Down By Law
“Grab ahold of some steel and concrete
Grab anything that makes you strong
Do you feel the fire?
Is it in your eyes?
This is your time”
Punk rock was never supposed to be about the past, unless it was tearing down society’s bullshit and building something better in its place, and the very idea of a biography runs counter to punk’s principles. It’s not supposed to be about who you were; it’s about who you are. After all, the best punk has always been about change.
Nevertheless, there are those who want to know the story, as if the music weren’t enough. So here it is - the story.
The bare facts are easy. Dave Smalley teamed up with the Chemical People and recorded the self-titled debut in 1991, and “Blue” in 1992. DBL was still a project band up to that point. By 1994, guitarist Sam Williams III, bassist Angry John Di Mambro and drummer Hunter Oswald had entered the fold to record “punkrockacademyfightsong.” Danny Westman stepped in on drum duties for 1996’s “All Scratched Up.” “Last of the Sharpshooters” came out in 1997 and Chris Lagerborg filled in on the skins for the session. Then came 1999. Enter Milo Todesco and Keith Davies, a brand new rhythm section. Down By Law released their first album on Go-Kart Records, a record titled “Fly The Flag.” And that brings us to now.
The bare facts are boring though. Someone joined the band, someone left the band. The bare facts reduce thousands of miles, hundreds of shows and fans whose lives were changed forever by a song to names and numbers, dates and milestones. It may be a history, but it’s nothing useful. It doesn’t say a fucking thing about anything that’s important.
What’s important is this - when punk rock broke and bands cashed in on fashion trends, Down By Law stayed true to its ideals. While everyone else played The Forbidden Beat and wrote songs about farts, Dave Smalley was penning songs about feeling lonely and out of place, afraid and uncertain. He wrote about finding strength in being apart from the larger culture, and turning the loneliness and alienation of individuals into unity and mutual respect. It’s clear that Down By Law is the only real claimant to The Clash’s legacy, and that legacy is the admission that we may be isolated and lonely, we may be alienated and fucked up, but revolution can only begin in the mirror. We have to change ourselves before we can change the social structures that oppress us. Like Mick Jones and Joe Strummer before him, Dave Smalley acknowledges that politics stem from personal experience; we have our beliefs because of what we know and how we grew up. All politics are personal, and everything personal is political. And this is why Down By Law is one of the few bands that matter - the personal and political are inseparable in the music. The music is honest, and if you open your heart to it, these songs will reveal truths that no one else has enough guts to say.
Down By Law has changed my life since I became a fan, and only for the better. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen them, how long I’ve waited to get in, how many miles I’ve driven to get to the show. I’ve never questioned any of it because once I get there, I remember why I showed up in the first place. When the lights go down and Dave pulls on his guitar and the first ringing chords of “Independence Day” come crashing through the amps, I feel free. I feel like I’m leading the charge of The Last Brigade through all the shit I’ve had to swallow, and like we really can change the world for the better. And this time, nothing can stop it.
—Scott Puckett Publisher, Sick To Move / www.punkrockacademy.com