|Keith Morris - OFF! - Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Dom Daley|
|Friday, 18 May 2012 05:05|
Not so much an interview but more a conversation with one of the American "Punk Rock - Hardcore" legends, the one, the only Keith Morris.
Actually I'm sure there are other Keith Morrises kicking around, but not all have just completed one of the year's hottest albums, a collection of songs that will blow many people away with their quality.
I'm sure there were times during this interview when Keith was joshing around, the humour doesn't really come across in print or words on a screen, but the guy was good company and happy to talk and talk and talk....(only joking). He's been there, done that and still got the sweat and blood-soaked t-shirt to prove it, from being a founder member of Black Flag, to starting up the legendary Circle Jerks, to walking away and coming back for more with no question the finest band of the three - Off! In time people will marvel at the music this force of nature leave behind and, being something of a super group featuring members of Rocket From The Crypt, Redd Kross and Burning Brides, they are a band you'd be foolish to ignore and, with the new (debut) album in the bag, here's what went down.
Let's get straight into this shall we?
Go for it.
You've just finished recording the new, or should I say the debut, album; let's have it from your perspective. How was it? Tell me about the process Off! went through to get the album done.
Well, we didn't want to fall into the same problem we had last time where we were literally rushed to make the record. What happened with the last record was we were going to move it around base and there was no set schedule and then we were going to sign to Epitaph Records. Then one of the guys in the band said why don't we not sign to the one and only label we were talking to - why not look around and see if other labels would be interested and in the process Vice got interested and they said look we have a window and we have nothing going on over the next five or six months so if you can present us with a record by this time then we can make a lot of stuff happen for you. We can make your lives very very happy. We can make people sit up and take notice of you and things will happen that would not normally happen if the had a schedule of trying to make three or four things happen at the same time you, will be the only band we'd be working with. Um, we as a band jumped at that and we were killing each other screaming and yelling and throwing things around.
I know people wanted to poke my eyes out and lay me down on the street and run me over with their car. This time around we said look, we can do things the easy way when they want us to get the record done and we had quite a bit of space; rather than wait until two weeks before we had to present them with the record let's just start writing some songs, hanging out and bash some things out in my living room. That's what we did, we just chipped away.
The guys have a couple of kids and Dimitri had to spend time being at the house and being a dad and house husband and that kind of stuff and that kind of dictated how we would proceed through the writing. We have a couple of days off next week and then a few hours at my house where we'd jam and bounce ideas so we didn't rush things. I still believe there was a sense of urgency where there is a bit of hectic vibe because that the way we record.
Leading up to the recording process Dimitri and I write the songs, um, we talk music and lyrics and ideas around and grind on each other trying to get the best we could do out of the process. The other two guys in the band are also fathers and our drummer plays in about a million other bands as well so we schedule a couple of practises or rehearsals and we had sixteen songs and rather than do all sixteen songs in a four hour period we'll maybe play six or seven then play them like five times each over a short period of time. You know when we're in the rehearsal space we're not like playing or jammin' making noise the whole time because I'm a diabetic, so if I don't eat before I get there I need to grab something before we do the session and take breaks. Luckily none of the guys smoke so we don't have to stop for that (unless they're secret smokers) so we hang out tell stories. So we rehearsed for this recording like three or four times.
Funnily, when we're recording we're only like hammering it out about an hour - maybe we spent four learning the song then we went into the studio where we blocked three days to record and we mix the songs the last day, and our drummer took it upon himself to tell us he was only going to be there for one day because the second day all his drum parts would be done; tracked the lot because he was going to a wedding! This was on a Friday. I'm scratching my head asking him like who the fuck gets married on a Friday! Unless you're alcoholics and want a party that starts at happy hour and goes til three or four the next day. I was always under the impression if you have a wedding and you're inviting your family and people coming from all over you'd do it on a Saturday afternoon but anyway I digress; he was under the impression he was gonna be out of there the next day not taking into consideration that. okay we started at noon - doesn't mean we started at noon that means we're loading and setting up and micing up til the afternoon. Well, consequently we started noon on Thursday but didn't start immediately recording so we pleaded with him "like dude c'mon now be realistic about this, you're gonna record drum tracks to maybe seventeen songs in a day?!" Yeah sure, if you started at like one in the morning maybe!
