KEITH MORRIS – OFF!: THE SHOW MUST GO OFF!
Keith Morris, once lead singer of the abstrusely influential punk bands Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, has returned with his second studio album from new band OFF! – a fresh onslaught of LA hardcore not far flung from Black Flag’s ‘Nervous Breakdown’ EP, produced through Morris’ firm belief in rough and ready recordings. Angrier and more hateful than ever before, Morris, at 56, explains why he is moving on from his dishevelled departure from a 31-year-old band legacy to the window of opportunity and the West Coast melting pot.
The new album, ‘OFF!’, is a maintenance of angry no fuss hardcore since the release of ‘First Four Eps’. How have you chosen to develop this album from the first one and what things are you singing about (‘Wiped Out’, ‘Cracked’, ‘King Kong Brigade’)?
We just trim the fat and get right to it. A lot of the situations in these songs are things that affect us. Can’t write songs and pretend that we’re something that we’re not. It’s being very, very real about what’s going on around us. ‘King Kong Brigade’ – that would be Dimitri [Coats] misreading a patch on Robert De Niro’s character in ‘Taxi Driver’. Robert De Niro seems to be a veteran from the Vietnam war – he came back and he was damaged. When I say damaged I mean he was not down with society and consequently he went about things in a really kooky, wacky, far-out way. He wasn’t right. A lot of our lyrics stem from being angry about things that are happening – a political figure lying to a bunch of people and the people that he’s lying to lap it up like sheep. Like a hungry dog – put its bowl down on the floor and let the dog go at it.
Are you moving it towards politics or is it still more personal?
‘Cracked’ is something that actually happened to me; about one of my former bands. I was asked to coordinate a couple of shows to make sure that the band was supposed to be what it was supposed to be. And in the process it got really zany and crazy, and started to spiral into this really stupid situation where [I thought], “I don’t want to be a part of this!” You want me to do all this work but you don’t want to compensate me.
What about track length?
The position that we’re in [is that] we’re not really a full time band. Three of theguys are fathers, so they have all those responsibilities. Our window of opportunity is very brief; we don’t get to open [it] all the way, see the rain and smell the flowers – our window is six inches. We’ve got work to do. We don’t have a lot of time to be goofing around and writing songs that are five minutes long, four minutes long, three and a half minutes long.
It goes with the hardcore style anyway. Over 30 years ago with the Nervous Breakdown EP, is that how you used to record?
Yeah. I’ve seen bands that call themselves members of the genre go in [the studio] and spend two months recording an album. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles – they lived in the studio. These newer bands that I’m talking about, they get a lot of money from the record company so they figure, rather than live at my house, I’ll live at the studio. Let me use Metallica as an example – taking two weeks to get all the drum sounds. And then when you listen to a Metallica album, those drums sound horrible! Are you kidding? It’s a drum kit! Set up some mics, tune your drums, let’s start bashing away. Let’s not overthink this. It’s rock music – it’s not rocket science. We’re not gonna saw the top of your skull off and do brain surgery.
You’ve got Steve McDonald doing mixing and your own production within the band – has it helped having Steve and Dimitri in the band so you don’t have to call someone else in who might have a different viewpoint about the way the band should sound?
Well we know what we want. When our opportunity comes up, we’ve gotta jump on it. It’s just wham bam bam – do it. It’s hassle-free, hands-on. They know what they want; they know how to get it. We don’t need another person getting in there and creating anymore chaos because it’s hectic enough as it is.
Can we talk a bit about Circle Jerks?
Well want I would like to do at this time is I would like to thank them for making this opportunity possible. It’s not something that I’m planning on going back to.
What is your status with the Circle Jerks now? In terms of a break off point, are you seeing OFF! as a completely new slate that’s nothing to do with Circle Jerks or are you seeing it as part of your legacy?
It’s part of me. I lived and breathed that for 30 years. How do you just walk away from that? Here’s the chalkboard – just erase everything on it.
You’re not necessarily erasing things but you’re putting the band politics of Circle Jerks behind you and having a fresh line-up of talented people who you can get on with and maybe see a future going forward. Was that something that you may have not had with Circle Jerks – was there a dead end?
Well I’m doing this out of necessity; I’m doing this out of spite. Some of the songs are very spiteful, very hateful; a lot of finger pointing. People say that’s not very mature; that’s not cool; that’s not right. But the fact of the matter is that it happened to me; I’m writing about it – that’s the way I’m getting it out of my system. I was part of a group that, [at] every opportunity they had to make a terrible decision, they would make that decision. I’m 56 years old – at a certain point I can’t stick around for all of these decisions that are affecting me personally.
In terms of the other bands you’ve been in, how is OFF! different?
We don’t get to hang around and pretend like we’re bros, “All for one and one for all,” because there’s so much other stuff going on. I’m playing with extremely talented musicians. The first time we got together I was insanely disappointed – it didn’t sound the way I had envisaged it. But I’m at an age where you just throw your arms up in the air and let it be what it’s gonna be; let it turn into what it’s gonna turn into. When you’re playing with great musicians, you don’t tell them what to play; you don’t tell them what to do.
You don’t have a plan set out you just produce music. It’s organic, you don’t put a stop to the length of the tracks etc, you just do what you do.
You said it. Organic. Let it be what it’s gonna be. As hippy-dippy and go-with-the-flow of the universe that is, why force things? Why be angry about it? I’m already angry about other things and that comes through the lyrics and the way I present the lyrics.
There’s a track on the new album – ‘I’ve Got News For You’. Is there anyone in particular that you were singing about? Some people were saying that it’s about Greg Ginn from Black Flag.
Well that’s a starting point. Place yourself behind the lyrics – that could be somebody that might have done something wrong to you. There’s a big question mark there. Some people get it immediately; some people don’t. And that’s OK. It can be about dozens of people. It could be about a political leader. It could be about a teacher that gave you a bad grade. It could be about that guy at the gas station who overcharged you for petrol.
There’s another song, ‘Upside Down’ – you wrote that with Greg Hetson. How did you guys do that?
