The Dictators

Interview with Andy Shernoff (Oct.1999)


Now that many bands vindicate the 70's music, The Dictators are being recognized as a signature band of the NYC scene. Twenty years later, and with a brand new album almost ready, Andy Shernoff, the man behind The Dictators, talks about the past and the future of the band.

Give us a brief story of The Dictators for those people out there who don't know you yet... (is there anyone?)
The Dictators were formed in the pre-historic era of rock. When we forst picked up our instruments there was no MTV, no Nirvana, no Sex Pistols, no Ramones....it was a vast wasteland and we felt very alone in our quest. We were a bunch of teenage friends and music fans who were bored with the state of rock and roll and wanted to bring back the fun and excitement. It is very satisfying to see a lot of interest in the Dictators 25 years later while a lot of the bands that were getting attention 25 years ago are long forgotten. We were teenagers when we formed in 1973 and released our first record (The Dictators Go Girl Crazy/Epic records) in 1975. We were quickly dropped by Epic Records. It wasn't until 1976/1977 till the world caught up to us and punk rock changed the world of music. We resigned with Elektra Records and released Manifest Destiny in 1977 and Bloodbrothers in 1978. We have continued to perform over the last 20 years and are almost finished with our first CD in 20 years.

The fact is that with 'Go Girl Crazy' you never achieved a big success at that moment and not only that one but also the two following albums weren't kind of successful when they were released. What happened?
I think the production and sound of the records was not up to standards. The records never sounded as powerful as other records on the market. It made it hard for people to understand what we were about. Thankfully the songs connected with people, and the live show was always very exciting, and that is what has maintained our audience over the years.

Now in the 90's your albums are being discovered by a lot of people and many bands vindicate your reputation as 70's masters. How do you feel about it?
Very satisfied!

Why do you think some other bands from the 70's NYC scene 'made it' at that moment and you had to wait for so long to be acclaimed?
I think the band was not as focused musically or image wise as some of the other bands...We don't fit easily into any musical category. We're not a straight "punk" band nor are we really "heavy metal" or "pop". We actually incorporate all those elements into a sound that I'd like to think is unique and original.

Do you believe you had a big impact on the making of 'punk rock'? Do you consider the Dictators as a punk rock band? How would you define the Dictators?
We influenced and touched a lot of people and bands but we certainly didn't have as big an impact as the Ramones, even though our first record came out before the first Ramones record. ......Every great band has a bit of "punk" in them. It's that attitude and aggressiveness in the sound that makes The Rolling Stones,The Who and The Stooges classic bands...........I'd like to think The Dictators incorporate all the elements that "classic" bands have, great songs, exciting live shows, and passion.....everything rock wasn't when we first formed in 1975.

Although many people talks about the Dictators as a punk rock band the truth is that your albums have always been well accepted amongst the hard rock and heavy metal audience also; do you believe is there any reason for that?
Our strength and our weakness is that we don't fit comfortably into any one musical category. As I said earlier we incorporate elements of punk, hard rock, metal, pop, and surf music into our music.....Personally I like all these elements but it makes it harder to categorize the band....and hard to market.

In the 80's Dictators members Ross The Boss and Mark Mendoza became well known playing in metal bands: Manowar and Twisted Sister... were them the heavy side of the Dictators? Are/ were you into the hard rock/ metal stuff?
Well I wrote the songs, so obviously I like hard rock.....but I prefer AC/DC over Iron Maiden.

Although you usually say that the Dictators never really broke up there were some years when the band was at least put on hold. In the 80's all the members were involved with other bands or jobs and you were producing records and writing hit songs for other bands. Did you feel like there was no room for the Dictators?
The Dictators were not very much on my mind in those days.......there just wasn't as much demand for the band then. Eventually the success of bands like Offspring and Green Day made people curious as to what the roots of this music are.....just like The Rolling Stones led me to Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry when I was a kid.

1990 meant the real comeback of Andy Shernoff and Dick Manitoba as Manitoba's Wild Kingdom. The album 'And You...?' was a real smash, it contained some of the heaviest songs you have ever written, the song 'The Party Starts Now !!' did get a lot of response on radio and even on MTV... you almost 'made it', but you never toured, what happened?
Thanks for the compliments...the record did have some radio and MTV action but the problem was as you said.....we never toured.........there was also the usual record company/management headaches which took all the fun out of the band.

