Spazz had a big impact on my musical life in the '90s. Not only did they influence one of my previous bands, Black Army Jacket, but I also became close friends with Spazz's guitarist, Dan Lactose. Many years later, we would work together in Deny the Cross, a grindy affair that released an album in 2016. Spazz's bassist/vocalist was Chris Dodge, a walking punk encyclopedia that also ran the seminal hardcore label, Slap A Ham. The one-man operation released records by such underground acts as Despise You, No Comment, and Crossed Out, just a few of the many bands Chris worked with that helped inspire countless other groups since the '90s.
As a musician, Chris has also played in Infest, Low Threat Profile, To the Point, and many other bands. Currently, he's in Trappist, a power trio that recently joined the Relapse Records family. You can also hear him on Hour of the Barbarian, a podcast he hosts along with his Trappist bandmates: Phil Vera and Ryan Harkins.
I recently met up with Chris at a restaurant near my house to chat about his life in music and man, there was a lot to cover! We were there for over two hours, and we hadn't even reached the 2000s yet, so I decided to keep the interview coverage to his life up to the Spazz split up in 2000. I'll meet up with him again sometime this year and pick up where we left off, but for now, enjoy this nerd-out with one of the nicest guys in the hardcore scene.
Are you a Bay Area native?
I was born in Tacoma, WA and my family moved to Sunnyvale, CA when I was three. So, I guess I’m basically from the Bay Area.
Sunnyvale is so closely associated with the tech industry, but was it like that already in the early ‘70s?
You know, it was, because my mom actually worked for a computer company, which I can’t remember the name of, but it was definitely computers. My dad moved us down there because he worked in public safety and there was a job opportunity for him there.
What kind of music were they playing at home when you were a kid?
My parents were the opposite of hippies. A lot of the music they listened to was so fucking nerdy [laughs]. If you think of that era in the ‘70s, it was definitely nerdy. I remember one of the first things I heard them play was The Association [laughs]. That’s how geeky they were. My dad did end up listening to some cool stuff later in the ‘70s like George Benson and Steely Dan, which I love.
I’ve had this conversation on the site before, but since you grew up in the late ‘70s, I have to ask if KISS was as big for you as they were for me?
Oh, totally! I saw them on the 1976 Paul Lynde Halloween Special. I would have been seven at the time. The musical guest was KISS and I thought they were so cool. Shortly after that, I remember going to this chain store called the Record Factory with my parents and they said I could pick out one record to buy. So, I went to the KISS section and was like, “Wow!” Anyway, I remember looking at the KISS Alive! album and my mom walking up behind me and going, “Ooooh… KISS! You don’t like them, do you?” Of course, being seven, I was like, “No way!” I ended up getting a Donnie and Marie album instead [laughs]. They basically shamed me into doing that [laughs]. But I eventually ended up getting the records and I was obsessed with KISS.
What was the first punk stuff you listened to?
Strangely enough, it was really early on because of a friend’s way older brother-in-law. I was exposed to it earlier than most kids probably are because of that. That was probably about 1980 or so. I had been friends with this kid Steve [Papoutsis] since kindergarten and he’s the guy I would eventually start No Use for a Name with years later. Anyway, he had an older sister who was married with a guy who was into all the early punk stuff, and when Steve would come back from their house, he would bring back different records.
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What kind of stuff?
It started out with bands like The Rezillos, The Dickies, The Cramps… let’s see… he had the Misfits “Bullet” 7”. I remember when I heard the Dickies 7” with “Paranoid” on one side and the other side had the songs “You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla)” and “Hideous.” Well, when I heard the song “Hideous,” and that drum intro, I remember thinking, “Oh my god, this is the fastest song I ever heard!” [Laughs] I would listen to that record on repeat for hours. Around that time I had already been into stuff like AC/DC and Van Halen, so I was on my way to the heavier stuff.
When did you start playing in bands?
I guess my first real band would have been in high school. Early on, because Steve and I were always hanging out and being into punk, we wanted to start a band, but who starts a punk band in fifth grade? So, over the coming years, his parents got him a bass and eventually learned how to play this little two-note riffs. “Wow! That is so cool!” [Laughs] We would set up a recorder and take turns switching between the bass and improvising lyrics.
What did you end up calling the band?
We were called Angry White Boys [laughs]. The band name was his idea. It was like, “We’re angry and we’re white, so we should call ourselves that!” After that, another friend of our’s from school, Rory [Koff], played drums, so we would get together at his house and jam. The three of us would record these shitty songs on a boom box. That ended up becoming No Use for a Name around 1986 or so.