When we record we like set up with everybody and we play the songs and try and get a really happening great take. We might run through the songs one or two times to get a vibe then I'll jump in with vocals and do it again and maybe in three takes this isn't one of these "hey, we're always gonna get it on the first take" times. More often than not it doesn't happen. What you do is a few takes then pick your favourite; I think it works to have that choice. So consequently he didn't get to go to his wedding on the Friday evening at five o'clock. Going back to that man, who the fuck gets married on a fucking Friday? Unless it's like Friday the 13th and you're some Dracula and the first dance will be to Bauhaus, the Birthday Party or music from the Batcave. Or fucking Christian Death.
Sounds like a cool wedding?
In fact all of those bands are cool, yeah. Oh, I'm only sounding off by adding some sarcasm to one of the things that happened when recording and not wanting to be so serious, you know?
I actually got married on a Friday, Keith.
Oh you did? Fuck man, ha ha!
I thought it would be an extra day off work for those invited and a pretty good reason for them to want to come to my wedding.
Oh okay, was it like a holiday?
No, just felt like having a longer weekend for my friends.
Oh right, normally you have your holidays fall on a Monday right?
Yeah, that's right.
So you guys don't like just get married on the Monday then?
No, that would use up their holiday then and nobody would bother attending a wedding, would they? Besides, who gets married on a Monday, especially a bank holiday Monday? Nobody would show up!
It was just to have a longer weekend Keith, to be honest.
Oh right, I gotcha. So you were doing it to fuck with the "man", like the bosses? Okay. That's cool. So you invite the people at work and they just close down?
Yeah absolutely, sock it to the company - one whole day of no productivity.
I get it - everyone wanted the day off so celebrate not being in work and get drunk; the wedding is not the real reason it's just a day off work and less money for the company to make? I can deal with that, that's cool, ha ha!
C'mon Keith were digressing here, I've not rung California to talk about my wedding, what with the debut Off! album to get into, ha ha! But go easy on us who got wed on a Friday!
Okay sure, wow. Um yeah, we blocked off three days to record and then I saw on Facebook, one of the hardcore fan sites, someone says "well why couldn't you do it in six hours, there is only sixteen songs on it, [adopting aggressive sarcastic tone] even eight hours would be okay, that's what a real punk rock band would do!" Of course I'd like to let you know right now we're not a punk rock hardcore band, we're just an angry elderly statesman band who need to trim the fat and not goof around.
Anyway when you're in the studio and recording they block out twelve hours of time we're not recording for the full twelve hours, you have to eat or move your bowels or take a wizz. This music needs the energy so we gotta eat. You don't drive your car at eighty miles an hour if you haven't got gas going round the engine. So consequently we say we were in there for thirty six hours but we only recorded for six, seven, maybe ten hours total. You know we have to do our hair and look in the mirror and make sure we look our best when we're recording the songs because there are other people hanging round the studio you know, with cameras and stuff so you want to look good.
Having three dads in the band we don't really have a lot of time to do things that we might want to do. When it comes to this band that's the reason; we're going to be in Europe for the month of June and that's the longest period of time we as a band have been together, because the drummer has a million other bands and the guys have to do the daily thing. I guess if we were all eighteen year old kids and this was our first band and none of us were married we'd be in the van and we'd be gone for a month or two, maybe three at a time, what used to happen back in the day, you know those good old days!
Then be home for a week or two then do it all again. Those days are long gone now - in a short while I'm gonna be fifty seven years old and I'm a diabetic and it's tough trying to keep up with these young guys and all the young bands, you know the stud ones with cool hair cuts and tattoos. We just have to do whatever it is we can do in the time we can and that's just it.
But Keith, the music will take care of all that.
I said the music will take care of business, you know, all the young bands - Off! will just let the music do the talking.
Ha ha, well I certainly hope so.
I caught the performance you did last year at Rebellion and for me it was a highlight, having had the First Four EPs seeing the band just killing it was a beautiful thing.
Thank you. Actually we had a really great time at that festival. What was really fantastic for me was that my friend Ross who was the bass player in GBH happened to be there and we got to hang our with Lars [Frederiksen] who was with his new band who were really cool and...who else was there?
