DUB IS A WEAPON'S DAVE HAHN
interview and image by vinnie baggadonuts

LOOK THROUGH A SIZABLE CHUNK OF MY RECORD COLLECTION, AND YOU'LL FIND THE NAME "DAVE HAHN" LISTED AMONG VARIOUS BANDS' PLAYERS. WHO IS HE? VINNIE BAGGADONUTS BURNED SOME PHONE TIME CHATTING WITH THE MAD MIXOLOGIST/JAMAICAN MUSIC-LOVING GUITAR-SLINGER ABOUT SKA MOBS, THE MAGIC OF THE LIVE SHOW, AND HIS WICKED DUB BAND, DUB IS A WEAPON.

Dave: So, how do we proceed, sir?

Vinnie: Well, weíre pretty much just gonna talk. Thatís how I do it. I have a very unprofessional manner. (laughs)

D: (laughs) Excellent. Me, too. Thatís how I do it.

V: I have a bunch of notes here Iíll probably ignore, just because itís not like Iíve just recently discovered the magic of Dave Hahn.

Both: (laugh)

V: I saw you play with Skinnerbox and The Slackers back in Ď97, on that very first Ska Mob tour.

D: Right on!

V: Over the years, Iíd always be like, ďWho in the hell is Dave Hahn, and why is he popping up on all these records I listen to?Ē It doesnít seem like it was as long ago as it is, but--

D: It doesnít seem like a long time ago, but when I think about all the things that have happened, I realize it was a long time ago. That was the first time Iíd really hit the road in a serious way. It was sort of a foundational experience for me.

V: Werenít you playing with all three bands (Skinnerbox, The Stubborn All-Stars, The Slackers), too?

D: Yeah. Thatís just how it was. Thatís what I was doing back then. Skinnerbox and The Slackers shared a rehearsal space, which eventually became known as Version City for a while. I was young, and looking for stuff to do, so I was playing with everybody. I was working with Django, and one night, The Slackers were there, and they asked me to play a gig. I think Vic couldnít be there or something. So, then I started playing with them as much as possible. Then we came up with the Ska Mob, which, at the time, was the best thing we could have done for ourselves, in terms of going on the road. At that time, none of those bands were well-established. I mean, people knew about the bands from New York that I was dabbling with, but no one was as established as The Slackers are now. Theyíre a pretty well-known group. So, at the time, for them, and certainly for Skinnerbox, it was a good tour. We felt like it was gonna be a good show when we went out, too. People were already kinda familiar with that whole Toasters/Moon scene, and we wanted to present a whole other side of New York ska. I think we were actually genuinely excited about it, too.

Both: (laugh)

D: You know what I mean? We were out there, and were trying to show the world what we were doing. I was about 23 years old then, just finished school, and I was up for anything. Letís go out on the road!

Both: (laugh)

V: And youíve played with so many bands. Now you play with Antibalas and Dub Is A Weapon. Did those happen later on, or were they developing all along?

D: Well, for a long time, I had two different ways I was doing music. I was playing in bands, playing guitar, and at the same time, I was sitting at home with my four-track machine, making very bizarre, effect-laden music. I was really just experimenting at home. It doesnít really bear a resemblance to what Iím doing now, but what I was using then was just a drum machine, a bass, and a guitar. You got a whole band right there. You can make music with that. I was just sort of learning about engineering. And now, Iíve sort of figured out a way to bring these two things together. Iíd been wanting to make a dub album for a long time, and finally, I just did. Thatís all it came down to.

Both: (laugh)

D: So, I guess it kinda has been developing over the years, but it never came to fruition until about three years ago, when I started recording the CD. We did it over the span of six months, and got people to record different stuff at different intervals. Now itís two, three years later, and weíre touring.

V: And you know what? I saw the tour dates on a flier at an art supply store here, and was like, ďYou gotta be fucking kidding me?!? Is this for real?Ē So few of the bands Iím into play in Milwaukee because Chicago always steals them away.

