By CORY FRYE
HE PLAYED IT LEFT-HAND: Dustin rocks the Du.
What a goddamned year."
I first met Dustin Herron in the Better Times, the Before Times, the pre-Fucked Dynasty: 2010, shortly before his band, Abolitionist's second-ever Corvallis show. Man, were THOSE the days. (Only hindsight kept us perpendicular to the earth this year.)
Initially, I was struck by his love for American history and the way he could squeeze it between toothsome punk-serrated riffs and construct entire realms into complete album studies, with fully developed characters and evocative scenarios, a snarling novelist burning with the ire of a chip-bearing Cormac McCarthy or a feral (ferreal) Salinger baying at the phonies.
Abolitionist raged through a series of lineups, seven well-received full-lengths, and multiple storylines until Herron retired the enterprise a couple years back.
Now he's DZTN 1980, solo shouts into unbearable gulfs, and, thanks in part to this ongoing horrorshow (pandemic in the air, gas blasts from the White House -- has punk rock ever seemed this necessary?), just as prolific, if not more, churning five releases since January to counter the cacophony of modern existence. Fire, fear, doom, warfare, technical ecstasy -- it’s all here, just as we lived it.
I recently checked in with Dustin to make sure he and we all were OK and to consult the oracle he keeps secret from the world. The following exchange ensued.
Why the DZTN 1980-stylized moniker?
I was looking for something that was a little nebulous, something that either caught a person's interest or just made them keep scrolling. I didn't want to use my full name for a few different reasons: I don't think my real name is all that interesting, I want to make merch with a cool band-style name, I like the anonymity, and I hope to someday play shows performing the songs I write as DZTN 1980.
Also, "DZTN" was a nickname bestowed upon me in 1993 when I was about 13 years old by T. Chandler of the Corvallis punk zine, ZINE. I used to submit handwritten record reviews, but my handwriting was (is) so bad that my name looked like "Dztn" and not "Dustin" to him I guess, haha. The reference to 1980 is obvious?
Did you have any intention of recording so much this year?
Not exactly.!I purchased a new computer with recording software in January of this year with the intention of learning how to self-record, but I intended to do it just for demoing purposes. However, with the pandemic, everything obviously changed. All the recording plans I'd made for a real studio fell through, as did opportunities to play shows and potentially tour more of the country than I'd done with Abolitionist (although I'd decided to hold off for 2020 before the full ramifications of the pandemic had been realized). It's been fun, though, because I'm now recording at a level that I'd always wanted to, and I never have to leave my house to make it happen.
What was it like to record all the instrumentation on your own? Especially on War of Good Intentions.
A lot of fun, for sure. That was really just an exercise in experimentation for me, as I'd never recorded anything with software instruments before that. I'd intended to record that album with Jeremy Dunlap (ex-Abolitionist)]up in Portland with him on bass & drums, and totally different songs, but I'd been listening to a lot of New Order coincidentally and their approach to music just inspired me to record everything "in the box" on my own (even the bass is really just me on a MIDI keyboard and a bass plug-in). I'm not sure it did the artwork I'd commissioned (courtesy of Josh Hardy) justice, but it ended up being a good stress-release during the initial lockdown we endured.
I was especially curious about the opening and curtain of "Dreams," where layers unfold digitally atop each other, then later retract. How did you land upon those as bookends?
I wanted a closer that would be completely different from the other tracks, so I recorded it in 3/4 (the other tracks were all in 4/4) and used a few pre-programmed sequences on the software I was recording with (Logic Pro X via Apple) to build the intro and outro layers. It was fun, kind of like sonic collage art.
Outside The City operates on a sense of all-encompassing Armageddon, with death, distrust, and the increasing strength of an angry mob. (Sounds vaguely familiar.) Escape seems impossible even in the digital realm. How did what you envisioned when you recorded this album jibe with the reality we experienced this year?
Well, I recorded it in December and wrote it in the couple of months previous to that, so I definitely didn't envision some of the circumstances we've found ourselves in this year. Although, perhaps the pandemic was inevitable (we've had lots of close calls over the years, but nothing as terrifying as a highly contagious airborne virus that sometimes viciously attacks the cardiovascular system), and maybe the breakdown of American citizens into political factions was as well (encouraged by a sitting president, no less), but I was surprised how everything just came to a head in 2020.
Looking beyond this year of uncertainty, there are probably a lot of days of reckoning ahead, all related to an increasing human population, a system bent on serving primarily the interests of the wealthy over everyone else, and an ecosystem that's been pushed to the brink by a race of primates whose main talents are that they can communicate with words and build shit cooperatively. Maybe it's time to get back to those basics?
Ode to a Dead Earth came out in July, the perfect time, as the country annually contends with acres-devouring fires in the West. Strangely, the album presaged the deadly flames that ate entire Oregon communities and choked populations for weeks. What was the impetus for that record?
