INTERVIEW WITH SANDY HAZARD AND MICK WOOD OF DIRTBAG REPUBLIC
Date: November 10, 2015
IT’S ALWAYS NICE WHEN A NEW BAND COMES ALONG WHOSE GOAL IS JUST TO COME UP WITH A KICK ASS ROCK N’ ROLL RECORD. LONG-TIME FRIENDS AND BANDMATES, SANDY HAZARD AND MICK WOOD, HAVE FORMED THE SLEAZE ROCK GROUP, DIRTBAG REPUBLIC, WHOSE SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM IS AN IMPRESSIVE STRAIGHTFORWARD ASS KICKING ALBUM IN THE HANOI ROCKS GENRE. SLEAZE ROXX INTERVIEWED BOTH HAZARD AND WOODS ON THEIR EXTENSIVE MUSIC HISTORY TOGETHER AND EVERYTHING DIRTBAG REPUBLIC RELATED.
Sleaze Roxx: Both of you have a long history together. We’ll chat a little bit about that in a minute but what made you decide to reconnect after all those years, form a new band together and release what has turned out to be a killer album with Dirtbag Republic’s self-titled album?
Sandy Hazard: Thanks for the kind words and thanks to Sleaze Roxx for being the first magazine to support us. Woody and I have been friends for 30 years. We’ve had phases of playing together off and on and for me personally, he epitomizes cool. When I decided to finally do a full on rock record, he was the first person on my list to call. I just love his lead playing and he adds a new dimension to songs that I wrote. We both have pretty similar tastes in music and have a knack for knowing what each other is trying to get across in the writing process.
Mick Wood: It started with the idea of doing an album with Sandy and Todd Stefanson [McRackins and Grandma Moses]. I got together with Todd and showed him a couple of new ideas that I was working on. We ended up with a finished arrangement of what is now “Exits & Dangers” but it didn’t go anywhere because Todd was busy working on another album with the guy from the Prozacs. I think that he was overextending himself a little. Sandy called me to lay a track on “Sky Is Falling.” I sent him the tracks and the songs just kept coming after that.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you come up with the name Dirtbag Republic for the band?
Sandy Hazard: I’ve had that name for years. I created a list of band names in the early nineties and I’ve used two off that list over the past 20 years [laughs]… It sounds really gritty and a perfect name for a sleazy rock n’ roll band in my opinion.
Sleaze Roxx: Every song on ‘Dirtbag Republic’ is a straightforward rocker. Was this intentional or do you guys simply don’t like to play the slower type stuff [laughs]?
Sandy Hazard: Both Woody and I like the edgier, dirtier side of rock n’ roll. That is just how we write. “Minister & The Angel” starts off slow and builds to a frenzied ending… so we did slow it down a bit there. We actually had an acoustic song called “Smotherin’ Me” that almost made the album. We decided at the last minute to not include it. We both felt we could execute it better and may include it on the next album. I’ve always liked the more rough and tumble bands, so that definitely has affected my songwriting over the years. It was very intentional to make an album that we wanted to kick ass. There is a lot of cookie cutter type bands in music and we wanted to stray as far away as possible from that. It’s good to have warts in songs. It’s good to not use auto-tune. It’s good to show your flaws… except having guitars out of tune… I do draw the line there [laughs].
Mick Wood: Yeah, I love the feel of playing with big loud drums and bass behind me. I always tend to rock out with the drummer on stage. It’s more fun when it’s loud and hard rocking. That’s how I get inspired especially for writing riffs.
Sleaze Roxx: What has been and are you surprised at the reaction to Dirtbag Republic’s debut album?
Sandy Hazard: The reaction has been really over the top from people buying the album, to the critical praise in reviews we’ve been getting. We just received an 8/10 in the December issue of Classic Rock Magazine which blew our mind. The other thing is the comparison to Hanoi Rocks and Michael Monroe. It’s an absolute honor to be mentioned in the same breath as Hanoi and Monroe, but we personally didn’t set out to emulate or sound like that. That’s just the way we write and play. We are huge fans and I’m sure that seeps into your fiber over the years and influences your style. We set out to create the best album we could. Something that we’d sit back and go “Man, that kicks ass!” but it is hard to distance yourself and try to listen like you’re a new fan listening for the first time. We knew we had a good record when it was finished… but you still never really know how it will be received by the general public.
Mick Wood: Not surprised. I felt the tunes were strong and we would at least get some attention from it. Also, webzines and magazines always seem to be willing to review new bands as long as the effort is there and it doesn’t sound like the album was recorded off your iPhone.
Sleaze Roxx: I know that the both of you have been in a couple of bands together in the past. Can you please take me through your past musical history together including how you first met. Perhaps each of your recollections will be different after all these years [laughs]?
Sandy Hazard: Well, it was around 1985 and my band Midnight Vice had split up. The bass player in that band was Rod Bruno, who now plays with Matthew Good. Him and I were looking to resurrect Midnight Vice again and we were looking for a cool guitar player. The local Stardust Roller Rink — yes, I’m dating myself hard here [laughs] — was having a battle of the bands, so we went there to see if there was anybody cool to steal. Now we had a trump card to lure someone away as months back Vice had scored a spot on a California Metal Compilation LP called Speed Metal Hell.
