A cesspool of sweat and spit and the perfect conditions for a cruise liner of infectious organisms to conquer our hollow skeletons. A blistering and deafening sound resonating from the speakers. It beckons you to listen. It asks you to question yourself. To question others. To question everything.
Why do I do this? Why would anybody with a sensible mind voluntarily find themselves in this godforsaken orgy of yearning? It is surely not out of boredom. We’re in Southern California. There is plenty to do on a warm Friday night in summer. Is it out of curiosity? I suppose that is a possibility, but to end up in this dilapidated garage, you must have a solid bed of confusion serving as the foundation. This chaos doesn’t see the light of day. Yet to everybody in the room, the chaos is beautiful. Henry Miller reflected, “chaos is the score upon which reality is written.” In this crumbling oven of longing, this is our reality.
This has been the reality for Dangers for the last 12 years. They conjure punishing hardcore that frays the smallest amount of frill on any surface. They try making sense of the world with an observant eye and an open ear. Vocalist Alfred Brown IV has a keen sense of his surroundings, which is visible in his beautiful and gritty lyrics. He is a humbly opinionated person of integrity and wit. Yet, he would be the first to admit he does not have a complete understanding of his surroundings. Thus, his artistic endeavors are an attempt at perceiving and expressing his view of the world more clearly. Al was kind enough to separate some time after Dangers’ recent Los Angeles show at Bonnerhaus to answer several questions for us.
The sound of dangers is angry, as all good punk should be, in my opinion. I myself describe Dangers as representing a sort of polished vulgarity and producing insightful chaos. What is it that still gets you angry? Where exactly does that chaos come from?
Well, I like to think of it slightly different, although I do appreciate both of those terms. I think of it as skepticism in musical form. I’ve always been a skeptical person. Since I was a little kid, I’ve never really accepted other people’s answers for things. I always try to go search things out. So, for me, what translates to anger a lot of times I would pinpoint a bit more to confusion. I know that our first record is called Anger and whatnot, but I’m a very logic-oriented person and I get very frustrated when things don’t make sense. And that frustration has many outlets but it doesn’t have a visceral outlet. It’s very exciting to transfer metaphysical frustration and confusion into a physical form that is also not destructive― because there are also destructive forms of outlets. Even in the moments where there is violence or aggression happening, I don’t think that it is destructive. I think it is a constructive art. With all the skepticism and confusion I have, I have places I write about it and think about it and teach about it. Those are places I try to fine tune it and pinpoint it. This is just the raw expression of that and I am fortunate because a lot of people don’t have that. Watching other people cope through religion, family, having kids― none of those outlets have ever felt like home to me… I’ve thought about it a lot. The thing is we don’t play a lot, either. The max we have done is a 55-day tour. We have friends who play six or seven months out of the year. So because we don’t do that, it allows us to build enough pressure and enough “what the hell is going on” that I get to have that moment.
Do you play music out of necessity or desire?
I want to say neither and I want to say both, to be contrarian. I guess the thing that first came to my mind is that I will never play music for a living. That’s something that I made a conscious decision of. I guess that would make it more out of necessity, in my mind. But it’s not exactly desire that’s making us play. I think I play music because there’s nothing else, other than sex, that allows me to turn my brain off. So I think I play it out of desperation. There are very few times when you’re not allowed to think. When I play sports, when I’m having sex, and when we play shows. It’s a physical act, you just do it, you’re in that moment. They’re all very related. They’re partly violent, partly sensual, and partly intellectual to a certain extent. I’ve been playing in a band since I was 13 and it allows me to have that desperation be scratched.
You’re in a PhD program and you’re teaching classes. You have a few published writings out there. Ross from Ceremony and Wes from American Nightmare have also done some writing stuff, just to name a couple of contemporaries in a more direct musical circle to Dangers. Why do you think there’s such a connection between literature and punk?
I don’t want to speak for Ross or Wes, but I think I know. If I had to guess, it’s because once you start expressing yourself in one form, you start to recognize that it doesn’t represent all of the different ways that you can communicate. I teach rhetoric at USC, this year I’m TA’ing in a poetry class, I have that photo book coming out, I coach soccer. A lot of people say, “you do so many different things!” It’s strange because I don’t think of it like that. For me, it’s all just communication. It’s all about how do I use language, not necessarily written or alphabetical language, but visual language and body language and musical language in order to communicate more?
When you talk about people like Ross or Wes― I know both of them, I’m pretty close to Ross― I think what it is is being at odds with the world. Ross has “Out of Step’ tattooed across his chest; I also have a Minor Threat tattoo on my chest, the black sheep. It’s one of those things where you feel like you’re looking at the world at an arm’s length and you keep trying to figure out ways to connect into it because it can be very overwhelming.
