Dag Nasty - Biography

By Scott Feemster


Dag Nasty was essentially a hardcore punk band that came out of the influential Washington D.C. punk scene in the mid-1980’s, and introduced more melodic elements to the sound, setting the stage for much of what was later called “emo”. Though the band only released five records over its on-again off-again career, they have been highly influential and still cast a large shadow over American post-hardcore music.


            Dag Nasty was started in 1985 by ex-Minor Threat and Meatmen guitarist Brian Baker, along with ex-Bloody Mannequin Orchestra members drummer Colin Sears and bassist Roger Marbury, and vocalist Shawn Brown. The group played around the Washington D.C. area for the first few months of the band’s existence, and recorded some of the songs that would later appear on their first album,before Brown decided to leave the group. Brown was replaced by former DYS vocalist Dave Smalley, and the group returned to the studio to lay down tracks with their new vocalist. The result was the band’s debut album, Can I Say (Dischord), released in 1986. Assisting the band with production was Baker’s former Minor Threat bandmate, (and Dischord Records owner), Ian Mackaye, and he and the rest of the band gave the album a more immediate, hard-hitting sound than some of the more poorly recorded Minor Threat material. The album was also notable in that it kept a lot of the fury of the original D.C. hardcore sound, but injected a bit more melody and dynamics into the formula as well. This new line-up of the band didn’t stay intact for long, as soon after Smalley decided to leave the band to attend school in Israel, and Marbury also quit the band. The group decided to carry on, however, and recruited former Descendents bassist Doug Carrion and former Lunchbox vocalist Peter Cortner to complete a new line-up of the band. The group returned to the studio, and recorded and released their next album, Wig Out At Denko's (Dischord) in 1987. The album continued the band's drift to a more melodic sound, including a song that featured just Cortner's voice and Baker's acoustic guitar,  though it still contained it's share of roaring punk anthems. The record was again co-produced by Mackaye and Dischord favorite producer Dan Zientara. The group decided to change again for their next record. Drummer Colin Sears left the band, and was replaced by Scott Garrett, and the band also decided to leave both Dischord Records and Washington D.C., and head out to Los Angeles. Once there, the band recorded and released their next record, 1988's Field Day, through Giant Records, a small sister label to independent Homestead Records. This was arguably one of the albums that set the groundwork for many “emo” and post-hardcore bands that emerged in the '90's and 2000's, with it's mix of insightful and, yes, emotional lyrics mixed with rock anthems that weren't afraid to mix the roar of punk with more traditional rock. It would seem that the band was at the top of their game, but the sound of the album divided some of the band's old fans. Many saw the album as a compromise towards a more commercial sound, while others saw it as a necessary expansion of what might be called punk or post-hardcore. After touring in support of the album, internal strife surfaced again within the band, and they decided to break up in late 1988. Baker went on to form the (surprisingly) almost traditional heavy metal/biker band Junkyard with former Big Boys member Chris Gates, and the band were signed to major label Geffen and released two albums before calling it quits. In 1991, Selfless Records released the collection 85-86, which collected the first recordings Dag Nasty had made with original vocalist Shawn Brown, and soon after the members of Dag Nasty got back together again with second vocalist Dave Smalley to record a new album, 1992's Four On The Floor (Epitaph). The sessions came together when former members Smalley, Marbury and Sears were on vacation in California. Brian Baker was again the guitarist in the band, but because he was still under contract to Geffen at the time for Junkyard, he used the pseudonym “Dale Nixon” on the album credits. Four On The Floor was a return to the band's more hardcore sound, and after a little touring in support of the album, the band went back on indefinite hiatus. Another decade passed before anything new was heard from Dag Nasty. In 2002, the same version of the band that recorded Four On The Floor reconvened and released the album Minority Of One on Revelation Records, a label long known for releasing albums by hardcore and post-hardcore bands that were influenced by Dag Nasty's earlier output. The sound of Minority Of One was a return to the band's hardcore roots. Again, after doing some touring in support of the record, the band went on indefinite hiatus, not breaking up, while also not ruling out working on projects in the future together. Peter Cortner went on to practice law and later became a school teacher, and has played with a loose collective of musicians in the Philadelphia area called The Gerunds. Dave Smalley sings and plays in the bands the Sharpshooters and Down By Law as well as Dag Nasty, and is also a writer and op-ed editor for his local newspaper in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Colin Sears moved to Portland, Oregon, and has played in the bands Handgun Bravado and The Valley Floor, while also pursuing a career as a city planner for the Portland Development Commission. Brian Baker has been one of the guitarists in long-running punk band Bad Religion since 1994, a post he holds to the present day.


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