Remember the 1980s? Nothing good happened in the ’80s. Any era that makes John Travolta a star is a crappy one. However, in the year 1989, something good finally happened: a punk band named Down By Law was formed. After seven albums, five of them released on Epitaph Records, Down By Law went on a lengthy hiatus in 2003. “We’d been pushing and working it so hard for so many years, we just kind of took an unannounced break,” guitarist Sam Williams III says. “I had a couple kids, played in some other bands in different genres, and Dave had a couple more kids.”
Down By Law hit the height of their popularity in the ’90s with the release of punkrockacademyfightsong. Williams isn’t quite sure why this album stood out amongst the rest. “It’s really hard to see why albums are received the way that they are from the perspective of the artist. I like it, but I don’t think it’s our best record. However, it seems to be the one that really stuck with everyone. Even at the time it was the one that shot us up to the next level,” he says. The album featured a punked-out version of The Proclaimers hit song, “500 Miles.” “Never have met them, though at some point I believe we were contacted by someone in their camp. They told us that they liked our cover version a lot,” Williams remembers.
Being in a touring punk band in the ’90s is a different story than being in one now. So many punk musicians speak fondly of the ’90s and Williams was no exception. “In terms of show attendance and record sales it was definitely a peak for a lot of bands. It was before the Internet really took hold of music and, at the same time, there was a renewed interest in this type of music. The ‘alternative’ label that was so hip at the time was a blanket term that covered a lot of bands. With bands like Nirvana and Green Day getting big, we all felt a bit of trickle-down,” he confirms.
After the unannounced break, the band played a string of shows and festivals in 2008 that were well received, which were the main contributors to the band getting off their asses and working at it again. “We never officially stopped. Dave and I had been recording songs throughout the years just for the hell of it. Then, we got invited to play a couple of U.S. festival shows with our buddies in ALL. Things went over really well, so I fished around to see if any labels wanted to release an EP. We ended up going with DC Jam Records. Their endless enthusiasm kind of spurred it into a bigger thing. The EP became a full-length followed by lots of touring.”
And now it’s finally time for a new album: Champions At Heart hits the streets on August 9th. “Our core sound is definitely still there, the great vocals and positive lyrics that have defined the band all along,” says Williams. “Sonically, it sounds the best we’ve ever sounded. It was recorded over a long period of time in several sessions, kind of a DIY affair as we recorded it ourselves. It’s got a lot of songs, we liked them all, so we couldn’t bear to drop any of them. I think it’s the most consistent record we’ve had since All Scratched Up.”
Down By Law plays Funkys (Vancouver) on August 11 and Dickens Pub (Calgary) on August 13.
By Denis Maile