Interview by Alexander Laurence
D-Generation is a punk band from New York City. They started in 1991, and seemed so essential to the landscape of 90s music. David Fricke recently called them the link between The Ramones and The Strokes. The band is Jesse Malin (vocals), Danny Sage (guitar), Richard Bacchus (guitar), Howie Pyro (bass guitar), and Michael Wildwood (drums). They released three albums: D Generation (1994), No Lunch (1996), and Through The Darkness (1999).The band broke up soon after their third album, and for the past ten years they have moved on to other bands and solo projects. Jesse Malin is well known for a successful solo career. The songs of DGEN have been in the films “Airheads” and “The Faculty.” There was so much activity in this band, you wonder why they weren’t ten times as popular back then. They did tour with bands like Social Distortion, Kiss, The Ramones, Green Day, and even The Offspring. D-Generation is a legendary band, and I got to speak with them during their recent tour. They played at Irving Plaza and the Troubadour, places where they were amazing back in the day. I spoke with Danny Sage and Jesse Malin.
AL: How did D-Generation get together this time after a twelve year break?
Danny: We get offers. We get asked to do these festivals in Spain almost every year. Maybe the past five years. And when they ask us, me and Jesse are not speaking, or I want to kill my brother, who is the drummer of the band.
AL: There is tension in the band?
Danny: Yes. The band is really volatile. Jesse and I have played since we were in junior high school. And the drummer is my little brother. Rick is like the new guy in the band and I have known him for twenty-two years. We know each other really well. We are family. It can be amazing like the other night at Irving Plaza. It was like in the top three shows the band has ever played.
AL: What was the problem? People didn’t get D-Generation?
Danny: People are stupid. People like Big Macs. I don’t know. That’s my take on it.
AL: David Fricke just wrote that you were the link between The Ramones and The Strokes. What do you think about that?
Danny: Chronologically I suppose. I don’t know The Strokes. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t know anything about them. I think that I see them in the street periodically. They came out after the point that I didn’t care about rock and roll. That was around 2000. Then I moved out here to Los Angeles for four years, so I missed the whole Strokes thing. I guess David Fricke is talking about vibrant rock and roll, and I take it as a compliment. I know David well enough that he means that in the best way possible.
AL: Was it hard for bands in NYC in the 1990s to have success?
Danny: Yeah. I think that people are fickle. We weren’t easy to digest.
AL: In NYC at that time there was Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Luna, Ivy, Toilet Boys and Lunachicks. Then there was you guys. I think if I remember correctly D-Generation was a big buzzband and on the cover of magazines back then.
Danny: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion started before us, but most of those bands started after us.
AL: Today is the day Nirvana “Nevermind” came out twenty years ago. What do you think of grunge? Your band started at the same time.
Danny: We had impeccible bad timing. Whatever. Our band wasn’t trying to please anyone. We couldn’t give a fuck. That’s why we are still great. But that is a rough road.
AL: There is a history of bands from the 1970s like Suicide and The Stooges: people were actually afraid of these bands. They were scary people.
Danny: As it should be. I am proud that people think of us that way. Those are all my favorite bands: Ramones, Stones, Pistols, and The Stooges. I dig those bands but it’s a rough road if you think that you are going to sell records.
AL: Was there friction between your band and the label? D-Generation didn’t fit in with the grunge thing.
Danny: Sony and Columbia was shocked that we didn’t sell 17 million records in the first week. They were business people. It wasn’t the time where a band was allowed to make three or four records and develop. There were acts on Columbia Records like Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith who took many albums to be popular. They couldn’t break Aerosmith for five years. There was a big press blitz for Bruce Springsteen when he first came out, but he didn’t succeed until the third album. When we released No Lunch in 1996, we were expected to sell a lot of records in two weeks. If you didn’t sell records, they were done with you.
AL: So when your toured back then, you were popular in NYC and LA, and unknown everywhere else?
Danny: Yeah. Exactly. I don’t think it’s this genre or that genre. People always want something easy. If we wore plaid and packaged it in a different way, I would be living in a mansion right now. We didn’t do things that way. We were just being us.
AL: What was the relationship of the band to Coney Island High?
Danny: I don’t know. A place I got laid a few times with girls in the bathrooms. There was a bunch of different owners: Jesse and an ex-girlfriend. Jesse was an owner. He didn’t work there and he couldn’t mix a drink. He could open a beer with his teeth which I was very impressed with.
AL: It seemed like there was a lot of things going on in 1996: there was D-Generation, clubs like Coney Island High, the film Trainspotting, the Please Kill Me book came out, and there was a book party for it at the Gershwin Hotel. It seemed like the bed was fertile for a band like D-Generation to take over?
Danny: They were into our band. But you are talking about smart clued in people in New York, LA and London. Those people in Indiana who were into Stone Temple Pilots were different. A few people got it, but for most of them, rock and roll isn’t their life. It’s a passive part-time thing. For us, it’s our life. They didn’t get involved because it wasn’t their life.
Jesse: We had that in New York in 1996. But it didn’t happen in other cities. We weren’t being marketed to the right people. We were on a big label, but we didn’t have a video on those stations like MTV or VH1 that had power. We weren’t on the radio. People found out about us through word of mouth.
AL: Was there people at MTV that hated you?
Jesse: We pissed off half the label. The guy who signed us was a weird bird. He had good intentions. He was passionate about the band. It was his first experience. He was so intense about the band that people got jealous and competitive with him. We would only talk to two guys at the company: the guy who signed us and the president of the company. Britpop was big at the time. Oasis and Radiohead were big at the time. It was more like stand offish introverted rock and roll. It was snobby. We were more like a James Brown sweating off our balls in your face. It was a different energy. New York, LA, Chicago, and parts of Europe got what we were doing, but it was frustrating. We had signed a big deal and we would go out on these big exciting tours and it would be a battle with the audience.
AL: You did play with Green Day and The Offspring. What did you think of their take on Punk music?
Jesse: By that time, it was the latter part of the 1990s, and we started to finally connect with those audiences. We were speeding up the set. Green Day and The Offspring liked us. Those crowds were younger. With Kiss and The Ramones, it was an older crowd and closed minded.
AL: For me punk music is a wide thing that includes bands like Suicide, Wire, PIL, and Magazine. When did punk rock only come to mean this narrow thing with Sid Viciosu and Stiff Little Fingers records?
Danny: Not everybody is as clued in. Not everyone gets the joke. Most people don’t get the joke. They think if you buy a Sid Vicious T-Shirt and break a window, then that is what it’s all about. You are giving people too much credit.