Katrina Del Mar

The Dictators’ Andy Shernoff: “Every Day You Make Music Is A Good Day”

A career that spans over four decades? Check. The ability to shift the world’s idea of what rock music would sound like? Check. Reuniting to release new music during a pandemic? Check. 

Not many bands can evolve with the times, alongside their bandmates, and within their music in a swift, but meaningful way. That is, unless you’re The Dictators. Since their start in the early seventies, the punk rockers have put creating superb, worthwhile music into the world. It didn’t matter what it sounded like, what box it was put in, or who listened to it as long as it resonated with fans. Unsurprisingly, it did – and it still does. Frontman Andy Shernoff is a musician to his core with a mantra, a creative process, and a deep-rooted love for being an artist. Alongside his bandmates, Ross Friedman and Albert Bouchard, he helped revive the beloved Big Apple group for another highly-anticipated, only slightly nostalgic installment of music, memories, and genuine rock and roll fun.

Your latest single is titled “Let’s Get The Band Back Together,” which is not only a wonderful sentiment in rock music, but perfectly autobiographical for The Dictators’ comeback. It’s not really a new song, though, right? Because I’m pretty sure the fan in me remembers quite the clever video for a previously released version of this a number of years ago.

Thank you for calling it clever. Yes, seven or eight years ago I recorded the song for a solo EP. I did. Then I made a video for it, which was a whole lot of fun, if anybody wants to check it out. When it came time to discuss what songs we were going to do for The Dictators this time, this was one of the songs at the end that did every well and fit our guys. We cranked up the energy a bit and Ross did some ripping solos and then we had a new Dictators single. We’re very happy with it, so thank you for mentioning it.

No problem! I just knew I had heard it somewhere before, but this one is definitely a little bit more of an electric version. You mentioned that you talked to the guys about getting this song together and this was brought to the table. Did you always want to make it a single or did it just make a lot of sense to do because of the sentiment being so relevant?

No. We put out a song in January called “God Damn New York.” We talked about this song until we actually started talking about getting back together in January of 2020. Then of course, February began the pandemic and it sort of stalled our plans until June of 2020. Things opened up and we were allowed to do some socially distant recording, which we did in a studio. We recorded four songs in one day – guitar, bass and drums – and kept it from June through November. We overdubbed, started putting vocals down, and just got these songs together. Of course everybody’s doing it in their own home studio, which is a very…. Let me put it this way, if you’re in a studio with somebody and you get an idea, it takes 10 minutes to communicate the idea and get the idea the way you would like to have it. When you’re doing it through trading files over the internet, that’ll take a week g because it just is a very slow process. We had a time on our hands, obviously, and we used that. We recorded four songs and the first of them dropped in January. Then we decided, “Let’s just put out “Let’s Get The Band Back Together,’ too.” You know, we can’t really play live, but we’re working on just moving the band forward and letting people know that we exist again. We’re pretty happy that we have these projects to keep us busy and keep up rocking.

I’m so glad to hear that and am even more excited to hear what comes next. Now, clearly the past year or so has been beyond chaotic for many, like you mentioned. What did it mean to you to have music in your corner and the ability to create art on your side throughout this time?

Well, I always say this, my mantra: every day you make music is a good day. I can be all by myself working on a song or I can be just playing the piano or showing off on the guitar. I’m a pretty happy camper, though, and if I do it with somebody else, it’s even better. If I could do it on a stage in front of people, even better than that. It’s just the act of making music is something that makes me happy and I know it was made for us all to do. We have literally hundreds of records under our belt. 

I don’t know if you’re aware, but before we started the project, the other Dictator, Scott Kempner, found out he had a medical problem. He was diagnosed late last year with early stage dementia, which is very, very sad. He thought he had to leave the project. He’s okay, but he couldn’t continue. It’s ironic because he was one of the guys who really wanted this project to kick off once the band got back together, so the fact that he can enjoy the fruits of it is ironic. Over the next month or so we expect to replace him with a new member and we’ll announce that as soon as we have finalized a person. We miss him, though.

I remember reading about that and it was quite the kick in the gut. I can only imagine how it felt for all of you with all this coming up.

It was very confusing because we didn’t know what to do. His family didn’t want people to know yet and we weren’t sure what he had or what the condition was at first, but then eventually it came to a time where it was decided he’s better off in his house. He can’t be out playing or performing – he’s going to make mistakes and get confused about things. It’s a very unfortunate situation, because this is a guy I’ve known for 50 years. He was sharp as a tack, a great writer, a great musician, and made many, many records on his own. The fact that we had to move on without him was something heartbreaking. We didn’t want to and we held off as long as possible, but his family wanted him to not be involved in music anymore. They thought it was better for him, so we honor their wishes and we will continue. That’s all we can do.

Of course. I can only wish the best for him, his family, and all of you. Even right now with the three of you Dictators performing, there’s such a bond that can be felt. Just as a fan of watching through a screen, you can really tell how you guys work together in such a powerful way when you bring all these instruments and all this writing together. How important is it for you to have such talented and equally as exuberant performers to work alongside?

Oh, I couldn’t without them. I think the fact that we did two rehearsals in Albert’s living room and then we went into a studio and recorded four songs is a testament to how well we communicate and how easy we work together. We’ve all known each other before. We’ve known Albert since 1974, maybe ‘75. We shared a manager, producer. I worked with Albert because of so many projects and so many times he’s been a good buddy. Roy has worked with Albert many times, too. It’s been a real pleasure since day one. Everybody’s been really great. We’re really creative. Everybody knows what to do. It’s not like a new band or people’s egos are new and sensitive. It’s just our thing and it’s still been a joy.

