Interview: Dick Dale

Martin Schmidt: What does the name of the record mean, "Spacial Disorientation"?

Dick Dale: It's a pilots term. When you're on a plane and everything goes vertigo, it starts spinning. If you go to one of my concerts, you know what "Spacial Disorientation" means. It's what my music does to people.It puts them into another world. It makes you not know where you're at, makes you go up and down.

Martin Schmidt: You play a lot of different styles on your new record - acoustic, vocal and instrumental stuff. Is there a special idea behind this concept?

Dick Dale: With this record I go against the system. I've always been the bad guy in the system. I don't like the system, the way they treat young players, make them sign contracts where they never get any money, they bleed them dry. So they don't like to work with me, they say Dick Dale is to hard to work with, but they don't tell the truth. So I do anything myself. Some critics would say, "Don't make such different songs, play Dick Dale style, blah blah blah, all the way through." I went against every critic's advice and I made my record in all different styles and sounds for all the different people who come to my concerts. I started with the traditional Dick Dale, in-your-face sound (shouts Hmfic!), "Hmfic" is like power, like motocross, like skydiving, just power. I made the first five songs purposely for the young kids that like to hear the Dick Dale who made "Miserlou", who made the Pulp Fiction movie.

Martin Schmidt: Where did you record it? Have you got your own studio?

Dick Dale: I recorded it in a little place in Bernice, California. It's a little studio. I don't like recording with engineers who go, "I've been an engineer for twenty years, I know everything..." I say you don't know what I want to do. The things I want to do they don't agree to. But this guy said, "Dick, you can do what you want to do, the board is yours." So me and my bass player (Ron, who's been with me for 20 years), we sat down and we did what we wanted to do. We had fun and we just created. I wanted to build a studio in the big hangar at my airport, but this was easier for me. I could fly my plane in, land in the airport, stay at the hotel, and walk across the street to the studio.

Martin Schmidt: Did you play live with the whole band?

Dick Dale: I started live, but then I wanted to put more things in it and played on top of it. Instead of using electronics like doublers or something like that, I overdubbed some parts later to make it more intense.

Martin Schmidt: Were all the songs written before you went to the studio?

Dick Dale: Not all of them. "Spacial Disorientation" started as a feedback intro. I started doing this feedback, bending the neck of my guitar in front of the speaker and I got so excited, that I just keept going. Then Ron got excited and he started doing feedback with his bass and the whole thing went wild! I almost broke the neck of my guitar, it was crazy! I was sweating when it was done. What happened was, we kept it going until it became a whole track. I said, "Wow, this sounds like the X-Files, like a Voodoo Death Circle." We called it "Spacial Disorientation", because that's what it is, close your eyes and you're out of space.

Martin Schmidt: Did you record digital or analog?

Dick Dale: I always record analog, 24 tracks to 2 inch tape, because you cannot get the sound on a digital recording unit, it's impossible. The warmth, the fatness, it's like a tube compared to a transistor.

Martin Schmidt: You prefer the old sound?

Dick Dale: Yes. Always the old sound. It's the biggest, fattest sound.

Martin Schmidt: Do you still use the same equipment, Fender Dual Showmans and a Stratocaster?

Dick Dale: I use the original amplifiers I created with Leo Fender. They're named after me, he always called me a showman - a showman on stage.

Martin Schmidt: Do you ever try new stuff?

Dick Dale: No, I just stick with the stuff I created. Why change it? I never got into fancy gadgets. When I record, all the sounds you hear I do with my hands. I would love to find some new amplifiers I could work with, but they're not suited for my sound! I have to bring all my equipment over to Europe for a tour like this one. It would be a lot easier and cheaper to rent gear, but it's not possible.

Martin Schmidt: What do you expect from musicians you work with?

Dick Dale: When people come to work for me, they must play a certain way. That's why three of us sound like ten people up there. It's not like this guy does what he wants, this guy does what he wants, etc. We do everything in conjunction, so that when it hits, it's power, people feel it.

My musicians are not allowed to drink or to do drugs or any of that, because they need their system wide open; because I will turn around and give signals to them on the stage; because I'm changing all the time. It's like painting, what Salvador Dali did, that's what my music is all about. When I play, I don't follow a list. Everything is totally out of my head and I don't play the same song the same way twice. I even can't remember the way I played it last night.

