OFF!’s Keith Morris Talks Supergroups, Slams Rick Rubin.
In discussions of ’70s and ’80s punk heroes, it doesn’t take too long before Keith Morris’ name comes up.
A founding member of both Black Flag and Circle Jerks, his preeminence in the scene pretty much goes without saying. And, oddly enough, thanks to a failed 2010 Circle Jerks reunion attempt, the 57-year-old now finds himself making some of the best music of his career, fronting a lineup stacked with punk elder statesmen. But, though OFF!’s lineup includes the likes of Dimitri Coats of Burning Brides, Steven Shane McDonald of Redd Kross and Mario Rubalcaba of Rocket From the Crypt, the band likes to insist it is not a supergroup.
Morris told us as much during a recent phone interview prior to his band’s show at Trees tomorrow night.
Morris also talked about seeing Kanye West, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and his undying anger for pretty much everything, including Rick Rubin.
What do you think of the supergroup label? Do you consider yourselves a supergroup?
When I think of supergroups, I think of Asia. Do you remember Asia? They were amazing! So I think we’re amazing. I’m being facetious. Asia were horrible. We don’t leap off buildings and we’re not bulletproof, so “supergroup,” I don’t believe applies. We have a great family tree and an amazing lineage, but what if people didn’t think we were cool? What if people thought we were horrible? Would that make us a “horrible supergroup?” I just can’t relate. I think it’s an easy adjective.
You’re new record sounds like a lot of the early hardcore stuff, but it also comes off as very fresh and current. How do manage to stay relevant when there are kids in the audience nowadays young enough to be your grandkids?
I think the reason behind that is there is a lot of stuff to be angry about, and the anger fuels our energy. Just because we’re older guys doesn’t mean we’re just going to roll over and play dead or jump through the hoop or bark when we’re told to bark.
How have the old fans from the Black Flag and Circle Jerks days been receiving you guys? I imagine it’s easier for younger generations to view this as a new band without all the history or preconceived expectations going in.
We’re fortunate because a lot of hardcore/punk rock/old-school people appreciate us, knowing where Steven and I come from. We also have a lot of newer fans I believe [whose] — and I hate using words like this because it’s so fucking record company-like and business-like — demographic is like 16 to 24.
That’s pretty young for guys that are in their 40s and 50s. We’ll just take it all. We want everybody to come and enjoy it and to jump around and let off steam. For us, there are no rules. We will go out and play. We’ve been playing festivals, which has been a really great thing for me because that allows me to see a bunch of bands that I would not normally pay to see. We played Coachella, so we played with The Strokes and Duran Duran and Kanye West. Snoop Dogg was a part of that. And we played with TV on the Radio, Deerhunter, Guided by Voices, The Cure, Yo La Tengo, Shellac and Wilco.
Do you like seeing that kind of stuff?
We want to play in front of the people that would go and see those bands because they’re not typically the same people that would come, say, if we were playing a club in Los Angeles. We want to play to the unconverted. We want to play to a whole new batch of people that don’t know who we are. They might go ‘That Keith Morris was in Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. I didn’t like them but I’m going to go see them because I’m here and I’ve got a few minutes between bands I want to see.’ Maybe we’ll impress them. It’s the same reason we opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We were catching flack. The hardcore punk people were like, ‘That’s not cool. That’s not punk rock. That’s not hardcore.’ All of a sudden, here we are, trying to adhere to their fucking rules? Are you kidding? Fuck the rules! We went and played in front of about seven to eight thousand people, and the majority of those people weren’t there to see us. They were there to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There were no boos. Nobody threw anything at us. When we got through playing, there was a lot of applause and a lot of people yelling “Encore!” Why do we want to continue to play the same places, in front of the same people? That’s pretty ridiculous.
Are these same people giving you flack for opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers also upset that you guys aren’t doing covers from your previous bands?
I don’t really pay attention to any of that stuff. We’re a new band and we want to be treated like a new band. Which means play our songs which are new to us. We’ve only been doing this for about two-and-a-half years. Some of the places on our tour where we’re going, I’m familiar with the places. A lot of the cities are the same, so I’m familiar with the cities. But we don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve also found out that a lot of the places we’re going to, the Dead Kennedys are playing the same night. And, in some of the other cities, not only are the Dead Kennedys playing, but The Misfits are also playing the same night. Let’s talk about a clusterfuck. Whatever happens, I’m cool with it. I’m very happy being in this band. I love the guys that I’m playing with.
The longest song on your record is barely a minute and a half. Is that a product of your audience’s ever-diminishing attention spans?
Not only that, but there are so many bands out there, so much music that it’s difficult to sift through all of it. You also have to understand we’re dealing with the computer people who want everything and they want it right now. They just want to press a couple of buttons and have it pop up. Also, we, as a band, have three dads in the band. We’re older guys. We have a lot more responsibilities, and we don’t get to spend a lot of time together. So when we do get together, we’ve got to pack as much stuff into it as possible. Our window of opportunity is extremely limited, so, when the window is open, we’ve got to just jump right through there. We’ve got to go for it. We don’t have time to stand around looking at each other and trying to figure out things.
It’s “Let’s just do this.”
So when you’re trying to fill a set with a bunch of minute-long songs, does that give you extra time for stage banter? Is that something that you kind of look forward to?
There’s another part to this, which is that we are older guys. I’m 57 years old and diabetic. On certain nights, it’s me mustering up all of the energy that I can to be doing what we’re doing. Part of my situation is just being able to go out there and do it. I’m extremely fortunate in that I’ve flirted with death and had brushes with death on several occasions and I’m still here and able to be doing what I’m doing. So I’ve got to just go for it.
From other things I’ve read, I get the impression that you’re not a big fan of Rick Rubin. What did you guys do on the production of your new record that he wouldn’t necessarily have done?
I’m not a fan of Rick Rubin whole-heartedly. I loved some of the work that he’s done. I just think a lot of these producers become almost like a production line. Granted, he’s worked with some amazing people. That first Danzig album is pretty badass. That Masters of Reality album is really cool. The Cult Electric album is really good. I don’t think it’s as good as the original record produced by Steve Brown, but that’s another conversation for another day. He produces my friends the Red Hot Chili Peppers and I’ve seen some of his production techniques and I don’t adhere to them. The fact of the matter is, for us, we don’t have the time to go in and spend a month in the studio working on an album. We don’t have that kind of budget. We don’t have that kind of time. We don’t have a lot of time together.
When we get together, we’ve got to pack as much stuff into the time that we have, because it might be two months before we see each other again. We’ve got to go for it.
Off! performs Wednesday, September 19, at Trees.