D: Well, itís surprising really. When I was doing work with Antibalas up there, the people who expressed the most interest in what my band was about were from Milwaukee and Chicago, so thatís why we end up going to those places. Iíve been in a lot of bands, and have seen a lot of things. And when Iíd meet promoters who seem to be genuinely interested in what Iím doing, I knew that these were the promoters that I wanted to be working with. We donít go out on the road to just any old place. You have to go where people really are interested and care about your stuff. There are a lot of sacrifices made just to go out on the road.

V: For as long as youíve been touring, is this something you learned early on?

D: I think itís always been a learning experience. I would characterize myself as having been naive at first, and I thought that everything was just going to happen magically. Iím trying to describe this in the best light. You know, I was playing in bands. I was partying. It was cool and fun, and I wasnít really thinking about how I could make some connections to further my own hand at a later date. But it was a totally different time, then. We were playing ska music, and ska music was popular at the time. I was a busy dude-- played maybe 250 shows in one year, with multiple bands.

V: Yeah.

D: I was super busy, and trying to survive solely on the basis of being a guitar player. Now I realize itís also important to not only be a good musician, but also a good business person. People are usually identified by what they do for a living, so being a musician means youíre making money doing it. And in order to sustain that, you really need to be a hard-working dude. Itís a serious hustle.

V: Hell yeah.

D: I think that, at first, I fell into a situation that was sort of comfortable. I finally realize how very lucky I was then, to be so busy, because I could be not busy, depending on the way the wind blows. (laughs)

V: And you were busy. I mean, since Ď98, it seems like youíve played with a lot of different acts. Is it still as busy as it was then, or has that waned at all?

D: Well, for a number of reasons, I find myself doing less and less stuff, because Iím doing more with my band. And I find myself much happier now. (laughs) Most of my frustrations with certain situations grew out of me thinking I could do it better, with my own group. And now itís time for me to try and do it better.

V: Right on, man. So, can I ask you a question about being in Antibalas? On their site, it lists all the various members in two tiers-- ďLa TropaĒ and ďInvitadosĒ. I didnít understand what that was.

D: Oh, right. Well, I think itís just because there are certain people who are considered the "chair" on an instrument, and certain people who are "first call" or whatever. Antibalas has a fairly complex history. That could be a whole other interview.

Both: (laugh)

D: Iíve done plenty of shows with them, and have gone to plenty of places with them, but, overall, Iím not a main member of the group.

V: So how did you fall into Antibalas?

D: Oh, more or less, itís like a big family, you know? I started doing stuff with them just by going to their shows and checking them out. My friend, Victor Axelrod, is in that band, too. You know who he is?

V: Yeah.

D: He was in The Boilers with Django. I met him at random intervals during the Ď90s, and started playing with him in Victor Riceís band, whenever Victor is in New York, which is rare these days.

Both: (laugh)

D: When heís in New York, Victor Axelrod is his keyboardist. So, yeah, I found out about Antibalas, and learned that he was playing with them. I went and checked it out, and their guitar player never showed up, so they were like, ďYou want to play?Ē (laughs) I said, ďWell, yeah!Ē

Both: (laugh)

D: And from that point forward, I was always in the mix. Pretty significantly, for a while. I donít do much with them these days, though. Iím more involved in Dub Is A Weapon now. For the last six months or so, every time theyíve called me about playing a gig, I already had a Dub gig set up.

V: How often is Dub Is A Weapon playing out? More and more?

D: Yeah. We used to get together only between Antibalas gigs. Antibalas used to be more of a weekend warrior band. Now the attention is enough to get them out on the road more frequently, and for longer stretches. But, I turned 30 this January, and decided, ďI gotta take my band out on the road before I turn 30.Ē So we went.

Both: (laugh)

D: And it went really well, especially for a first tour. It was also a lot of fun because I was on tour with a lot of people Iíd known for years, like Victor Rice, and Buford OíSullivan.

