Twenty-five years have passed since front man Dave Darling and Boxing Gandhis released their self-titled debut album on Mesa Blue Moon Records, including the Top 5 BillboardTriple A hit, “If You Love Me (Why Am I Dyin’)”, and the magazine’s Video of the Year award for its Brian Lockwood-directed clip. Getting the band back together for Culture War, its first full-length album since 1996’s Howard on Atlantic Records, was about a great deal more than just the music. In fact, this reunion is . . .
Twenty-five years have passed since front man Dave Darling and Boxing Gandhis released their self-titled debut album on Mesa Blue Moon Records, including the Top 5 BillboardTriple A hit, “If You Love Me (Why Am I Dyin’)”, and the magazine’s Video of the Year award for its Brian Lockwood-directed clip. Getting the band back together for Culture War, its first full-length album since 1996’s Howard on Atlantic Records, was about a great deal more than just the music. In fact, this reunion is a prime example of the band’s long-cherished belief in creating activism through its art.
For a group once dubbed, “the thinking man’s party band,” Boxing Gandhis were, and remain a multi-ethnic outfit, the perfect rainbow coalition to make a statement for today’s turbulent political times. Musically influenced by similar socio-politically, racially-mixed groups like Sly & the Family Stone, War and P-Funk, Darling has continued to make records for a quarter-century with artists like Brian Setzer, Janiva Magness, Jack Johnson, Nikki Sixx, Meredith Brooks, the Temptations, Glen Campbell and others.
Seeing the effects of the current immigrant border policies, Darling called up one-time bandmate Ernie Perez, a longtime Chicano activist now heading a music ministry dubbed House of the Common Thread, and suggested addressing some of these issues in music, handing him a demo of “Disappear,” a song which dealt with children who couldn’t even speak English separated from their parents and placed behind a chain-link fence.
“It’s amazing how these things come around,” says Ernie, who had been politicized since the age of eight, when his brother took him to the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War in August, 1970, where L.A. Times reporter Ruben Salazar was killed. “When Dave sent me ‘Disappear,’ everything just started rolling from there. Even though we came from all walks of life, it was all about love. At this moment in history, we have to go beyond our differences and come together on things we can agree on. As artists, we ring the bell, and provide faith and hope for the future.”
Darling and the rest of the original band members – including Perez, Dave’s wife, singer/ drummer Brie Darling, co-producer and film composer Dave Kitay and the late sax player/multi-instrumentalist Alfredo Ballesteros, who passed away on the very day the album was completed, and bassist Carl Sealove – decided to donate all proceeds from the release of Culture War on indie Blue Elan Records to the American Civil Liberties Union and various immigrant legal defense funds.
Boxing Gandhis live up to their name on Culture War, combining a feisty aggression against the enemy with a tribute to its namesake’s notion of passive and civil disobedience. The dry, reverb-less production also echoes that very first album, which prefigured the H.O.R.D.E. jam band ethos, and sent the group out on successful tours with the Dave Matthews Band and Big Head Todd and the Monsters, before Darling left the road after bouts with addiction problems.
Recorded mostly in his San Fernando Valley home studio, the new album features contributions from virtually every member and former member of Boxing, with new songs that attack the current state of domestic and world affairs with ferocity.
“This album only exists because we felt the need to address what’s going on right now,” says Darling. “For no other reason than we wanted to speak out about what’s on our minds.
‘I believe in individual, social responsibility. And I’m feeling a little more fight than love right now. There’s a real enemy, along with people and ideas that must be pushed against, not tolerated. Out goal is to make things a little better. And music is just a good way to get those messages out, a head-fake, if you will.”
Culture War offers plenty of ammunition, from the opening of “Yellow Scooter,” a plea for all those “too busy” to take the time to make a difference, “Disappear” and “Brown Man,” a harsh, three-headed indictment of racism delivered by half-Filipina Brie, along with Mexican-Americans Perez and Ballestreros, to the hell-bent fury of “Shut Me Down,” in which Brie Darling unleashes an Aretha-esque howl of protest, inspired by attending a protest in downtown L.A.
“What made my performance on that were the lyrics,” explains Brie, the original drummer for groundbreaking Sacramento/Folsom girl group Fanny, who married Dave right around the time the first Boxing Gandhis album was released and has been with him, and them, ever since. “When somebody says you can’t say this or do that, I’m going, ‘Yes motherf**ker, I can, and I will. With every ounce of blood pouring through my veins. You can’t shut me down.”