THE DRAGONS: FOUR MEN ON A MISSION

By THE BARMAN

Fellow Barfly-now-on-sabbatical, Ken Shimamoto, turned me onto the Dragons, not long before a scheduled trip to the States for yours truly in 2001. After hearing "Rock n Roll Kamikaze", I flipped. Here was dirty, trashed up rock and roll, the way it should be played. The whisky-damaged swing of "Three Steps From the Bar" floored me, along with the heartfelt "Like It's a Bad Thing", the frantic "C'mon" and the pure Thunders-style rave-up of "Whoa Yeah". So I did what all good fans of Real Action should when I got to the States. I chased down all their other albums. (They're "R*L*F", "Live at the Casbah", "Cheers to Me" and "Pain Killer" if you want to do likewise).

As it turned out, I also had the good fortune to be in San Diego the same time as a Dragons show. NKVD Records/Noise for Heroes zine chief Steve Gardner was my guide that evening and reckoned they were the best act treading the boards in his home town. He also ventured he'd seen the Dragons rock harder when we caught them at their local haunt, The Casbah. That being the case, Steve is very spoilt and even more lucky to still have his hearing. Mine was trashed by the time we left. The Dragons played at stun volume.

Sure, there were a lot of classic rock moves being unleashed on stage that night but there was no mistaking the quality of the songs and fearsome delivery. We had clearly been in prescence of Rock Action Greatness.

The Dragons are the wonderfully unrestrained and passionate Mario Escovedo on vocals and guitar, Ken Mochikoshi Horne on fluid and all-pervading lead guitar, the industrious Jarrod Lucas on industrial strength drums and the less than retiring Steve Rodriguez on bass. To bring us back to square one, Ken Shimamoto finally caught them at SXSW earlier in 2003 and was suitably impressed. The release of a new album not long after, the wonderful "Sin Salvation" on Gearhead, was further impetus for an invitation to the Dragons to join us in the I-94 Bar. Ken was too busy to sit them down and interview them, so I did the honours. MARIO ESCOVEDO and KEN MOCHIKOSHI HORNE provided the answers.


Q Thanks for dropping by the Bar. How was your recent US tour? How many shows did you do and what were the highlights?

KEN: The tour went well. We did 16 shows in 16 days. The highlights were in NYC, Philly, Austin, and Houston, but they were all good shows. In NYC we got to meet the cast of the Sopranos. We were at Manitoba’s (owned by Dictators' Handsome Dick), and they happened to walk in. So it was more of a celebrity sighting than meeting them, but Mario and Jarrod shook Gandolfini’s hand. And touring with the Riverboat Gamblers made it more fun.

M Yeah, Gandolfini, the guy who plays Chris, and Adrianna were walking in and the room went silent. I had a few Jack on the rocks in me so I leaned back as they walked in and I introduced myself, told them I was Mario from The Dragons and that I was having a good time in NYC. I exchanged a few words with them. I call that "meeting them", but whatever...

I think the country as a whole is in the best Rock 'n' Roll state of mind that I've ever seen. The clubs are great and there are some cool bands out there too.


Steve Rodriguez and Mario Escovedo get down and dirty.

Q The Dragons have been around 11 years and you’ve had the same line-up one each of your six albums. To what do you attribute the longetivity? Where there any other Dragons prior to the line-up that recorded "Painkiller"?

M I think we still enjoy what were doing and that’s the biggest part. We went out on this latest road trip and I can’t think of one argument. Which is amazing qwhen you consider we’re drunk most of the time. Jarrod joined the band before we recorded "Painkiller".

K The first couple years we wanted to be huge rock stars, but now our priorities changed and would rather write good songs and put out good records with guys we get along with.

We did have a drummer before Jarrod the first two years, and we put out a record in Spain of just demos with that line-up.

Q How many times do you reckon you’ve criss-crossed the USA?

K If you count the regional tours it would be about 10-15, but the full blown national tours are about five.

M It's gotten to the point where we have good friends in just about all of our touring cities, and we’ve mastered the national tour in about 16 nights...just major cities and in the US that's a lot of ground.

Q At what level on the touring circuit do you sit? Are you guys full-time musicians or do you have supplementary jobs?

K We all have full-time day jobs.

M We all have full time jobs and that does play a part in how much we can tour seeing as how we aren't making the big money at it. But nowadays we can headline a National Tour in bar-like venues and do a respectful job, to say the least.

Q I have a sneaking suspicion you guys might need a bit of recovery time after getting off the road. Is that the case? Like, do you party much on the road - and have Jack Daniels approached you with a sponsorship offer?

K No recovery time for us! We got home from tour on Sunday and all went to our jobs Monday morning. And a couple days later, played at the Casbah's 4th of July show.

M I think we've been sponsoring Jack Daniels for that matter, I really don't want to know how much I've personally invested, But The party doesn’t really stop when we get home. That IS a full time job!

Q "Jack is better on the rocks than Tequila". Discuss.