V: Will it be the same lineup this second time around?

D: Well, Victor Rice is back in Brazil, so heís not gonna be there. The bass player is gonna be Ras Iray who, I donít know if you know about the Easy Star All-Stars, they did that ďDark Side of the MoonĒ record--

V: Oh yeah!

D: Heís in that band, and heíll be touring with us. I went out on tour with Easy Star, dubbing out the band. It was really cool. I also just got back from going to Europe with Dave Hillyard for ten days, with his Rocksteady 7.

V: Thatís right! How was that?

D: It was good. Renewed my faith in ska.

V: Really?

D: Look, I know in the U.S. there are people who are really into the music for the music. There are people like that.

V: Yeah.

D: But, for the most part, the people that are into it, are into it when theyíre 17 years old, and when they get older, they stop being into it. (laughs) Know what I mean? I love Jamaican music, and Iím not going to stop. But in the U.S., the ska scene, to a certain degree, is like a fad for teenagers. Itís a marketing niche almost, you know?

Both: (laugh)

D: A lot of people donít embrace it wholeheartedly. There seems to be an emphasis in The States to grab on to the cool thing.

V: You know, when I go to ska shows, itís the only time I feel old, because everyone around me is really, really young.

D: Itís not really like that in Europe. People who are into it, are into it. They donít stop being into it because itís a fad. Theyíre into it forever. They appreciate it as being art, rather than it being a fashion. I think thatís what the difference is. Iíve been over to Europe with the Ska-Jazz Ensemble, and with Daveís band, and we donít have that same young crowd. Itís older fans. My age, you know? In their thirties! (laughs) Theyíre there for the music. Theyíre not just into it because itís a cool thing to do. I donít know. The last thing I like doing is sounding elitist and saying, ďThe fans donít understand what weíre doing,Ē or something crazy like that. There are people who do say that stuff.

V: Yeah, but the general sentiment of the musicians I do interview, who play Jamaican music, say the same thing.

D: And I donít think itís necessarily that the fans in America are wack. I just think our culture is different. Itís our culture thatís not so great.

V: And European audiences seem to know the history of the music, too, whereas a lot of kids here in The States arenít aware of it.

D: People arenít educated about it here. Thereís no real emphasis on learning how to play music within our school systems here. Being a musician is kinda frowned upon. Itís not a respectable thing to do, according to the public, you know what I mean? My grandparents think itís so scandalous.

Both: (laugh)

D: Theyíre just from a different generation, you know? God bless Ďem. Itís great that theyíre so concerned. My grandmother said, ďItís an avocation. Not a vocation.Ē

Both: (laugh)

D: But itís not scandalous to be a musician, man. Music is a good thing.

V: On this Rocksteady 7 tour, did you find that the European fans were very receptive to the politics of the music? I know that United Front is a very politically-spirited album.

D: I guess Daveís band is pretty political. Itís something I donít really think about, you know? But, yeah, I think the people there were mildly receptive to the politics of the band. Itís kind of weird, because youíre dealing with people who donít speak your language, so itís hard to know what theyíre getting at sometimes.

V: (laughs) Yeah.

D: This one cat was really earnest at trying to tell me something. He was saying something like, ďVat doo yoo tink of zee George Double Yoo?Ē The thing that was really incredible was hearing the fans in France chant ďU.S.A.Ē during the show!

V: Wow!

D: I think that they were just happy to see a group of Americans who did not represent what our government was doing, you know? We clearly were not on that side of the fence. But the only way they could show their appreciation to us, a group of Americans, was to chant, ďU.S.A.Ē (laughs) It was pretty weird.

V: (laughs)

D: I donít know. Daveís band doesnít seem as political compared to the Antibalas guys. Theyíre really into it, and talking about it on stage. I donít know if I necessarily agree with their tactics. I personally feel like the stage is all about having a good time. When youíre off the stage is the good time to have a conversation about the ills of the world. The best thing to do at the club is to make everyone have a great time.