Now in the Dictators shows you use to play songs from that album, have they become classic Dictators stuff?
I wrote them, Manitoba sang them, people want to hear them, so we play 'em.

In late 1998 you said that half of the new Dictators album was done and 1999 would be finally the year of a studio recording comeback after 20 years without a Dictators full length album. How long will we have to wait? Will you release it on your own?
Well it's taking a little longer than I expected. Everybody in the band is busy and I'm trying to write the best songs, but we are 3 songs away from a finished record. We will license the finished master to a record company and get it released some time next year.

In recent shows you sing a new song that I think it's called 'What's Up With That', do you feel comfortable doing the vocals? Will it be on the new album?
I sang most of the first Dictators album so I'm comfortable singing.......'What's Up With That', will be on the new CD as well as on the soundtrack to a new movie called just out in America called, "Boys Don't Cry."

You have released two singles in the last years 'I Am Right/ Loyola' and 'Who Will Save Rock And Roll/ The Savage Beat', those tunes are really aggressive and strong rock and roll. Are them representative of the band's next album?
Part of the band is about loud, aggresive, powerful rock music....but there are other sides to the band and they will all be represented on the CD.

The band has played Europe several times in the last years. How was the response? Did you expect it?
The response has been great......I knew there was some interest in the band in Europe but I've been knocked out by the passion and response of the audience.

After almost 10 years without touring and just playing in the NYC area you played in Spain. Since then you have come quite often and Spain seems to have become like a second home for you, is it really this way? What does Spain mean for you nowadays?
Even though I was born and raised in New York City, I feel very comfortable with the Mediterranean lifestyle. I love Spanish culture; the food, the wine and the great people. I have a lot of friends there and could see spending more time there.

We read somewhere that you were going to produce some Spanish bands, tell us about it.
I worked with a few like The Electric Playboys, and Amphetamine Discharge...It was fun and a challenge to work in a creative medium when there is a language difference.

You used to play signature anthems like 'Search And Destroy' (even recorded it) now you use to play 'Sonic Reducer'. Now that many bands are covering (and recording) your songs (like The Hellacopters or Electric Frankenstein) do you believe that any of your songs has achieved that status? If not, will they ever achieve it?
I don't decide if my songs reach legendary status, that's up to the audience. The song has to touch a lot of people to do that. Obviously it's very flattering to have another band record one of your songs...it's the ultimate compliment that somebody wants to sing your lyrics and melodies............If people consider my songs on the same level as "Sonic Reducer" and "Search and Destroy" I would be very pleased.

How do you see the rock scene? What excites you musically these days ? What new bands do you listen to?
I listen to my old vinyl records mostly....I like all the new bands from Scandinavia, that's an exciting scene, but otherwise I believe rock and roll is past it's golden age. It doesn't represent the hip lifestyle of kids or provide the powerful vehicle for social change that it used to.........It's a form of music based on 3 chords....how many variations are can you make with those 3 chords?........... besides these days parents listen to rock and roll, what self respecting rebellious teeanger likes the same music as his parents.

1999 seems to be the break out year for some bands who have been around vindicating the 70's musical essence, The Hellacopters, Gluecifer, Electric Frankenstein... are all becoming big acts. Do you believe that this scene can help the Dictators anyway?
Those acts aren't topping the sales charts....... but as far as I'm concerned the more bands playing guitars and making real music the better. There's too much computerization in recording today....there is even a machine that puts out of tune vocalists in tune.

What are your plans for the future? Any tours? Are you going to buy back the rights of any other album to remaster it for re-releasing?
The new CD will be released early 2000....We will follow it up with a tour...The only record not out is Manifest Destiny which we hope to license for release after the new CD is out.

Ross is busy with the release of the Spinatras album and so does Scott with a DelLords compilation. Will it affect the Dictators career anyway now that you seem to have a brand new chance?
Everybody in the band needs an outlet to express themselves besides the more records out the more attention to The Dictators. We also know how important The Dictators is in our lives and the lives of our fans.

A message for the people who is reading this interview...
Have a good time.......all the time.