Phil Merwin met Gary Walden while they were both employed as ‘orderlies’ at a Mental Hospital in North Long Beach, Ca in 1987. They talked about a shared love of Black Sabbath, the bad brains, Flipper, and black flag, and they found they were both members of the Sub Pop singles club. Eventually, they discussed starting a band. Gary introduced Phil Merwin to Preston Peck and Herb Gordon, and the band was formed. Many dirtclodfight lyrics came from conversations and experiences with patients at the mental hospital, and from Phil Merwin’s notebooks of poetry. The band cut their teeth at the club, Ugenes, in Pico Rivera where they played with ShoeGazer, L7, the Offspring, and Hole. They had more than a few standout shows with Clawhammer, Distorted Pony, Sandy Duncan’s eye, and the Paper tulips all over LA and Long Beach.
At the end of 1987 they wrote their first 7 inch, “the paper bag” EP. Al Flipside caught a few of their shows at Ugene’s, and made quick friends with band. Al decided to put out the first 7 inch on Flipside records in 1988, and this was followed with 3 more albums over the years on his label. The band was ecstatic to be part of the Flipside label/fanzine, as they grew up on the fanzine, and it meant a lot to them to carry that logo on their records. Fred Merwin, Phil Merwin’s twin brother, joined the band after Gary left before the recording of their first 7 inch, and has been on every release on lead guitar.
The interplay between the brothers Merwin on guitar became their ‘sound’, and was integral to the bands direction. They played a slower heavier version of punk with an odd ‘doors-like’ ethos hiding under the covers. They were not a typical Southern California punk band, at all. Their live shows were considered a heated battle of emotion and intensity, and garnered them a decent following locally, and on the road. Phil Merwin was known to pass out from screaming during shows, this was always both disturbing and ‘appreciated’ by fans. Phil’s screaming/spoken word/poetry/revivalist chanting became a trademark of their live shows and songs. The first album was ‘Everything that Isn’t, was produced by good friend Sean Greaves, and is regarded as a fan favorite with the song Brutal Flower becoming a staple request on the road for the band. The title track is a long bantering of spiritual dilemma solved through loud guitars and feedback laden baptism. They did many West Coast and Southwest tours, and one national tour after this album. This first record, also, formed a devoted following with fans in Australia, which eventually led to a 7 inch on Death Valley records out of Australia in later years, and picture evidence of kids in Australia with dcf tattoos!
The line up changed after the first album to include Bill Jackson on drums and Darryl Williams on bass. The songs changed into more complex, relentless dirges with strange pop ‘like’ elements thrown in. At this time the band started using experimental open and dropped tunings on their guitars, and found Darryl Williams and Fred Merwin contributing more to the song writing. This line up would put out their 2 final Flipside albums “Hunting Lesson” and “Suffering the Aftertaste” . Both of these releases were very well received, especially by other bands, and the band did many tours in support of them. They opened shows for TAD, Helmet, The melvins, Steel Pole Bathtub, the Jesus Lizard, and Rocket from the Crypt. They did many tours with Atomic 61, their brother band. Cavity Search and Feeble records co released a live 7 inch, LIVE in Texas, from one of their SW tours together. Atomic would go on to cover the dcf song, “the one that killed him” from the Hunting Lesson album during their live sets, and dirtclodfight recorded a version of Atomic 61′s “double boiler” along with a cover of John Entwhistle’s who classic, “Boris the spider” and this was released as a 7 inch on Truk records out of Costa Mesa, Ca, as a split 7 inch with the FH Hill Company. The song “I got crazy things” from their final Flipside release, Suffering the Aftertaste, was released by Death Valley records out of Australia as a split 7 inch with ChristBait, and was, also, included on the “the Devil You know/ The Devil you don’t” compilation released by KXLU’s DJ Mark Torres. This song was written by Williams, and it was the only dcf song Fred Merwin sang lead vocals on. Flipside, also released a 7 inch from the “suffering” sessions , the Denny 7 inch (named after the disturbing picture of Denny Swofford used on the cover), with the songs, “The rodent incident” and “…there might be a hole” included. Denny Swofford was co-producer of the Suffering the Aftertaste album, as well.
Because of their strong friendship over the years with Denny, dirtclodfight asked Denny and Christopher Cooper, co-owners of the Cavity Search records label out of Portland, OR, to put out their new album, “Hymnal”. Hymnal was recorded at Saturation studios on 2″ analog with Geoff Harrington at the board, and Merwin and Swofford producing. The band now had Chris Benton on drums, and Jason Locher on bass, as Williams left do sound for Greg Ginn. The content of this album had some of their most accessible songs mixed with their evolving heavy laden dirtclodfight sound. The album was a huge sounding record the band is still very proud of, and produced a crowd favorite in “Throttle Downer”. The band did 2 national tours to support Hymnal touring with Victims Family for 2 1/2 weeks, and a doing a few shows with No Means NO, the cows, and chokebore, and of course, Atomic 61. The band ended up moving to Portland, and were joined by Eric Johnson on drums. During this era they released a song called “Enduring you” on a compilation for Cravedog records, and they played many a great show at EJ’s in PDX with Mike Thrasher joining them on guitar. They did their last tour, a SW tour to SXSW with the Bali Girls in 1997, and then the band went into ‘remission’ for about 6 years.
Phil Merwin moved to Eugene, OR, and reformed the band with Austin Swartout on drums in 2004 as a duet. Austin has been Phil Merwin’s best friend since the age of 14, and the HUGEST dcf fan ever. Fred Merwin moved up to Eugene from Long Beach in 2006 to rejoin the band on guitar. With local Eugene friend, Rueben “the knife’ Markstrom on bass, the band recorded the album, “Healing in the key of free”. This era of the band found them producing the most ‘pop’ record they ever had, and performing some shows with only Minutemen covers in their live set. This line up opened for No Means No in 2006, and in 2010 with Phil’s son Zachariah playing bass. They have played sporadic shows in Eugene and Portland over the years, a few with Yob.
They are currently mastering an acoustic album, with Phil Merwin doing some old dirtclodfight songs solo, and some new acoustic songs. This medium has proved interesting for a band known for being very loud and intense, and Cavity Search has signed on to release the record in 2013. The band has plans to tour this summer, and hopes to record a new album titled, ‘The Main Sequence’ in the fall, and another new album in the Spring,’Sound Barrier’. Their new material is back to being very dynamic, and sordidly heavy, mostly instrumental, loud-soft, progressive, and sonic music. The band has been working this new material into its live shows recently, and is very excited about the new direction of the band, and the return of Jason Locher on bass.