Well what happened was Dimitri was called into produce the Circle Jerks record. Within that process, the guys in the band made one of their terrible decisions. I got a call – the conversation started, “Keith, we know that you’re gonna quit the band over our decision but we’ve decided that we’re not gonna work with Dimitri.” I said, “You’re absolutely right,” and I was so angry it took me about an hour to realise that. I started the band, I don’t need to walk away from the band. I’m just gonna do what everyone else in the band does – go play in other bands. Here I am. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Circle Jerks. You and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. ‘Upside Down’ is Greg Hetson swiping or borrowing a Blue Öyster Cult riff. That happens all the time. Cheap trick.
Do you have any plans to do anything with Greg Hetson in the future? He’s doing Bad Religion now, but if he wasn’t doing that would you consider doing something with him if he approached you?
Not right now. Not interested.
Raymond Pettibon did the art for OFF!’s two studio albums. I heard that the artwork is closely matched to your lyrical content and songwriting. What was he depicting in the first and second album covers?
When it comes to choosing the artwork for the covers, it’s a four-way street. Sometimes I get voted out. I’m the lead singer and I should be the guy that puts my foot down and says, “This is what it’s going to be.” Playing with great musicians, sometimes you have to just let things go. It’s not overthought – we get presented with 6 to 12 images and everybody votes on what images they like. I don’t go, “The caption to the artwork fits one of the songs.” Sometimes it doesn’t. Raymond’s my friend and his artwork is great, because he’s a great human being; an amazing person.
You chose to do a cassette tape. That’s going back 30 years – basement recordings. Was it something, like your videos, that acts as a different output so you can listen to the music in different ways?
You can go to the secondhand store or The Salvation Army as occasionally you can find an old beat up cassette player or ghetto blaster and not pay a lot of money. So you don’t necessarily have to have a nice stereo or an expensive sound system. Sometimes listening to music on a banged up, beat up cassette player or in your car is more fun. You’re drinking and smoking with your friends and it’s a party – it doesn’t have to sound pristine and clear. You’ve got a blown-out speaker, like in my car – my speaker sounds like someone kicked a hole in it. But I love that – it makes it more teenage.
With the videos, you’ve got the skate theme and they’re low budget produced. Are you trying to portray with the videos what OFF!’s about?
Mario [Rubalcaba] skated for Tony Alva, who is one of the most famous skateboarders. It has to do with “Go for it!” – back to the window of opportunity. When the window’s open you’ve got to jump out the window. That’s where we come from – two of us grew up near the beach. There’s a lot of surfing, skateboarding, skimboarding. There’s hang gliding, windsurfing, snowboarding. When it gets cold and there’s snow on the mountains they’re skiing.
Do you do any of that yourself anymore?
I can’t because of my left leg. I grew up skating on metal wheels and then clay wheels at the beach. When the sand gets in the bearings, everything stops. So we spent more time picking ourselves up off the sidewalk and the asphalt alleyways. We had a video where it was one of the great new skaters who was the skater of the year. It was just a montage of him eating shit. Flying off a skateboard, falling off a skateboard – it was clip after clip after clip of him failing at what he was trying to attempt.
You grew up in Hermosa Beach, California. I read OFF!’s website about the LAPD interfering and shutting down gigs – that was 30 years ago in the late ’70s and now you’re saying they’re still doing it. Can you tell me about things that went on in your hometown?
I grew up at the beach and I was around a lot of aggressive characters – they were professional skateboarders and surfers – so they had this certain mentality. They see something, they go after it. They don’t stand around, they just do it. Combine that with being the kid that never got invited to the party or was picked on by all of the athletes at school. And then combine that with living in a neighbourhood where there are helicopters flying overheard, close to the buildings, not way up in the sky. The fire station with all of the emergency sirens. The busy intersection – Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard. All of the chaos happening there. People screeching breaks and honking horns. The accidents. People yelling at each other. Just combine that into one big pot and start stirring that up. Now what we’re gonna do is start sprinkling in events that are taking place where we’re being lied to or being led astray. People siding with people that they shouldn’t be siding with; doing things that aren’t in their best interest. Keep stirring it and what does it turn into? What we’re doing.
What about the LA hardcore scene?
There’s a bit of angry energy, spitefulness. There’s always gonna be someone out there who’s railing against authority. We don’t like the police. We don’t like the city county. We don’t like our teachers. We don’t like our principals. We don’t like anybody in any position of telling other people what to do. We don’t like that – that’s happened since the very beginning of time. Some kid beating the side of a tree with a branch to bum his parents out – the parents did the same thing to their parents. You think Elvis might have been hardcore? Frank Sinatra? You think they might have been punk rock too? They didn’t look like it. We had some really great bands in LA. The Dickies and The Weirdos and The Screamers. The Dils and The Zeros and The Bats and The Eyes and The Alley Cats. X.
You’re opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers in August. How did your fans respond to that and what’s your response to their response, or do you not care?
I do care. At the same time I don’t care. Let it be what it’s going to be. I have a mentality that we should be able to play with whoever we want to play with and it doesn’t matter. If you don’t wanna go, if you don’t like the band or the bands that we’re playing with, don’t go. Save your complaints ’cause they’re falling on deaf ears. I know all of the guys in the RHCP – I’ve know Flea and Anthony since the very beginning of their band. I’ve known Flea before they were even a band. Flea has played in the Circle Jerks. They grew up in Los Angeles, so they were around [punk]. How could they not be influenced by that? There’s that pot that we’re stirring up again. Sprinkle a little bit of this and that. A dash of that and pour some of this in.
Photos (unless where otherwise stated) © Imelda Michalczyk.
© Ayisha Khan.
BRIAN JAMES – CRAWLIN’ BACK HOME
Brian James released his first acoustic album earlier this year, ‘Brian James Grand Cru – Château Brian’; a warmth and wine acoustic roots work that holds at its heart old blues charm. Amongst recording a new album for The Brian James Gang and planning a forthcoming Lords of the New Church revival, he’s also been long time touring with his Damned comrade Rat Scabies, 35 years after the first punk album unleashed on the UK, ‘Damned Damned Damned’. Brian James, the songwriter of that album, talks about his lasting legacy as a musician more than three decades later.
