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Punk Professionals

After 18 Years of Changes, D.I. Is Back in Authentic, Hard-Working Form

December 26, 1998|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

D.I. may be a standard four-piece punk band, but there's nothing routine about the group's history of revolving-door lineups.

The Fullerton-bred outfit has had at least 23 different members during its stormy 18-year-existence, bassist Fredric Taccone said.

With musicians constantly shuffling in and out of the group, it's little wonder D.I. never established the momentum to become a major player in punk/alternative rock circles. Only vocalist Casey Royer has remained since the band's formation in 1980.

"It had to do with personality stuff," Taccone said. "Most of the guys I've associated with in D.I. were damaged and immature. They didn't know how to be a pro. They always had a personal problem. They drank too much, or they had a hard time maintaining stability in a job, or having a car or being dependable."

Now, at a time when many early 1980s-era punk rockers have moved into other areas of music or vanished from the scene, D.I. is trying to reestablish itself as a mean, lean sonic machine. The band will be the headline act tonight at the Showcase Theatre in Corona.

Their rocky history aside, current band members are the same four promising punk hopefuls from the '80s. In fact, Taccone, Royer, guitarist Tim Maag and drummer Derek O'Brien have been together for the last two years. All are childhood friends from Fullerton. Taccone boasts that this is the best and most authentic version of D.I.

Hitting Trouble in the Mid-'80s

"[D.I.'s signature tune] 'Richard Hung Himself' never feels like it should unless I'm playing it with these three guys," Taccone said. "I've played with at least 15 different D.I. people and it never had that kind of swinging feel that it originally did. Now all the songs that are our older hits feel like they should."

He calls the current edition of D.I. the "original band." Technically, that's incorrect. The group's first album, 1981's "Team Goon," was recorded by Taccone, Royer, Steve Robertson and Rikk Agnew, who is best known for his work in the Orange County punk band the Adolescents.

Agnew and Robertson left D.I. after one gig. Maag and Social Distortion member O'Brien joined the group in 1982. D.I.'s public profile subsequently increased, especially after performing in Penelope Spheeris' 1984 punk drama, "Suburbia."

Unfortunately, Taccone spiraled downward into drug addiction just as D.I. was beginning to be noticed. In 1984, he left the group to clean up his personal life. O'Brien and Maag quit the band shortly thereafter.

"A handful of us in Fullerton were getting involved in partying and drugs," recalled Taccone. "It starting getting worse and worse. I quit to get out of that whole scene."

D.I. continued to tour and record albums. Released in 1986, the album "Horse Bites Dog Cries" included some of the band's better numbers like "Johnny's Got a Problem" and "Pervert Nurse."

In 1992, Taccone rejoined but felt the band wasn't playing up to par. There were also personality clashes within the group. After Maag came back to the band in about 1994 and O'Brien rejoined later, Taccone finally sensed D.I. had reached professional caliber.

Band members are pleased that many young punk fans today are aware of the music. "The majority of people who come to see our shows are between 12 and 20," says Taccone.

"I'm really surprised when kids who are 16, who weren't even born when 'Richard Hung Himself' came out, know everything about our songs and history. When we play the Showcase Theatre [we get that type of fan] because it's an all-ages venue."

The Showcase Theatre has developed into a mecca of sorts for punk bands. D.I. performs there about three or four times a year. But the unit rarely plays in its base of Orange County because of past problems with crowd violence. Taccone blames neo-Nazi punks for disrupting D.I. shows in the area.

"Since I've been back in the band, we've not been able to play more than five songs [at an Orange County gig] without having to stop," he said. "I even tell the [O.C.] promoters who call us to ask us to play, 'Dude, you don't want to do it.' I don't want to play any gigs that have to do with that [racist] stuff being there. We're a free country to a certain degree. But I'm not into politics. I'm just a musician."

Taccone finds it upsetting whenever D.I. is labeled a neo-Nazi band, adding that the group's song, "Hang Ten in East Berlin," has been misinterpreted as a fascist salute.

He said D.I. has managed to avoid violence at its Showcase Theatre shows because the venue is managed by people who understand punk culture.

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