Courtesy of Dog Eat Dog

Dog Eat Dog Play by Their Own Rules

Not only do they play by their own rules, but they also stay positive and create great music – music that includes today’s new album release.

Originally hailing from Bergen County, the hardcore punk and metal band Dog Eat Dog is now spread throughout several states and countries. Isn’t that a logistical nightmare? Dog Eat Dog scoff at the notion. Do they record by sending digital files to each other from across the ocean? Pfft – the band convened in Prague to bring Free Radicals, their first full-length album in 17 years, to life. Releasing today, October 20, Free Radicals is the crowning achievement of Dog Eat Dog’s career to date; a versatile, superb effort that sits atop an already distinguished discography.

The band features singer and founding member John Connor’s rhythmic, authentic vocals, fellow original member Dave Neabore’s consummate, groove-laden bass, and guitarist Roger Haemmerli’s undeniably infectious chord progressions and riffs. Drummer Brandon Finley’s both steady and inventive work builds a solid yet spontaneous foundation. Sax player Bozez brings a funk element that augments the band’s sound.

Dog Eat Dog began the Free Radicals proceedings with “Lit Up,” a buoyant number that shows the band locked in from the first note. “Kin,” “E1on1,” and “Never Give In” are anthemic, fist pumping declarations of unity, while “Time Won’t Wait” delivers an urgent message to live life to the fullest. Album high point “1Thing” features waves of layers and changing dynamics, further spotlighting the album’s diverse offerings. Haemmerli drops mellow, creative notes and Neabore shines with bass work that deftly weaves within and outside the pocket. Connor is at his most emotive and Finley impresses with flexible drum work.

Free Radicals also features the aggressive “BLVK CLVD” and the powerful vibes of “Looking Back” and “Man’s Best Friend.” The disc concludes with “Zamboni,” an excellent change of pace lifted by inspiring female vocalists.  

Dog Eat Dog released its debut album, All Boro Kings, in 1994. The band immediately broke huge in Europe, flooding the MTV airwaves and receiving heavy radio rotation. In 1995, Dog Eat Dog took home the MTV Breakthrough Artist Award, easily besting Alanis Morrissette, Weezer, and others in the viewer’s choice program. The band remains highly popular on the continent today, regularly playing the summer festival circuit and headlines club shows. They head across the sea next week for a four-week run that brings them to Germany, Poland, Belgium, and seven other European countries.

To be sure that Dog Eat Dog retains a loyal, long-time American following, though, touring the States is important, and although it happens here less frequently now, they are still known for exuberant, vigorous live shows that celebrate the band’s music. They remain connected to their US fans, especially those in their native Jersey. Neabore, Connor, and Sean Kilkenny formed Dog Eat Dog. Neabore and Kilkenny were members of Bergenfield hardcore/thrash heroes Mucky Pup, while Connor was a vocalist for several area bands and served as a Mucky Pup crew member. Dan Nastasi was also an original band member. His new band, Kings Never Die, will be the support act on the upcoming Dog Eat Dog tour. 

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Neabore.

Let’s start with the album title. What is a ‘free radical’ and how was it a perfect fit for the record?

Free Radicals was John’s idea and he was really adamant about using that title. It’s a medical term, but we’re using it as a double meaning. It’s these kinds of cells, but it’s also like when we were younger skateboard punks. We are setting ourselves free and going back to the original way of Dog Eat Dog so that we can do whatever we want. We don’t follow rules the way other people do.

Free Radicals showcases several lyrical and musical themes. There are the upbeat rhymes of rhythms of “Lit Up,” the call for unity on “Never Give In,” the aggressiveness of ‘Blvk Clvd,” and the mellower tunes like “1 Thing” and “Zamboni.” How do you see Free Radicals?

Lyrically, it’s overall a very positive record. John had a lot to say on this record. There are themes of what Dog Eat Dog is all about – we have each other’s backs, we support each other. It ends feeling good (“Zamboni”). When we arrive at a club or a festival, we’re the happy party guys who walk in with a smile.

Tell us about your fellow Dog Eat Dog band members.

John, our lead vocalist, and I have been friends since the mid eighties and we are the two remaining original members. He’s living down in Virginia these days. Our drummer Brandon is from Silver Spring, Maryland. He is a funk and go-go drummer at heart, so he brings a different approach to hardcore drumming. Our new guitar player, Roger, from Zurich, Switzerland, and has really been in the band since 2009. He is an amazing musician in his own right. Our last EP, Brand New Breed, was the first time we had worked in the studio with him and the process was very smooth. Finally, our beer-loving sax player Bozez is from Prague and he’s been with us since 2017. 

