Q&A: Keith Morris Of OFF! On Greg Ginn, The Black Flag Days And SST Records
Keith Morris and Superchunk, "Gimme Gimme Gimme"/"Where Eagles Dare" (live in 2011)
What were you up to between the years of the Circle Jerks' last record in 1995 and OFF!'s inception just a couple years ago. Circle Jerks did do some touring in the interim.
There was no in between. What happened was the Circle Jerks were gonna make a new record. We hired Dmitri to produce. Dmitri, being the producerany great producer also can pick up a guitar, or play drums [aside from turning] knobs, or tell you the song is taking a different direction [and that] you should make a left turn instead of a right turn, or [say] the songs that you're writing aren't good enough to be on a recordwas actually telling us, "Some of these songs are really cool."
The guys [in Circle Jerks] were writing songs; they were submitting songs. We were banging some of songs out in the rehearsal space. Some of it sounded pretty cool, some of it was blatant and apparent that it was either going to be a thumbs up or thumbs down. Dmitri had the balls, was man enough to be the producer and say "That song is not good enough to be on a Circle Jerks album." You tell [that to] a 45-year-old guy who believes that he's one of the greatest songwriters to have ever come out of the songwriting school of songwriting. All of a sudden, you got all these ill feelings like "Oh, [Dmitri] is not punk rock. How can he tell us what's punk rock and what's not punk rock?" Well, what the fuck is punk rock? When we started playing music, we didn't care. We were playing music because we wanted to make a lot of noise. We wanted to be in a room and we wanted to jump around and we wanted to be hot and sweaty. We didn't know what we were doing and like thirty years later, all of a sudden, we know what we're doing? It's the blind leading the blind. All of sudden, you have a younger guy [Dmitri] telling a bunch of older guys their stuff's not happening. So now, all of a sudden, there's a conspiracy amongst a couple of the guys in the band to wrench back the powerthe ego trip. And it's like "I don't dig this, I knew this was gonna happen." Dmitri said "We've got a deadline, because one of the guys plays in one of the most popular bands on the Warped Tour." And it's like, "Guys, I'm getting ready to leave for three months. We gotta have the record recorded before I leave." And it's like "We'll bow down to your schedule. Go out and play with all the kids."
[Then it was like] "If we're gonna record an album, we've gotta have songs to record guys, and these songs aren't happening. We're gonna meet in Keith's living room, which is the most centrally located place amongst all of us." And they couldn't even show up. A couple of them showed up a couple of times, and we left it at that. One day I was with Dmitri and he said "Keith, if we're gonna record this record, we're gonna have to start chipping away and start writing some of the songs." I said "Dmitri, I understand that. I knew that this situation was gonna happen. So let's just continue on the path that we're on."
So one night I get a phone call. It's 10:30 at night and it's one of the [Circle Jerks] guys and it's like, "Keith, we've made a decision and we know that you're gonna quit the band. But we're not working with Dmitri anymore. We're gonna fire Dmitri." I was like "Why would you call me and tell me something like that?" They were like, "We know you're going to quit the band." I was fuming. If the guy that called me would have been standing in front of me, I would have done my best to break his nose or break his jaw and I'm not a violent person. I don't weigh that much. I weigh 130 pounds. So I'm not the guy that gets to run around, throwing my weight around. I was fuming. I was livid. I was very hateful and spiteful, and this isn't cool. But a half-hour later, when I came to my realization, I had my epiphany: good players in the bands play in other bands, because the band that they're in isn't working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks out of the years, 365 days, what have you. So there's a lot of off time and what do you do in that off time when you've run out of money and you need to pay your rent? You work day jobs or you play in another bandif you're a good player you play in another band.
So all of these guys [in Circle Jerks] are playing in other bands and it's like "Okay, big whoop de do. I'm gonna do the same thing they do." I'm not quitting a band that I started 33 years ago. Are you kidding? I've been through too much stuff with these guys. I've been beat up and chased and thrown in jail and all of these things. It's like "I'm not tossing this out the window." I might close the door right now, but I'll leave that door cracked just a little bit in case they decide to come back to me on their hands and knees, crying to me that they made a mistake. No, that'll never happen and I'm not waiting for that. That's an egotistical scenario that I created in my head. I'm not gonna quit a band I started because they made Shitty Decision No. 103.
So you can resurrect Circle Jerks whenever you want. They still exist.
In people's minds and hearts and record collections. Our booking agent still gets offer after offer. I'm in a new band, and I'm having a great time and I love the guys in my band. I'm sure, you know, we're older guys and it can get hissy and pissy and all of that kind of stuff. But I'm having the time of my life. I'm going back to Australia for the second time. I've been to Europe twice with this band. That wouldn't have happened with [Circle Jerks]. We could barely tie our shoes in the other band. We could barely get it together to rehearse with the other band. I'm runnin' with this. I'm goin' with this as far as it takes me.
What do you think would have happened if the songs you were working on were released as a Circle Jerks record with Dmitri producing and OFF! never took flight?
Well, you and I certainly wouldn't be chatting right now. We would not be talking.
OFF! plays with Refused tonight at Williamsburg Park.