M Tequila brings out the testosterone in me...Jack makes me a happy drunk and that suits everyone around me much better. Although I have had occasion to hand out apology cards after some nights!

Q I was lucky enough to catch you in San Diego at The Casbah in March 2002 (with a few Rolling Rocks under the belt - it was too early an evening for Jack and Cokes). How much of a scene do you have going on around The Casbah?

K I don't know if we have a “scene” around the Casbah, but it is a place we like to play and hang out at. Casbah is where many touring and local bands build their following. We started playing there in front of three people and now can sell it out. A lot of good touring bands come through also.

The owners Tim and Bob and the staff have always been good to us and other bands. It’s become sort of a home away from home and chances are you’ll find me at the back bar even when we’re not playing.


Dragon Steve drawing the limelight.

Q Do you generally get billed with all the touring acts of a similar ilk that come through? That can be a double-edged sword, can’t it, in terms of local exposure?

K Locally we don’t open for touring bands anymore, and it is never bad to play with another Rock 'n' Roll band if we do play with bands that come thru.

Q It's no coincidence your live album was done at The Casbah. Is that the same club as the current one? (I heard it moved).

K It is the same one as the current location. It used to be about a block up the street but they moved to the location they are at in '94.

Q So where did the band name The Dragons come from?


K Mario was reading a book called "Red Dragon" and there was a band called Kill City Dragons from England in the late '80s. And we all just kind of agreed on the Dragons.

M I wanted the name to be like a Chinese street gang and it all made pefect sense.

Q I've now heard "Sin Salvation" a heap of times and I’m almost convinced it tops "Rock 'n' Roll Kamikaze". Tell me your approach to recording this one. I heard you basically banged out a live set without overdubs in one session?

K We did record it all live, except the vocals. We recorded "Painkiller" live, but the other studio albums weren't and they lacked a little bit on the live essence.

So with this album, we had a bigger studio and a better budget so naturally we recorded it live. And the songs were usually done in the first few takes.

M For once we had the budget to do it right, and Mike from Gearhead was really pushing us for a record like R.L.F....just straight forward songs no bullshit.

But I enjoy some of the bullshit we do as well and I think this was a fine blend. We recorded to two-inch tape - to warm things up a bit from "Kamikaze" - and this does have a better "live feel".

Q "Dirty Bomb" is the first single. I sincerely hope you follow up with "Chosen One"...!

K We haven’t talked about it yet but a lot of people like that one, so it could be. But we will push "Dirty Bomb" for a little while longer. There is also a 7 inch and a CD single of "Dirty Bomb" that will be coming out. The CD single will include a video, once we get around to filming it.

Q I have to say for me there's always at least one killer song on each Dragons album (eg. "Loaded" on "Cheers to Me", "Insatiable" on "R.L.F.") Is that by accident or design? (he asks with tongue in cheek!)

K There are usually 10 to 14 killer songs on each of our albums, but the first song ("Loaded" and "Insatiable" are both the first song on each album) probably gets heard the most, so it becomes a lot of peoples' favorites. But if they take some time and listen to the rest of the songs, there are other great songs, like "Still Pissed Off" on "R and R Kamikaze".

But "Loaded" is a crowd favorite and a live staple.

M I try and put everything into each song, but the good ones just happen and come easy and the ones you mentioned were mostly written in about a half hour.


Mario leads the band in endorsing a well-known brand of underarm deodorant.

Q How's the album selling or is it too early to tell? What's the critical reaction been?

K Gearhead is happy with the first weeks numbers, but the ads haven't even come out and the promo push starts in late July and August so I’m hoping this will do better than OK. Some of the people in our fan group said it took a couple of listens for them to warm up to it and then they can’t stop playing it...so maybe the charm is still there somewhere.

Q You’ve switched to Gearhead after doing the last four albums for Junk Records. What’s the story there?

M Junk basically lost its distribution and unfortunately it happened right before the release of Kamikaze. That broke my heart since that was such a great record. (By the way we sell it in our merch section but it was time for a change and Gearhead is an up and coming label...you might say the buzz label of the year right now!

Q Have the Dragons ever tried to crack overseas markets? Do you have any ambitions? I’m thinking you might blitz Scandinavia and Spain...

K We have a 'Best of...' out in Japan and toured Japan in 2001 with Guitar Wolf. But now that we are with Gearhead we will be going over to Scandinavia for the Gearfest and "Sin Salvation" will be getting a big push in the European countries.

M Mike and Michelle from Gearhead are planning a major European push and I think we should do well there.

Q Speaking of those scenes, have you heard much of the current crop of Scandi bands? Anyone you take a shine to?

K We like a lot of the bands that come from over there. We have toured and played with the Hellacopters, Backyard Babies. We also like the Hives, and other bands as well. Turbonegro’s "Scandinavian Leather" got played a lot on the tour we just did.

Q What about the so-called New Garage like the White Stripes, the D4 and the Datsuns?