The version of No Use for a Name that everyone knows had guitarist/vocalist Tony Sly in the lineup, but this was before that.
Right, he didn’t come into the band till later. Before No Use for a Name, Tony had been in a band called Anxiety from our area. I had also gotten to know the guys from Stikky during that time. We would go see Anxiety practice all the time. By then, No Use for a Name was practicing at Rory’s dad’s warehouse.
No Use for a Name would become synonymous with the so-called “Fat Wreck sound," which was fast and melodic, like Bad Religion. Again, that didn’t happen till later.
Exactly. When we started the band, we were going for a Black Flag kind of thing. I guess it was like a mix between Black Flag and generic thrash in the early days of the band. No Use for a Name didn’t find its proper identity till years later.
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Did you play with any notable bands during those early No Use for a Name days?
Yeah, well, by then,  Gilman Street had started get going already. One of the very first shows I remember playing was supposed to be with Flag of Democracy, but something happened and they couldn't do it, so Adrenalin O.D. ended up dong it. I think The Beatnigs also played, so that was pretty solid. Around that time, I ended up joining Stikky, which I enjoyed much more. I quit No Use for a Name after that.
But you ended up coming back to No Use for a Name.
[Laughs] Yeah, I would always end up coming back by default when someone would quit. Whenever they had something going on, they would hit me up. "We have a show coming up in a week and so and so quit... can you do it?" That's how I ended up staying for an extended period the second time around. Tony was playing guitar at the time, and I was doing lead vocals. They eventually figured out that Tony sang really well, and he wrote really good songs, so they figured why shouldn't he be the singer. He's the one that brought in that melodic influence into No Use for a Name. One of his favorite bands was Squeeze. I also remember he was really into the Police. For the more punk stuff, he was very into Bad Religion and Down by Law, that Epitaph kind of stuff.
Since you loved playing in Stikky, why didn't that end up lasting longer?
Stikky never broke up, we just kind of stopped playing. I ended up moving to San Francisco and that was an hour away from the Stikky guys. We played some shows, but that was what ended up breaking the band up. We were all out of high school and working full-time jobs by then. So, yeah, that's what happened with Stikky.
That brings us to Slap A Ham Records. What inspired you to start doing the label in the first place?
I started the label in 1989. I had wanted to start it a couple of years before that, but I just didn't know how to. At the time, I would buy most records based on reviews I would read in Maximum Rocknroll. If the review would say something like, "This 7" is fast and has nine songs on it," I would buy it [laughs]. I spent all of my money on as many fast records as I could find. I wanted to do a label that put out that kind of stuff.
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Where did the name Slap A Ham come from anyway? Does it mean what I think it means?
[Laughs] It's a euphamism for jerking off, yeah. My friend Walter [Glaser] used to write for Maximum Rocknroll and he was a total goofball. He would spout off these silly sayings all the time. He would say stuff like, "toss your salad" and "slap your ham." It was all just infantile humor that we would laugh at. I had been talking about wanting to start my own label, and since I was friends with David Hayes [Lookout! Records], he was putting out that The Thing That Ate Floyd compilation and it had a booklet with it. So, he said that since I wanted to start a label, he would put an ad for it in the booklet. He needed it right away. I didn't have a name for the label yet, but it was a free ad, so I went with Slap A Ham as an almost knee-jerk reaction [laughs]. I also thought since I was really into harsh hardcore, I was thinking that it would be funny to get the most brutal bands in the world to be like, "I wanna be on Slap A Ham!" [Laughs] You know, instead of something like "Desecrated Corpse Recordings."
The first Slap A Ham release was the Infest/PHC split flexi, a classic in certain circles. How did you find out about Infest in the first place? Were you into tape trading in addition to getting all of the records you were finding?
Oh, absolutely. I remember trading live recordings and demos with people from all over the world. You would look at people's demo lists and trade with them. I still have like over a thousand cassettes from that time. Practice sessions, live stuff, everything. With Infest, I got their demo through Walter, that writer from Maximum Rocknroll. He reviewed most of the hardcore stuff. For a while there, he was the "tape guy" over there. I think I had met him because another band I had played in called Legion of Doom had made a demo in 1986 and he reviewed it. We got to be friends and he would have grocery bags full of demos from Maximum Rocknroll, and he gave me a lot of the stuff he didn't want. That's how I got the No Comment and Infest demos. Then I got to see Infest at Gilman once and obviously being blown away. It's funny, but [Infest guitarist] Matt [Domino] and I have talked about this, but I don't remember when we first met.