The Damned, Cock Sparrer, UK Subs, The Boys......
I didn't get to see a lot of bands because what happens is when you're on tour you pull in, grab something to eat and I like to....everybody was saying it's in Blackpool Keith you can't go out and walk around because the place is full of gangsters and criminals and they're gonna see you and beat you up and the locals won't like how you look and they'll want to kill you and throw you in jail and this and that and bricks and bottles, you know?
Ha ha, what kill you then throw you in jail?
No, wherever we go I like to go out and take in the surroundings and see what's going on and check out some of the architecture and just see what it's about. Blackpool is like the equivalent to our Atlantic City!
Ha ha, are you sure about that? I've never thought of that comparison but hey if that's what you see. Ha ha
Oh, okay. There were a lot of bars I saw and that kind of stuff - like Atlantic City. I really appreciated the building itself and in the backstage itself they had framed black and white photos from back in the day and obviously the big bands would come in and play and the couples... the women would show up wearing their ball gowns and the guys would be in their tuxedos and these photos were amazing and it looked like there were a thousand couples dancing in that big room and obviously that room was the place built for the big bands and dances back in the day, and to allow them to do the Rebellion festival there was stepping out of themselves but they need people coming through the door for that building to keep going and stay in business. Otherwise they would just knock it down and put another high rise there for the people who are there just for the weekend so they can stay and get drunk, or some fast food joint and coffee shop.
Have you been asked to do it this year?
Um, no. I think they asked us last year but we might get asked to do next year and because we had such a great time I would not be opposed to do it again. It was a really great time and we were really happy with how it worked out.
How does a festival like Rebellion compare to say the Warped or Vans tours over in the States?
We played Coachella festival and that's like huge, when we played we played in front of maybe seven thousand people and I'd say five thousand were girls. If you look at any of the photos of the girls who attend, the girls look like the same kind that go to Leeds or Reading these days - wearing hot pants - one of the great fashion statements women ever invented and that makes me come over like a male chauvinistic pig but I don't care it's not that big a deal and anyways I don't care, it's just an observation - hot pants, knee high rubber boots and a sweatshirt, because who wants to go out in all that mud, right? There isn't really that much difference from the playing side but maybe Rebellion is a festival with a bunch of guys with mohawks and flat tops and the music is louder and more aggressive, and some of the festivals are completely different, but the majority seem to be the same just in different locations.
Would you say the reactions are different, say from the States to the UK because there seems to be a few touring festivals that do the rounds over there that might do well here but have never been tried.
I think festivals are something of a coming of age, you know. You get a lot of late teens and it's something of a rite of passage. People like to say "hey I was there, I went to that," you know, like Woodstock. I did the same thing when I grew up - it was Ted Nugent, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith and Black Sabbath. I think it's more to do with getting together with your friends.... getting together and having a good time! As for being more descriptive and this type of people goes to this one and that kind go to that, I think over there it might be more polarised and you have the outstanding ones like say Rebellion and going down the list of festivals I would say that one and the Hevy festival where the music is geared to a certain audience and not so much about just being there like the bigger mega festivals - it's just a big party and a bunch of bands happen to be playing and they try to have a little bit of something for every taste.
Do you get asked much to reform the Circle Jerks or Black Flag and play any of the festivals?
Ummmmmm no. That's a really easy one to answer, no. The Circle Jerks don't really exist right now anyway because I'm doing Off! and as long as Off! are happening and I'm having the amazing time I'm having, as long as we're happy doing what we're doing then it's great, rather than doing something with a bunch of guys I don't want to be around because that would be ridiculous.
Granted, the money would be fantastic but that's not the reason....I'd be a liar if I said I didn't need money and I'd be a liar if I said I'm not doing this because of any money, but the money isn't the priority and I'm sure I'll be rewarded for the amount of work I put into what I'm working on and, at the end of the day, as long as I can pay my rent and put some food in my mouth and buy a few records I'm happy.