We also had a one album deal with that same label that we hadn’t signed off on. We watched a few bands, but nothing really caught our eye. Then Woody’s band came on, they were called Genghis Khan. Woody had all the cool moves and played great. I think we went up to him and spouted off about having a record deal and would he like to join our band? I think we exchanged numbers and then started jamming at my parents’ house shortly after. I quit for a few months for some stupid reason and then they asked me back and we had a really good band there for a while. Nothing really was happening for us though and it ran its course and I joined Pretty Boy Floyd (CAN) shortly after that. When our guitarist in Floyd quit, I tried to get Woody in the band, but it didn’t work out. I don’t think he had much time to learn the songs or it was something like that.
Flash forward to the demise of Floyd in 1990 and I ended up in Toronto with some of the Floyd guys. We had some great songs, but couldn’t find the right singer and I was getting tired and bored of nothing happening. It just so happened that Woody was going to school in Toronto and hooked us up with apartments in this big mansion house that he was living in. One night Woody and I went to this shabby pub on Ossington in Little Portugal and got pretty hammered. I recall telling him I wanted to go back to Vancouver and start a Ramones meets Hanoi style band and he should come back there and start it with me. To my surprise, he did and that’s how Grandma Moses started. In about five months, we had put together the band and began playing a bunch of shows around town and quickly developed a reputation as a pretty out of control live act. This was when grunge was at its peak and we were the polar opposite anti-grunge band. Regardless of that, people came out to see us in droves.
We ended up being finalists for this annual CFOX radio battle of the bands thing and won an award for best live band and were featured on the CD. We also got featured in Metal Edge Magazine’s Rock On The Rise and were close to signing a deal. Years after [Grandma] Moses disintegrated, we got our unreleased album issued on Perris Records and it received some pretty high praise including right here on Sleaze Roxx! After [Grandma] Moses split up, our singer Todd started McRackins, and I played in that band for the past 20 years. Woody and I then hooked up again five or so years ago, when I was playing in this jam band with some old friends and we needed another guitarist. I ended up quitting that band after a few years as McRackins had really ramped up with recording and a European tour, and I just didn’t have the time. Flash forward to last year, and the Woody & Hazard show is giving it the old college try again [laughs]. Ric Ocasek said in an interview years ago, that he always maintained musical relationships with talented or like minded people, even if he wasn’t playing in a band with them. I thought that was good advice and have followed it most of my musical career.
Mick Wood: Sandy came up and talked to me during a battle of the bands after we took first prize. We were doing [Black] Sabbath, [Iron] Maiden, Scorps and I assume that he was into that stuff at the time as well. He and Rod Bruno were already in Vice and had some song out on a compilation. About five years after that, we formed [Grandma] Moses with Todd and Mike Abrams and some other guy. Wives got involved. There were fights on and off stage. It ended after a gig. I think we were all relieved that it ended. We tried to reform with Sandy on vox and Vlad Lashing on bass to fulfill some commitments to CFOX.
Next I get a call out of the blue from Sandy asking me if I wanted to come out and play with a local band that he was in. I did and am still playing with those guys today. It’s how I keep my chops up. We do some shows around town, and jam together weekly. Sandy went on tour with the McRackins. The other guitar player also played drums so he took over. Coincidentally, he is also Sandy’s former brother-in-law.
Sleaze Roxx: In your previous band together — Grandma Moses — Sandy played the drums but was not the lead vocalist. What prompted you to have Sandy handle the lead vocals on Dirtbag Republic’s album?
Sandy Hazard: With Dirtbag we have a very focused vision. Woody and I also wrote all the songs together and knew what we wanted. When you have that vision, you don’t want to have to explain it to someone else. Most of the lyrics come from personal experiences and I felt I could project that best and give it authentic feeling and passion.
Mick Wood: I think Sandy is primarily a songwriter. He has this awesome ability to squeeze a melody out of three or four chords. Plus he is an accomplished drummer and can get around the guitar pretty well. I always loved his vocal style because, to me, he has this [Mick] Jagger quality to his voice and can deliver the songs that he writes with authority. I always said that he should be a singer.
Sleaze Roxx: By the way, I always love when bands put some real effort in their album covers and that is certainly the case with the cover for Dirtbag Republic’s debut album. How did you end up connecting with Ole O’Brian who I understand designed the album cover?
Sandy Hazard: Ole had done some McRackins’ album covers and 45 covers for us. I really like his pop art style. I gave him a vision of what I was looking for and he nailed it. We’ve had so many people compliment us about how good the cover looks.
Sleaze Roxx: Sandy — you previously had a long career with the pop punk band McRackins which released a lot of albums during its time. How did you end up in the McRackins, how was your time in that group and why did the band end?