You have a new album out called ‘Château Brian’. How did you get the idea for that?
Well it’s one of those things. Whenever I write any kind of songs, be it rock ‘n’ roll songs or whatever, I always write them on my acoustic guitar. Because I figure, if they sound good with acoustic, when it comes to playing electric with a drummer, they’re gonna sound even better. I’ve been messing around inbetween writing my electric songs playing acoustic guitar. I found that there was a bunch of songs I was coming out with, riffs and ideas, which weren’t suitable for being electric songs. I’d been jamming with my old friend Mark [Taylor], who’s a pianist – he used to play with me in Lords of the New Church – and [he] said to me, “Why don’t you do an acoustic album? It’s about time, you’ve been talking about doing one.” And I said, “Yeah, yeah. The only thing is I wanna record on tape”, instead of digital, which is fine for electric, but for acoustic you want more warmth, more purity to the sound. So he arranged it – he got the tape machines in and did everything; he just kept pushing me. And all the songs suddenly took shape. He brought down an accordion and started playing a bit on that, and I was like, “Woah! This sounds cool!” Different angles and different colours, and before I knew it, I had an album.
The album is bare knuckled acoustic blues/roots music. It’s very stripped down and on some tracks you’ve got a bit more layering. Can you describe the recording process?
The wonderful thing about tape is that it’s got a natural warmth to it and as you build tracks you can actually hear the layers. But with digital everything becomes very compressed very quickly, so you’ve got a ‘tinniness’ to it. And when you’re trying to do very sensitive music, digital is the worst possible thing because it hardens and tightens it all up, which is terrible. Once we recorded it onto tape, we had to put it into digital, unfortunately, so it would have all the tracks lined up so we could mix it.
Is recording on tape more strenuous than digital? When punk started you had bands making basement recordings on tape. But some of those bands today go down the digital route, because it’s cheaper…
Oh yeah. [Digital] is cheaper and less hassle. It’s an easy way out and that seems to be the norm now. It’s very hard to find studios that have tape, that’s why we had to bring tape in. It’s well worth it.
‘Crawlin’ My Way Back Home’ is one of the main tracks off the album, which you made a video for. What is that song about?
It’s about life on the road, gigging around, all these different things you encounter. A lot of people think the first verse is about talking to a woman that you spend the night with. It’s not, it’s about talking to an audience; without [them] there wouldn’t be any gig – it’s a two-way thing. When the tour is over you come back home; back to your lady, back to your family.
You did a re-recording of The Dripping Lips’ ‘Such A Lot Of Stars’ for this album.
The first time round on ‘Such A Lot Of Stars’, I presented the song to a singer I was working with at the time called Robbie [Kelman] and he wrote his own lyrics for it. What he wrote was really good – it was what came out of his mind; I didn’t want to change it because he had to sing it – but when I originally wrote the music and the chorus, I had a different idea in mind about how the lyrics would go. So I thought, whilst I was doing this acoustic album, it would be a perfect opportunity to write my own lyrics and present it in the way that I originally had intended it.
In choosing that particular track, is there any attachment to it? Throughout your career you’ve brought stuff from the past into your current projects.
It’s a bit like unfinished business. When you’ve done something, you like what you did, but you think [you] can do that better. When you’ve got a new angle on it or when you revert back to your original angle, which got distorted on the way, I don’t see anything wrong with revisiting that.
In terms of an ‘identity’, are you trying to show something to people who listen to the album that there’s another side to you as opposed to what they remember you for – being ex-The Damned or more rock ‘n’ roll?
It’s a very personal thing, something I wanted to get out of my system. It’s like when I hear a musician. When I heard Guns N’ Roses – they covered one of my songs years ago – I really liked the bass player and I thought one day I’d like to work with that guy. And I did. But it wasn’t to show people anything – it was a personal trip. There’s various musicians you come across that you think, “I know we could make some good music together.” And it’s the same thing with the album. It’s something that’s been around my head and, whenever I pick up a guitar, this old riff would come out again and again. It’s like, “One day I’m going to do an acoustic album,” and thank god Mark pushed me into it otherwise I still wouldn’t have done it.
So you don’t see it as a development of yourself as a musician? Being multi-faceted; it fleshes you out…
Oh I do. I’m immensely proud of it; I’m really happy I’ve done it. I’m really happy that I’ve exposed that side. It wasn’t for that reason it was done but that is one of the reasons I’m really happy it is done. That’s just one facet of what I do. Whether people like it or not is another matter.
Are you doing any tours to promote the album?
I want to. At the moment I’m doing gigs with Rat [Scabies] and that seems to be taking up most of the time. But my manager is trying to arrange something so I can do a few gigs. It’s a crazy year this year – there’s all kinds of things going on.
Are you doing another album for the Brian James Gang?
Yeah. We’re two-thirds the way through a new album. There’s a Lords boxset coming out so there’s gonna be a reformation of The Lords towards the end of the year.
Can you tell me about how the recording has been going and also if there’s a new sound to the album? How’s the album going to compare to the previous one?
Well I tell you, the new Brian James Gang album is probably the most noisiest. I’m layering so many different guitars. After doing the acoustic album, it’s like the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, so I’m really getting carried away. Austen [Gayton] the engineer said, “Brian you’ve got six guitars on here. Are you sure you wanna put another one [on]?” [I said], “Yeeaahh, I wanna do another.” It’s getting kind of crazy. I’m really enjoying – now having done this sort of serene, quieter stuff – making a lot of noise in the studio.
And you’ve done two-thirds of the recording?
Yeah, most of the backing tracks are done. I’ve got some more guitars to do and then some vocals and some mixing.
Are you doing a tour for that?
Oh there will be [one].
So which year’s going to be the ‘Brian James year’ when you’ve got all this stuff going on?
I dunno, it’s a crazy year so far. I dunno where it’s gonna go; dunno what’s gonna turn up next!
The reform of The Lords of the New Church happened in 2003. Have you got any plans for any new material or another tour?
