KEITH MORRIS was making punk rock since before you were born. And he's still at it. The Black Flag and Circle Jerks frontman now fronts OFF!—making classic and raw hardcore punk with guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald, and Rocket from the Crypt/Hot Snakes drummer Mario Rubalcaba. The sheer power of the four-piece blew heads off at SXSW. They've got something magical goin'. Just don't call 'em a supergroup.
MERCURY: Dimitri and Keith gave up on all the jerks in the Circle Jerks and started something new. What's in a name? Who came up with OFF!?
DIMITRI COATS: We were trying to think of names... I was being pretty obvious and went to a bug spray website. Raid was taken but OFF! wasn't, so I called up Keith. He got real quiet for a second and then went, "That's pretty badass!" He wasn't really paying attention to my train of thought because Black Flag wasn't named after an insect repellent. It was a symbol of anarchy created by Raymond Pettibon.
How much of Keith's oft-quoted "let's just do this and see where it takes us" creative process rings true on the First Four EPs? Where were most of the songs written? There's an obnoxious amount of raw spontaneity in those 16 songs, which last all of 18 minutes—how long did it take to write?
COATS: The songs are born out of a certain tension. We don't let each other off the hook very easily. Keith is pretty tough on me when I'm hammering on the guitar, coming up with riffs. And then when the tables get turned, I put him through a different kind of hell. It's often not very pleasant. A lot of anger, frustration, revenge, disappointment, and other dark stuff come out. We have a vision for this band. We all know our roles and what the overall goal is. It's a struggle, but in the end we know we're not half-assing it. This band is family, and we're not about to make fools of ourselves. The urgency in the recordings comes from not over-thinking the process. We pay attention to old ghosts, and back in the day the best records were recorded live with all the warts. We recorded the first and second EPs in a day, and the third and fourth EPs a few months later, also in just a day.
Steve McDonald was only 11 years old when his first band the Tourists began. Is there any truth to the idea that hardcore/punk music still resonates the strongest with youth? Also, how have the punk kids changed?
STEVE McDONALD: I think it's just the pissed off—which has no age barriers. The kids today have been spoon fed a homogenized version of what Keith started with Black Flag decades ago. I think what we have proved is that if it's honest and great—something you can trust—it'll strike a chord with hardcore fans who are young and older.
Touring with OFF!, what's been the best surprise at a show?
MARIO RUBALCABA: Oh by far, all of the topless women that come to our shows and dance onstage. Yeah, right. Best surprise? Well, we are just thankful to see people having a good time, letting loose, and moving around. Personally, for me, it's been a long time since I was in a band that prompted so much stage diving and pit action.
What's been the worst?
RUBALCABA: Just the usual shit, or the un-usual shit, like your brakes going out after an eight-hour drive while you're on the last exit of the highway. Um, getting arrested for taking veggie oil [for the van], the food poisoning—but this touring stuff is still pretty new for this band, so the book has yet to be written.
If OFF! could tour with any band—living or dead—who would it be??
KEITH MORRIS: The Beatles, Trash Talk, James Brown, Steppenwolf, Queens of the Stone Age, Harpo Marx, Howlin' Wolf, Cream, Love Battery, the Jesus Lizard, the Gun Club, Love, Mudhoney, Richard Pryor, Thee Oh Sees, Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars, Black Oak Arkansas, the Kinks, the Pretty Things, Fucked Up, Deerhunter, Bill Hicks, Iggy and the Stooges, the original Alice Cooper Band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Clash, Bob Dylan, Deep Purple, Mach II, X, Chambers Brothers, the Music Machine, Mick Taylor's Rolling Stones, the Flesh Eaters, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Mott the Hoople, Bad Brains, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Hawkwind, the Move, Captain Beyond, Scientists, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard—all of these as a touring festival! No need for explanations. And all this entertainment for $30, which I think is economical and fair. Rock stars and their girlfriends, movie stars, politicians, and Klingons would have to pay quadruple. Oh, and celebrities would have to clean the bathrooms.
People are still getting Black Flag tattoos—does it ever get overwhelming, trite, or ridiculous living in the shadow of those four iconic bars?
MORRIS: I find it INSANELY offensive. Just kidding! Not a fan of the skin art unless it's a piece that's colorful and creative. It's an honor to have all of these peeps think so highly of my past musical organizations (and everybody that was involved), but personally I'd rather see a tattoo of a ghost smoking a joint while he or she's racing downhill on a skateboard being chased by pygmies...or Watusis throwing grenades and water balloons over a nude Penthouse Pet from 1972 who's smoking a pipe filled with angel dust... maybe a midget clown standing on a milk crate, and under one of her arms is Abraham Lincoln with his tall hat. The greatest tattoo I've ever seen was worn by Rat's Ass, the vocalist of a band from Sacramento called Tales of Terror. He has Priscilla Presley riding a unicycle in a one-piece bathing suit, juggling pills, with a little banner that reads "Elvis."
Raymond Pettibon, the man responsible for the Black Flag logo, is doing the OFF! artwork.
MORRIS: Raymond's responsible for ALL of this mess! Blame it on him! He's our fifth member and one helluva tambourine player, but he won't be accompanying us on this leg of the tour as he's got other pressing issues, and more important parties to attend.
Do you have to try to ignore the past sometimes? And what advice would you give new bands trying to make their own way?
COATS: We definitely don't ignore the past. It's an inspirational guide, if anything. We can get away with a lot more when it comes to style because of who our singer is. That being said, we don't want to be some lame revival "supergroup" that tries too hard. We want to be taken seriously as a relevant new band. If the music comes from a real place of expression, and there's a genuine need for expressing it (aside from wanting to be "cool," "fashionable," or wanting to get laid), then it stands the chance to have soul.