Spinning Platters Interview: Dave Hill

by Dakin Hardwick on January 11, 2018

Photo by Michelle Crow

Dave Hill is one of the most prolific performers you’ve probably never heard of. He plays guitar for the bands Valley Lodge (who do the theme to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver), Diamondsnake (a metal band with Moby), and his black metal band Witch Taint, which he’s bringing to Sketchfest this year as part of a larger schedule. He also hosts “The Goddamn Dave Hill Show” on WFMU radio, and a podcast called “Dave Hill’s Podcasting Incident.” Not good enough? He’s also an accomplished writer and stand-up comic. Spinning Platters pulled Hill away from his busy schedule to speak to us. Here’s how it went!

Spinning Platters: Are you excited about Sketchfest this year?

Dave Hill: Oh yeah, I love it. It’s my favorite festival to do. I think it’s the best festival in North America, if not the world. It’s always great. I have a blast. I love San Francisco, and the lineups they have are always really great. Every show they have is a show I would love to see.

SP: And you’re definitely on some really amazing ones.

DH: Yeah, I think I’m on three so far, and they’re all very different and super fun. Usually the way it goes is, I’ll probably end up on another one, I usually end up on more and more as the festival approaches. But yeah, to my knowledge, what I’m doing is the Dick Cavett tribute, and I’m doing a show with Janeane Garofalo, and I’m doing the Witch Taint show. I think that’s it, right?

SP: Yep, that’s what I have in front of me. Let’s talk Witch Taint first. This is with Phil Costello, so it’s basically Diamond Snake, without Moby, or the guy from Urge Overkill—

DH: Not really. Well, it’s true that we were both in Diamond Snake, but Witch Taint is actually … a lot of people think it’s a band, which it is in a way, but it’s not a music show. It’s a comedy show about a band. Are you familiar with Norwegian black metal?

SP: I’m familiar with a fair amount of Norwegian black metal.

DH: You know, like in the early ‘90s, it was just crazy. They were burning churches and murdering each other, and it’s just this super extreme … they take themselves very seriously. So just for the heck of it—this is in like 2004—I feel like black metal is pretty well into the pop culture vernacular now. There’s parodies of it and all that, but at the time, it wasn’t really like that, and I just I decided to create an alter ego, this kid named Lance from Gary, Indiana, who had the most extreme, Satanic black metal band of all time, Witch Taint.

I started emailing a Norwegian black metal label in Norway and tried to convince them to sign me to their label. They took everything very seriously. It went back and forth for like six months, and I actually recorded a demo to submit to them, because I was just saying how great the band was, even though the band didn’t exist, and I had to make a demo with my friend John, and it’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard.

Anyway it went on and on, emails back and forth. I started sending them to friends, and eventually a friend of a friend made a website with all these emails on it, and it took off pretty quickly. You know, it was on Gawker, which is not the most metal website ever. But it kind of spread all over, and people knew about Witch Taint, and I would sell T-shirts and stuff.

So … last January or February, people for years had been like oh you should do some sort of stage reading of these emails, and I just thought like, ah, I don’t know. I felt like that’s kind of in the past. Then finally (I) gave it a try.

The very first public shows were just us reading the emails, and then we gradually built the show up a bit more, and we did it at SXSW last year, and it was just bonkers, like sold out. It was just so much fun, and we had no expectations for that, like no one’s gonna come to this, maybe 20 people.

So we walked over to the theater in our corpse paint and everything, and there was a line down the block, and we thought, “Oh, there must be something else going on in this theater tonight. I wonder what all these people are here for.” And also we were walking up behind them, so it’s not like anyone is reacting to us.

Then we came out, and it turned out they were all there for us, so it was really exciting and fun. So we keep doing it and tweaking the show, and we’re super excited to do it at Sketchfest this year, and a couple weeks after, we’ve been asked to do it in Oslo, Norway, at the Crap Comedy Festival, so that should be interesting, to go to the place where Norwegian black metal was invented.

Word’s kind of getting out, in the Norwegian black metal scene there, that the show is happening. I actually have a friend who’s a sound man for a lot of Norwegian black metal bands, and he’s gonna invite the guys he thinks will have a sense of humor about it.

Anyway, I’m rambling so much, but it’s a super fun show, and it’s just—and the good thing about the show is—if you’re a fan of Norwegian black metal or just black metal in general you’ll enjoy it, but if you don’t know much about it you’ll still enjoy it. It’s more about the absurdity of these emails and there’s a lot of video. We do perform as the band at the end. We do a couple songs. It’s fun.

I think the cool thing about it, the emails and the show, it’s not about like, “Oh trolled this guy, and this guy is stupid.” It’s more about (how) the guy I was corresponding with is so patient with me the whole time. He comes off as a really nice guy and kind of schools me on black metal, you know in the end saying like, there’s more to life than black metal, so it’s a really interesting story and a super fun show, and it just keeps getting better and better, and I’m super pumped to be doing that at Sketchfest, and that’s the scoop on that.

