Dave Smalley needs little introduction, after time spent in DYS, Dag Nasty, All, and Down By Law. He did a solo show outside of Green Bay in July, 2015. (Here’s some crummy video I took). Afterward, he hung out to do an interview for Green Blah, a film documenting the early days of punk music in Green Bay. He was a really cool, chill guy to talk with, and he agreed to do an interview for the website. I admit chuckling at the image of Dave with his kids at a Doobie Brothers concert (although the first in-utero concert my firstborn son attended was a Dean Ween solo show- at least for about 5 minutes before my wife- who didn’t know she was pregnant yet- got tired of the pot smoke and walked out.) The dude is still a road warrior, so make sure to catch Dave solo or with Down By Law.
Name: Dave Smalley
Age: Punk rock veteran
Number and ages of children: Private
Location: Currently: Virginia
Profession: Writer, songwriter
You’ve had an amazing string of successful and inspirational musical projects. How has straight edge and the drug-free culture influenced your work at various stages in your career?
Thanks. Straight edge has been one of the most important things in my life, and helped me in a million different ways. As the name says, it really can help some people keep their focus, an edge in certain things in life. As the DYS lyric puts it: Straight mind, razor edge — firm footing on a social ledge.
Keeping my head free from some of the distractions allowed me to put my energy on things that were important to me. It was the glue for us in Boston. I think the burning in some of my songs, particularly those early ones, comes from having that sometimes almost painful clarity and focus on the mission, a vision, the goal to encourage and inspire, to stand next to your brothers on the street and in the pit, and to make a dent in the world.
S.e. is not for everyone, and it might not even be a constant thing for those who practice it — some might find it helpful at some points but veer away at different points in life. It has been a part of me, to varying degrees. There’s no question s.e. shaped my musical growth and contributed to the person and musician I became, just as drugs helped make Hendrix or Keith Moon who they became.
I’m glad for the role straight edge has played in my life story. I wouldn’t be who I am without it. Ultimately, s.e. or not s.e., what really matters in life is: Are you trying to make the world a better place? Are you caring and responsible for your family, your friends and your country?
What changes have you personally witnessed in terms of trends in the straight edge scene in the US and/or internationally?
I don’t have much time or inclination to follow trends, or worry about what others are doing. I didn’t really understand when veganism and other variations came into the s.e. scene back in the day, but, respect to those who choose that. And equal respect for those who want to have a hamburger.
How has fatherhood affected writing, touring, and collaborating with other musicians?
A great deal — for me, fatherhood meant making some serious changes. Down By Law was touring all over the world when my first two children were born, and since I was a full-time musician, that meant I missed them in a huge way. I knew I only had so many hours in a day, and in life, and I wanted to be there for them as much as possible. Not only did I want to be a good dad for them but I also got such incomparable joy from being with them.
So I stopped full-time touring to be with them more. I’ve never regretted it. For me, it was the right call. It’s cool now because they’re able to come to DBL or my solo shows, occasionally.
I think they’re proud of their daddy. I hope they are.
As far as collaborating with other musicians, no impact, I don’t think.
What are your personal drug and alcohol-free recreational outlets? What are your favorite things to do with your children?
We live near D.C., so there’s a ton to do in terms of the Smithsonian museums, the national zoo, going to Civil War and Revolutionary War sites like Yorktown for instance — my boys and I are all history freaks, so we love that stuff.
We love watching movies and “The Office” and “Big Bang Theory.” Just normal life. And of course music — my kids have seen everyone from the Doobie Brothers to Judas Priest to Toby Mac to the Lower Class Brats. My boys and I also are comic book freaks, and so a trip to the comic shop is always awesome. Going out to eat, lots of movies, just normal stuff. All of my children play sports, so I try to be there for their games whenever possible.
What pieces of art, music, literature, etc., inspire you at this stage in your life?
Everything, really. Never stop being inspired — that’s a pretty good rule of life. I’m still inspired by some of the bands I loved as a young rocker — everything from Sham 69 to AC/DC, Elvis Costello to early Metallica. I still re-read Lord of the Rings. One thing that’s been exciting lately is to see one of my kids getting really into doing drawing and art, particularly comic book art. And another has awesomely discovered Elvis Presley and Hank Williams (senior and III), and he really feels the music, so we have had tons of great musical talks.