K I got to see D4 and the Datsuns and they were both great. I consider these two bands more Rock 'n' Roll than garage though.

M Yeah we’ve always said we’re a Rock 'n' Roll band. I don’t think we’ve ever practiced in a garage but I doubt most of those bands have either.

Q Point taken. The term is over-used and means different things to different people.

Mario, you’re the youngest in a family of 13 with a strong musical lineage. I know two of your brothers played in a line-up of Santana. What’s the full background story?

M Pete and Coke played with Santana and Pete is Sheila E of Prince fame’s father. Alejandro played with The Huns, The True Belivers, Rank and File to name a few and Javier started The Zeros.

Q How much of an influence were Javier (The Zeros) and Alejandro (The Nuns)? Have you played live with either of them?

M They always been there for me with both criticism and advice and I have learned so much just by listening to their songs and watching how much they’ve devoted to their music.

Q I know Javier played on Sonny Vincent’s recent album. What else is he doing musically these days?

M He's Playing with Chip and Tony Kinman from Rank and File in a band called Pacific Coast Highway....kind of Alt rock stuff but he has tons of songs that are brilliant. I just hope they get a chance to be released.


Ken tries to get the waiter's attention because the rest of the guys have drunk the rider.

Q As well as being a critically respected Austin, Texas, musician in his own right, I understand Alejandro co-wrote a play about growing up in America as a Mexican immigrant. [ED: He's also recovering from illness and an appeal has been launched to assist with his medical bills. Check it out here.] What’s the story there and were your experiences similar?

M I was born in Orange County California but, yeah, my father was a Mexican immigrant who ran away from his abusive father at the eight or nine-years-old. He’s lived quite a life and it’s been quite an inspiration to us all.

I mean he was a boxer, worked with the navy, and as a plumber. When he first came to the US he was shanghai’ed and sent to Alaska to work for 35 cents a day. And then he said they would charge him 30 cents for lunch whether you ate or not.

Q I’m presuming you’re a bit young to have experienced much of the LA punk scene first-hand so what were your musical influences? I know Johnny Thunders is one. Did you get to experience him live?


M Kenny and I played with Johnny Thunders in our first band and then I met him twice with Javier, but yes, I love his guitar style and attitude. Hanoi Rocks is a big influence, but I realize now a big inspiration for starting The Dragons is The True Believers, a band that Javier and Al were in with a third guitar player, John Dee Graham.

Q I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that you guys in the Dragons were largely unaffected by the whole SoCal skatepunk scene. Am I wrong?


K Never really did get into the SoCal Skate punk.

M I had a ahard time buying into the reality of it. I mean, in England punks were really PUNKS and here it seemed to be a bunch of spoiled kids at the malls rebelling against their parents, not society and the bureaucrats.

Q So what was the band you played in prior to the Dragons?

K Mario and I played in a band called M-80 before the Dragons. We opened for few big name acts such as Michael Monroe, Gun Club, London Quireboys, and Johnny Thunders!

Q What other influences are you drawing on Ken?


K I like Theee Michelle Gun Elephant, Guitar Wolf, The Wildhearts. But we all pretty much like the same bands. When we go on tour I make a mix CD so we can listen to different bands while we drive.

Q Is it true you guys have a live album of Stones covers in the can? If so, is it coming out?

K No, but never say never. We play a show on Christmas eve called "Exile on Kettner" at the Casbah every year. We have been doing this for nine years and this year marks the 10 year anniversary. We get a bunch of friends from other bands such as Convoy, Romy Kaye, UJBOD and just bunch of people to play with us.

We have 14 people on stage and play about 30 Stones songs. But every year about five people record it, so if you try, you may find a tape floating around somewhere.

M Actually, Ted who released "Painkiller" recorded it but he’s afraid that the Stones will sue him. And they do sue every one don’t they?

Q I understand The Dragons have played just about every SXSW festival there’s been. How have you found the event lately? I’ve heard it’s almost grown too big for most bands to network successfully, but is that the case?

K I think it has grown really big, but it is still fun. I think we played about eight or nine of them and the last five years and they have been great.

The first time we played it was on Sunday night at 1am. We literally closed out SXSW.

I think you just have to ignore all the badge-wielding, wannabe reporters, writers, and record company execs. They always walk around introducing themselves to each other and no one knows or cares who the fuck they are and talk about who is this year's "buzz band" and they have to get to a certain club to line up to kiss some more ass and not watch the "buzz band" they are there for.

But other than that, it is a weekend of great bands playing and hanging out with bands that you don’t cross paths with too often.

Q Thanks for your time. Since we’re in a bar, what are you drinking?

K Palomar Mountain spring water.

M I used to drink Jack and Cokes, but for health reasons now I only drink Jack on The Rocks and enjoy a good beer, probably New Castle or Heineken.

 


The new album "Sin Salvation" is out now on Gearhead Records. It's reviewed here.


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