An Interview with Dogs That Bite: YEAR OF THE DOG

The hounds are out the gate in the California Bay Area rock scene — and it seems, for Dogs That Bite drummer Sam Gagliardi and fiancée/singer/guitarist Joey Zamjahn, that there are no signs of getting down. The pair, straying close from the acclaimed ska-pack Leftover Bowlskis, spring forth with their firstborn pup, the three-track LP Year of the Dog; a tortured love child comprised of all the unrest, grating social commentary and sex-fuelled rabies one could beg for. With years of maturing material under their collars and the supervision of engineering legend Steve Albini, this release marks its territory in our dying decade of underground punk.

From its opening track, the ominous ‘Under Red Light’, Zamjahn licks his vocal chops, alternating between a husky rasp and a despondent croon (only faintly reminiscent of a Bleach-era Cobain), with the bass line squirming towards its next verse. Gagliardi gives life to a searching beat, pounding ‘Light’ on with every rise and fall. In contrast, ‘Husband Stitch’ takes us back to a more carefree-stomp of 90’s rock, in spite of its more sordid subject matter- domestic abuse. This dichotomy lends the tune its power as both a crowd-mover and a hit single; one could easily imagine live renditions with echoed barks via the audience. A good time.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

‘Dog’s closing track appears to let down gently, with Gagliardi setting the pace for a slow grinder of a tune- the most direct, if not personal, of the LP’s trio. Gone are the theatrics of the first song, or lively inclusion of the second. With ‘Poor You’ a declaration is made and its intent is solid, its chorus offering liberation from toxic family ties.

How did Dogs That Bite come about, and how do you think it differs most from previous projects?

JOEY: Dogs That Bite has been simmering for about 10 years now – a similar version of this project existed, called Dare To Suck, where we were a 3 piece and cycled through a few bass players. Keeping that formation together became difficult as I got wrapped up in film school endeavors – we disbanded in 2014. Since then, we’ve been keeping ourselves busy with our psychedelic ska-grunge band, Leftover Bowlskis, that we founded in 2012.

The most notable difference for Dogs That Bite is that it’s just the two of us. This carries strengths and weaknesses. A big challenge has been developing our live show. On recordings, we can fill out the sound with additional instruments but live we are restricted to two pairs of hands. It’s been an exciting adjustment and the shows are really fun – nothing beats jamming with your partner. It’s pretty much sex, but better.

SAM: Basically, Joey has had all these songs that he’s written over the years that don’t fit into the format of our other project(Leftover Bowlskis) and since we are already doing our life together it just makes sense to continue where Dare to Suck left off and make it bigger, badder, and sexier. We draw a lot of inspiration from visual art so with this band we really wanted to create a strong visual representation of us from the get-go. It’s a lot different from our other projects because this time around we have more confidence and because we have so many years of experience in music, we are able to draw inspiration faster and we have a clearer idea of what we want to convey to our audience.

Where’d the name come from? Were there others that you considered before this one?

JOEY: There are really quite a few reasons for the name that all tie together. For one, I’ve always had a really deep connection with dogs – they like me and I like them. I remember being a kid and being diagnosed with depression, my parents got me a dog to help (I don’t have a dog now and I’m quite sad). I also have really pointy canines along with my other fucked up teeth and I’ve always likened those visuals to dogs’ teeth.

Additionally, I really wanted a name that had a “new familiar” vibe to it that was simple and also described the music and aesthetic. People are familiar with Dogs, so the first part of our name is pleasing. Then comes the twist – That Bite. It adds an unexpected intensity and a dangerous element to something warm and fuzzy. There’s also a small chance I might’ve lifted the name from an Oingo Boingo lyric, but I really can’t remember the order of things.

And yes, there have been a bunch of names over the years we’ve considered – I think we held off starting the project till we had a name that was up to snuff.

What outside of your life as a musician do you think contributes most to your creativity?

JOEY: We both work in creative fields, I’m in the film industry and Sam works in the hair biz. These are other outlets for our creativity, but I don’t think they necessarily contribute to creativity – personally, I get really inspired and fired up when I’m pissed off by something/someone/myself. I try to use music to fight back against injustices that I see in my life. Any strong emotion really, they all drive my creativity. I write happy songs too.

SAM: I listen to a TON of music, especially all different genres and that is probably the number one thing that I am most inspired by. I follow a lot of artists and art on Instagram as well which is also a source of inspiration. I am lucky enough to be able to create visual art every day being a hairstylist so I think my life is filled with a lot of beauty. In general, I’m really angry and angsty so playing drums feels like a really good outlet for that and makes the music edgier.