SP: In Norway, would you be excited or nervous about the guy from Burzam—I’d botch the name so I won’t even say it—the guy from Burzam that killed the guy from Mayhem showing up?

DH: Oh yeah, Varg Vikernes. That guy’s bonkers, obviously.

SP: Yeah, he’s scary.

DH: <laughs> Yeah, he lives in France now. I’ll tell ya, I am a little nervous. There’s a band that’s on the label—that, you know, I was emailing—and I insulted the band over and over, even though at the time I had never even heard them. I just kept talking about how awesome Witch Taint was, and just insulted every other band, so I’d be mostly concerned with them showing up, mildly concerned that could happen and be a not-pleasant experience.

But maybe they could have a sense of humor about it, which I would hope they would, because it’s really not about making fun of anyone or anything. It’s more just complete silliness and about how this guy is so patient with me, this idiot, the whole time.

One of the funniest things I think is when people take things really seriously and are humorless about stuff. I think that’s just the funniest thing ever. And Norwegian black metal I think is a good example of that.

I think when people take themselves too seriously it’s really funny, and in these emails I’m taking myself super seriously, and this guy’s just putting up with what an idiot I am. But yeah, I am vaguely concerned we’ll be killed in Norway, but I’ve been there a bunch of times. I’ve done stand-up there a bunch of times. I’m a comedy act there, so I think we will be fine. It’s a great country.

SP: I really hope you don’t get killed and I’m sorry if I put that into your head.

DH: No, no, you know, if I got killed- I’ve had a nice life, that’s okay. (Laughter) Hopefully I won’t, but even if I did, I’ve had a lot of fun.

SP: Yeah. So on the subject of metalheads that take everything seriously, that it feels like you’ve sort of warmed the heart of, how did you connect with Phil Anselmo, and get him to do comedy?

DH: I met him through my friends Chris Lee and Sean Yseult, and Sean was the bass player in White Zombie. They live in New Orleans, but they’re in New York part time, and they started coming to my shows in New York. So we became friends, and at this point I had already been doing videos for Metal Injection, this website- like, the biggest metal website- and I would just kind of make fun of bands, and they would have me rate different bands and stuff- they would have me reacting to it, and I wasn’t even listening to the music, they would edit it together as if- I didn’t even listen to the stuff that I’m talking about, I just provided them with the insults they could put wherever they wanted.

SP: That’s hysterical.

DH: We did stuff like that a lot, but anyways they had sent those to Phil, and Chris and I had this idea, they said Phil’s a big comedy fan, so we had this idea to do the Metal Grasshopper series, where I was kind of his student, and he’s gonna school me on heavy metal. So I was down in New Orleans, and went over to Phil’s house, he and his now-wife, Kate, had kind of the metal Graceland, and they wanted to see how we’d get along, we hit it off right away. Phil’s got this public image of a really extreme guy, but in reality he’s just like a very sweet, goofy guy. He jokes around way more than I do, I’m far more serious. So that’s how we ended up doing that, and it was a lot of fun. It sort of exposed me to a whole new group of people, metalheads and stuff.

SP: Do you expect to do any more Metal Grasshopper?

DH: Maybe at some point. I would like to. I think it would be fun to do, I think he’s pretty busy with, you know, ten bands, and now I’m busy with my stuff, but hopefully at some point when the time is right, we can get back and do Metal Grasshopper part two.

SP: I would love for it to get to the point where you can be his new Dimebag (Darrell).

DH: (Laughs) I don’t know, I’m not good enough for that, I don’t think so.

SP: You’re a fine guitar player!

DH: Oh, thank you. But that’s next-level. Maybe if I just left the Wah pedal on, and put it on a delay, I could fool people during solos, but wow. Dimebag. He was superhuman. I have gotten up and played guitar with Superjoint Ritual and that’s always fun, just to get up and bash out some metal. Well those bands aren’t really metal, but you know.

SP: Yeah. Yeah, I know. I’m forgetting about Superjoint Ritual when I think of Phil Anselmo, because Superjoint Ritual is kind of comedy- there’s definitely a humorous element to that band.

DH: Yeah definitely. I think there’s quite a bit, and it’s very catchy, I think. In a way that people maybe don’t notice.

SP: Awesome. So keeping on metal, to go back to the black metal monologues a little bit, what do you consider to be the greatest black metal record of all time?

DH: That’s a tough question. The thing about black metal is that most of it’s horrible.

(everybody laughs)

SP: That’s true.