We wanna release the boxset – it’s old stuff, rarities, live recordings and video stuff. And we’ll probably do The 100 Club gig – because that was a place The Lords used to play – and hopefully get an American tour together. When we tour, it’ll be playing all the old songs. Myself and Adam [Becvare], the new singer from Chicago, have started sending ideas backwards and forwards to each other for new songs, so hopefully we’ll record a new album and then present The Lords, ‘old and new’.
What’s the line-up gonna be?
It’ll be Danny [Fury] on drums, Dave Tregunna on bass, myself on guitar, Adam on vocals, hopefully Mark on keyboards. If not Mark it’ll be Matt [Irving], who was the original Lords pianist. So it’ll be very much like the original band, unfortunately without Stiv [Bators].
Adam does sound a lot like Stiv.
Well they’re from a similar area. Chicago and Cleveland are very similar.
Are you trying to move it forwards as a band or are you trying to show the old stuff seeping through? ‘Hold On’ was quite a different sound.
Well that one shouldn’t really have been released – we sold it at a few gigs and there was never any official record company release. I think we’re gonna be reworking some of the ideas on that; bring it more up-to-date. And writing a bunch of new stuff – we’ve started doing [that].
Tonight you’ve got this special show with Rat Scabies, Texas Terri and Austen Gayton (Flatpig), performing The Damned’s first album, ‘Damned, Damned, Damned’. What sparked the idea to perform that classic album?
I think what really sparked it was it’s the 35th anniversary of the punk thing and the release of the album. But also, The Damned, with Captain [Sensible] and Dave Vanian, have recently done a tour playing the first album. Rat and I figured that we were the energy behind that album, and we thought that fans out there deserved a chance to hear the energy that went into it, which Rat and I have when we play together.
Was there some kind of twist in having Texas Terri on vocals? You don’t want to be replicating something that’s fine as it is.
We wanted Austen to play bass because he’s the best bass player for the job. We were thinking about singers and we had one guy called Checkley (Bride Just Died) doing some of the gigs. He was good but he didn’t have a lot of personality up front. Then Japanese people got onto us about doing a couple of gigs [in Japan]. Checkley had a criminal record so he couldn’t go. We want[ed] to go and play there; the Japanese want[ed] to see us. So we started to think about who we could get in to sing. At the same time, [Texas] Terri was getting in touch with us and saying, “Hey guys, any time you want a singer…” And we thought, “Let’s try her out!” And it works good. This is the first gig we’ve done with her tonight.
And how do you think people will respond?
I like the idea; it’s a little bit controversial. I mean a girl singer taking Dave Vanian’s place – that appeals to my warped sense of humour!
Since you made the album, there’s been a massive 35 year time lapse. Are you trying to make it sound like it was, other than the fact that you’ve got Texas Terri doing vocals? When you do songs after that long, are you expecting people to be hearing them as they were or slightly different?
That’s one of the wonderful things about working with Rat – you might be playing the same songs but everytime you play them they come out different, because we spark off each other in different ways. We’ve never played the songs exactly that way before. If you’re gonna go back and play with an old friend and try and renew that spark, there has to be something special going on, otherwise it just sounds really tired and dated and horrible. As long as it’s vibrant, alive and exciting, I don’t think time really matters.
What legacy has ‘Damned Damned Damned’ had for you looking back 35 years and do you think it was the best album you guys put out (and one of the best punk albums)?
I was on two [Damned] albums, and by far it’s the better of the two. The second album [Music For Pleasure] was underprepared. It was a bit of a mess, we had a shit producer – the odds were against us on that album. Whereas [on] the first album there were songs we were gigging, we had a great producer and we recorded in a great little studio that the producer knew very well – the engineer cannot be underestimated at all. He knew in the studio a guy called Bazza, and they were used to working with each other really closely. So all the right magic ingredients were there to make a real good rock ‘n’ roll album, and I’m glad to say when I hear it now, it stands the test of time. I’m really proud of it.
And you wrote the songs. As your legacy, how do you feel about that?
It was my starting point. It was the first songs I wrote that were recorded and it motivated me to continue to write songs and work with different musicians through the years. So I’m proud of it and very happy it happened. It was my introduction to the music business, which I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of for 35 years.
Has it affected you in terms of propelling you as a musician now, post-The Damned?
I think everything does. It’s like a journey. It’s like when you have different relationships with different people. It’s all part of life’s wonderful rich tapestry. And it’s the same thing when you’re a musician and you’re writing new songs. You’re hoping that your songs are maturing with you as a person. I’m very proud of what I’ve done.
You wrote the first few records that were punk – ‘Damned Damned Damned’ and the two Damned singles, ‘New Rose’ and ‘Neat Neat Neat’. How does that stand with your esteem?
It gives you a confidence that people like those songs so much and it makes you wanna write new songs. But also – ‘New Rose’ in particular – it’s kept me alive over the years; it’s become such a popular song. Other bands have covered it. So I’m very grateful to that song – it has a very special place in my heart.
Would you like to see you or Rat doing anything in the future with The Damned? Or is that ended after 2006, when there was supposed to be a reunion that was cancelled. Has there been anything you’ve been thinking about?
No not really. I think there’s a problem between Captain and Rat – they just don’t seem to see eye to eye, which is a bit sad. But I don’t know, maybe it’s a bit late now. [The reunion] was planned – we had all the necessary people involved and wanted to do it, then Captain and Dave suddenly backed out at the last minute. So it was like, “OK. So you don’t really think seriously it could ever happen.” I’ll have to wait for the 40th [anniversary]!
Brian James’ new acoustic album, ‘Brian James Grand Cru – Château Brian’, is available now on CD, vinyl and as a digital download on Easy Action/Troubadour records.
Photos (unless where otherwise stated) © E. Gabriel Edvy/Blackswitch Labs.
© Ayisha Khan.