The situation with Black Flag, we were going to do a couple of reunions back a few years ago and it got really ugly and I rehearsed a couple of times then it dawned on me the reason why I split the first time and it dawned on me all the negativity, the head trips and the power trips and the "you're just the vocalist so shut up and just get up and sing" and I just thought it wasn't going to work and doing two shows in front of about seven thousand people and all I got was negative feedback. At one point they wanted me to be a part of it then the next a couple of weeks before it I heard they didn't want me to be there so I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, you know what, I went to rehearsals and it was like beyond ridiculous. Actually I'm writing a book and that whole saga is in there. I'm gonna bad mouth everybody and they'll all be pissed of with me [laughter and sarcasm wing down the phone line] but seriously I'm not going to mince my words or change the names to protect the guilty or what have you; you know, if you're a fuck up then you're a fuck up.
How far are you into writing the book?
I want to do probably, say, twenty stories and I've got to find someone who wants to put it out first. These days if you're writing a book unless you're selling about a hundred bazillion you're not going to get an advance and if you do get one it'll probably be enough to pay your rent for a couple of months so I'm just chipping away at it currently. I've got about seven stories so far. Black Flag's first few shows and something from when the Circle Jerks started out. I'll write something about the difference of being in Off! compared to the others.
Are there any similarities between the kind of gigs now with Off! as there were in the early Black Flag days? Or was it a totally different world back then as far as everything surrounding the music?
With Black Flag we had to go out and find places to play; we would play to a bunch of people who didn't know who we were and in the beginning it was mainly parties or basements or living rooms. To put it mildly, we were not well accepted. The reception for us was "Get out of here before we kill you, how dare you, why aren't you playing more Doobie Brothers and Fleetwood Mac?" We grew up in a climate where the best local band not only played songs off Led Zeppelin's 'Physical Graffiti' but would maybe play Bowie, but mostly whatever is in the top twenty no matter who or what the style. Consequently on a Friday night a bar would have bands playing that and that would be your excitement or musical safari and that's what you'd get...and then we came along!
Who were Black Flag's influences then? And is it still the same now?
Well, I grew up listening to the British invasion and some Motown and Stax and still; you know yesterday I played The Kinks 'Lola versus Powerman' which is one of my favourites to this day, then I followed that with some Nick Drake. I find a lot of influence from The Kinks and The Who and The Animals but I also like Blue Oyster Cult, Golden Earring and Alice Cooper. A lot of different bands.
What about the rest of Off! - Does, say, Dimitri share your love of the British invasion?
Dimitri loves stuff like John Lennon and Ray Davies, you know, great song writers like Dylan and I share that love too. But Dimitri, the thing is I really appreciate that he comes from Nirvana and the grunge world and stuff like a lot of metal; he likes Kiss and Van Halen and Rush.
[I don't know why but I sniggered at the thought of Keith Morris getting down with prog]
Rush wouldn't be on my list but I'll admit, I did own their first album. You're not going to print that are you? Ha.
[I was going to say a little piece of me died then - I share your feelings but I don't own a Rush record]
You know, Neil Peart made a comment about Charlie Watts [one of the greatest drummers ever - Charlie, not Peart] and Ringo; those guys made things look effortless you know, maybe eight or nine songs in they might have to mop their brow because they're sweating a little bit. They play great beats and they never look like they're straining or stretching going out of their way to hit something they don't need to hit - very economical. Peart is this guy who sets up his drum kit and there's like, what, eighty five pieces not including cymbals, and if you include them there's another one hundred and thirty five pieces; now I'm not dissing him but I read a comment and it totally pissed me off - he said that Watts was the worst drummer he ever heard, but Charlie Watts plays with feeling and plays like he has a heart beating in time with the music. Whereas Peart is like Van Halen and plays as much as he can and when there is an opening and it should just be bo pa bo pa bo pa - he [Peart] goes, "I'm gonna fill that space with as many hits as I can and as fast as I can like a blur," you know?
Why hit eight hundred beats in a space where the song only needs eight beats? But getting back, Dimitri comes from that part of the musical spectrum and whilst I appreciate quite a bit of that there is a lot I depreciate if you know what I mean? I think that's what fuels us in that I occasionally play music he's not familiar with and he'll listen and be inspired and he'll play some stuff and I'll go - wow, okay! We do have bands that we both love and gravitate to and we totally dig, like, Dearhunter. He is familiar with Stiff Little Fingers and he loves the Damned and the Pistols but occasionally I'll bump something out he's not familiar with and turn him onto it, like a lot of the early LA punk bands - I hate using the term punk, it's lazy on my part but it's the best descriptive word that comes to mind.
