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Beyond The Grave: An interview with Dinah Cancer [45 Grave]
In the world of gothic music legacy is everything. You could have only released one full length album as a band or been around for only a few short years, but if you make an impression, it resonates. Los Angeles’ 45 Grave, fronted by the iconic Dinah Cancer, were one such band.
With one full length album ‘Sleep In Safety’  and only a handful of singles and EP’s to their name 45 Grave alongside other notorious LA acts such as Christian Death created and defined the genre the would come to be known as Deathrock. 45 Grave suffered one break-up in 1984 but Dinah quickly reformed her troops for another assault on the underground that in-turn came to a screeching halt after the death of Bass guitarist Rob Grave in 1990. The surviving members then went their different ways with Dinah going on to form Penis Flytrap.
Then in 2004 Dinah reformed a new 45 Grave to take out onto the road in celebration of the band’s 25th anniversary stating on myspace at the time:
“I’m building this to keep the spirit of 45 Grave alive, introduce its magic to new fans, and as a personal commemorative of my best memories being the driving force and front person of 45 Grave. This is a part of my life that indeed changed me forever.”
Eight years later it seems the time is right for a newly augmented line-up to unleash the first new album under the 45 Grave name in over 25 years. Dominion caught-up with the queen of Deathrock herself to talk about completing the reanimation of one of the genre’s most iconic bands.
Dominion: 45 Grave broke up originally after the death of Rob Graves in 1990 with the then members going on to different projects. What is your ambition in resurrecting 45 Grave?
Dinah Cancer: Well, 45 Grave was a big part of my life and I wanted to sing my songs again.
Dominion: You reformed 45 Grave a few years ago, why did you feel the time was right to release an album?
DC: I haven’t released a album for a while. The last one was ‘Dismemberment’ with Penis Flytrap in 2003. I felt it was about time to do something new.
Dominion: After 20 years do you have any apprehensions about whether the fans will still be receptive to the new material?
DC: So far, we’ve had a very favourable reaction. Comments I’ve gotten recently from fans being “blown away” by the new material. Well, I don’t look quite the same any more and I sound way different. I would hope that as an entertainer, fans will understand and enjoy it. I haven’t gone that far away from what the original line up did. Time to move forward. I’m not the same girl from 30 years ago.
Dominion: Given that the band only released one full-length album in the 1980′s are you surprised by the legacy and influence of 45 Grave in the years since the band first ceased?
DC: I’m pleased with it. I’m happy that the fans are still out supporting our music. 45 Grave is in the Grammy museum along with Christian Death, noted as being the innovators of the Deathrock / Goth / Industrial movement.
Dominion: 45 Grave had a diverse range of influences and ‘Pick Your Poison’ has been described as a melting pot for all the styles of music you grew up with, can you elaborate further on the influences that went into it?
DC: It’s something that new band member Frank Agnew (founding member of Adolescents) and I share. Our backgrounds and tastes were very similar so we went with the genres we enjoyed most, country, punk, metal, 60′s pop and more. Two of the songs were actually on “Only The Good Die Young” (“Akira” and “The Sorceress”) but were never recorded in the studio.
The country song “Johnny” was an early piece that I wrote in 1979. It was a dare from members of 45 Grave that certain songs couldn’t be written by anyone. That was my challenge: write a country song that had heartbreak, loneliness etc… and “Johnny” came out. Growing up out here in California, back in the 60′s, you heard a lot of country-western songs. In my really young years I listened to Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.
When we were in the studio recording “Pick Your Poison”, I shared it with Frank. It was a rough cut with two verses and a chorus lyrically, and the verse musically. Frank composed the chorus, the bridge and did a new layout or map of the song before we went to record it. I think it came out the way I wanted.
Dominion: With the band so ingrained into the history of Deathrock, is there a lot of pressure to live up to the band’s status in the scene, and if so how has that affected your writing for the new album?
