republic singer/drummer Sandy Hazard

Date: May 18, 2017
Interviewer: Olivier


Sleaze Roxx: Congratulations on your new album ‘Downtown Eastside.’ Did you and Mick feel any pressure to follow up Dirtbag Republic’s debut album, and why or why not?

Sandy Hazard: Thanks very much Olivier, and thank you for being such a great supporter of indie bands. I think we’ve been discussed on Sleaze Roxx about 15 times over the past few years… so thanks for all the support! Pressure?… No, not at all. In fact, most of the second album was written by the time the first album was released. We are completely do-it-yourself. We write and record everything ourselves with some help from friends. We put out our own records and finance everything ourselves. We distribute everything ourselves and do all the marketing. I guess the only pressure is making sure you keep everything within your own budget and mailing out your CDs on time to people that have spent their hard-earned money on your band…especially when there are so many other bands out there. We don’t have anybody looming over us telling us what to do or what songs to write. We just write what we think is cool and hope other people do as well.

Sleaze Roxx: I think I read sometime after your first album was released that the second one would have more variety but at the end, there seems to have been more variety on the first one. Do you agree and did the plans change along the way for the second album?

Sandy Hazard: Yeah, you’re probably correct there from a peaks and valleys’ point of view… meaning, on the first album we had some balls out fast rockers, mid-tempo plodders, and a slower power bluesy number to end the record. It wasn’t self-conscious to make this record more balls out from start to finish, but by the time we culled through all the demos, the heavier songs prevailed. We also wanted to keep it at ten songs to maintain interest and put our best songs forward. In the end, we were really happy with how it all turned out.

Sleaze Roxx: You and Mick got some help from two new band members this time around. How did Kyle [Richardson] and Andrew [Cairns] end up joining the band?

Sandy Hazard: I’ve known Kyle since the early ’90s when I was heavily in the punk scene in Vancouver. My band Mcrackins/The Retreads played lots of shows with Kyle’s bands Wisecrack and Complete. Kyle also started a punk label back then called Spawner Records, which our new album ‘Downtown Eastside’ is on. He must’ve put out around 30 albums back then and helped put on tons of all ages shows. Andrew, I’ve known equally as long. I played in The Retreads with Andrew and he also joined the Mcrackins as a secondary guitarist when we put out our last album seven years ago. I’ve always kept my cards close to my chest… By cards, I mean solid friends who I can count on to play music with and have no dramatic side effects. Andrew also did the layouts for both Dirtbag Republic albums.

Sleaze Roxx: What are your favorite songs on ‘Downtown Eastside’ and why?

Sandy Hazard: That’s a difficult question. I like the first three songs because they represent the title of the album ‘Downtown Eastside.’  Two songs that I was really happy with were “Swing And A Miss” which is about when me and my wife at the time were walking to a Cinderella concert and got totally harrased by these redneck hicks. They were calling me all sorts of derogatory names even though they were also going to see Cinderella. I basically got fed up with the bullshit and challenged these two douchebags to a fight “even though I was scared shitless.” They immediately backed off and said they were only joking. I think they thought a 135 pound rocker was a bit crazy to challenge them to a scrap and didn’t count on that [laughs]. The song has a very sleazy Aerosmith/Stones vibe to it and came out exactly how I’d envisioned it.

Dirtbag Republic‘s “Swing And A Miss” song:

Dirtbag Republic – SWING AND A MISS – “Dirtbag Republic’s sophomore album Downtown Eastside is a virtual shoo-in for t…

Sandy Hazard: The other is “Thinking Of You.” Woody brought me the song finished, but it was way slower. Like Rolling Stones’ “Angie” kind of slow. I wrote the lyrics and melody for the song really quick and Woody totally dug it. Later, when we had the bulk of the demos done, I felt that although I thought the song was really cool, it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the album’s energy. I asked Woody if he could keep it the same but maybe speed it up a bit and make it heavier. A week or two later, he sends me a song. I think it’s a new tune, but realize it’s “Thinking Of You” completely reworked and way heavier. The vocals and melody still worked perfectly. I thought it was a stroke of genius how Woody completely transformed the song without it affecting the melody and phrasing of the lyrics/vocals.