GARY LAMMIN & CHRIS MUSTO – THE BERMONDSEY JOYRIDERS: ROCK ‘N’ ROLL DEMONS
Punk rock ‘n’ roll blues band, The Bermondsey Joyriders, have released their latest instalment, ‘Noise and Revolution’; their own version of comic tinged spin on static society and fallible ‘good intentions’ rock ‘n’ roll, aimed at saving the world from social and cultural decay. John Sinclair, one-time manager of Detroit pre-punks MC5, provides spoken word narrative for the new songs, which hash themselves out as a multivitamin of rocking rhythms built upon the hardened façade of red raw values. Bermondsey Joyriders’ slide guitarist Gary Lammin and new drummer Chris Musto spew the truth about what it’s really like to be a ‘Tru Punk’.
The new album, ‘Noise and Revolution’, is exactly what it says on the tin – punk fundamentals questioning and revolting against aspects of today’s society and the hollowness of static rock ‘n’ roll, with noise in more shades than three chord. It’s structured like a narrative. What led you to go with this angle?
Gary: I got the idea for the album about 30 years ago, and I’ve been adjusting it ever since. In that time, I’ve been trying to look for someone who would be the right person to do that [spoken word] narrative. What I did notice when I was adjusting it [was] certain events keep reoccurring all the time from society. Nothing really changes. Everything is the same permutation of what it was before. And I think this is what politicians rely on – we get used to the same mundane set of circumstances that keep repeating day in and day out. So it doesn’t matter how angry we get, we just shrug our shoulders and say, “What can you do?” That’s the way they get to do what they do, which is basically to short change us all the time.
When you’re a kid, when you’re a fan, when you’re fourteen/fifteen, you wanna play guitar because you’ve been influenced and inspired by somebody you consider a rock ‘n’ roll icon. At that age you live by what these people say, and there are so many musicians and so many bands that start their life off with ‘good intentions’ to do and carry through exactly what they say they’re gonna do on their tin, but they end up just blowing it by being seduced by their own fame and success. That’s another thing I’m trying to say in this album – if you do remain in touch with the essence, the soul of the situation, that should be the guiding light of your journey.
You say that society doesn’t change, but one of the tracks on your new album is ‘Society Is Rapidly Changing’.
Gary: It’s a paradoxical statement. It’s a bit like this – in order for things to stay the same, everything has to change.
Anna Chen, the Guardian journalist, composed the video for the track with images of the summer riots last year. A few punk bands have condemned the violence and said it was just a load of chavs. Can you provide your insight that there might have been a ’cause’ for that to happen?
Gary: When you’ve got the banks and the big companies in this country creaming off profits and acting the way they do – these people come from very highly educated, very privileged backgrounds – how can we point the finger and condemn people who have got absolutely nothing for acting the way they acted? I’m not saying that’s the way to get things sorted out, but it’s a pity that the general public of British society didn’t point its fingers with the same kind of anger at those politicians and those greedy corporate merchant bankers in the same way as it pointed its fingers at those kids that were right.
Some people said there were materialistic intentions there…
Gary: You’ve got people driving around in cars that probably cost four times the amount of some people’s homes. Of course there’s materialistic motive behind that because these kids see that on the television; they read about it in the papers and think, “Well that’s what I need to be successful”.
The sound of the new album is very different to your first. You’ve maintained some of the gritty bluesy rock, but I picked up rhythm ‘n’ blues, glam rock, ’77 punk, country ‘n’ blues and rock ‘n’ roll too. Can you tell me what you’re trying to do with the movement of the band?
Gary: We’re trying to break down barriers. So many people want to pigeonhole. I was told, “That’s not punk rock because you’re using a slide guitar.” I’m not going to mention anybody’s names but THEY KNOW WHO THEY ARE AND THEY LIVE IN UP THE BLACKPOOL AREA. So I can’t play certain festivals because I play slide guitar and that’s not punk. Excuse me but I consider black blues to be the ultimate punk rock music of all time.
Chris: That’s as back to the roots as you can get.
Gary: And besides, some of the bands that are considered to be the real essence of punk music [are] Iggy Pop and The Stooges…the New York Dolls! What were the New York Dolls if they were not a hard hitting rhythm ‘n’ blues band? Come on!
Gary: Johnny Thunders!
And you’ve got the Small Faces as well…
Gary: The Small Faces – they’re an r ‘n’ b soul band! You couldn’t want more punk attitude than Stevie Marriott, come on!
Looking at rhythm ‘n’ blues and the history of punk, you had a lot of street punk bands like UK Subs and classic ’77 punk bands like The Vibrators that were in that scene – they started out doing pub rock that was doing rhythm ‘n’ blues covers like Chuck Berry.
Gary: The UK Subs even had an album called ‘Another Kind Of Blues’ – their very first album was called ‘Another Kind Of Blues’! I rest my case. What was Charlie Harper saying 35 years ago?
Did you feel that rhythm ‘n’ blues was integral to punk and that it never really left it, although you had bands that played minimalist punk ie three chord?
Gary: Bands like Dr Feelgood – Chris [has] just done a book on Wilko Johnson; the Canvey Island scene with Lew Lewis’ Reformer…
Chris: Yeah the whole essence of pub rock and how it shifted from pub rock into punk was so diverse. Pub rock was elements of black music, country, rock ‘n’ roll, swing. There was all sorts of stuff chucked together. And it all funnelled through.
Gary: What happened to pub rock is exactly the same thing that’s now happened to punk. People are not aware of what is really going on in punk. They see people playing basic, hard driving rock. And because it’s basic and hard driving, they think it doesn’t have to be very good. Well that’s the same thing that’s happened with punk. Don’t forget, we’re on the fourth generation of people who think they’re playing punk music. They see something that they’ve never experienced and so it becomes more and more condensed and watered down, and the point gets missed again and again and again as the generations go by.
Gary, you were in The Little Roosters as well. What I find quite interesting about that is it was a rhythm ‘n’ blues band. Was Joe Strummer trying to keep that going amongst ’80s synth and new wave?
