Goofballs on the Grind:
Dirty Fences Intend to Rock ‘n’ Roll in Every City Ever
There are plenty of bands that seem to tour endlessly – Atlanta’s own Coathangers, for one. Chicago rock ‘n’ roll duo White Mystery come to mind, too. It’s incredibly impressive how often they’re on the road. They thrive on it, even.
But have either of those acts blown through Europe three times in one year? Dirty Fences has.
“Over the past year, we’ve really kind of started hustling, trying to be on the road as much as possible,” says drummer Max Hiersteiner. “We’ve done five tours in the past year and we have quite a few coming up this year. We’ll be home for a month at a time, then we’ll be gone for another month and a half. So over the past year, we’ve probably been on the road for about six months.”
Now, I’m not saying Dirty Fences are the absolute touring champs. But some groups never even leave the States, and this bunch already has their next trip planned.
“The first two times were on our own. We had a really awesome booking agent in Berlin, Ricky from Swamp Booking. He has really shown us a lot of support and had booked us some really great tours the first two times. We went all over the place. We went to Scandinavia, Portugal, Spain, I can go on and on. On the other tour we went on tour with the Shrine, our friends from Venice Beach,” he adds.
Coincidentally, Hiersteiner shares the name Max with two other members; everybody calls him Hersh instead. The other two are bassist Max Comaskey and guitarist Max Roseglass. Then, of course, there’s frontman Jack Daves. They’re a sorta silly crew who skateboard, take ridiculous pictures and like to get drunk and also happen to make undeniably righteous rock ‘n’ roll. For the most part, Dirty Fences do glam-rock meets trash-punk like they’re on some decades-old but still-potent speed.
They originally met during high school in Boston, where they were all pals – except for Roseglass.
“I went to a different high school,” Roseglass explains. “I’m a little older, and I’m from a different part of Boston. But I knew them, I knew them through friends that went to their high school. I knew them because I grew up doing graffiti and I knew friends that did graffiti at their school, so I used to go over there to after school to hang out, and I would just like meet them and hang out, smoking weed or whatever.”
“[Jack and Max Comaskey and I] were always hanging out and drinking 40s and whatever,” Hersh recalls. “When I met Jack, he was really into Frank Zappa and the Stooges, and I was into Johnny Thunders and the Ramones. Pretty much all of us got together through similar tastes in music.”
The trio, who’d already been playing together, lost their rhythm guitarist sometime before settling in New York. They met back up with Roseglass there around 2011.
So, in the grand scheme of things, they’re still a relatively new band. Their achievements in light of that isn’t the whole of their appeal, though. And yes, they make some pretty killer rock ‘n’ roll jams. But what makes Dirty Fences’ grind extra interesting for me, I think, comes from having seen them in action. Disclaimer time: the dudes recently played my venue in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I suppose that’s also a humble brag, ’cause they absolutely killed it, so I’m not going to pretend myself and the rest of the club owners aren’t proud to have hosted them. I got excited about their shows all over again before I called each of them. It’s knowing how hard they partied (and adventured around the island) throughout their stay, then watching them rip through incredible, nearly flawless sets despite the weight of their hangovers and, as a result of this chat, discovering exactly how tirelessly they’re working – I am overwhelmingly impressed by all of that.
Volcom – you know, the surf-snow-skate company – apparently felt similarly, and solely from hearing them. It was through a friend, Hersh says, that their demos made it into the right hands.
“They were really stoked. They had us record in Jersey for that, our self-titled EP,” he says.
The label had its own opinions, however, about the way the album should be recorded – or who should record it, rather.
“We had three days,” Roseglass says. “It was a really big producer, a kind of well-known producer (John Seymour), and it was a pro studio and everything was really expensive. They just threw us into this situation where we had three sessions and they had been doing this for so long, they just really rushed us through it. The result is just…it isn’t really a reflection of our taste at all, it’s just our songs recorded by some dude who just also did Santana’s Supernatural.”
By no means is it a failure of a debut, of course. Their ’70s glam-rock tendencies aren’t obscured, nor is the wildly fast punk tempo slowed to a more mainstream ready stride. But the difference between it and its successor, the Too High to Kross full-length released the following year, is audible. On the latter, the right bits of each track are so intensified they almost sound isolated – like the climbing riff of “What’s that Strange” or the thunderous, distorted backbone of “White Lies.” And, unlike the shinier sounding EP, there’s a film of grit and grime at just the right consistency. It, too, was released through Volcom – but this time, the band was afforded some choices in its creation.
“We had two weeks in Memphis in a studio that’s run by a friend of ours, and he was engineering it with his brother. So that one we had so much time to talk with him about different sounds and amps and guitars and setups and everything. That one is the most full, most really like layered arrangements,” Roseglass notes. “Everything is very carefully considered – a real studio album. Every song has different guitars, different amps, different layers of different guitars and amps, 12-string acoustics and shit.”
They’ve taken the control a step further on their next platter, which they’ve dubbed Full Tramp.
“We recorded it in my basement in my apartment in Brooklyn,” says Hersh. “We kind of did it with a 4-track – we did, you know, drums and bass first, then layered it. The bassist (Comaskey), he produced it, he’s been engineering full time. So he was taking care of business with the recording, then after that we brought it our friend Ted Humphrey who lives down the street from my apartment, and then he and Max mastered it in his studio with a real mixing board and everything. So it was pretty DIY – we didn’t have to go to any studios or anything. We just kinda did it in our practice space.”
Naturally, they’ve changed things here and there. They hadn’t toured at all before that inaugural EP, and now they’ve got not only that experience, but also a boosted practice schedule – both make for a stronger rapport. Dirty Fences’ efficiency in writing, reworking and fine-tuning songs is significantly upped.
“There’s a lot of fast songs, the things people really like, like ‘White Lies’ kinda songs, then there’s a lot of country and slower [songs],” Hersh reveals. “We’re definitely developing more as a band. Personally, I think we’re maturing. We’re not playing super fast all the time anymore. We have a lot more slow and meaningful songs that took a lot more time to figure out, because all of us are so used to playing 1,000 miles an hour. It takes a little more time. Yeah, so it’s a lot more variety, more riffs, more pop songs. Softer. More of a variety than our other recordings.”
Roseglass says Hersh was probably focused on one track in particular when he pointed out the newfound sluggish tempos.
“It’s not a slower album by any means,” Roseglass clarifies. “We’ve just experimented by putting this one song on there called ‘Rain,’ which is the closest thing we’ve ever come to a ballad. [The album is] different because we recorded it ourselves. We definitely spent more time on it because we didn’t have to pay anybody for their hours, so we weren’t concerned about how long it took. Our last album had a lot of good songs on it, but we didn’t love every song. This album, I think, we love every song…Every song is completely worthy of being on the album.”
We don’t have to fear a lack of infectious, cheesy-sleazy rock ‘n’ roll numbers, then. That’s a relief. And nobody should worry they’ll miss them on tour, either. Dirty Fences’ newfound credo means they’ll probably play every city twice before breaking to rest.