What does being a good father mean to you?
To me, a great deal. It represents constant giving, a joy and an investment into the world and the future. It’s the whole giving back thing — like, I am trying to give them some of the great vibes my parents and family and friends and fans have poured into me in my life. I sacrifice for them because I learned the value of service before self, from others.
How does your partner feel about your drug-free choices? How do your closest friends and family members feel about your drug-free choices?
It’s not even discussed. It just is how we live. We are just a normal couple trying to live normally, to be good people and parents and friends, and living life as productively as possible. A huge part of that includes parenthood, and that’s a responsibility. I don’t cast judgment against those who have made different choices but who are living responsibly. Intolerance is nowhere. The whole point of punk rock was to burn your own path.
Why did you decide to be drug and alcohol-free as a father (or beforehand)? Are there other major life choices that complement your decision?
I was essentially straight edge in high school without even knowing it. Even in middle school I saw a lot of good kids suffer from too much booze or pot in high school, and seeing that, it was something I didn’t want to mess with. That I think helped me to not go down any addiction road, and in turn focused all my energy and angst against so many things in the world as a young man, to be channeled into countless music and shows and punk rock and metal life experiences.
How do your experiences as a son influence your choices as a father when it comes to drugs and alcohol?
Both my parents were loving and kind, even with all I put them through. I’m lucky. They would come to see DYS or Dag Nasty or ALL or Down By Law shows, and I’ll never forget when Down By Law played in Spain and they were in Spain on vacation at that time, and the kids discovered they were there and so my parents were signing autographs after the show to some fans — it was awesome. They loved it.
I did have some family members who were alcoholic. A lot of my friends did also. I won’t get into it more than that. But seeing that can really be a good enticement to be s.e.!
As a son, what is something you would you like your dad (or mom) to know?
Unfortunately they’re both gone. They knew I loved them, and that’s the best gift any kid could give their parents. And they knew that I turned out to be not a terrible person, hopefully. Basically anything good I am is all credit to them. Anything bad is on me.
How do/will you talk to your children about drugs and alcohol? How have/will you address drug and alcohol use among the friends of your children?
Just let them know there are alternatives — that keeping a clear head can help them focus on other things in life. I also just try to tell them not to be stupid — don’t be the person people are making fun of at a party. At the same time, I’m not going to condemn them, as long as they’re safe and of legal age and not endangering themselves or others. If you push choices too hard on someone, they might turn a deaf ear or even go the other way. It’s a tough balance. I guess the best way is to try to be a positive example, as best you can, even though all of us fall short at times. It’s difficult today for parents, with all the crazy stuff that is celebrated constantly on television or the Internet.
How do religion, political ideology, or other philosophies play a part in your choices as a father?
That’s all personal stuff but I believe in God and I have raised them with that belief as well. The world is too beautiful to be random chance.
If you drank/used drugs, how will you address your past with your children?
I think the important thing for any parent is to focus on letting their children know they are loved, and that no matter what, you will be there for them. And that all of us have fallen or gotten knocked down in life, but hopefully we picked ourselves back up and kept fighting.
What pitfalls exist for drug-free fathers? How successful have you felt at overcoming them?
I don’t know any pitfalls for fathers who are drug-free. I would think there would be more pitfalls for a father who had drug addiction, actually, rather than those who are the opposite.
What are your greatest hopes for your children?
To be happy, healthy and creative, and to respect their ancestors and living in a free land.
Bonus Question (I usually ask this of my interviewees, but usually don’t post the response. I thought it was worth sharing this time.)
Do you know of a drug-free-dad acquaintance I may interview?
I think all of my friends who are dads are drug free. They better be — because while I respect people’s individual choices, when you’re a dad, you’d damn well better be focused on your kids and keeping your act together, and being a good role model. When you’re a dad, it’s not only about you anymore. It’s knowing that you are sacrificing and sharing and cultivating and putting others before self that make it great.
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