Gary: When I worked with Joe Strummer and [he] produced an album of The Little Roosters, at that point in time you would have been better off saying you had a rare skin disease rather than say you were playing rhythm ‘n’ blues based rock ‘n’ roll. Joe Strummer I bumped into a few times just off Portobello Road [and] I got chatting to him. Joe came to see us play down the Hope & Anchor, the classic punk rock/pub rock gig, which is where The Damned started their careers – there were some great nights down there. Before Joe had seen The Little Roosters play, I’d asked him if he would produce a single. After he had seen us at the Hope & Anchor, he came backstage and I said, “What do you think Joe?” And he said, “Yeah it’s a great gig.” I said, “Are we still doing a single?” And he said, “No. I would really like to do an album.”
I found it unusual that rhythm ‘n’ blues was still there when so many bands had got rid of those roots. Music was so drenched with all that synth pop stuff.
Gary: The guitar bands that weren’t already established before the age of synthesiser thing, most of those had gone.
Chris: Oh yeah, music got all posh again. It went to what everything went away from. It went back to it in instrumentation terms as well. And there were a few people out there who were still fighting their corner, Joe being one of them. And Thunders.
David M Allen produced the album – he’s worked with a lot of new wave ’80s bands. What influence has he had on the sounds of the album and the recording process?
Gary: When I first met Dave, I was a little bit wary about which way he was going to take the production, because he had worked with Depeche Mode. But he had had hit records. And the thing that had convinced me after quite a few beers and curries with [him] was this: he said, “Look Gary, I think the band is absolutely fantastic and I want to tell you this right now. The last thing you need is anymore rock ‘n’ roll because it’s dripping off you. I need to put a frame around that swirling picture of chaotic rock ‘n’ roll that you’ve got going on. I think I can do that.”
A little bit like another Dave that I worked with, Dave Goodman, who was the original Sex Pistols producer. He had the same approach, that rather than try to get people to sound in any particular way, he would try to put a frame around what they were trying to do and then hang that picture on the wall.
Did David M Allen try to bring out those other sounds and genres that you’ve been experimenting with on this concept album?
Gary: On tracks like ‘Creepy Crawler’, ‘London Bridge’ and ‘Proper English’, he helped me to find a pop sound, rather than being a barroom street hollower that I’d always been. He said, “Listen, you’ve actually got some very nice tonal qualities in your voice. You don’t have to tear your heart out for this song. Why don’t you just step off the gas – let’s hear some of the qualities in your voice?” I thank Dave for that; he got me to do that.
John Sinclair did the spoken word interludes – you’ve created a kind of comic strip heroism.
Gary: Yeah that’s exactly what it is. It’s a Marvel comic – society is going wrong; enter this rock ‘n’ roll band that are gonna save the world. If anything, John Sinclair is playing the part that is traditionally played by Shakespeare’s jesters. In a lot of Shakespearian plays, there’s all kinds of chaos going on; nobody knows what is going on apart from this guy who’s meant to be the fool. And he relates that to the audience; he keeps the audience up to date with what’s going on. That’s a bit like the role John plays as the narrator. You’re quite right to say it’s like a comic strip – we need some superheroes to save the world. Enter this band with the inspirations and aspirations, but they get messed up, as they always do, with fame, champagne, cocaine, but they find redemption by finding the soul of it and what it was that they really started out to do. Which was the blues, the soul of the situation – the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Demon’.
Can you go through your collaborations with John Sinclair that led up to his involvement on the album? You went over Stateside and came back here and did something with him?
Gary: Here’s a massive great big piece of synchronicity, which also includes Chris Musto. When me and Martin Stacey first went to the States, we were hanging out in a place called Long Beach. And the drummer we used in the States was Steve Goodeye. Now me and Martin decided that if we was gonna put a band together, the template would be the MC5, because they were a hard hitting, no nonsense, honest garage underground rock ‘n’ roll band. And that’s what we liked. We’d never met Steve Goodeye the American drummer before – he met us at Los Angeles airport. We stayed in his house and it turns out that he is a massive MC5 fan. So inbetween the few gigs we had in the States, we sat about and we watched all this old MC5 footage, and there’s some stuff out there in America that I’ve never seen before.
Chris: The FBI’s got all the good stuff.
Gary: And I said to Martin, “Here’s the guy we need to get in contact with – John Sinclair.” Martin says, “You’re never gonna get in contact with John Sinclair. Look how old he is there. How old will he be now? He’s gonna be [in] his seventies; he won’t be interested in rock ‘n’ roll.” Well we tried to track him down and we leave messages for him all over America. We never get in contact with him, don’t matter who gives us a telephone number – it’s a dead end.
When I came back to England after that tour, there was a message on my phone that said, “Gary, we need a slide guitar player urgently to back John Sinclair.” I just spent the last three months trying to get in contact with John in America, and the day I come back, there’s three very urgent messages trying to contact me to play guitar for John Sinclair. And then I suddenly realised that the date they wanted me to play was the day that I came back. I turned up – John was halfway through his poetry – and I did the slide guitar, and we became friends. We had a series of other drummers at that point in time with The Bermondsey Joyriders; none of them were really members, they were just guest drummers. We were looking for the right person. Enter Chris Musto. I’m engaged in a conversation with John some months later and [said], “I think we’ve finally got a proper drummer for The Bermondsey Joyriders, who isn’t just going to be a guest. He’s actually gonna join the band and work collectively to take it forward.” John said, “Great. Who is he? Anyone I know?” I said, “Yeah, he’s a guy called Chris Musto.” He just burst out laughing and said, “Man, I don’t believe it!
Chris: A few years ago I heard a record [John] made called ‘Fattening Frogs For Snakes’, which was the story of the blues. I heard it because I knew Wayne Kramer, thought it was really good and went to a distributor in England. Initially I had met [John Sinclair] by chance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fair. I had a chat with him and said Wayne sent me. We sat on this doorstep outside of where he lives and watched this kid come out of the house opposite, freaking out – he must have been 14 – with a gun. And this kid turned around and went “bang bang bang bang bang” into this door! Jesus Christ! John said, “Shall we sit here and watch?” And all of a sudden the door opened and this woman came out, got hold of this kid and cuffed him round the face. He was shooting his own door! And John and I became friends because we were both scared – if we had gone, “Argh!”, we would have got shot. I arranged for him to come over to England to promote his record.