Sleaze Roxx: It would definitely be interesting to hear the original version of “Thinking Of You.” You and Mick ended up writing all the songs. In the writing credits, sometimes Mick’s name is first before yours, and vice-versa. What does that exactly mean when one of you has his name before the other in the songwriting credits?

Sandy Hazard: Woody and I share writing credits equally. One person might write more on a song here and there but we both add a lot to the whole vibe of the tunes. I’ve given something to Woody that is bare bones guitar with the vocals and melody done, and he’ll add in these fantastic overlays and lead bits that I would have never thought of and in some cases, transforms the song completely like “Junkie Girl.” If his name is first, he brought the song in and contributed more and vice versa. Him and I split everything 50/50, from songwriting to paying for recording/mastering etc…. so it’s really just an optics thing.

Sleaze Roxx: I’ve never been to the province of British Columbia in Canada but it seems to me that the title ‘Downtown Eastside’ is a nod to an area in the city of Vancouver. Am I right and why did you end up naming the album ‘Downtown Eastside’?

Sandy Hazard: Yes that’s correct. It’s sadly been an area in the city that has been rife with prostitution, junkies, people with mental health issues whom have been abandoned, etc. It’s been pretty bad for the better part of 35 plus years. In the early ’80s, the government shut down several mental health facilities and a lot of the people that lived in those places ended up in downtown Eastside and got caught up in drugs, alcohol and/or prostitution. I lived in the west end of downtown for many years and played in lots of clubs in and around downtown Eastside, so I’ve seen it pretty much get worse since the ’80s. We wrote three songs about the area — “Junkie Girl,” “Homeless” and “My Part Of Town.” So, it seemed like a natural title for the album. They are observational songs about the area and the lack of progress made there. The cover photo by Kevin Demers was taken from a photo essay on downtown Eastside and we decided to block out the identities of the subjects of the orginal photo out of respect.

Sleaze Roxx: You seem to be quite active in certain Facebook music groups. Do you think that has helped Dirtbag Republic along the way?

Sandy Hazard: I definitely think it has. I’ve met a lot of really supportive people in some of those groups that I call friends. Those people that do really enjoy our band have told their friends about us, or people they know that have radio shows or work for magazines. That has a great trickledown effect. I think some musicians somehow feel it’s uncool to post in those groups, but it’s their loss. You get great insight into what people like right down to CD packaging, meet cool people with similar tastes and discover new bands that over people discover. I’m still a big fan of music first and foremost and I love telling people about some cool new band I’ve read about or discovered on YouTube, Facebook or Bandcamp. Most of the music I buy these days is primarily new bands. I think rock n’ roll is under assault and we as a community need to support everyone involved. That means buying records, going to shows, buying mags and supporting online magazines such as yours. I’ve been at this a long time and can tell you from a “band” business perspective, it’s pretty rough out there right now.

Sleaze Roxx: Dirtbag Republic’s albums seem to have received a lot of very good reviews. Do you think that is enough these days to “make it” and if not, what’s missing to make Dirtbag Republic a household name?

Sandy Hazard: No, I don’t. Really, what’s missing is a foolproof business model to make that happen again. I honestly think the days of the “big” arena bands are gone. The only bands selling out arenas these days are retro acts for the most part. I recently watched the Fat Wreck Chords documentary ‘A Fat Wreck’ and it’s pretty shocking the impact the internet has had on devaluing music and decimating sales. This is a very popular punk label that had bands on their roster selling 100,000 albums consistently. Now they do 20% of that and the label has shut down four of their five offices and are running on a shoestring staff. That’s fucked!

We’re actually just in this for the love of music and for the fun of it, so if something were to blow up… that would be pretty rad. That being said, here are my blunt thoughts related to your original question. Both our albums were leaked online by some self-entitled assholes who don’t give a fuck about bands. They care about selling advertising on their sites linking to pirated albums. It’s not even worthwhile contacting them even after a few hours of the leak. It’s like playing a whack-a-mole game, because as soon as one of these assholes leaks your album, ten other sites jump on board using the excuse in their disclaimer “we do this for the poor countries and some bullshit about Lars Ulrich being rich.” So fuck those altruistic assholes! With that kind of bullshit, it’s hard for indie bands to get ahead and get any return on what they’ve invested in, which is always used to put back in the band to help it progress forward. I think going forward, it’s best to release a physical CD and release digital further down the road to negate the piracy on day one.