Once Slap A Ham was going during that early era with records from Infest, Melvins, and Capitalist Casualties, were you itching to get back into a band?
Yeah, I wanted to play in a fast hardcore band, but I didn't have any options. There wasn't anyone around that I could start something with. The people I knew at the time that played instruments were into stuff like Fuel, Fugazi, or whatever. It felt like it was either pop-punk or emo during that time in the Bay. Hardcore wasn't cool anymore. Going back to the label, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to put out all of these fast hardcore bands I loved because no one else would help them out. I couldn't understand why no other label would do it.
When do you think Slap A Ham cemented its reputation as the home of power violence?
I guess around the time of the Capitalist Casualties 7". Before that, I had released the Bllleeeeaaauuurrrrgghhh! - The Record compilation. For that one, I just wanted to see how many extreme bands I could fit on a record because by then I was writing reviews for Maximum Rocknroll and I got all the fast stuff. That was the prime time for that kind of stuff because labels like Earache and Relapse were just starting out. As soon as I would give someone a good review, they would write to thank me and send me their new stuff. That's how it all mushroomed for the label because I was looked at as the "extreme music guy" at the zine and I was fortunate to get all this music that I normally wouldn't have had access to. It helped me connect with so many bands from around the world. Eyehategod, Anal Cunt, Rupture... you know, just connnecting with people that loved this kind of music.
I know you've been asked this before, but since I wanted this to be a trivia-filled interview, how did "power violence" become the go-to name for that sound?
That was a whole West Coast thing that originated with the label's fourth release, the Neanderthal Fighting Music record. It was Matt from Infest and Eric Wood from PHC. They described the record as "power violence." Matt came up with the phrase and that eventually ended up describing this group of friends from California that were all like-minded individuals. We were all into fast hardcore and didn't like all of the emo and pop-punk stuff that was happening at the time. Labels like Jade Tree and Lookout! Records were the cool thing back then. The power violence people still loved the fast shit. But if you look back at the original power violence bands, none of them sounded alike. I loved that.
You came back to No Use for a Name during that time.
The Bay Area was ground zero for all the pop-punk stuff through Lookout! Records and Green Day, but I wanted to play fast hardcore. I eventually met the guys in Plutocracy, who were all younger than I was, but they obviously already had a band together. Around that time, I ended up in No Use for a Name for a third time [laughs]. I just wanted to play, even though it wasn't ideally the kind of music I wanted to do. They had just come back from Europe and were doing cool stuff, so I joined on second guitar for another couple of years. After that, it was 1992, the band was going into that Bad Religion direction, which I liked, but it wasn't my passion. So I quit for the final time. Years later, I ended up working at Fat Wreck Chords, No Use For a Name's label, so I couldn't get away from them [laughs]. But of course, when people finally fell in love with the band, I wasn't it anymore [laughs]. I was so happy for them when that happened. Tony matured into the great songwriter he was always supposed to be.
What happened next for you?
[Future owner of the label Prank] Ken Sanderson had moved to the Bay and started working at Maximum Rocknroll. He was also booking shows at Gilman and Assuck was coming around. He said that if I could get some of the bands from my label to also play the show, it could be like a showcase kind of thing. I loved the idea and hit up all the California bands and that ended up becoming the first Fiesta Grande. That was January of 1993. Man Is the Bastard came up. Crossed Out. Plutocracy was on it. Capitalist Casualties played. No Comment. It was supposed to be No Comment's unannounced last show, but after that one went so well, they kept playing for a few years. I pretty much tapped into every band that could play that bill during that time [laughs].
That's around the time Spazz got going, right?
Yes, I met this guy Dennis who did a zine and there was a Plutocracy interview with [Plutocracy drummer, and future Spazz member] Max [Ward] was talking about jamming with [future Spazz guitarist] Dan [Lactose] on some short and fast hardcore kind of stuff. I don't remember if he used the term "power violence" to describe it or not, but I was intrigued because he also mentioned not having a bassist yet. Anyway, I contacted him and they had written 10 songs already, so they sent me the cassette and I thought to myself, "These songs are really easy, I could do this." But the songs were great! I think we practiced once and then recorded, which that ended up becoming the first Spazz 7".
That's the Spazz record with the long-faced guy on the cover.
Yes, exactly. We had just started out and didn't really have much of a direction yet, so we went with the whole freaks thing. I had this research book and it had all these crazy photos in it. That's where that came from. I also got that split penis thing for the Neanderthal record from the same book [laughs].
