Tuesday, May 24, 2011

From The Vaults: Interview With Keith Morris From OFF!/Circle Jerks/Black Flag

Critical Mass: Thank you very much for taking time our of your busy schedule to talk with Critical Mass/Squid Pro Quo, Keith. I know you've been touring nonstop with OFF! for the past few months. How did the band get together?

Keith Morris: "We can blame this OFF! mess on those swell guys in the Circle Jerks. Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), the guitarist in OFF!, came to the CJs to get us in songwriting mode in order to create a new record and of course, it turned into an ugly situation. Dimitri was fired as producer and in the process, I quit over this shitty crybaby episode. Now it was my idea to start the CJs in the first place and I wasn't gonna walk away from something I helped create. I thought to myself, 'everybody in the Jerks has 20 other things they do to make scheduling nothin' but a royal flaming CLUSTERFUCK so I'll add to the confusion by starting OFF! and creating my own schedule!' This new band's probably the best decision I've ever made. During our creative process, I told Dimitri that the other guys in the Jerks were gonna figure out a way to ruin the scenario and that the songs we've written are way too happening to be tossed out with the garbage. Let's come up with plan #B, #C and #D and make something outta this! That's when Mario Rubalcaba (Earthless/Hot Snakes/Rocket From the Crypt) and Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) stepped up and it's been pretty much non stop party action since then."

CM: The short, in-your-face blasts of music that you're doing with OFF! are reminiscent of the first Circle Jerks album. Was it the band's intention to make fast, in-your-face hit-and-run music? Or was it just a natural direction to go in?

KM: "Well, we were attempting to make a CJs record but one day, Dimitri hit the strings on his guitar and I was totally wiped out! YEAH! That's where we need to take this! The way we'd work is him starting out riffing and us going back and forth as to how it should be put together which also applied to my lyric writing. He played something on the six string device which reminded me of where I came from in Hermosa Beach. He comes from a 'heavier' Nirvana-esque place and I told him to pay attention to the guitarists we'd listened to the previous day: Link Wray, who is the Father of the 'down stroke' and Johnny Ramone, who popularized it! No more 'butterfly,' which is the technique a metal or folk guy uses to strum on the strings, it has to be down strokes and attack! AIM FOR THE FLOOR!"

CM: The band's been touring nonstop. Any plans for a break in the tour to record a full-length album?

KM: "'The First Four EPs' is our album! I'm on break as I type and we'll get together next week to start writing new songs so we won't fall into the same hole as before. My initial idea was to release a four-song EP every two or three months until we had 16 or so songs then compile them into a full-blown record. It didn't work out that way as we were gonna sign with Epitaph Records but then decided to see what else was out there and test the waters. We signed with Vice Records 'cause their marketing's beyond CRAZY! Vice gave us a couple of deadlines to meet to really make this happen as they had abso-fuckin'-lutely nothing goin' on for a couple of months and told us we would be their priority until the Black Lips finished their album. We jumped at the opportunity and here we are!"

CM: You worked with legendary artist Raymond Pettibon on the artwork for the band's 7" EPs. Being the original singer for Black Flag (Pettibon did the album artwork during their career), did it feel like you came full circle having worked with him again after so many years?

KM: "The great thing with Raymond Pettibon is that we get to re-establish a long lost friendship as when we hung out at the Church in Hermosa Beach and were drug and boozin' buddies! I'm no longer doin' any of that stuff as I'm a diabetic so I've got no time for that but Raymond and I immediately hit it off and started carrying on like a couple of crazy teenagers! He realized how his older Bro stepped all over the bands and peeps he dealt with so we had that in common and Raymond allowed me to come into his workspace and gave me carte blanche when it came to his artwork. He's a Stud Prince Rawker of the tallest order and plays a seriously mean tambourine!"

CM: When you worked with Black Flag on the "Nervous Breakdown" EP or the first couple Circle Jerks albums, did any of the band members get the sense that the music you were creating was going to be as influential as it turned out to be?

KM: "We were CLUELESS! We were excited to just be doin' what we were doin' and being able to receive an invitation to the punker-dunker party. There wasn't a map or a plan as to how we'd do things; we just did them and suffered whatever consequences later on. There weren't any managers telling us what to do or record companies that sniffed around at our gigs. We had to go by the "live and learn" technique and let it all go down however it was gonna' happen! We didn't sit around talking as to what our music/noise was gonna' do out in the public 'cause our credo was pretty much just 'go for it!' and worry about all this stuff further down the road."

CM: How do you feel the hardcore scene has changed since the early days? Do you feel it's gotten better or worse?

KM: "I try not to pay any attention to this as it's music and it's gonna be shoved in some of the faces of the music-listening public, dark corners and under dirty rugs. As with any genre of music, some of it will stick to the wall and some is gonna be so thin and watered down, it'll slide right off. I listen to so much music that I really could care less about any one category! College rock, hardcore, sweater, foxcore, punk, prog or whatever they're labeling it; if it's great, it transcends or rises from any box it's being placed in!"

CM: Is there any bands out there that you feel are carrying the torch as far as making music on their own terms and not conforming to what's considered popular by today's standards?

KM: "I'm moved by Deerhunter's "Microcastle" recording, who are a drone band outta Atlanta, Georgia or The Shins who made an almost perfect "Pop" record called "Chutes Too Narrow" that came out on Sub Pop a few years back. I'm also very partial to Trash Talk, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Moon Duo and Fucked Up."

CM: It's been 16 years since the last Circle Jerks album of original material. Are there any plans in the near future for a new album or possible tour?

KM: "When it comes to the CJs, it all started to come down to money and the fact that we're older guys who are set in our ways; TOTAL BUMMER! The mentality became, 'We're who we are and can write/record whatever we want and our fans will buy it because it's us!' and that's REALLY weak! I told them that I wouldn't be a part of the 30th anniversary tour 'cause I'm busy with the OFF! first anniversary tour."

CM: You seem to still have that fire and energy in you that you had back in the late '70s and through the '80s. Your passion for your craft is obvious. Do you still find enjoyment in playing live and creating new music?

KM: "Well, I'm on a bit of a roll and OFF!'s providing me with new opportunities that my other band couldn't make happen. OFF! is going to Europe for the entire month of August to play several festivals and tour across Holland, Germany, Sweden and Norway and my feelings toward this is that I'd be a fucking idiot to not go over there and have some fun! The CJs would only talk about this and end up not doing it!"

CM: Who are some of your musical influences? And what drives you to be as creative as you are?

KM: "Too many: The Kinks, Iggy Pop, Jagger & Richards, MC5, Jeff Beck, John Dwyer, Jon Wurster, Ray Davies, Lennon & McCartney, Pete Townsend, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Alice Cooper, Leon Russell, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Henry Rollins, Dave Vanian, Jerry Morris, Bob Caldwell, John Jancar, y mas!"

CM: Your musical history has influenced countless bands for more than 30 years and counting, with no signs of slowing down. Where can people get in touch with OFF! for tour dates, new releases and merch?

KM: "OFF! has a facebook page that has an 'Events' section that lists all of our tour info. or go to http://www.offofficial.com, which is our 'real' site!"

CM: Keith, I want to thank you again for taking the time to talk with Squid Pro Quo. It's truly an honor and a pleasure to speak with you (NOTE: via web). We're all looking forward to more OFF! releases and more amazing live performances. Thanks again.

KM: "Well that's really a misnomer as we didn't speak! Don't be a liar! Just kidding! If you wanna take the time to write questions, I'll gladly take a portion of my time to answer them. YER' WELCOME! Have fun!"


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