Martin Schmidt: What do you call your music?

Dick Dale: It's just Dick Dale music. Some people called me "King of the Surf Guitar", historians named me "the father of heavy metal", but I don't care much about stuff like that. It's just Dick Dale music.

Martin Schmidt: Do you plan another record in the near future?

Dick Dale: Everytime I do a CD, I think, "This is my last one". When I do a record, I don't do B-songs and C-songs, every song I do is part of a psychological rollercoaster ride. Every song on a scale from 1 to 10 has to be on 11! Most bands, when they sign with a record company for 5 years, they do three good songs and the rest are just fillers, because they want to save the other good songs for the next album, you see what I mean? I don't do that, I just use my best for a CD. So when I'm finished, I go, "I won't ever be able to do another CD, I used up everything I got". But then my wife says, "Your well is very deep," and it never fails.

We recorded for John Peel from the BBC a few days ago and I created this new song that we will play tonight. The rhythm started coming from my head. So yes, I will do another album and I will do a mixture again, because I got 2500 e-mails, after the last one came out and people just love it!

Martin Schmidt: How many gigs do you play over the course of a year?

Dick Dale: Let's put it this way - I was only home for a week this year, I was playing everywhere. But if I'm not playing, my guitar is put away. I'm flying airplanes, building houses, taking care of my son, playing football, basketball, whatever. I don't have enough time for that, so I cut my touring in half.

Martin Schmidt: Will you continue touring, or do you plan to retire one day?

Dick Dale: I cannot retire, because there are too many people depending on me. I got people who get salaries from me. I got people who work at my ranch, my airport, people in the music world who depend on me. If I quit working, they don't get any money. I'd love to just stop, but I can't, because too many wrong things will happen. So I will keep on playing. When I die, it's not going to be in a rocking chair with a can of beer in my hand, it'll be on stage in one big explosion of body parts.

Martin Schmidt: You're not doing the tours for financial reasons?

Dick Dale: No, if I wanted to retire, I could retire. Let's put it this way, if I had my way and you said, "Without hurting anybody, what would you like to do?" I would stay in my hangar, play with my airplanes, polish up my tools, and take my son here and there. I'm happy sitting in a room, watching TV, or on my computer, 24 hours a day. But if I miss one day, I'm 300 e-mails behind, that I have to answer, so I can't stop. I'm the only one who answers my e-mail. I run the airport, I run my business, do my own booking, I do everything! We don't have no managers, no agents, none of that.

Martin Schmidt: So you're a real independent artist?

Dick Dale: Totally. That's what I tell these kids now. You're better off making your own record, selling it at your own place and owning the rights to your own records. For example, if a company wants to use one of my songs, they call up the record company, who does nothing, except drink coffee and smoke cigarettes, "Hello, we want to use Dick Dale's 'Miserlou'."

"It's $500,000"

"No, we want to pay only $100,000."

"It's $500,000, sorry..." They blow the deal.

If you were sitting on your ass, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, and somebody would offer you $50,000 for 30 seconds of music, wouldn't you take it?

Martin Schmidt: Certainly!

Dick Dale: Would you tell them it's $500,000 and lose the deal? No! So I founded Dick Dale Records and we just bypass the jerks. I rerecorded some stuff, like "Esperanza", on my own label and I placed a lot of music in ads from different companies, like Sky Blue Vodka, Philipps, Heineken, Barclays Bank, Nissan, and so on.

Martin Schmidt: Do you hate being on the road sometimes?

Dick Dale: I hate leaving wherever I'm at, from sitting in this room to being at home. My saying is: wherever I go, is wherever I'm at. You have to kick me, to make me go, but once I go, I'm OK.

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Martin Schmidt: What is the secret of a successful show?

Dick Dale: It's psychological, how you present yourself on stage. They will only like you from your opening song, and the ending song. These are the two songs that are going to make you "good" in their eyes. You can mess up in the middle, as long as you've got a good opener and a good ending.

Martin Schmidt: What kind of people are listening to Dick Dale?