DC: I’m doing what I do best, as an artist and fellow musician. To coin a old title we had because we really stuck our claws into everything, 45 GRAVE, our favorite Heavy-Metal-Psychedelic-Post-Punk-What-the-Fuck-Ghoul-Rockers. I think it explains everything we do…
Dominion: 45 Grave is a name synonymous with the Deathrock scene with many bands citing you as an influence on them, what is it like for you to be in this position?
DC: Blessed in a way, cursed in a way.
Dominion: The new line-up of 45 Grave has been completed by Frank Agnew (The Adolecents), how did he come to be involved and what do you feel he brings to the mix?
DC: Frank and I met each other in the spring of 1980 at a Germs show. We shared the stage many times together with our projects. We hung out at the infamous Black Hole in Orange County, Ca., played music til 84′ when we went our own ways with families and such. About two years ago Frank got in contact with me and we started up right where we left off. We started to talk again and I brought up the idea of looking for different guitarist to work with. He said he knew of someone that would be able to do it, which turned out to be him and I was thrilled. He joined us on stage for the Night of the Demons party, 2010. I was excited when Frank stayed on. It took some time to get the set down because we wanted to recreate the quality of the original band. We also started to discuss doing a 4 song EP that eventually led to the new “Pick Your Poison” album. We went ahead and started tracking in June, 2011. The energy in the studio started to bring out the new songs.
Dominion: ‘Pick Your Poison’ is to be released on Frontier Records, how did this partnership come about?
DC: Frank had remained friends with Frontier Records owner Lisa Fancher since she did The Adolescents ‘Blue’ album (1981). After we recorded ‘Pick Your Poison’, he played it for her and she agreed to release it.
Dominion: Are there any plans for further album releases for further 45 Grave releases in the near future?
DC: It was a great time being in the studio and I can’t wait to get back there again. We wanted an album that each song could stand on it’s own with no filler. We wanted an album that tells a story with each song as a backdrop. It was the first time that Frank and I worked together as songwriters and we are very pleased with the results. We definitely want to continue to make more music and hope to start working on new songs this fall and ideally have another album this time next year.
Dominion: You also shot a music video for the song ‘Night Of The Demons’, can you tell us the idea behind the video and how was it to shoot?
DC: The song was written for the movie, Night of the Demons. I thought it would be a good first video for the album. So we took elements of the movie and spent a good eighteen hours filming. The video was shot by Songbird Videos. Miss Birdy did a amazing job directing and producing. The progression make up, took place over an eight-hour period. Principle make-up was done by artists Thomas E. Surprenant and Michael Spatola. They did a fantastic job and really brought everything to life… or death if you prefer. We had a crew of nine to keep everything in line and moving. Plus, Kevin Tenney, the director for the original Night of the Demons movie and Witchboard, came down join in the mayhem.
We posted an event on Facebook to get extras to come for the video shoot of ‘Night Of the Demons’ too. The one rule was that there could be no monster costumes (the band were the monsters!) We shot at Koo’s Studio in San Pedro, Ca on a Saturday morning. The extras were a mix of fans and friends numbering about 40.
Dominion: Are there plans for any more videos in support of the album?
DC: Oh yes, a few more are coming. I’m starting to search for locations. We have three songs up. ‘Child of Fear’, ‘Pick Your Poison’ and ‘Winds Of Change’. I would like to shoot videos for the whole album so ‘Night of the Demons’ was a perfect start.
Dominion: What are the touring plans in the wake of the new album?
DC: We’re starting to work on improving the visual aspect of our live show and plan to play select venues that would benefit from it.
Dominion: Will we see 45 Grave in the UK anytime soon?
DC: If everything works out like we hope it does, we’d love to bring our visual and sonic mayhem to the UK and Europe.
Dominion: Horror movies are integral to 45 Grave and your songs have featured on the soundtracks to several including ‘Return Of The Living Dead’, which are your favourites?
DC: I watch alot of Horror movies! Argento and BAVA. Zombie, Suspiria, Brain Damage, Return of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow, Evil Dead, Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, Demons… Hammer vampire babes are hot.
Thank you for the questions, stay in touch!