This year (to date) has seen some of the most regressive and aggressive anti-LGBTQ+ legislation pass across the United States, including Louisiana; and on June 6, the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. There is a need to fight back against this rising tide of hate from all angles, and queer anarcho-punks Dog Park Dissidents have made it their mission to use their music as a form of resistance. The five piece, whose members are based in New Orleans, Long Island, and Philadelphia, effortlessly blend punk, pop punk, and smart, biting humor to uplift their message of queer liberation, gaining a fervent following in the process. On a Friday evening in early May, all five band members (lead singer Zac Xeper, drummer-manager Zeke Xander, guitarist Skylar Stravinsky, guitarist Jon Greco, and bassist Joe Bove) met with me via Zoom for a conversation which spanned a wide array of topics including the recent release of their compilation The Pink and Black Album, their summer tour, and the events of last year’s ill-fated Southern Decadence block party at The Phoenix, which was unexpectedly broken up by law enforcement.
What’s the origin story of Dog Park Dissidents?
Zac Xeper: It [was] me and Jon [Greco, guitarist] originally, back when I lived in New York. We had been friends for a while, been talking about starting a band together for a while, and it was right after Trump got elected. Jon, you were organizing a Rock Against Trump compilation record. We were like, you know what? Maybe we should finally record a song together and do something. The compilation record did not come together but “Queer As In Fuck You” did come together, so we put the song out and it caught fire in a pretty big way. Jon and I were caught off guard, like, oh, we should probably make this band actually happen now. We recorded [“Queer As In Fuck You”] before I moved to New Orleans; we released it after I moved to New Orleans. And so I just kind of moved without thinking about, “What if this band takes off? How are we going to do it?” Then we just started figuring it out. We were like, OK, I guess we’ll try to play shows and fly to each other and do something. We recorded a few more songs, put out our first EP (Sexual and Violent) a year later and continued to take off, continued to get bigger. We started playing some shows in New York first. Joe actually was there at our very first show as our fill-in bassist. Joe, I think you were our fill-in bassist for like two or three shows before…
Joe Bove: Yeah, pretty much. I was there at the first show, I think it was me, you, Jon, and [Mike] Costa on drums.
Zac: Yeah, Mike Costa, [alumnus] from ASOB [ska band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches] [who] has done a lot of work with Jeff Rosenstock. We had the Jeff Rosenstock rhythm section for our first several shows… We put out these records and just kept on, getting more and more viral successes. People were listening to it and being like, holy shit—this is gay punk rock and it’s really good and I’m into it. And it got to the point where, right before the pandemic started, we were big enough for Against Me! to offer us an opening slot at a neighborhood show. And we almost did it, but it was in March of 2020, so we didn’t. [But] everyone being locked inside and feeling very angry seemed to drive them towards us even more. As the world reopened, we went back out playing shows again. I think our third show ever we went up to Brooklyn and just filled the room. It was wild to me. We had a pretty good first show, kind of a meh second show, and then like, just our first show back it was 120 people filling this room, screaming the lyrics along with us.
Did you always intend to be this political, to have this sort of movement behind it?
Zac: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve always been like in the anarcho-punk tradition of very highly political. It’s interesting looking back at how things have changed since we started putting out our music… At the beginning of the Trump era we saw things going downhill, but we were also pushing against this inadequate liberal triangulation of queer rights. A lot of the lyrics I was writing at the time—like the lyrics in “Queer As In Fuck You,” the lyrics in “Rainbow Drones”—are very much of an attack on liberal LGBT rights not being good enough. This mode of rights-based progress where they just write a bunch of laws that say, OK everyone has rights now, and the culture around it of getting representation under capitalism and all these things—just knowing that that was inadequate and not good enough. At the time, I was hoping like, Trump has been elected now but maybe this slide into fascism will be a footnote and we’ll continue on the same trajectory of this very disappointing milquetoast liberalism, which is still pretty lethal for queer people because everyone who’s not rich, white, and cis was getting left behind by the kind of liberal progress that we’ve been seeing. And now that unfortunately has come very, very much to a head because we do now have an ostensibly liberal administration in Washington. And yet under this administration, we saw Roe v. Wade taken down. We’re seeing the horrible things happening in Florida, and now, some of that shit is getting introduced into Louisiana. We see all sorts of states passing the kind of legal framework for genocide against trans people, and liberalism has done nothing to stop it or slow it. I feel like all of our music—whether the stuff that’s explicitly attacking classic right-wing, homophobia/transphobia/queerphobia and also the stuff pushing against milquetoast half measures from liberalism—it’s all the more relevant now as things become ever more dire for us.
