Q&A: Keith Morris Of OFF! On Greg Ginn, The Black Flag Days And SST Records
Keith Morris, a few years shy of 60, remains typically snotty as hell, with trademark grimy dreads hanging from a head splotched with bald spots. But he also happens to be one happy camper. The iconoclastic ex-Black Flag bawlerwhose bratty freak-puke was on SST Records' initial release (the Nervous Breakdown EP) back in 1978remains earth-shatteringly influential, and right now, he is reveling in the success of OFF!, the gloriously cruddy band he shares with Dmitri Coats (Burning Brides), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and Mario Rubalcaba (Hot Snakes/Earthless/Rocket From The Crypt).
Just a few years ago, Morris, also leader of hardcore-mongers the Circle Jerks, entered a studio with Coats, intent on making a new record with the band he founded 33 years ago. Friction ensued betwixt Morris and his bandmates; the record was ultimately scrapped; out of the ashes OFF! was formed, and they recorded four incendiary EPs full of steamrollers made to incite sweat-drenched mosh pit riots. OFF!'s recently released eponymous album (Vice Records) is yet another set of devastatingly intense punkers.
Sound of the City caught up with the happy, charismatic Morris for an entertaining chat about his Black Flag days, what a major dick Greg Ginn is, OFF!'s formation and how much he's enjoying his new band.
Do you have any memories that stick out of shows or hanging out in New York with the Circle Jerks?
Going all the way back to the first time we played in New York at Irving Plaza with the Stimulators and Harley Flanagan, the Necros from Ohio, yeah.
Harley Flanagan is getting some press these days.
I've been reading bits and pieces about it. I guess it's kind of a sad situation. I don't know what to think of it because I've heard both sides. I guess this is one of those things where we'll just see how the flow of the universe goes here.
Were you into New York hardcore back then? You seem to be all about L.A. hardcore and punk. What did you think of the other hardcore scenes in other cities?
One of the situations that I must let you know is that we were traveling in a van and we were going to city to city and when I say city to city, we were also playing like every tiny place in betweenevery little place that had a PA or a stereo system or what have you. So there were long hauls where we would be out for four months at a time, five months at a time and it was difficult. Let's say you were picking up a fanzine from some of the major citiesit was a bit difficult to stay on top of who was who, where was where, why and because and all of those different things. I, personally, having lived in Los Angeles the majority of my life, I have to be partial to the L.A. scene. It is one of the major hubs. You have L.A., you have New York and you have London. There's a few other places that have popped up and crept up. Of course, we had the grunge thing that happened in Seattle and all that type of stuff. But we had one of the greatest scenes in the world. But we were also overlooked. Even though we had, and we still have, all of the major labels here, they didn't care about what was going on in the underground. They didn't care what was going on over at the Whiskey a Go-Go or what was going on at The Masque under the Pussycat Theater on Hollywood Blvd. At that time, all of thewhat we would call punk rock bandsand I don't consider Blondie to be a punk rock band, I don't consider the Talking Heads to be a punk rock band, the Ramones yes, because of their edge. But all of the bands were being signed out of London and New York so it was like we were being totally overlooked. I think the only band that got signed out of here [L.A.] that anything to do with us was the Dickies and maybe that was because they didn't resemble a punk rock band; they looked more like a Saturday morning cartoon.
But anyways, as for the New York scene, there are a handful of bands that I have liked over the years. I like Warzone, Agnostic Front, the Cro-Mags. I've just only recently gotten into the Cro-Mags. Another thing that you have to take into consideration here is that we live in a time where you stand on the corner and all of a sudden there's twenty other people on the corner standing there waiting to cross the street with you and they're all in bands! Or they're all gonna start a band. And then you gotta cross that corner to the next corner and there's gonna be another twenty people waiting at that corner. So everybody is in a band or everybody's playing music or waiting on tables and bussing tables to become the next Brad Pitt or the next George Clooney or what have you. So we have more and more and it's just difficult to keep up with everybody.
Do your bandmates in OFF! turn you on to new music?
Um, occasionally. I like the broad tap that the guys in my band of the band that they listen to. Dmitri is more into a darker hardcore thing, Mario is more into like a garage-y Cavestomp!, ya know, bust up a Farfisa organ, everybody's got bowl cuts, everybody looks like another version of the Ramones but they're a little bit better dressed and their shoes are pointypointy boots, etc. And Steven is the pop guy. I can talk to Steven about ABBA and their recording techniquethe doubling up of everything. ABBA would go in and they would double their voices. They'd make the drummer double his... the drummer would have to lay down his tracks and then come back and lay down those same exact tracks.
So you're into ABBA?
Of course. How could you not be? They are one of the first bands you that you see when you're in the record store. Ya know, you're diggin' through the bins? Why not purchase ABBA's Greatest Hits? Waterloo? SOS?