I can’t recall how I first heard of DYS (short for Department of Youth Services). I imagine it was either through reading about them in a fanzine, or it was the simple fact that they had a record out on XClaim! and being a fan of The F.U.’s, that was all it took for me to want everything on the label that put out their records. Though I was a straight-edge kid back in my teenage years, I never felt like I was part of that SE movement, it was more that I was SE by default of not having any interest in drugs or booze when I was a teen, I just wanted to skateboard, play video games and spend every dollar I had on punk rock records. I liked a lot of that early SE music, but by the time all that youth crew nonsense got all huge at the end of the 1980s and all those jocks were into that stuff, I wanted nothing to do with it and started listening to industrial records. Regardless of what it inspired years later, this DYS record was, and still is, a classic slab of hardcore vinyl that has now etched its place into history.
Seeing as how I didn’t know much about DYS other than them being from Boston and eventually “going metal then breaking up”, I figured I ought to go to the source for some history. Enter Dave Smalley, punk rock singer extraordinaire and genuinely nice guy. Dave was kind enough to share some DYS history with me for this feature.
The first thing I did was ask Dave how he got into punk rock in the first place (as it is something I’m always fascinated by) and how he met the people who would become his band mates.
One of my best friends from as far back as elementary school had an older brother. When I was in high school, his older brother was on the cusp of what music was doing — he was more into more art bands like the Feelies and the Talking Heads, but he kept telling Erik and I about punk. Erik got me to listen to his brother’s Sex Pistols album, and essentially that and especially the first Clash record (the clash) changed everything. Every single light bulb I ever had in my head went on when I heard early songs by them. Clash City Rockers, Jail Guitar Doors, White Man in Hammersmith Palais…for that band, it never changed. The Clash never failed us. In those early days — at that point it was early for me, but those groups had all been around for a while — it was also the Ramones that blew me away, both the first two records, the first DKs record, and believe it or not the very early Cars and Plastique Bertrand “ca plane pour moi” — I still have memories of being downstairs in the rec room in our house in Arlington, at the record player, listening to all that. The Specials and the English Beat, Elvis Costello and the Attractions also pretty much imprinted themselves in my heart. The great thing about all those bands is that they’re all still so inspirational decades later — and the Undertones, and the Jam. Generation X. All stunning and life- changing.
When I got to Boston, I wanted to form a true hardcore band. I’d been singing my whole life, in choirs, musicals, school acapella schola cantorums, and whatever else, and I just felt like something was calling me to channel that into punk and hardcore. By that time I was heavily into DC hardcore bands, like Teen Idles, SOA, MT, GI…so many great ones; but then I moved to Boston for school. I put up a notice at the original Newbury Comics — then a tiny little store — saying something like “Singer with lots of experience and equipment looking for players for a punk band” or something like that. Jon Anastas answered the ad with promises of equipment and a guitar player friend who was really into it. He didn’t own any equipment at all, and I wasn’t experienced — and his guitar friend was a Hessian who basically thought punk sucked — so we were off to a great start.
This of course led me to inquire as to the how and when DYS started.
1981, maybe September? Can’t remember exactly. Practiced some at the Media Workshop, and eventually found a spot at JD Furst practice spaces, near Fenway Park and Kenmore Square, beneath a piano warehouse. It was a great place except when it’s 1982 and you’re a punk in a leather jacket, torn jeans, spiky hair and combat boots (or white Adidas or Nike leather high tops), everyone thinks punks are freaks, and you’re walking back from practice as the Red Sox game is getting out at Fenway and there’s hundreds of drunk jocks spilling out looking for blood, many of whom have little souvenir baseball bats perfect for swinging down on someone’s head. At those moments, it was…less good as a practice location. We survived, although there were the occasional Monty Python-worthy “run away!” moments.
On writing the songs…
Well, it was very egalitarian, no one wanted to be the boss, not to mention we didn’t have the slightest idea of what we were doing. As you can see from those early pics, we were all really young. So if anyone had an idea for a song structure change, we’d try to throw it into the mix, whether or not it was going to benefit the song. I wrote most of the lyrics, and Jonathan and I wrote the majority of the music, as I recall. Wolfpack I wrote all of, actually plucking out the notes on Jonathan’s bass in our apartment. After a couple of guitar player changes, we hooked up with Andy Strachan, and Dave Collins on drums, and that’s when the songs really began to hum.