Any subjects you’re really trying to drive home with these songs, or are y’all just having fun?

JOEY: These 3 songs are packed full of subjects. “Under Red Light” is about police brutality, “Husband Stitch” is about misogyny and insecurity, and “Poor You” is about my dad – 3 subjects that really piss me off.

And I mean, yeah, we’re obviously having fun, but our songs are very serious in their intent. To quote Joe Strummer, “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power. Do you know that you can use it?”

SAM: “Husband Stitch” is interesting because the point of view of the lyrics is very tongue-in-cheek. It is told from the view of the husband and how he gets to be the one to decide if his wife should get the extra stitch. I like this one a lot because it’s a good metaphor for how medicine has treated women historically and how men have been made a priority. I like songs that explore subjects in a way that sounds almost creepy, similar to the toadies or Stone Temple Pilots.

I’m sure you know 2018 was The Year of the Dog; anything about that year that contributed to these songs?

JOEY: 2018 was a long, stressful year for us – I think a lot of pent up energy/rage was released on these recordings. Also, I proposed to Sam the morning before heading into the studio with Albini to record this EP. I think that added some extra special love spice to the session.

The name is meant to be an encapsulation of that moment. The best day of my life so far, hence, “Year of the Dog”. It’s a celebration of sorts. Also, since it’s our first release, it’s a birth thing. Like, happy birthday Dogs That Bite! It’s your year!

In a few ways, it sounds like you’re taking it back to the late-80’s with the rise of hardcore and grunge-what were your main influences when making this EP?

JOEY: It’s kind of cool because this recording is going to sound a lot different from the next one. Knowing we were going into the studio with Albini, we wanted to choose some of our noisier, more chaotic songs to record. Naming influences feels a little weird since our material covers such an expansive time period for the writing process. For example, “Poor You” was written like 7-8 years ago while “Under Red Light” and “Husband Stitch” were written in 2018 – our music tastes/influences change all the time.

Though to get ready for the session, I found myself listening to a lot of Jesus Lizard, PJ Harvey, Queens of the Stone Age, Pissed Jeans, Toadies, Spoon, Pixies, and of course, the best fucking band, NIRVANA.

SAM: I was pretty inspired by all of the aforementioned bands and the drum sound that Albini is known for. I am most inspired by “In Utero”, Dave Grohl is my favorite drummer for sure. The way the drums sounded on that record is exactly how I want mine to sound and I feel like we achieved it with this EP.

Do you find that as a couple, it makes the process of swapping ideas much easier?

JOEY: Yes, absolutely. It’s mostly intuitive at this point. For the most part, I write all the melodies, lyrics, guitar parts and Sam does her thing on the drums. The way our process works is I usually write alone at home on my acoustic and I try to impress Sam with the material. What she likes ends up getting drum parts. We don’t do too much writing together, though, I definitely do turn to Sam when I’m stuck on a lyric. I’d like to change this in the future and leave room for Sam to express her shit – she also has a great scream.

SAM: I’ve tried writing lyrics on my own before but I’m better at riffing off of whatever Joey already has going. We are both into the same music and trust each other’s ideas so whenever I can I help with a melody or a lyric here and there.

Any song you’re most stoked to play live? (I’m personally looking forward to Husband Stitch!)

SAM: “Poor You” is definitely one of my favorites to play, but I really love all of these songs, I feel like they are really gonna get people pumped!

JOEY: Of these 3 songs, my favorite to play is “Under Red Light”. It’s so short and punchy. We actually finished writing that song while playing it live, so the performance of it holds a special place in my heart. I also get to scream real crazy on that one.

Any aspirations to tour in the future, and if so, who would you tour with given the choice?

SAM: Of course I would love to come to the Pacific Northwest! I think we would do really well up there! In general, though, I would love to do an entire west coast tour.

JOEY: Yeah, a west coast tour would be really fun. I’d be really interested in going south too, Mexico, Central, and South America. There’s a lot of passion for music there and the food’s hella good. And to tour with, I dunno, I feel like we could be a good support act for Screaming Females or some other cool rock band like maybe Skating Polly, Spoon, QOTSA, and Violent Femmes.

Year of the Dog is currently streaming on all media platforms. For updates on the band check out their Facebook and Instagram.

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