DH: I mean I definitely like some of it, but most of it’s really bad, so I would say- there are some great ones. I guess I would say the Mayhem album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, however you say it. Just because that’s a pretty iconic album. You have a lot going on, by the time it came out, the guy who played bass on it had murdered the guy who played guitar on it,and a lot of intense things going on. So probably that one, but in terms of what I actually listen to- I like Darkthrone, they keep doing stuff I think is compelling. I’ve hung out with Fenriz from Darkthrone a couple times, he’s a delightful fellow. It’s interesting, the one thing I’ve learned from getting to know metal musicians is they’re all the biggest music nerds you could imagine. Like they know every genre. Phil Anselmo can sing every Smiths song, you know Fenriz, the first time I met him, gave me a mixtape that was like, techno and film scores, and all this stuff (laughs). I find that anyone whose super intense with something, they’re like encyclopedic about it. I think that’s cool.

SP: Yeah, I do love the nerd-dom of metal. What was that band you just mentioned?

DH: Oh Darkthrone? That’s like one of the legendary bands, that keep making records and evolving. You know some of their records, to me, sound like the Ramones of black metal, really catchy stuff.

SP: I think I do have a Darkthrone record in my collection.

DH: Yeah they have a good logo, which is key. Very hard to read.

SP: Yeah if you can read a metal bands logo then they’re not actually metal.

DH: Yeah. That was a big debate with Witch Taint. The first Witch Taint shirt you couldn’t read the logo at all. I decided to cave in and make it more readable on the shirts but it was a big sellout move.

SP: I’m deeply offended.

DH: Yeah I’m not proud of it, but you gotta sell some t-shirts. I was learning that people wanted people to know that it said Witch Taint, so I added a breakdown.

SP: I am curious about something you used to do at Sketchfest that hasn’t happened in a couple of years. Specifically because the very last time I saw you do this, you ended up with Moby teaching you and Thao Nguyen how to play Purple Rain, which was amazing-

DH: Oh, yeah.

SP: So what’s up with the Dave Hill Explosion? Do you still do that? Is it gonna come back? It was so much fun.

DH: I haven’t done it in a while, it’s probably been three years since I’ve done it, but maybe I’ll get back to it in the new year. I’ve just done it a lot, it was almost one of the first things I was doing when I started doing comedy. There was a lot of moving parts, with guests and video and interview, stuff like that. But it is a fun show, I can see it coming back. I remember that show in particular, I forget where I read- you know, I should never read message boards, but someone was like- because the show was shambolic by design, especially when you bring Moby out, and there’s a snow machine. I think that was the one, right?

SP: Yes that was definitely the snow machine. I got in trouble for pulling out my camera to take a picture of it.

DH: (laughs) Yeah I think someone was offended by it, they thought it wasn’t slick enough, they thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. I always try to do my best, but I think they thought I wasn’t.

SP: It actually ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite shows, period.

DH: Oh thank you very much. That’s an honor to hear. Thank you. I would like to bring that back, maybe next year at Sketchfest I’ll do it again. That was always good because I could have musical guests- you know we had Moby and Thao (Nguyen) one year, we had Dick Cavett and Gordon Gano from Violent Femmes, that was actually the fun of doing that show, it really paired the last people you’d expect to see together. Snow machines, all that good stuff.

SP: Well that leads me to my last question- Dick Cavett is one of the most famous and best-regarded interviewers in television history, what’s it like interviewing him?

DH: It’s interesting, one of the things I really admire about him and one of the things I’ve always tried to do is see it not so much as an interview but as a conversation, and kind of let it go where it’s gonna go, and to do that with the guy that inspired me to want to try to do that is super fun but also really  intimidating. When I first met him- he turned 80 last year, so he must have been I guess in his early seventies when I first met him- I figured, oh this is an old showbiz guy, he’s probably got a handful of showbiz stories he just rattles off over and over again, I’ve known him for years now and have since become good friends with him, you know, hung out on many occasions. He’s never once repeated a story to me, and I repeat the same stories, you know, the same conversations sometimes, I’ll forget what I said twenty minutes ago. He even now at almost 81, he never repeats himself. Say if he were to tell you a story that he’d already told me, he’d first turn to me and say, “Dave, you already know this one-” He’s just the sharpest guy and just the smartest guy and the funniest guy, I can’t believe I know him, he’s just really- I wish there were many more people in the world like him, it’d be a much better place. But of course there can only be one. But he’s- I’m really looking forward to- I think it’s me, John Hodgman, and Lance Bangs, and I think that’ll be a really fun night too. Dick Cavett, he’s just the king, so.

SP: Yeah I’m really excited about that. It’s an impressive display of talent all on one stage. I’m excited. I’m excited to see you a bunch of times this year, and sadly I have to wrap this up because I need to get out of this room for the next person.

DH: Well thanks for talking to me.

SP: Thank you, and I guess I’ll see you next month.

DH: Yeah see you soon, be sure to say hello and we’ll grab a drink or something.

SP: Sounds good.

 

 

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