We’re in a really fucking scary time in history. What role do you all (A) want and (B) foresee your music playing in this?
Zac: I’ve felt really good getting messages from people who had felt deeply inspired by our music. The people who’ve said that listening to our music makes them feel more comfortable being themselves, being queer, being trans, being out in a crowd and feeling a sense of hope, feeling a sense of fight. Writing anything that speaks to the feelings that everyone’s having, not just this kind of standard message of like, it’s OK to be gay, it’s OK to blah blah blah. But something acknowledging the pain that we feel, the fight that we need to do, that’s what I think is really resonating with people. We’re not sugarcoating the queer experience—we’re saying shit sucks, but be you ’cause fuck, you don’t have a choice. None of us have a choice but to fight.
Let’s talk about the song “Good Boy.” I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on that, Zeke, and how that inspired you.
Zeke Xander: I’ve been in the pup community… seven years now. That song came out, I don’t know, a while ago.
Zac: Two years.
Zeke: Spotify’s algorithm actually worked well for once and recommended something that I really like. Being in the pup community, having a song that can just say “Good Boy” when nobody else around you will… at the time I was in a really abusive relationship. Really toxic, bad stuff. Like, almost ready to give up on the pup community all across the board. [I’m] partially crediting “Good Boy” for keeping me in the community because sometimes all people need is somebody to say you’re a good boy, you’re a good person, and if a song is what gives that to you, then hey, what’s not to love about that? That turned me on to all of Dog Park stuff and [I] agreed with 100% of it. I became a pretty hardcore fan of Dog Park—no idea who they were, never saw ’em play, never saw a YouTube video of ’em, didn’t really know who the members were. And then somehow found myself in New Orleans after getting out of that relationship and had previously talked to Zac a little bit because I was a mutual on Twitter. We talked about dog stuff. So I was like, when I come to New Orleans to escape my old life about an hour away from here, that seems like a good first person to talk to because they’re already in the community. Got to talking and I was like, OK, this is obviously this person’s band. I didn’t come down here in pursuit of this or ever dream that it would be a thing once I found out who was in Dog Park. But we’re here now. After the February of last year tour, of me just driving around being literally the groupie.
Zac: You went from groupie to stage manager in one day.
Zeke: I did.
Zac: Yeah, Zeke started out as a fan before they even met me, and now we’re dating… I started dating a groupie and now they’re the drummer, so, classic Fleetwood Mac but without the trauma, right?
To switch gears for a second, now that you’re a five piece, how has your music evolved?
Zeke: I think that the overall creativity of the band has gone up with the additional members. And when the new album gets released it’s gonna be a thing that you’re gonna sit and listen to one or two tracks off of it [and] if you are a, for example, ska band lover… you’re gonna find a track on our album that meshes with that.
Zac: The reason for all this genre diversity and the reason we’re talking about [making] people listen to it in order [is that] it’s gonna be a concept album. I feel like some of the things about Dog Park may make sense if I say that probably my biggest influence as a songwriter has been My Chemical Romance. “Rev Your Motor” is a song off Danger Days, basically. So this album we’re putting out, I would describe as if My Chemical Romance and Kim Stanley Robinson did a collaboration and had MyChemStanleyRobinson, if you will… We’ve put out 14 tracks about the anxiety specifically around being queer, so this record we’re putting out is basically gonna be an emo record. Because if the world is on fire we don’t get to be gay anymore, it’s still going to be a queercore record. There’s still going to be themes of queerness interwoven throughout the thing and we’re also gonna have a companion comic book that we’re producing that tells the story of the album, and all the characters in that are gay as fuck. Just ’cause we’re talking about the climate doesn’t mean we’re not still queer, but…
Zac: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, specifically the thesis of “Refugees,” the lyrics… specifically refer to like, queer people are gonna suffer more under climate change… “In the wind and the rain, they ain’t gonna save us.” We’re taking that and running with it, looking for… the urgency of the climate moment and watching the world collapse and wondering, why isn’t anybody killing the oil executives? Jesus fucking Christ! We’re telling a story of queer-coded supervillains who are trying to assassinate all the oil executives before the planet dies.
Thank you for teasing your new music! What was that like, working on The Pink and Black Album alongside your new work?
Jon Greco: On the first two records it was all, like, fake drums… The first record, I was playing bass and both guitars… It’s kind of weird going back and listening to the early stuff when we first started working on this band, and going back to it now with the more modernized kind of recording sensibilities. I listened to “Queer As In Fuck You” and I was like, oh my god what did I do to this? Zac and I tracked that in an afternoon in my old apartment, and then I just sat on it for six months until I mixed it and we released it, fairly hastily. I listened back to it and I was like, oh, I only had one guitar track for the entire thing. And that’s kind of not a thing that you do; that’s not good… I feel like I’ve grown as an engineer and as an artist; I know not to do that anymore.