V: I was just going to ask you that, too-- how much of your personal politics relate to those of Antibalas, or how much of them show up in Dub Is A Weapon?

D: I donít know. I donít really go out of my way to be talking about that shit onstage or in the music. Maybe some of the song titles will have it. Like, I have this song called ďNablusĒ, which is about seeing the horrific pictures of what itís like living over there in Israel and The West Bank. People have been having to deal with it for years now. And without even thinking about the politics, how can you grow up in a place like that? But, I mean, I guess I am being political just by being a musician.

Both: (laugh)

D: Regardless of whether or not a band is political in what they talk about or not, the culture of a band is a political movement. Itís almost this alternate universe that people have been trying to create as an answer to mainstream society.

V: Yeah. It totally goes against the nine-to-five work system.

D: Exactly! Being a musician is, essentially, already a political statement. Beyond that, (laughs) itís great if you have ideas in your head about politics. But I think getting up on stage and turning the concert hall into a political arena is not the idea. People already made a statement by going to the show. Weíre a reggae band. I mean, come on.

Both: (laugh)

D: Or, when Iím playing with Antibalas, itís an afrobeat band. Weíve obviously already aligned ourselves with a different world. Once youíre in the world, itís like, we should just make it ours for a little while, away from all the insanities that are rapidly taking over our planet. The most important thing I can do is put out a good enough vibe that people can meditate on something else for a minute.

V: Was there any particular musician or album or song that made you develop that particular philosophy?

D: I donít know. One of the guys I most admire, in and outside of music, is Frank Zappa. He was one of the most eloquent spokesmen for musicians in this country. He stood up for musicians against the parental advisory commission, led by Tipper Gore, and was the most eloquent statesman. The best place to read about where he was politically is to get his book, not listening to some song about not eating yellow snow. He was making comedy for the concert hall.

V: Yeah.

D: And he was this incredibly deep person at the same time. The idea was just to have fun at the gig.

Both: (laugh)

D: The band that made me want to be in a band, though, was Fishbone. Even if they had a political message to what they were doing-- and they certainly did-- the show was just incredible.

V: Yeah! And the fact that they were playing the styles of music they were playing, and were black men doing it, was a political statement alone, considering how rare such a thing was in American pop culture.

D: And they would go nuts, man, putting on the best show anyone has ever seen. They were all about making the show an incredible thing. Talk about an escape from the ordinary.

Both: (laugh)

V: No one can rival Angelo on stage.

D: No way. I sincerely doubt anyone could. Iíll be amazed if I ever see a show that can compare to that. The only thing I can think of that even comes close is when I saw the Bosstones early on, way, way back in the day. Back then, they were like a hardcore band with horns. Their earlier shows were insane!

V: Yeah.

D: I still love them no matter what, though. Theyíre my boys. And I donít know if I even answered your question. (laughs)

V: Yeah, you did. I just wanted to get a feel for what some of your inspirations were. Do you have any musical dreams for Dub Is A Weapon? Like, collaborating with anyone, or playing a certain place?

D: I think, for me, Iím just trying to stay on the road, doing shows. Thatís the place for me. You know, I had the good fortune to spend some time with Chris Dowd, who used to be in Fishbone, and he told me that when he wasnít on the road touring anymore, he felt like he was unemployed-- that he didnít have a job. His job was to be on tour, and thatís exactly how I feel. Iím just trying to go as far as I can with this. Iíd love to work with a lot of different vocalists, but it might take us a little while. The dub music that inspired me the most is the Scientist stuff, you know? The late-'70s/early-'80s. Vocalists on those tracks, like Johnny Osbourne, who I have performed with, which was great. And Michael Prophet. I'd also love to meet some of these dubbers that I listen to so much, like Scientist, and Mad Professor.

V: So, how can people get the record?

D: The only way you can get the record now is to come see us at our live shows. No one wants to put out dub music. The only person who wants to is me, evidently.

Both: (laugh)