If I'm being honest, the timing was 100% intentional. I think the summer of 2019 was the first one in a few years where we didn't have wildfire smoke choking the skies at some point where I live in Oregon, so I guessed that this year we'd have the usual. I'd kicked around the idea for a while about exploring the feelings I had growing up in a small Pacific Northwest timber town in the '90s, that sense of loss I felt when I realized a lot of what I saw as the natural world was artificial, and Ode To A Dead Earth was the result.
I mean, I was told all my life that Oregon's a state with beautiful, intact, lush rainforests, but then I eventually came to realize that truth was destroyed in just the past couple of hundred years. What's been left behind is mostly a patchwork of monoculture cash-crops that contain only a fraction of the biodiversity that once existed. There's not much I can do but lament that, and it's something I think about a lot.
Also, I realize that fire is generally crucial to forest health, but the extent to which everything burns now that climate change has dried everything out is really disheartening. It sure doesn't rain like it used to ...
What prompted an EP (Don't Give Up) less than two months after your previous release?
Well, I have a lot of time on my hands, haha! I'm a 40-year-old dude with no kids and wife who works 12-hour shifts like me. I also wanted to do something a little more "hardcore punk" so I figured a 6-song EP would be a good avenue for that. There was also so much going on around the Black Lives Matter protest movement this summer, as well as the sudden mainstreaming of the disturbing QAnon countermovement, that both sort-of converged to inspire the song subject matter. 2020, what a goddamned year.
How vital is punk as a form some 40 years after its initial explosion? Is it more resonant in the wake of 2016?
Sure, and it's ever-evolving. From the more mainstream bands like IDLES and Downtown Boys to lesser known groups like Big Joanie and England's Cool Jerks, punk continues to provide an energetic channeling for all kinds of righteous angst, and it's no longer something mostly only aging white dudes like me use as a vehicle of expression. Not that there haven't been plenty of women and people of color who have deemed themselves "punk rock" over the decades.
How much of your mid-year burst was due to pandemic fallowness? What did it do to the creative/recording process?
Undoubtedly it's been directly related to having fewer opportunities for travel with my wife, or lack of rehearsals with prospective bandmates, and having more time to record on a new computer. It's allowed me to explore sounds that I was becoming interested in toward the end of the 10-plus-year existence of Abolitionist but couldn't explore due to that band's developed "melodic hardcore"/"post-hardcore" sound. I also feel less pressure to promote, tour, perform, since it's just my own time I'm utilizing.
How did you hook up with Rob Bartleson? What did he bring to the production?
Rob recorded several Abolitionist releases, so it was only natural I'd turn to him for mastering help on my new project. He has so many years of recording experience through his own studio (Haywire in Portland, Oregon), and others, that he instantly brings the DZTN 1980 stuff I do to life. He's also very quick, nice, and easy to work with.
How did you hook up with Different Kitchen Records?
DKR's Alan Beningfield purchased the first Abolitionist 7-inch we pressed 9 years ago all the way from England and has been a very supportive guy over the years. His help with the co-releasing of several Abolitionist, 1859 (my vinyl micro-label), and DZTN 1980 cassettes since then has honestly probably kept my interest in putting my music out into the world over the years. I know for sure there is continued interest in the United Kingdom because of him. So, yeah, blame Alan.
When did you know Abolitionist had run its course?
Ah, well, I guess there were a few things in the final year: when the novelty of touring started to wear off (being from the upper left coast we did a LOT of driving to get anywhere), when few people came to our shows with any real regularity, and when it seemed like only a small group seemed interested in buying the stuff I'd personally paid a lot of money to produce. That said, I think the relatively small number of supporters (I can't think of them as "fans") over the years has made me appreciate every single download, sale, or positive interaction I've had at a show, or positive record review we've gotten way more than if we'd been some vapid "flash in the pan" or "flavor of the day" type of band. I can genuinely reflect on it all and consider it worth all the time, expense, and hours spent hauling gear around. Plus, the memories made with the guys (especially the last 2 years) made the whole experiment worthwhile.
How’s the new one coming? Details/themes? Stage of production? Projected release date?
I'm currently working on the final touches of an 8-song LP that follows the time-traveling adventures of a boy and his talking cat. It's called Scraps and I'm planning on it being the first installment of a trilogy (something I've never done before). I'm hoping the digital tracks will be released in December 2020 and kicking around the idea of doing a one-time short-run vinyl pressing of 100 copies. That shit's expensive, though, so we'll see.
Where the hell does our country go from here?
The Formative Years (2010-2014) (2016)
It Used to Rain (2011)
The Growing Disconnect (2013)
The Vicious Rumor (2015)
The Pinnacle (2017)
The Instant (2018)
A New Militance (2019)
Ugly Feeling (2019)
Live at Black Water (Final Show, 11/16/19) (2020)
Outside the City (Jan. 17, 2020)
War of Good Intentions (April 28, 2020)
Ode to a Dead Earth (July 1, 2020)
Don't Give Up EP (Sept. 1, 2020)
Scraps (Dec. 2020)