I love punk music and the raw energy of it. But the flip side of that is writing and refining and really trying to take more time to say what I teach in my classes: that words allow you to bring someone else closer to your thoughts. When you’re in a room like that, that’s an emotion. I’m trying to bring someone to a physical state. We’re trying to share space and have an experience together that can be catharsis. When you’re writing, you’re time traveling. You can be dead and someone reads your stuff years from now. You’re traveling the world. I think it’s a much more powerful art form. Because of that, when you get a taste of it here, it’s like, I wanna do that. I wanna travel for 500 years. Like Shakespeare, that guy keeps traveling around and around. There’s something exciting that comes from that. And it’s not about success and fame, for them or for me. I think it’s about the desire to connect. Plus, books are cool.
I was raised with the mindset that if you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all. Do you think independent music, perhaps punk specifically, could use more of that mentality? In terms of bands not doing it for the right reasons, such as human connection, but rather for fame or other reasons.
I was raised in a similar way, first of all. However, I would be wary about that mindset and adopting it into punk because there is no right and there is no wrong. All of it is right and all of it is wrong. I think it’s exciting that there are people that do it in the Rancid and Warped Tour kind of way and there are people that do it in this kind of way. In a garage in a house.
We have been a band for twelve years now and I have been going to shows since 1994. In those years, things waxed and waned. I recognize there is a time and place for everything. But, what I lament or get confused at more than anything is apathy. There seems to be a certain amount of apathy that is in style. You watch a band and they have less energy than the fans that are with them. Or when it seems as though barely even trying is the cool thing now. I don’t understand that and I get nervous about that because it seems as though it’s growing.
If that’s the music that’s fine, but if that becomes the aesthetic or the attitude then it’s not punk to me. Punk is about activity and action and trying to figure things out and make them weird. To me, it is a strange thing to not care. When I watch bands that seem to not give a fuck at all about what they’re doing, I get offended. It doesn’t mean you have to be good or bad. I don’t care if there’s only one person at the show. One person came out of their way to put their eyes in front of you. That matters. I don’t know if it’s success or not but quantity seems to be prioritized in punk nowadays. You’re never going to be a huge band like Green Day because that doesn’t happen anymore. But how long you tour, how big of shows you play. If there are eight people at a show, maybe that’s one person’s first show. It’s as important as playing to 800,000 people. It feels different but it’s the same thing. I use sex in a lot of my analogies because it makes sense to me with the music. You can have sex with 800 people, that’s cool. But you can also have amazing sex with one person and that also really matters. There’s something about the apathy that rubs me the wrong way. I would be remiss to say do it right or wrong because maybe I don’t have it right either. Maybe they know something I don’t know.
Off the top of your head, can you name an album that changed your life?
I’ll give you a cliché one but it is absolutely true. I started playing loud music because of Nevermind, Nirvana. I was 11 years old and I was in a car going to get a skateboard with my best friend and his sister who was 16. She was playing it on a tape machine in the front and I was like, “Woah, Karen what is that?” She said, “You’re too young.” “No, what is that?” “They’re called Nirvana.”
Actually, I’ll change it and say Incesticide. Because I went home after that and said, “Mom, I need to go get a CD with my allowance.” So we went to The Warehouse, a place they used to sell music, and I saw that Nevermind was there and it looked like that was the popular one. I thought Incesticide was their new LP. I thought I’d get that one because no one else would have it. A month later I stopped playing saxophone and had saved up money to buy an electric guitar. Incesticide made me put away Bell Biv DeVoe, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Kris Kross. They’re awesome too.
A novel that changed your life?
Probably Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. Which is also pretty cliché. Just thinking back at a formative time in my life, I was 15 when I read it. I didn’t drink and a lot of my friends were doing drugs and stuff. That didn’t interest me and reading Siddhartha really connected to me and I felt like this person who was alive a hundred years before I was understands who I am. I had always wanted to write but I think it was the first time in my life where I realized the function that books can have: To give people in different times, places, and languages far away from you a sense of comfort and home and acceptance. It’s one of those things that makes the world a smaller place. When you read a novel that was written a hundred years ago in German and you feel like it was written for you, you suddenly realize if that guy felt that way then I’m sure there are other people that feel that way. I loved the book itself but it had a dual purpose. It was an interesting plot but more than that, it was that this author gets me. That happened with another cliché, Catcher In The Rye, when I was 11. I’d say Siddhartha, though. The only other one I suggest people always read is Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky. It’s his time in Fez, Morocco. I read it and took myself to Morocco as quickly as I could. It’s a very powerful book.
For more information on Dangers’ and Al’s work, visit:
Dangers’ website here.
Al’s website here.