Back in the ’80s or early ’90s, one great review could actually generate a big boost in album sales. Now it is barely a blip to be honest. I think you have to be out there relentlessly touring and getting in people’s faces and hope for the best or move to Europe where new rock n’ roll bands are more widely popular. I’d also stay the fuck away from those major label crooks… If I want a money lender, I’ll go out and get a loan without losing my publishing and everything else related to band earnings. These major label dicks are now taking bands merch percentages… Fucking hell!

The whole streaming thing isn’t really helping bands either. Maybe they’re getting widely known from it, but the payouts won’t buy you a pack of smokes and six pack. I honestly feel bad for guys that have the dream to be a working musician and make a career out of it. It’s always been a crap-shoot, but now it’s a turkey shoot with us musicians being the turkey.

Sleaze Roxx: Well, you definitely have some strong opinions in that regard! Correct me if I am wrong but one thing that Dirtbag Republic have yet to do is play live. Are there any plans for Dirtbag Republic to tour behind the new album?

Sandy Hazard: You are correct, I’m not making any promises about tours, but we are looking at doing some live shows down the road. We want to have a bit of catalog to choose from. We wouldn’t be opposed to doing some of these small festival things in the States or Europe, but the offers would have to be there.

Sleaze Roxx:  If you had to compare Dirtbag Republic’s two albums, what would be the key differences for you?

Sandy Hazard: I’d say the new album was easier to do as we were flying by the seat of our pants on the first record. That was the first time we’d recorded an album on our own. I was learning as we went along and it was nice to have Woody as a second set of ears when we were producing it. The writing process on the second album was quicker and more organic than the first. We learned a lot on both albums, but for the second album, we weren’t as green. We shortened the amount of songs and made the second record a bit heavier end to end. We also had it mastered by Svante Forsback who has done Rammstein, Michael Monroe and Backyard Babies. He gave ‘Downtown Eastside’ a really nice sheen without stripping the grit and it really came together with that finishing touch.

Sleaze Roxx: Dirtbag Republic released its first video for the song “Junkie Girl.” How was that process and can we expect more videos in the future?

Sandy Hazard: We were trying to organize everyone to do a proper first video, but that’ll be next. So I thought doing a lyric video would be a good idea just to get it out there. We used a dude named ALSqueezy from Indonesia. I came across him on a site and really liked the style he did with the whole felt marker thing interspersed with graphics. He did everything in about three days and did a terrific job on it. We’ll probably use him again down the road for another song. We plan on doing several proper videos for ‘Downtown Eastside.’ The plan is to shoot a few videos in one day sometime in June and then Kyle is going to edit them together. He’s done great work with his other band Not In Public and did all their vids. We might do “Homeless” or “Fantasy World” as vids next.

Dirtbag Republic‘s “Junkie Girl” lyric video:

Dirtbag Republic – Junkie Girl

Junkie Girl – from the brand new album available at http://www.dirtbagrepublic.com April 7…

Sleaze Roxx: I think I’m not the only one who has compared Dirtbag Republic’s sound to Hanoi Rocks / Michael Monroe. Do you agree with those comparisons, and why or why not?

Sandy Hazard: [Laughs] Yeah, you’re definitely not the only one. We’ve had several reviews that compare us to those bands. To us, it has never been intentional at all to sound like those artists. We just write what we write without really thinking about it. It’s hard to stand back and try to objectively listen to your music and say “Oh, we sound like so and so.” Those bands are definitely influences and for sure probably creep into our style. Honestly, it’s very humbling and we take it as huge compliment. We’ve been really overwhelmed with how we’ve been critically received and received by the rock n’ roll public. It’s been so positive, which really inspires us to keep going and putting out the best records we can.

Sleaze Roxx: What are Dirtbag Republic’s remaining plans for the rest of the year? 

Sandy Hazard: Priority one is to get these next few videos done. We’d love to hear from a label that would like to release our album on vinyl. Hopefully get some shows under our belt and continue writing album number three, which most of it is already done. So, you can expect album three most likely next year. We’d love to sell the bulk of our CDs as it helps to finance our recording and the pressing of the next album. So, if you’re into CDs still, hit up and keep the rock alive! You can also get our album on iTunes, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, etc. if digital is your gig. Thanks so much for your time and support Olivier. It really means a lot to us.