I asked him how they came to do a record with XClaim! and how it all worked.
XClaim!, the thing is, it was a label name more than a traditional label, something that SSD started and sort of “let” different groups in the Boston Crew use. Not just anyone could make a record on XClaim!; you had to get permission, in a way. Once you got the green light, which really was a great idea from Al, because it gave our scene and our city its own distinct identity the band normally had to pay for it themselves. But there was such a vibrant energy to that era, in that city, it was a sense of possibility. Really, straight edge had a huge advantage in Boston, because we were all such a team, or at least, even for those of us who didn’t get on with another, everyone was charged with the same conscious or unconscious awareness that all of this was something special and crazy good, that most of us didn’t need drugs; it was a constant energy, a charge, a high if you like. Incredible karma during that time; spray painting walls with the band names, fighting (or running), definitely running from cops, putting fliers everywhere, walking around in a big gang… I understand why kids join gangs, because that feeling of brotherhood, of protection, is something unique.
Anyone who has heard the second DYS album knows it showed a huge change in sound for the band, in other words, they “went metal”. I asked Dave about this.
Most of DYS, along with most of the guys in SSD, Jerry’s Kids, the F.U.’s, and Gang Green, were all really into rock and metal. Those were the days of early Metallica, which still can’t be touched, and of course AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy with Randy, Van Halen with David Lee Roth at the top of their game, just insanely great, heavy stuff. And you have to remember that Boston was a very physical punk crew; we worked out (well, a lot of us), we weren’t shy about fights, and basically just that metal and rock, we’d play it right alongside early Discharge and the first Fear and Germs records, whatever. It was all great, and there weren’t the distinctions now that some people make where they listen only to hardcore, or only to punk, or only to rock, etc. if it was great music, and heavy, it was great. So as we got more and more into that stuff, really a bunch of us at the same time started to let more and more of it seep into the music we played. It was only natural, and we liked it. Our second record, just called DYS, I believe it has the distinction, dubious though it is, of being the first hardcore record with a long, proper rock ballad on it, “Closer Still.” We were all in the crew at that time still quite punk in one sense: it was all done because it’s what we liked, and what we wanted to play. I think DYS, SSD, F.U.’s, those bands didn’t care if anyone else liked it one bit. So that’s sort of why when you listen to any xclaim or Boston crew band from 1984-1986 era, it shares a similar approach. We were also better musicians, able to now do stuff like play a lead or structure a longer song.
It wasn’t long after that second record that the band broke up, and I asked Dave the story on that.
It’s hard to be in a band at any time, and esp. when you’re in a genre that, in 1985, was just hitting musical adolescence. I graduated in may of ’85, and wanted to go back to Virginia. We’d toured, we’d put out two albums, and basically that was more than any of us had ever expected. I think musically our focus was starting to dissipate. The crew bands and people were all growing up, and beginning to drift. You know, it was impossible for that early dizzying constant adrenalin to keep going for everyone. I always say that if you look at marriage statistics, only 1 out of 2 marriages in America lasts, or at least that used to be the stat. And that is such a tragic thing, of course — and that’s only with two people; imagine four or five kids, or young adults, all still growing up, all changing, all dealing with a thousand different emotions all the time…it’s normal, I think, for bands to break up. It doesn’t mean you don’t love each other like brothers, but maybe it’s just time. So for me, it just seemed like it was time. Everyone agreed. We met at a diner near Kenmore Square that was sort of our home stomping grounds, talked about it, were sad, but no one was angry. And then we ate cheeseburgers together and went our sep. ways at the end of the meal. I still love them, and will always cherish our era and what we did. Jon Anastas and I will always be brothers — got tattooed together, got in fights together, made records together, made fools of ourselves at regular intervals together…I love those guys forever, and they are all a part of who I am and everything that came after. Even remembering it now brings back a lot of great memories, and smiles — and very few tears.
In hindsight, it truly was a unique moment and place in time.
In the 1990s, Taang! Records put out a collection of DYS songs called Wolfpack on LP and CD and just very recently as reissued Brotherhood on a CD.
I’d like to thank Dave for taking the time to share some DYS history with me specifically for this feature.