JB: At one point, the band was me and you and Zac and [Mike] Costa, we’re all in different cities. You’re all in Long Island, I’m in Philadelphia, Costa’s in San Diego on the West Coast, so we never actually ever played together, it was just: Air drop some files back and forth across the country, mix ’em together, release ’em. But I feel like now, for this new record, you have Zac, Zeke, and Skylar right there in New Orleans, so y’all are practicing together more, you’re actually working through parts together in the studio. Now I feel like there’s more of a home base in New Orleans where we come up with ideas, they get kind of workshopped there, and it’s really making a difference.
That’s fantastic. Speaking of New Orleans, what are your thoughts on the current scene here?
Zeke: We’re lucky compared to a lot of people and I don’t take that for granted, right? I am able to be myself and do the things that I want to do, [but] there’s still a horrific undertone of fear and anxiety for the entire community here and that sucks. As much as I’d love to lie and say that I’m happy and content, moving from a super homophobic place to New Orleans has slightly jaded my opinion of how things are. I’ve only been in this city for a little over a year, like, actually living here.
Zac: You were in Madisonville [Louisiana] before?
Zeke: Yeah, I was in Madisonville before, a town of 800 people. I was like the only gay person there. Nobody even knew I existed, which was weird because everybody knew everybody. But we don’t have the same set of problems [in New Orleans] that Florida has, for example. Not yet—we’re not far from it, though. We have a really good structure of outreach and people who go out and try to inform the best they can. But New Orleans is unfortunately such a big tourist city that most of the people that these outreach programs talk to don’t live here. They don’t understand what actually goes on here. They see the Big Easy and a daiquiri shop and nothing more. The people who go to the gay part of town… they don’t care about the problems that we’re facing, and that’s a problem to me. But the people who actually live here, not a whole lot goes on, like, inner community stuff. Don’t get me wrong—we have stuff that happens, but it seems like unless you’re part of an inner circle/close knit community there isn’t a whole lot anymore. Everything, all the gay establishments have switched to catering to tourism and, look: Make your money. I understand that every bartender or queer business owner needs to be able to pay their rent. But don’t completely sell out your values of what the queer experience actually is and what we’ve stood for forever. Which is, “fuck you, I’m not gonna do what you tell me.” We’re not doing that anymore. We’re shutting up and doing as we’re told and that’s the start to a really bad thing. As people get complacent and compliant, their voices go away. And a community doesn’t need one or two voices, it needs all of the community’s voices and we don’t have that right now.
You hear about… [how] we’re [the] murder capital of the world and that’s a shame. We shouldn’t have all of our troubles and all of our problems grouped into just New Orleans crimes. That’s not gonna solve anything. I mean, yeah, we could solve our crime problem but that doesn’t make the queer community any safer or any better because… the crime problem isn’t what’s plaguing us. It’s lawmakers… Do I need to do that horrific thing that so many of my gay friends, or my queer friends are doing of rushing to go get married just to say that they could, or flocking to a different state so that they can get married or different country even, just to throw a middle finger at our government? Like Zac said, they’re laying the legal framework for genocide of trans people. That’s horrific. And there’s a huge community of trans people who call New Orleans home and if Florida’s doing it, how soon until we do it? I feel like the entire community needs more people to, not only just see us, but see what is happening or what’s about to happen. I understand that there are some people who view us as, you know, radically different [but] I’m still a person. I will always be a person no matter how much of a dog I wanna act like. I am a person, I pay my [taxes], I would like to be able to live. All I’m asking is to not get killed. I think it’s a [very] easy order.
Those of us who are complacent need to come to the realization that, alright, we’re gonna all have to stand up then. And those of us who maybe are not gonna be as affected right away have to stand up even more.
Zac: Right. It enrages me when old cis-gay people just don’t think that this is a problem for them… I’ve gotten in touch with our queer elders, at least locally in the South and New Orleans, and a lot of them are like, “Why is the Human Rights Campaign trying to get drag queens to read stories to children? I don’t think that’s very good. That should be kept in the bar and the nightclubs for adults where it belongs.” Like, ex-fucking-cuse me?