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The first Spazz album, Dwarf Jester Rising, came out in 1994, two years after the band started. By then, the attitude and unique lyrical direction of Spazz was coming together in a clear way. It was a blend of strange pop culture, TV/film, skating, music, and other obscure references all thrown into the mix. No one else was doing that back then. Who would you credit for that aspect of Spazz?
It was really a combination of all three of us. Max and Dan wrote all of the material on the first 7", so if you look at the lyrics on that, they were more serious. I think I brought in the element of randomness and humor. The skating, Hong Kong film references, and hip-hop definitely came from those two guys. But, yeah, we all kind of morphed in together. I think we consciously didn't want to just write about the same kind of stuff that other bands like us were writing about. How many times can you write a song about how much cops suck? That's where we were coming from. Discharge is one of my favorite bands of all time, but I wasn't going to write a better politcal song than them [laughs]. We just wanted to do something different with Spazz. It wasn't intentional, but I think that's why it appealed to so many different kinds of people.
Once the album was out, was Spazz drawing well up in the Bay?
I don't think of us as ever being really that popular. We were a decent draw in later years. When we did the final show, there was a massive line of people outside Gilman.
Who would you have considered your musical peers, on a local level, back then?
It would have been Capitalist Casualties, for sure. A couple of years in, a lot of newer bands started to come out, especially in the Redwood City area. Bands like Agents of Satan came out of there. There was a lot more stuff coming up around 1995 or so. I think that's because more records were getting out into the world that were influencing people.
How were you funding Slap A Ham? What kind of day job did you have?
I was funding it record to record. I would wait for the money from one record to come in from the distributor, and that would pay for the next one. Early on, I got my first job in the post-production world at a place called Monaco Film and Video in San Francisco. It was half video and half film lab. I started out as a tape op, but I also learned how to be a colorist there. Throughout the '90s, I worked at other labels during the day while also running Slap A Ham. I worked at Alternative Tentacles for three years. I worked at Fat Wreck for three years. It was a good place to be at the time because I was more in the mix with people who were working in the industry. I would ask people how to do stuff for the label. John Yates [Allied Recordings] and David Hayes were both a big help to me.
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In terms of the financial side of running Slap A Ham, did you lose your shirt on any of the earlier releases?
They were all pretty slow, but they were also low pressings. In general, I would say they were all around 1,000-2,000 copies pressed for each release. Nothing crazy. But like I said before, I would wait for the sales money from the previous release to fund the next one. There were a lot of things I wanted to do but couldn't because of that reason.
Who are some of the bands you wanted to release records on Slap A Ham Records with but didn't get a chance to?
There were a lot of things I had to pass up because of money. It would be like, "I love your band, but I already committed to two other bands, so I can't afford to do your's right now." I want to say that at one point Lee Dorrian asked me to put out a Cathedral record. I had been in touch with him when he was starting his label [Rise Above Records], so that's how that happened. He wanted to do a 7" on Slap A Ham, but I think at that time, I wasn't into doing something like that, musically.
Though Spazz would end up touring, you guys didn't get out on the road much. Was that a collective decision, or was there frustration about it within the group?
I'm not sure. We did that one big US tour in 1997, yeah. Unless I was oblivious to it—which is very possible—I think we were all on the same page about not touring. We were all in agreement that we didn't want to go out till it was justified, that there was a reason for it. We didn't want to be one of those bands where you would tour just because you had a release out there. I wanted to tour when I knew people were going to show up. Our whole thing was that we were constantly writing songs, and we would record them even though we didn't have a specific release in mind, especially earlier on. That's also why we tried to put records on as many labels as possible. We just wanted to get our music out to as many people as we possibly could.
Spazz released countless splits throughout its existence. Which one is your favorite?
For some reason, I would say it's the Toast split that came out on HG Fact. There's something about that session that was really fierce and I really enjoy. The first two songs on that one ("Crocket" and "One Ghetto to the Next") have always been a couple of my favorite Spazz songs. That was also the first recording we did with Tom Trainwreck, and there's something about that session that clicked.
The one Spazz split that has always stuck out to me was the one you did with 25 ta Life. How the hell did that come about?
[Laughs] Yeah, I loved that. People bring that one up to me all the time. I'm not even sure how it happened. I know that Rick [Healey] from 25 ta Life was one of the guys who would buy all of the Slap A Ham stuff early on when I was still doing the mailorder myself. Some of these guys in the scene were like me where they had to get everything. Rick was one of those guys. He would buy every Slap A Ham release when it came out. Will [Rahmer] from Mortician was another early Slap A Ham supporter. He bought everything on the label. But Max might have put together the 25 ta Life split because they had come to play in the Bay at some point in the late '90s and they talked about it. At least, I think that's how it happened. But I remember being like, "Yeah, we gotta do it." [Laughs] It was like, their fans weren't going to get Spazz, and Spazz fans weren't going to get 25 ta Life. It was perfect [laughs].