I feel like you guys are just naturally doing what comes out of you as artists and, with that, it’s working so flawlessly.

I appreciate that. That’s really sweet of you to say, because that’s the way we feel. The fact that you can get that just off the videos, because you don’t know us personally, is wonderful. I guess you see the smiles on our faces as we do these inexpensive videos. I’m glad that we could communicate that.

For sure, and just the music video for the Dictators’ take on “Let’s Get The Band Back Together” is the greatest blend of modernity, with you guys in your element playing alongside one another, while still being quite nostalgic with the flashes of decades-old news-clippings and headlines from the birth of this band’s career. How did this video come about? And what was it like piecing it together?

Well, I had a friend of mine, Jeffrey, do it because he does most of my videos and is a very good buddy of mine. I usually say to him, “Hey, here’s the song, what do you think?” And he says, “What if we…?” And then this time that was followed with “include some clips of the band’s old flyers and posters within the footage?” We had some footage from when we recorded that one day we went into the studio. We recorded footage just for the hell of it and luckily we’re using it. We used some of those scenes along with the clips that I pulled out of my archives. I scanned stuff and I photographed stuff and I gave it to him and he put it together. Then we said, “Hey, you know what? We need some more footage,” so we did a little more filming at the end in the living room, but it was really Jeffrey’s concept to go back and see all the old posters and stuff. It was a lot of fun because I have some pretty extensive archives here.

I can only imagine. The extent of your career has been so mesmerizing to watch, but of course, I’m thinking about things like “God Damn New York” and how the Big Apple has played such a role in your career. Can you describe just how important this city has been in the way you all approach making, performing and releasing music?

Well, I’ve written a bunch of songs about New York in the past. I was born and raised in New York city. However, as I’m now in my sixties, me and my wife moved to upstate to the Hudson Valley. This song was kind of a love/hate song about New York on how it’s changed and why I left – but I leave it on a positive note! I see problems in New York. I say, “Someday, you’re going to recover,” so I leave it on a positive note. I do believe even though there are a lot of issues in New York City now it’s going to come back as it was. I use New York City as the site of a lot of where my songs take place. I probably have a dozen songs about New York City.

Photo by: Katrina Del Mar

It’s been a wonderful backdrop, I am a fan just because of being from the area, too, so I can pinpoint these little stories personally and in such a fun, engaging way. 

Well, you know, I got that from Brian Wilson who used to write about L.A. and Ray Davies, who used to write about England and London. They would use actual places. That’s where I got that from, because when I was a kid, these guys were my heroes as songwriters. They were my mentors. They write songs like this, about their hometown and being around their own town. That’s kind of how the idea came about: just listening to my idols and my city.

“God Damn New York” also marked quite the beginning of 2021 for you all. I have to say bravo, because this song is wonderfully mixed, sonically mesmerizing, and genuinely rocking. It’s punchy without being in your face, which I think is a large part of who you are: truly punk rock while still making it fun, harmonious, professional and catchy. Anyway, that being said, when creating songs like these, in 2021 or 1975, where are you seeking influence? Is it your personal interests and what you’re all listening to, is it the songs you grew up with? Is it simply the world around you?

We all have that kind of vision of what The Dictators are, just because we’re doing it for 40 something years. It is a hard rock band, some guitars, aggressive music, but sarcastic without lyrics that are depressing. We don’t do depressing songs. We are a bit upbeat. That’s the formula that we’ve been following now. We’re going to add a new member and we’re going to record more stuff, so who knows what’s going to happen a year from now as we play. But I think, you know, we’ve always been influenced by Alice Cooper, Slade from England in the seventies. That’s kind of what we’re trying to do, while still being ourselves. That’s not what many bands are really doing right now, too, so even though we’re not doing anything brand new, I think we have got our own little niche now. There are some bands that do it, but there aren’t that many bands that are doing this kind of rock and roll today. We’ll see how it goes, because even though we’ve been doing this for a year as a band again, it’s still kind of new to us in this day and age.

You’re completely right. That’s how I’m viewing it, too, but I feel like The Dictators did shape what rock music could sound like. It could be poppy, it could be upbeat, it could be a little metal. It could also be harsh or fun. It could be anything it wanted, or still wants to be, because it has such driven and culturally sound musicians behind it. That’s how I always saw it. You guys were so dedicated to making music and wanted to make the music that you could listen to, but so could a wide variety of fans.

Well, I think you’ve already articulated accurately and very passionately about our band. I appreciate it. You should put that in the article, because you might have expressed it better than I do. In a way that’s true, one thing is that we work for everyone. We have our foot in punk rock and hard rock, also a little bit of metal, a little bit of pop, a little bit of surf music, a little bit of garage. Some bands, like The Ramones, it’s one dimensional sounding. That’s critical, but The Ramones are my favorite band of all time, and I can say that they kind of focused on punk. It’s easy to define and easy to market. We are a little more difficult. We covered a lot of ground, but you have got to be true to yourself as an artist, too. We’re all pretty happy with the way things have gone in our lives and our careers. I think we’re in a good place, too, and we’re looking forward to making more music in the future. It’s just really been great for all of us – always.