Zeke: Yeah, we’re literally erasing our own history from inside, and it is mind-boggling that these are people who were around for Stonewall, who saw what was happening to us, stood up, did a thing—I hope they stood up, they were around during that time, they at least made an angry picket sign—so they probably did something, right? Because it affected them at the time. You’re at the point of your life where you can just go to a gay bar and be a sad old person at a bar. Good, I’m happy for you. But also, who stood up for you when you were a young queer person or a young gay person? You had the help of your elder community, people who struggled for all of their life, who had to keep everything behind closed doors. Once the liberation movement started, they helped in any way that they could, I mean, whatever resources that the community had at the time, they offered. What happened? We don’t have that anymore. We’re in a new era. The generational gap shouldn’t be preventing anybody from helping anybody.
at Santos Bar in June (Photo by Dalton Spangler)
I think it’s the perfect segue to talk about what happened last year with the Decadence block party.
Zac: I want to go over the facts of what happened or at least, as we knew them to be. So, initially, when I went on [WGNO], I was quoted as saying, “I just want answers. I want to know why this happened.” To some degree that is still true. I was very confused [at the time]. Naturally my first instinct was, the cops are breaking up a gathering of queer people in the street; this is probably some homophobia shit.
Zeke: Oh, it’s dramatically changed from right now.
Zac: We’re gonna be choosing our words carefully because we’ve actually filed a lawsuit against The Phoenix. It appears from what The Phoenix has publicly admitted, they may have called the cops on their own show. What I think is the most likely thing that happened is, they… fucked up and got all of the wrong permits and didn’t tell us about it. I mean we did, after the fact, see that in fact they had not pulled a permit for long enough to cover the entire show. They also did not have permits for any of their vendors who were on the street; JP Morrell‘s office told us that they may have had a lapse in alcohol permitting.
Zeke: When this originally came about, it wasn’t supposed to be a huge thing. I have [an] extensive background in entertainment, being an event manager and planner… The name of my company is Logical Productions, so I try to make everything, you know, logical, right? So, everything from all of the original meetings with Clint [Taylor] over at The Phoenix, I went and did because I’m the one who has a knowledge of how this stuff works… Clint may or may not have that knowledge, I’m not sure; I know that they have live music during Pride. So I was under the assumption, which I now know probably wasn’t the right assumption, that Clint had an idea of what this was gonna be. Because we had talked about it, we had quite a few meetings. It was hard to get [an] in-person meeting with Clint when a million things weren’t happening so there was always the potential for things to fall through the cracks, and I tried my best to alleviate that by taking actual notes… so that Clint would have some form of a paper trail. He’s a bar owner [and] has to be a busy person, I understand that. You have a million things going on, cool. But from the get-go, it was always talking about being either a three or four band docket. It was a dream to be able to get Pansy Division to come out and play. And the fact that we were able to pull that off was no small feat, it cost quite a bit of money… They have members in varying parts of the country that all have to be flown out… so we did that. I wanted to stage through my company and I provided all of the lighting and sound equipment so I was like, OK, we’ve got a great plan… Four shows [starting] at 8 to run ‘til midnight… We [had] a very well-packed four hours, and it was always a well-packed four hours because that’s what we started advertising and promo’ing; that’s what The Phoenix even promo’ed. There was plenty of time to look at the banners that I had printed that said times and schedules of live performances that had Dog Park starting at 10, Pansy Division starting at 11. We had done everything, in my opinion, the right way and as professionally and up front as you can be. How else could I have been more on top of it, right? We dotted all of our i’s, crossed all of our t’s and laid out all the framework for this to happen. We ended up finding out through various resources that [the] permits weren’t right, and the permit that was pulled was pulled the day before the show. There was no pre-planning on their part at all. [But] they did end up, to my knowledge, calling the police on their own event because they… for lack of better anything, they just didn’t want to deal with how bad they screwed up so I guess their hack, their erase-all-their-panic method, was [to] call the police… they had privatized, off-duty police officers there, as well as the constable.
Zac: Yeah, it was not NOPD, it was Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and Constable’s Office, who they basically hired… as private security and so, like… permitting issues in New Orleans are never enforced. Like, the actual cops wouldn’t have done this. This appeared to be entirely The Phoenix’s choice to do this.
Zeke: It’s not my job as a performer to be well-versed on permitting and what’s allowed in your neighborhood and what’s not allowed. The Phoenix has been in business for many, many years. They’ve had their Pride block party and their Southern Decadence block party for many years. They know what the laws are, unless there’s been a change this last year and nobody got any paperwork, which I highly doubt. They know that within that neighborhood, live music has to stop at 10 p.m. under all circumstances. There is not a permit in the world that you can pull that will allow a concert to go past 10. We know this now. That should have been said right at the beginning planning stage, and there was a much better way to go about the end of allowable music, 10 p.m., than having me threatened to be arrested, that if I didn’t make the stage disappear in five minutes, I was gonna go to jail.