That's amazing! I had always wondered about the Spazz/25 ta Life connection.
That reminds me, for a while there, we had talked about doing a Spazz split with J Church. We were friends with [J Church singer/guitarist] Lance [Hahn] for years and we wanted to do it for that whole opposites reason. It's the same reason why we did that split with Floor. They were so different from Spazz. I wanted our side to have 5-6 songs, while their side had one long one [laughs]. It was fun doing that kind of stuff with the splits.
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I first met you guys around 1996 or so, when Black Army Jacket first came out to the Bay Area. I remember thinking how different you seemed from Dan and Max. How would you describe that relationship?
I remember that trip. I took you guys to eat at the Sausage Factory in San Francisco [laughs]. Well, I was definitely living a completely different lifestyle from the other two guys at the time. I think we rarely hang out when we weren't doing the Spazz stuff. But we would practice a lot. That's how we connected. If it weren't for Spazz, no, we probably wouldn't have hung out. I think the weird combo of personalities is one of the reasons why it worked so well. Like we were talking about before with the lyrics and the crazy combination of pop culture, kung-fu, and hip-hop references, that randomness worked because of our different personalities and what we brought to the table.
At the heigh of Spazz's popularity, were you guys approached by any bigger labels to sign on?
Yes, Relapse Records hit us up. I think we didn't really want to go up to that scale of things. The contract thing and all that. It was also our own perception of our own band was that we weren't part of that scene. We always loved those bands and that label, but that's not our thing. Actually, we were gonna do a 7" with Relapse, but it never happened. It was one of those things where we over-obligated ourselves to too many labels and bands for splits. I also think that we were worried that a lot of people who liked Spazz wouldn't be happy about us doing something on a bigger label like Relapse. We were afraid of a backlash, especially at that time in the '90s with the whole stigma of being on a "corporate label," even though Relapse definitely wasn't [laughs].
Of all the Slap A Ham releases, which one would be your favorite?
No Comment. That's easy. For me, I have a lot of favorites from the label, but there's something about that No Comment record that just captures everything that I love about hardcore. You know, the urgency, that raw and powerful anger that I have always loved about hardcore. For me, that No Comment record is what D.R.I. should have turned into after that Dirty Rotten EP. To this day, that's one of the all-time greatest recordings in hardcore, and it's for that very reason I love the No Comment record. It's not metal, it's raw, even though there's metal in it. The very first song on that D.R.I. record ("Sad to Be") has a solo in it, but at the same time, it's one of the most hardcore records of all time.
On the flip slide of things, what would you consider the most underrated Slap A Ham release?
For a while there, it probably would have been a tie between Gasp [Drome Triler of Puzzle Zoo People] and Burning Witch [Towers...], but everyone loves Burning Witch now. At the time, much like many of those Slap A Ham releases, that Burning Witch record wasn't that popular [laughs]. So, I guess I have to go with the Gasp album. That one was such a sleeper. That's the one that over the years comes up the most from people I meet. It never sold that great, but the people who got it, really got it.
What was the best selling Slap A Ham release?
[Thinks for a moment] Probably the Spazz Crush Kill Destroy album because that still sells on [Max from Spazz's label] 625 and Scotty from Tankcrimes will be repressing it on CD with the original art. I think he might be doing cassettes as well. I probably ended up pressing around 4,000 to 5,000 copies of that Spazz album, and for me that was a big seller, which is kind of sad when you think about it [laughs]. I know that the Spazz La Revancha album sold just shy of 10,000 copies for Sound Pollution.
Why did Spazz break up?
Because I moved. Our last show was in December 2000. I moved to Los Angeles in April of 2001. It was actually a really good time for it to happen. I think it all worked out great because I really felt that if we had kept going at that time, we were on the verge of being around too long. We had put out so many releases and it wasn't like we were going to stylistically change what we were doing or anything. [Laughs] "Bring in the string section..." I felt like if we had kept doing the band, we would have done the same record over and over again. At that point, the scene was kind of dying out anyway.
This is where the interview concluded. I told Chris that since we covered so much ground, we should pick up the conversation at a later date and cover everything he's done musically since moving to Los Angeles. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, check out Trappist on Facebook, and listen to Chris on his Hour of the Barbarian podcast.
Tagged: chris dodge, infest, no use for a name, slap a ham records, spazz