Gary: And that was the first time John had ever come over.
Chris: He’d never been to England. And we toured this band doing ‘Fattening Frogs For Snakes’ and became friends.
Did you know about MC5 back in the day or is it a band that you’ve only just realised was so important?
Gary: My bands had always been the ‘attitude’ bands. When I was a kid, the first attitude band I was aware of was The Rolling Stones, and then The Who. I think Neil Young said that you’re either a Beatles type person or you’re a Rolling Stones type person, and I can completely understand what he means by that. I love The Beatles, but it was The Rolling Stones that made me want to play the guitar. If it wasn’t for The Rolling Stones, I would have just carried on being a music fan and a listener. Then The Who endorsed that further. And as I got a little bit older, I became aware of the MC5. People go, “Oh, that’s not punk rock ’cause it’s got slide guitar; it’s got too much blues; it’s got too much soul in it.” Tell that to the MC5 coming out of Detroit!
Chris: By the time punk started, MC5 albums were all deleted. I used to run a record shop and you couldn’t get those records. Even the first two Stooges albums were valuable records. And it’s because there was a certain pocket of people who were aware of that stuff and that’s why the records were deleted. There were some little record shops in London, half a dozen, that were pioneering them, digging up, trying to get hold of these cut-outs and imports that were available, and they started filtering back in again.
How did John Sinclair get involved in the recording process as he lives in Amsterdam?
Gary: John was coming backwards and forwards from either Detroit or Amsterdam, to promote his poetry and books.
Chris: Yeah, he did a compilation book.
Gary: And when he came back to do his poetry, there were one or two guitarists that he would call upon. I was one of those guitarists. And at that point in time I ran the idea I had for ‘Noise and Revolution’ by him, this concept album from the last 30 years I’ve never committed to recording ’cause I’ve never been able to find anybody who had the voice I was looking for. And I’d played several sessions with John, until one day a little light came on. Hold on! I’ve been hanging out with John for several weeks – he’s the guy! The concept album I’ve been writing for all these years – the narrator! Crikey, it’s John Sinclair! I’ve been playing guitar for him for the last three months! And I run the idea past him and he said, “Yeah, sounds great Gary. Have you got it all written?” And I said, “Yeah, more or less.” I showed him the narration and he said, “It’s good. It’s really good.”
So you wrote it?
Gary: He’s edited it – he’s taken words out and put lines in. But 85% of the narration is what I’ve written.
The rock ‘n’ roll culture is portrayed in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Demon’ as “thinking outside the box”. Would you like to see punk and rock ‘n’ roll more intertwined? There’s conflict with punk rock, musically and culturally, but punk was clearly influenced by it.
Gary: There is with the punk rock police mindset that’s going around at the moment. The Sex Pistols were not a punk band – the Sex Pistols were one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the world. The Clash were not a punk band – they were one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the world. I like to take the energy of ‘punk’, but there’s so many influences that inspire me.
Chris: The images that changed my perception when I was a kid was the film ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. It was the best bit of rock ‘n’ roll film I’d ever seen. Aaah, it went to another level. From there on I was sold. And that was my direction.
Gary: And all of a sudden The Stones were saying, ‘We do something and we are totally about something else that other bands don’t do.’
Chris: And we will scare the crap out of your parents.
In the album, you touch on some of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle – drugs etc. Do you think rock ‘n’ roll is losing itself?
Gary: You’ve got to bring in a little Zen. All of us are very lazy and become complacent. You have to use your mind to check your own mind constantly.
The album finishes on ‘The Truth Walks Alone’. I found that quite sinister; there’s a pause at the end of that piece. There’s obviously some farcical tones in the album, but there’s a serious side too.
Gary: Life is a very serious business. All of us are on our own. But that doesn’t mean to say that, just because we are on our own, we shouldn’t show the compassion that is so needed in this society. So what happens with the album, it comes back on a dog leg to the beginning. It was meant to leave you thinking and reflecting on what you’ve just listened to.
Is there an anger there?
Gary: There’s an anger that goes to humour, because you’ve got to laugh, otherwise you’ll go nuts.
The Bermondsey Joyrider’s new album, ‘Flamboyent Thugs’, is available now on CD, vinyl and as a digital download on Fuel Injection records.
Photos (unless where otherwise stated) © E. Gabriel Edvy/Blackswitch Labs.
© Ayisha Khan.
FLIPPER – ‘THE GODFATHERS OF GRUNGE’, 30 YEARS ON
Thirty years after the release of their acclaimed debut studio album, ‘Album – Generic Flipper’, the San Francisco noise rockers are still going strong, retaining at their fishy backbone original members Bruce Loose, Ted Falconi and Steve DePace. Christened by some as the ‘Godfathers of Grunge’, Flipper influenced a wake of musicians after its form in 1979, including Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana and sludge metal Seattleites, the Melvins. Following the departure of Krist Novoselic (Nirvana) after Flipper’s last tour of the UK in 2006, Rachel Thoele (Frightwig) stepped up to takeover the mighty duty of bass player. This year the band is celebrating a 30th anniversary with the promise of a brand new album, previously unreleased material and a special edition of the record that started it all – ‘Generic’.
This is your first UK tour since 2006. How did it go and what experiences have you had so far?
Bruce: It’s been great so far. Rachel: It’s been really fun; really exciting. We’ve been able to play a lot of small, really cool, funky crazy clubs [laughs]. Steve: Every show’s been really, really good. We even kicked up a show last night that wasn’t scheduled. We got calls from a little venue in Huddles-ville…? Rachel: It was Hunters…Huntersville.
Rachel: Yeah that’s it.
Ted: One of the big things with the tours that we did before here, they were with other bands, so we were in venues with four, five foot-high stages, where there was no interaction really because the audience was out there. Here we’ve been doing everything from hometown bars to [places] where everybody knows everybody and everybody’s on stage practically, so it’s been a whole lot more ‘personal’ on this tour.
Bruce: Except for that one place where the stage was this high off the ground, and another place where they had the fence this far away!