Dick Dale: All ages come to see Dick Dale, from five years old to 105 years old. Parents bring their babies and young children. If you go to a Green Day concert, you see people who want to see Green Day. But if you go to a Dick Dale concert, you see, standing next to each other, leaning on the stage, tattoos, body piercers, skinheads, motorcycle jackets, college professors bringing their 7 year old children, saying, "I used to see this guy, when I was fourteen", you see indigenous people, black people, white people, green people, yellow people, don't matter.

I play to the grassroots people. The grassroots people who save their money to go to a concert, they don't call themselves musicians,they're people who work every day and like sound, music. They don't know what an augmented ninth is or an augmented thirteenth, neither do I and I don't care. I play sounds that they feel.

Martin Schmidt: Which current bands do you like?

Dick Dale: I don't listen to anybody, because I`m not a musician.

Martin Schmidt: You don't listen to music at all?

Dick Dale: No, I don't even turn the radio on, because where I live, the air is so virgin. You don't hear nothing, except your blood. People come and they're afraid, because they're is no sound.

It's in the middle of the desert. It's so silent, it's deafening. I don't play a radio there, because it's like throwing ink on a white satin shirt.

Martin Schmidt: But there must be certain things you like.

Dick Dale: I like Don Juan de Marco, I love listening to romantic stuff. I like Vince Gill, the country singer, when he sings the song "The Two Of Us". It's so beautiful and romantic.

Martin Schmidt: What do you think about surf bands?

Dick Dale: To me bands are all bands. If they're playing their heart out on stage, they're hard workers to me. If somebody asks, what's a good band, I say any band who's sweating their ass off up there. If they play what they believe in and play their hearts out, they're a good band, if they act decently up there. If they act like asses, they're asses. If you act like an ass, you draw asses. You draw what you project, that's my theory. But I really don't love listening to bands that much.

Martin Schmidt: Why do you think people still listen to surf music after such a long time?

Dick Dale: Surf music or Dick Dale?

Martin Schmidt: Both.

Dick Dale: Well, people listen to surf music because it's their generation of what their doing, what they're listening to. They like what they like. It's doing something to them. It's another thing why they come and listen to Dick Dale. That's because of all the reasons I told you about. I just tell it like it is.

My life is not entertainment, it never has been, I didn't pick to be in this business. My father shoved me into it, because he saw I had a talent and that became my life, because I just played and played and played. When I get on the stage, I'm always on full power.

Martin Schmidt: So your music is a serious thing for you? You don't like the party thing, and the hanging around aspect of it?

Dick Dale: No, I show up fifteen minutes before the show. I don't go there two hours before and hobnob with everybody. I don't have the same thing in common with them. I don't like talking to a can of beer!

Martin Schmidt: How would you describe your way of playing, in a few words?

Dick Dale: When I play, it's like I'm fighting you. I make faces when I pull the strings, because it's pain, not showbiz. It's like working out! One man said it's like you're exorcising the devil out of your body. That's what I'm all about!

Martin Schmidt: Do you consider yourself a guitarist, or something else?

Dick Dale: They call me a manipulator of an instrument. I'm not a musician, I'm not a guitar player. People like Steve Vai or Eddie Van Halen, they are guitar players. They studied their scales and music theory - it became their life. I can play every instrument, piano, guitar, saxophone, drums, only because of the curiosity in life. I learned to play all these instruments to make sounds. Let's put it that way: my life has many windows - music only being one.

Martin Schmidt: OK, last question. What are you doing when you're not playing guitar?

Dick Dale: When I'm not working, I like to go to the movies and watch films. But I don't have much time to do that, I'm always busy!

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You don't meet a living legend every day. Even more uncertain is that a living legend stays in a hotel located next to your house and you meet his band on the way to your bank. Well, believe it or not, that's what happened to Martin Schmidt. Before going to the school he teaches guitar at, Schmidt needed to get some money from the cash machine. He passed a hotel and saw some guys standing in front of it, smoking. They all wore sunglasses (it was raining that day), black clothes and one of them had blonde, spiky hair. Schmidt thought, "These guys look rock 'n' roll!" On the second sight, he recognized Dick Dale's drummer, Dusty Watson, whom he had met before on Slacktone's European tour. They said hello, chatted a little and five minutes later Schmidt found himself talking to Dick Dale himself, setting up an interview for the early evening in his hotel room.

Martin Schmidt recently interviewed Dale and decided to talk about recent events, Dick's new record, and his very special view of the world.