You must get asked, for logistical reasons, why the band is not solely based in America.

Over the years we have spread out and replaced guys who have left. We want the best person for the role in the band and it just so happened that two guys were from Europe. Since we play almost exclusively in Europe it actually saves money not having to pay for international flights for two band members.

Do you have any favorite moments on Free Radicals so far?

We started this album five years ago and the recording and mixing process took six months – just to mix this record! So, you can imagine right now I don’t want to hear this record ever again [Laughs]. It was just so intense. 

I am very proud of “Lit Up,” and that’s why it’s first on the album. I think that song came with an awesome energy. That song really grew into a kind of new theme. “Kin,” the second song, it’s an oddball song. It goes into a cool harmony vocal. There’s like a whole new song in the middle.  

“Never Give In” is one of my musical contributions. It’s got the gang vocals and the horns that sound like the old Dog Eat Dog records. 

“Mean Str,” featuring Rudeboy from Urban Dance Squad, is almost a dark and creepy sounding heavy metal song. 

“Bar Down” was a real experiment and very somber. Not sad but melancholy.

“Zamboni” was the song that originally, I was not into. I felt it had no place on this record. Then we ended up using female vocals and the song just came alive for me. Now you’ve got this kind of love song and it finishes the album with a good feeling.

As a bassist, how do you see your role in the band?

I have been doing this for so long that I don’t know how I do things anymore. There’ll be times when I add a bass line to the guitar. As you create the song you can change things. I’ll say, “How do you guys like it if I play it this way?” They’ll say, “Do whatever you want.” When I recorded my bass in the studio, I was alone. We were not together when we recorded Free Radicals. It was a very strange way to do a record and the first time I’d done anything like it. The producer preferred that no one else be in the studio. Nobody was watching me. I recorded nearly all the bass tracks in a day. 

Dog Eat Dog worked for five years on this album. Did logistics play a role in not completing the recording process earlier?  Was doing a new album something the band had been contemplating for a while?

After Walk With Me came out, we toured for a couple years off that record. It was a lot of shows. We were grinding pretty hard. Then we were juggling guitar players after that. It was just a very unsteady time. Our priority was getting our business together and keeping the band together.

We kept touring and the phone kept ringing. In 2015 was when we said, “Let’s start writing new music.” It really was about an eight-year period where we didn’t feel there was a reason to make a new record. We would go out, sell some merchandise, and then go home and continue our normal lives. We knew that the gas tank would run out if we stopped making albums. You need new music to ensure that clubs and festivals still consider you a worthwhile act. Then, of course, COVID delayed the record, as well.

You tour in Europe every year. Are there any American shows planned to support Free Radicals?

We don’t play in the U.S. very often. It’s really a financial thing. We don’t get the kind of money that we get in Europe. We did a three-show weekend recently including New York City and Washington D.C., but we just can’t do it all the time unless we get an offer we can’t refuse. We know there are some fans in the U.S. and hopefully we’ll get some reaction with our new album. We would love to be an opening act on a bigger band’s tour which could give us an opportunity to reconnect with fans. We don’t have a U.S. record label. Everything for us is based in Germany.

What is it about European fans that they’ve always taken to Dog Eat Dog?

That’s a great mystery. I think what happened was that the Dog Eat Dog sound in the mid-nineties was what the European audience needed for whatever reason. Dog Eat Dog was like the sound of freedom. It all comes down to perfect timing; the right sound at the right moment. Maybe it could’ve hit in the U.S. if we had more push. Our fortune and luck in Europe at the time was perfect.

Was it surreal winning an MTV Europe Music Video Award in 1995 for Breakthrough Artist, beating out Alanis Morisette, Portishead, Weezer, and others?

I consider that to be one of the best days in the band and the most unbelievable day in my life. We were beer drinking buddies in the basement. How do you go from that to winning an MTV award? We were just in the right place at the right time that everybody was watching us on MTV and they overwhelmingly voted us breakthrough artist of 1995. 

Have you started formulating plans yet for 2024?

We are planning more shows in the U.S. and Europe starting in the spring of 2024. We’re going to continue promoting the Free Radicals album and also celebrate our 30-year anniversary of our biggest album, All Boro Kings, from 1994. 

We’ve also started working with a documentary film crew who are going to tell the crazy story of Dog Eat Dog, so that will hopefully be released next year. A you can see, the band has a lot going on and we’re very grateful that we’re still going strong after all these years. Thank you to everyone who has been part of this amazing journey. See you again soon.