You’re celebrating the 30 year anniversary of your first album ‘Generic Flipper’…
Ted: Do you know that ‘Generic Flipper’ was out before you were born? [They laugh]
…Yep I know that!
Bruce: Is this the same college professor who keeps sending you guys out to interview Flipper because we’re the hottest band in the world to interview?
No, I’m just one of those people before my time.
Bruce: Really? Okay.
How does it feel to have that 30 years under your belt? It’s a great achievement.
Steve: Yeah it makes you think about how long you’ve been doing something…and how much longer you’re going to do it [laughs]. You hit these milestones. Every time you hit one of these milestones it makes you think about things. It’s nice to commemorate those milestones with something.
I heard you had a limited edition version of the ‘Generic’ album coming out on coloured vinyl. Can you tell me how that edition’s going to be more special for the 30th anniversary?
Bruce: I haven’t heard of this. We like to spread wild rumours, so we lie a lot.
Ted: We’re trying to do a yellow vinyl. It’s all up to them after that. It goes through the bureaucracy, so we don’t have an album lined up, actually. All we know for sure is that the cover will be yellow. [They laugh]
Bruce: Unless we want to invert it for the 30 year anniversary…that would be interesting!
Ted: That’s a good idea. And do a yellow vinyl rather than black, because the original vinyl was black.
Bruce: Maybe we could use Fishbone’s copyrighted logo [laughs]. You heard it here.
Steve: We were discussing different ideas for maybe flopping the cover from the black on yellow to maybe a yellow on black, to make it different. And then the vinyl will be some kind of a colour – maybe a bright yellow. And I was thinking maybe something like a nice photo insert. It’s just gonna be packaging; there won’t be anything different on it in terms of the music. Just to commemorate that it’s 30 years.
Bruce: The only thing you really need to do with Flipper is come see a live show. Forget the records. Forget what colour the vinyl is. Listen to them; enjoy it. But you gotta see the live show. That’s what Flipper’s about.
Have you got any other releases coming out this year or towards the beginning of next year? I heard about unreleased material from the 1984 recording sessions of ‘Gone Fishin’.
Steve: What I think is gonna happen is that the ‘Generic Flipper’ anniversary issue will come out first. And then the next thing that will come out is that unreleased material record. We might put out a live record along with that – a live CBGB’s album. The unreleased material and the live record were recorded in the same year so it makes sense to put those out together. We have the outtakes from the ‘Gone Fishin’ sessions – I think it’s maybe eight songs – however we added a few more because we had a couple of other songs that were on tapes from early recording sessions that we’re gonna put on that record as well. So I think there may be 10 or 11 songs altogether that are gonna go on the record. If we do vinyl and CD, all of them won’t fit on the vinyl. So on the vinyl, we might do strictly ‘Gone Fishin’ outtakes, and on the CD version we’ll add the other three songs.
How come it’s taken you this long to get it out there? Is it something you’ve been aware of over the years?
Bruce: We’ve always been aware of it, it’s just back in the days we were limited to 20 minutes a side on vinyl recordings to get best sound quality; you push 22 [minutes] maybe but you’re gonna crunch the sound at the end. So you fit 9 songs on an album. That particular recording session we happened to do 17 songs or something like that, so we had these extra tracks leftover. We hadn’t got to them until now.
Ted: And then a lot of the stuff was kinda lost…
Bruce: Oh look, that’s not even funny!
Ted: Well, all that second stuff from ‘Gone Fishin’, and then we had to get it retaped and redigitised and then we mixed it – we’re gonna try and get that out on this next group of back catalogues.
Bruce: Yes, I know…[Swears under his breath]
In the foreseeable future, is there a plan for a new studio album with brand new material?
Bruce: We might do [an album] yes.
Has any recording taken place so far or have you just been writing songs?
Bruce: Well a couple of things we’ve attempted to get out, but we haven’t quite gotten there to do it yet.
Ted: We’ve been working on stuff at rehearsals.
Steve: The brand new stuff we haven’t started recording. We’ve only barely touched on some of the ideas for the songs.
Are you still keeping it as typical Flipper or are you gonna try anything different at all? Over the years the line-up has changed but you’ve kept the sound the same. Can we see more of that in the future?
Bruce: Well we’ve been working with a lot of sample sounds and synthesisers and triggering [these] off of electrodes onto seagulls; different sorts of seagulls and they all squawk in different tones. We’re working on torturing various animals, with the actual frequencies of the notes being transmitted into a digital electronic current. So the next album will be with animal noises in a proper pitch and tone – of course it’s gonna sound like Flipper! [Laughs]
Steve: [Rachel’s] styles fit in quite well. And also, having learned all the songs – the songs that we’re performing – she’s got this sense of sound, so I’m sure once we get to starting to record new songs, it’ll happen with her style.
Have you got working titles for these new records yet?
Steve: [For] the unreleased material, we’re not settled on a title yet. We’ve had a couple of working titles. The first one we thought about was ‘Kali’. And the reason we thought about that is because there’s an epic song on the [1982 Demos] called ‘Kali’. And then we started thinking about ‘Gone Fishin: Sessions II’ or something like that…we’re not quite sure yet on that one.
Bruce: We’re still thinking on it, and I’ll tell you honestly, stuff doesn’t get titled until usually the last minute. Sometimes I walk in the recording with totally new lyrics to a song and these guys will be like, “What are you doing?!” And I’m totally changing the whole song. The dynamic, how it works…all of a sudden I’ll have an inspiration and the lyrics will change.
Ted: We have a basic pattern to the songs. The dynamics change relative to how and what [Bruce is] saying. So when he changes things in the middle…
Bruce: …fucks them all up, [Ted] gets pissed off…
Ted: …everybody has to rework what it was that they were working so hard to get together in the first place.
Rachel: Because some of the songs are so repetitious, it allows us to jam and do what the hell we want with them – with the rhythm, with the drums, with the guitar.
Ted: They’re easy.
Bruce: Flipper songs are like old bar singing songs – if you can still play them, you’re still allowed to drink.
Photos © E. Gabriel Edvy/Blackswitch Labs.
© Ayisha Khan.