I watched the clips of you guys hanging out in Generation Records and the stuff from in the studio and it looked like a good time was being had by all, everyone on the same page and egos aren't a problem...
Well there's some egos for sure. But we normally, um, you know.....getting back to where we started this conversation; we don't have a lot of time to get into each other psyches and there isn't time to sort of sit on the couch and tell me what were you thinking when you sat down to dinner and what did you mean when this or that...you know. How do you feel? What about your upbringing? We just don't have time to get into all the analytical stuff that might get in the way; like did your wife cook Brussels sprouts or broccoli? Was it cooked right, ha ha! Blah blah blah. When we do sit around as a band it's just about the things that are going on in our lives or some great band we were listening to, you know? Or what the kids were doing. We get in that room and we're on a mission we know we need to work so... we work and then maybe at the end we can take a vacation.
So the album is in the bag, dates are booked; I must say the album artwork by Raymond is really outstanding and instantly recognisable - was that deliberate or is it a part of the "product" that just happened?
Raymond is like our fifth member. Unfortunately he was on the East Coast when we were recording but if we could have he'd have been there in the studio. He could have played a zither, harp, harpsichord, melatron and synthesiser, oh and a kazoo and backing vocals, tambourine, hand claps and maracas!
Whilst up a ladder painting a backdrop?
Um, obviously. The painting would be secondary to being the fifth member of the band though.
Tough job playing the kazoo and tambourine to 'I'm Wiped Out', not a job for the unfit or feint hearted.
No. With the artwork this time we originally - speaking of dads and kids and boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives, he had a son and he was nowhere to be found and we have a tendency to wait until the last minute to do something we should have taken care of a long time ago where we thought, with the artwork, we could just pick out a piece and use it and as it turned out we picked through the majority of his work for the First Four EPs so we came up with some ideas and then we were told no, you can't use that painting, there will be an estate that will come after you and a company like Johnson and Johnson or one that makes cosmetics will come after you and we thought no, we don't need to go through all that rigmarole.
I'm all for freedom of speech and sticking up of the first amendment but there is a certain point where you have to draw the line, you know? Who wants to end up like Jello Biafra? Spending a year in court - we have a job to do. Hooray for him and the cause and he wholeheartedly believes in that, but we have work to do, I have rent to pay. It's not like all the records I made did so well I have a continual flow of cash - that's not the way it works. I've gotta be working and doing something and going to court and fighting for a cause - the first amendment speech that's all fine and wonderful, hooray for Jello and his people and I back them wholeheartedly, but if you have the wherewithal to know that what you're doing will create that situation then whatever happens to you maybe you deserve it for not being smart enough. You know, I'm not going to put a picture on the inside of my record that depicts forty erect penises that a certain portion of your fans will be under the age of eighteen and if you know there will be some twelve year olds buying it surely you don't move forward with that? You could end up in jail or losing everything you own, taken away from you, not to mention the time and effort taken up fighting it. So we had an image we actually asked him to paint that we were going to use but we eventually won't be able to use because of the time it might take if we get into bother and can't get the record where it needs to be and we can't tour or get paid. So after the deadline passed we eventually found a piece of his work we liked and could use and I'm sure you'd agree it's a great piece and we're all happy with it and everything is fine because we didn't want the record to be pushed back - it's time to go to work!
Before I let you go I believe the album's coming out in Europe or the UK first then the good old US of A in June, is that correct? On vinyl, CD and digital download from all kinds of retailers both good and bad.
I'm the vocalist, so I'm the guy who gets told that last but what you say sounds good and I trust you and if it comes out before the tour all the kids can sing along which is great. We're very pleased with it and hope you like it - it's the best record we could have made and are proud of it. Let's go to work! Ha ha.
Okay Keith, we'll end it there. I've taken up enough of your time and I wish you all the best and every success with the album and touring and dealing with Friday weddings.
Oh, okay. Thank you, bye.
....and the line went dead. So pop over to the band's official site - http://offofficial.com/ - and try to catch them on tour before it's too late.....and why not buy the album - your parents will hate it (unless they're cool)!!!
To pick up your copy of 'OFF!' - CLICK HERE