Sandy Hazard: Well, the band hasn’t technically ended… We go on these random hiatuses that can last one year to several. As I said earlier, Todd Stefanson aka Bil Mcrackin formed McRackins after Grandma Moses split up. It was a complete joke band, but they landed a deal with Shredder Records in California. The first album came out and got rave reviews and did really well. Tom Thacker who was the drummer, also was playing guitar in Gob at the same time. He wanted to focus more on Gob so he left. Todd and Bil called me up and asked me to join, which I thought would be a lot of fun. Seventeen albums later, a few European tours and whole lot of other stuff, I can say I had an absolute blast in that band. From 2006 to 2010, we put out three full length records, two split albums with other bands and did a six week Eurotour. We have another album that’s half done that “may” see the light of day. This is unrelated but a fun fact is that the first drummer Tom from Gob is also the guitarist in Sum 41.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that the next Dirtbag Republic album — and I should add that I am very happy to hear that there will be another one — will have more variety than the debut album. Again, is this a conscious decision or is it just based on the songs that you have written so far?
Sandy Hazard: Thanks. Yes, there definitely will be another album. In fact, it’s well in the works. We’ve already got 15 plus very solid tunes that we are demoing and tweaking. The songs are still blazing, but I think there is bit more diversity and a few more peaks and valleys. We’re shooting to start recording in the spring of 2016. There isn’t really a conscious decision to do anything but write the best songs we possibly can. We want people to walk away from a Dirtbag Republic listening experience and have those songs branded in their brain.
Mick Wood: I’m excited about it because it builds on what we’ve already done and takes it a step further than what we did on the first album. It will just be a more extreme version of the first album.
Sleaze Roxx: As two veterans if you will of the music industry, what do you think of the state of the music industry at this time and especially compared to twenty to thirty years ago?
Mick Wood: I was never involved in the industry so…. I don’t care. I just like to play.
Sandy Hazard: I have an interesting vantage point playing all these years and playing in a few different genres. In the ’80s and ’90s, there were literally hundreds of indie labels, and those labels sold a lot of records back then. Most of those labels are now gone, as they can’t survive anymore. Record labels seems to be more interested in Facebook likes and YouTube view counts than the quality of the music that bands are producing. Which is fine… you gotta do what you have to do to survive. I saw Buckcherry the other night and they were playing an 1,100 seater that was maybe 3/4 full. Those guys should be playing bigger venues in my opinion. Let’s face it, rappers basically took what the ’70s and ’80s rockers were doing from an image standpoint and ran with it…. They haven’t stopped running. They’ve been glorifying money, hot women, expensive cars and acting like rockstars for the past two decades. If I’m a 15 year old and I see a Lil’ Wayne video followed by Mumford and Sons…. Lil’ Wayne looks like he’s having a hell of lot more fun. Now I’m talking specifically about North America. Europe has and still embraces rock n’ roll whole heartedly.
I do see a cool scene in Canada with bands like Diemonds, The Wild!, Monster Truck, One Bad Son and Aussie transplants The Lazys who have this gritty throwback raw rock n’ roll vibe going, and seem to be doing well. I leave you with this. We spent six months recording our album, using all our own cash and had it set to be released on Bandcamp on Sept 30th. Twenty hours before that date, someone leaked it on the internet and it was all over torrent sites. That type of thing never happened pre 1997 [laughs].
Mick Wood: Yeah, we have day jobs. I need to make money so that I can add to my guitar collection.
Sandy Hazard: Woody has been a chemist for many years and I’m a systems analyst taking care of computer networks.
Sleaze Roxx: Will Dirtbag Republic be doing any touring in support of the new self-titled album?
Mick Wood: I would like that.
Sandy Hazard: There is nothing currently planned. We are kind of evolving. This first started out as a recording project, then [we] decided to do a full album. Now we are talking about possibly doing some live shows in the near future. We’ll see how it goes and kinda take it as it comes. There has been a really big interest in the band in the UK… so you never know.
Sleaze Roxx: What are the future plans for Dirtbag Republic?
Sandy Hazard: Right now, we are still focusing hard on promoting the new album and working on getting a distribution deal. We are looking at doing a video for “I Have Nothing” soon and possibly some live shows as I said. We’re also hard at work writing for the next record, which we hope to have out next fall. Oh… and look for Dirtbagrepublic.com coming soon. That’ll be a central hub for everything Dirtbag Republic related.
Sleaze Roxx: What are each of your top three all-time favorite albums and why?
Mick Wood: First one is ‘Never Mind the Bullocks’ from the Sex Pistols. [It has] great over the top aggressive guitars and vocals. The second one is Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers.’ They should have kept Paul DiAnno! Last one would be ‘Exotique’ from Tikiyaki Orchestra. Jim Bachi’s surf guitar sound is amazing. I could listen to that album on a daily basis and never get tired of it.
Sandy Hazard: For me, the first one is TKO’s ‘In Your Face’ because it is one of the best hard rock albums ever. Bad Brad Sinsel ..nuff said! Second would be W.A.S.P’s [self-titled] debut. It’s over the top, in your face and a voice that could shred a sheet of plywood better than a bandsaw. Finally, I’ll go with KISS’ Alive! because it was a life changing album for me a kid. It turned me onto hard rock and I’ve never looked back!