Zac: If we want to bring this back to the older establishment gay community of New Orleans not sticking up for the rest of us, I think it’s pretty clear [that this] very old school, established gay bar screwed the fuck up and chose to cover it up by siccing police on a gathering of young queer people in the street. And the motivation for this all happening was not police homophobia; however, the result was a bunch of uniformed cops shouting “move, faggot” and things like that. There was violence and intimidation, a cop car driving the wrong way down the street to disperse people. It was a dangerous situation.
Zeke: And [the] scare tactics started after one of The Phoenix employees allegedly heard somebody from the stage shout, “Kill the police.” Now, that is not what happened. What ended up happening was they told me if another noise was emitted from the sound system, that I could be held liable… they were calm and chill about that part so I [thought], OK, that’s fine, we’ll shut it off and no more noise will come from the speakers, that’s not a problem. We’ll figure out what’s going on. But when you’re in that type of position you need to get a message across, because there’s a lot of people standing in the street who… don’t really know what’s going on because no official announcement is made. I [couldn’t] use the sound system to let people know like, hey, I’m sorry but this isn’t happening, go home… so [we threw it back to] the old days of protesting when you did human mic and you used other people’s voices to pass a message on through a crowd… and that was taken as a threat of violence. That was the thing that just broke everything. Oh god, a young queer person who’s visibly upset is trying to tell people that hey, the show is not happening. Call the police.
Zac: Part of why we’re suing The Phoenix is because they did publicly on Twitter accuse us of shouting “Kill the police.” That did not happen. I know that there were shouts of “Fuck the police,” and you know, I mean, given all of my experiences upstairs at The Phoenix I can totally understand why they would mistake “Fuck” and “Kill.” [laughs]
JG: It all just escalated really quickly and really needlessly. We were all left feeling extremely confused and scared. It was like there was no part of that, once everything started going down, where any of us felt like we were even relatively safe, because it just kept on feeling like it was escalating all around us, and we were like, why the fuck is this turning into a thing? You said not to make any more sound so we stopped. And then Zac went out there literally telling people to go home because the show was over, and that was construed as a threat of violence? I can’t speak for everyone [about] their mental state at the time, but for me, I can say I felt like my brain was melting.
JB: I’ve been playing music for decades, playing punk shows all over the country, venues all over the country, I was on the Warped Tour one year… never in my life have I experienced anything like a constable walking up, staring me in the eyes and saying you play one note, you’re going in handcuffs. Never.
Zeke: Yeah it still doesn’t make sense and I think we’re at the point of, it’s unfortunately never gonna make full sense. We’re kinda left to be in a position of just feeling bad about this, and there is no amount of any explaining or even apologizing at this point that’s gonna make it better.
In light of that, how is this affecting your planning for this upcoming tour?
Zac: We are only playing at real venues!
Zeke: [I’m] double-checking everything that I can… I want there to be absolutely no surprises. Granted, we’re equipped to handle pretty much any situation now, minus cops shutting your show down. But, once again, that’s out of our control. If we’re playing at a real venue, I imagine that you have your proper permitting; every place we’re playing has been doing this for quite some time. Now [we’re] just being extra precautious and extra careful about the planning stages of this stuff. We’re gonna do everything in our power to make sure that the smallest thing is accounted for, the smallest thing has been discussed, down to where could I park the van?
You have a lot of exciting things coming up. The Pink and Black Album coming out, and then you have this tour coming up. When does the tour start and where are you stopping?
Zac: We’re starting in New Orleans, we’re hitting the Dallas/Fort Worth area, kinda going along the Southwest to Albuquerque and Phoenix, then hitting L.A. and San Francisco.
JG: We’re ending the tour playing  Gilman Street [in Berkeley] which is like this incredible legendary punk venue. I’ve been to San Francisco a couple of times and I’ve never been to that venue. I can’t believe we get to play there.
Zac: It’s also Pride. We’re playing during San Francisco Pride weekend at the Bay Area’s legendary Gilman Street venue!
Zac: Yeah, so, we’re excited. It’s gonna be a good one.
JG: This is gonna be so punk rock, I’m so psyched for it. I never got to play CBGB’s, you know? That was gone before I was old enough to be in a band that did something big like that. So being able to play a legendary venue, that’s amazing. And to end the tour on that? That’s like the icing on the cake.
For more info, check out dogparkdissidents.com.
Top photo by Dalton Spangler
left to right: Jon Greco, Joe Bove (via iPad courtesy John Warren), Zac Xeper, Skylar Stravinsky, Zeke Xander
Bottom photo (at 924 Gilman St.) courtesy Dog Park Dissidents