Killer Dwarfs: Giants of Canadian Metal Return
By David DeRocco
If The Lord of The Rings trilogy has taught us anything, it’s that dwarfs are resilient. Just consider the scrappy 37 year history of Canada’s contribution to dwarf lore, Toronto’s own KILLER DWARFS.
Formed in 1981, KILLER DWARFS arrived just in time to wreak havoc on Canada’s hard rock/metal scene during a decadent decade when Bon Jovi was still a rock band and spandex, hairspray and power ballads ruled MuchMusic. From big hair to big singles to big tours – and killer rock tunes like “Stand Tall,” “Keep The Spirit Alive,” “Dirty Weapons” and the title track to their ’92 hard rock classic Method To The Madness, Killer Dwarfs stood tall – all the while hanging with Iron Maiden, rocking Wembley-sized stadiums and criss-crossing the world as Canada’s metal ambassadors.
As a true sign of their resiliency, the band recently signed with Megadeth bassist David Ellefson’s EMP Label and are planning to release both a live album and a new album of original material. With an upcoming show April 21st at the Seneca Queen Theatre, founding members Russ Dwarf (vocals) and Darrell Dwarf (drummer) sat down with GoBeWeekly to talk about their career, their legacy and the pros and cons of record labels.
GOBE: It’s been 34 years since your debut release. Does it feel like yesterday or a lifetime ago.
RUSS: That depends. Physically it feels like a 100 years. Mentally it’s hard to say. Dunk and I talk about that all the time. It’s like, wow, time flies. Darryl’s a grandfather for god sakes.
DARRELL: It’s like Russ just said, we go on these hiatuses from time to time but we’ve been back touring and playing shows now for the past five years. And those five years to me feels like a year. That’s nuts.
GOBE: Well 37 years is a long marriage. How many times have you two wanted to kill each other.
RUSS: Everyday.(laughing) But serious, we don’t fight. We both have always had the same goal in mind. We just love rock and roll. There’s no giant secrets here.
DARRELL: That’s the only reason why we’re still here. We don’t fight. We discuss. I know a lot of horror stories in rock bands like Motely Crue. We’re like church goers compared to some of them.
GOBE: Darrell, if there was a lesson to be learned in Spinal Tap it’s that drummers aren’t supposed to last. What’s your secret.
DARRELL: (Laughing) I don’t know. Maybe I’m a pirate drummer. A grand pirate.
GOBE: There’s a new live CD coming out called No Guff. Tell me about that.
RUSS: We’re one of the acts of Dave Ellefson’s EMP Label and we’re excited to be with him. Right now everything’s golden. By the end of the year we might want to kill him. The record turned out pretty well. It’s our second live record actually.
GOBE: What was the road that lead you to sign with Dave?
RUSS: They actually approached us. Tom his A&R guy, he’s a big fan and apparently Dave’s a big fan too and knows us. He’s starting small with artists like Autograph and Ron Keel, friends of ours called Bumblefoot, Mark Slaughter, bands like that in our genre. We’re fitting in with this bunch and hoping for good things. These days being with a record label is not like is was in the early days. We can only go so far with a mom and pop shop.
GOBE: Now that you’re signed there’s talk of a new Dwarf’s record in late 2018 early 2019. What’s the writing process for putting a new record together.
DARRELL: EMP re-released our 2013 album Start @ One and we owe them another record. I’d say we’re looking at 2019. We’re just starting to tour again so we’re a bit busy.
RUSS: We’re definitely just going to go into it and take out time with it. We all write. We haven’t written an album together in a long f’ing time. So we’re probably just going to try to have as much fun as possible and be creative with every angle. We’re going to need every gun we have because we’ll want to put out one of the best albums of our lives.
DARRELL: We’ve already got a bunch of stuff we’re working on, so we’re not in a major hurry or anything. Honestly, the age of our band, people don’t want to hear new stuff, they’re just not into it. Even our live album, it’s a great live record but it’s a greatest hits record ‘cause the songs are so good. That’s our live show. It’s all the best songs of the Killer Dwarfs over the years.
GOBE: At the same time, you hear the cry that rock and roll is dead. If people don’t embrace new music they really can’t complain about the death of rock and roll can they.
RUSS: Dave, that’s a whole other topic when you think of it. We could do a whole interview on that conundrum. What’s happened to the music industry and the bands they’ve signed, it’s not like the 70s or early 80s where they nurtured a career. It’s almost back to a time when it’s not even worth putting out an album.
GOBE: Looking back, do you both feel you were treated fairly by your labels throughout the years?
DARRELL: I think my view has to be similar to how Russ looks at it, because we were both there together. But you know what, when we got signed it was the most joyous experience of my life. It was like, ‘oh my god, we just signed a huge record deal, with Epic Records in New York. And we were at a goddam dinner with Cheap Trick and I just can’t believe this.’ It was unbelievable. And I hold a lot of great memories of the whole thing. It’s just the politics of rock and roll will bite you in the ass every time. I don’t care if you were the biggest metal band in the whole world, you’re going to have horror stories about your labels. We did pretty good. We got through the three record deal. A lot of bands got dropped. As soon as the grunge thing hit, bye now. We finished our contract and did three records with Epic.
RUSS: It’s such a cliché. You can sit and talk for hours about how things have changed, and how old cats signed away their publishing and didn’t get a penny and are living in their cars. The way I look at it, it’s an education money can’t buy but you sure do pay for it. We’re Canadian guys and we got the opportunity to be signed to that kind of a deal. The education we did get from being with a giant label, it’s a machine. It’s like a giant bank with a giant bank loan with the worst interest rate known to mankind. And like Dunk said it’s all politics. It has nothing to do with talent. They could be selling toilet paper. It does not matter. But we got the opportunity to do things our way. I’ll hand it to Epic New York for letting us do exactly what we wanted to do.
GOBE: Did being a metal band from Canada have its own set of challenges.
DARRELL: There was a prejudice for sure. You’re a Canadian metal band signed to an American label and there was this vibe. America invented rock and roll, they invented show business. So when you’re down there in their house, you got to win’em over. They have their own heroes.
GOBE: You’re still winning people over with your live show. You’ve always been great live. What’s the best part of getting out on stage these days. How have you grown to appreciate it over the years.
RUSS: It’s all gravy at this point. We’re not trying to make it anymore. We’re not kids and we already have a built in audience which is fabulous. We like each other and it’s so fun to see each other and be in the same room with your buddies. You can’t ask for a better job if you want to call it a job. We’re still getting away with what we dreamed about as kids.
GOBE: You’ve both have a lot of great memories. When you look back with a lens of appreciation for what you’ve accomplished through your music, what is that one thing you remember that you’re still blown away by that happened as a result of being in the band.
DARRELL: There’s been so many. There’s decades of touring under our belts. I’m probably not even remembering things that happened. But live shows, any of the arena rock tours, were always a golden gift. You’re on a tour bus and touring. That’s a big deal to get to do that. For me it could be touring with Maiden and all that but I’m not going to say that. I really cherish the albums we recorded in California and living in California with (producer) Andy Johns. To me that era, the time we spent there was like a dream to me. It’s like it never even happened somehow.
RUSS: I loved all that too. Being able to work with Andy and becoming really close pals beyond the music was awesome. And having people like Nicky Hopkins (Rolling Stones) play on our record.
KILLER DWARFS perform at Seneca Queen Theatre April 21st.