When considering the legacy of legendary Washington DC punk act Minor Threat, it is Fugazi, the subsequent band of its lead singer Ian Mackaye, which tends to get the critical plaudits. Less known but no less deserving of praise is Dag Nasty, another band to rise from the ashes of Minor Threat.
Formed in 1985 by among others former Minor Threat guitarist Brian Baker; the band’s original line-up also featured bassist Roger Marbury, drummer Colin Sears and singer Shawn Brown.
While the band have been together on and off since the 1980s it was their first two albums Can I Say and Wig Out At Denkos that showcased their best work. Debut Can I Say, which features Dave Smalley who replaced Brown on vocals, rarely gets the praise it deserves but for our money it is up there with the greatest punk albums of all time.
‘Melodic hardcore,’ is how their Wikipedia entry describes Dag Nasty’s sound. That is a convenient description but masks the power of Can I Say, which offers up ten perfect songs about teenage confusion, peer pressure and fear of the future that are as relevant today as they were in the mid 1980s.
“I followed blindly, part of the lot, I never gave a second thought…how can I say I’m really free?” sings Smalley on Can I Say’s title track.
The teenage angst theme continues on ‘Thin Line’, with, “I never realized you were running in circles…you were blind, I trusted you.” Is the “you” a lover, a parent, a close friend, the government? It could apply to any of them, which is one of the joys of Can I Say the way the lyrics value friendship and an ability to question the status quo as highly as the staple topic of choice for most bands – love.
Despite encapsulating teenage angst perfectly Can I Say is more than that. The music is among the most uplifting around. No one can play a riff or a squealing solo like Baker, who later joined Bad Religion and over the years has reportedly turned down chances to play with REM and Guns n Roses. The vocal harmonies as well are wonderful.
Many have pointed out that Dag Nasty was among the earliest influences on emo. Few respectable punk bands will happily admit to have spawned the likes Fall Out Boy and we hope that Dag Nasty is honoured for more than this. In particular we hope that as the sands of musical time pass Dag Nasty is remembered for offering a unique, fast paced slice of teenage life, that spoke to a disaffected youth.
So where are the Can I Say Dag Nasty line-up now? They remain a band of sorts, but more of an occasional side project for Marbury, Sears, Baker and Smalley.
Most of Sears’s time now is taken up being a city planner in Portland, Baker continues to play guitar with Bad Religion, Marbury lives in Boston and works as a lighting engineer for film projects and Smalley is a newspaper journalist in Virginia.
The band’s most recent album was in 2002, Minority of One, a more patchy release than the fantastic Can I Say, but still with some moments of brilliance amid its more grown up brand of punk.
by Joe Lepper, March 2010
For more information about Dag Nasty visit Daghouse.