Keith Morris, a few years shy of 60, remains typically snotty as hell, with trademark grimy dreads hanging from a head splotched with bald spots. But he also happens to be one happy camper. The iconoclastic ex-Black Flag bawler—whose bratty freak-puke was on SST Records’ initial release (the Nervous Breakdown EP) back in 1978—remains earth-shatteringly influential, and right now, he is reveling in the success of OFF!, the gloriously cruddy band he shares with Dmitri Coats (Burning Brides), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and Mario Rubalcaba (Hot Snakes/Earthless/Rocket From The Crypt).
Just a few years ago, Morris, also leader of hardcore-mongers the Circle Jerks, entered a studio with Coats, intent on making a new record with the band he founded 33 years ago. Friction ensued betwixt Morris and his bandmates; the record was ultimately scrapped; out of the ashes OFF! was formed, and they recorded four incendiary EPs full of steamrollers made to incite sweat-drenched mosh pit riots. OFF!’s recently released eponymous album (Vice Records) is yet another set of devastatingly intense punkers.
Sound of the City caught up with the happy, charismatic Morris for an entertaining chat about his Black Flag days, what a major dick Greg Ginn is, OFF!’s formation and how much he’s enjoying his new band.
Do you have any memories that stick out of shows or hanging out in New York with the Circle Jerks?
Going all the way back to the first time we played in New York at Irving Plaza with the Stimulators and Harley Flanagan, the Necros from Ohio, yeah.
Harley Flanagan is getting some press these days.
I’ve been reading bits and pieces about it. I guess it’s kind of a sad situation. I don’t know what to think of it because I’ve heard both sides. I guess this is one of those things where we’ll just see how the flow of the universe goes here.
Were you into New York hardcore back then? You seem to be all about L.A. hardcore and punk. What did you think of the other hardcore scenes in other cities?
One of the situations that I must let you know is that we were traveling in a van and we were going to city to city and when I say city to city, we were also playing like every tiny place in between—every little place that had a PA or a stereo system or what have you. So there were long hauls where we would be out for four months at a time, five months at a time and it was difficult. Let’s say you were picking up a fanzine from some of the major cities—it was a bit difficult to stay on top of who was who, where was where, why and because and all of those different things. I, personally, having lived in Los Angeles the majority of my life, I have to be partial to the L.A. scene. It is one of the major hubs. You have L.A., you have New York and you have London. There’s a few other places that have popped up and crept up. Of course, we had the grunge thing that happened in Seattle and all that type of stuff. But we had one of the greatest scenes in the world. But we were also overlooked. Even though we had, and we still have, all of the major labels here, they didn’t care about what was going on in the underground. They didn’t care what was going on over at the Whiskey a Go-Go or what was going on at The Masque under the Pussycat Theater on Hollywood Blvd. At that time, all of the—what we would call punk rock bands—and I don’t consider Blondie to be a punk rock band, I don’t consider the Talking Heads to be a punk rock band, the Ramones yes, because of their edge. But all of the bands were being signed out of London and New York so it was like we were being totally overlooked. I think the only band that got signed out of here [L.A.] that anything to do with us was the Dickies and maybe that was because they didn’t resemble a punk rock band; they looked more like a Saturday morning cartoon.
But anyways, as for the New York scene, there are a handful of bands that I have liked over the years. I like Warzone, Agnostic Front, the Cro-Mags. I’ve just only recently gotten into the Cro-Mags. Another thing that you have to take into consideration here is that we live in a time where you stand on the corner and all of a sudden there’s twenty other people on the corner standing there waiting to cross the street with you and they’re all in bands! Or they’re all gonna start a band. And then you gotta cross that corner to the next corner and there’s gonna be another twenty people waiting at that corner. So everybody is in a band or everybody’s playing music or waiting on tables and bussing tables to become the next Brad Pitt or the next George Clooney or what have you. So we have more and more and it’s just difficult to keep up with everybody.
Do your bandmates in OFF! turn you on to new music?
Um, occasionally. I like the broad tap that the guys in my band of the band that they listen to. Dmitri is more into a darker hardcore thing, Mario is more into like a garage-y Cavestomp!, ya know, bust up a Farfisa organ, everybody’s got bowl cuts, everybody looks like another version of the Ramones but they’re a little bit better dressed and their shoes are pointy—pointy boots, etc. And Steven is the pop guy. I can talk to Steven about ABBA and their recording technique—the doubling up of everything. ABBA would go in and they would double their voices. They’d make the drummer double his… the drummer would have to lay down his tracks and then come back and lay down those same exact tracks.
So you’re into ABBA?
Of course. How could you not be? They are one of the first bands you that you see when you’re in the record store. Ya know, you’re diggin’ through the bins? Why not purchase ABBA’s Greatest Hits? Waterloo? SOS?
Have you heard the new Redd Kross record that coming out on Merge?
Actually, I’ve not. But I’m sure that I will. I just got through listening to Phaseshifter the other day, which is a pretty genius record for that genre. I’m a big fan of all of those bands because I grew up with the British Invasion, and when you listen to the British Invasion you’re listening to bands that are like insanely talented, but you’re also listening to bands that have backing vocals—like they really cared about the backing vocals. So you’re listening to bands like the Zombies, the Hollies—they are fucking genius bands. Of course, growing up in the South Bay and at the beach, I was constantly being bombarded with the Beach Boys. And I hated the Beach Boys! Now, being 56 years old, I have firmly grasped the genius of the Beach Boys. And let us not forget: there would not be any Ramones if there were no Beach Boys, getting back to New York. But, you know, it’s difficult enough to remember the lyrics, to play the songs but to play the songs, remember the lyrics and sing the harmonies? That’s all like A-plus kind of stuff.
After you left Black Flag, did you keep up with what was being released on SST Records?
The thing with SST—and we have to bow down to SST as being one of the greatest indie rock labels ever, and it really took a downturn—is, at one point, all of the bands were all brilliant bands. Just think about it: Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets, Black Flag, then you can toss the Descendents into there—speaking of the Beach Boys, yes.
Here’s another little detour we can take: I just brought up the Descendents and we talked about the Dickies earlier and we talked about these British Invasion bands with their harmonies and now all of a sudden we’re seeing this wave of all of these boy bands. We can blame it on all of those bands. My mom would probably, if she were to go to one of these [boy band] shows, my mom would probably try to figure out a way to go backstage and slap them—just give ’em a Bruce Lee karate blow right to the Adam’s apple. Get out of here!
But we’re talking about SST, one of the greatest labels ever. I can’t get over the fact of how it was run into the ground, how the majority of the bands on the label couldn’t wait to get off. We’re looking at this slogan “Corporate Rock Still Sucks,” right, and so does a lot of indie rock, along with a lot of the labels and what I equate it to is ‘Well, you know, there’s all of these people running around at all these major labels and they’re just gonna fuck you over and they’re just fucking everybody over.” Yeah, but it’s like, “I’m not a homosexual. I like my sex straight. But if I’m gonna get fucked in the ass, I am gonna get fucked in the ass by the big dick that’s greased and lubed. I don’t wanna get fucked in the ass by some slimy, creepy, skuzzy, sweaty, unshaven guy that’s sitting in a garage somewhere peddling these bands.” That all of a sudden has become not worth listening to.
Are you referring to anyone in particular?
I would point the finger at SST. How could you listen to any of the new stuff that’s been put out on SST? The majority of it is pretty much unlistenable.
You’re touching on the period toward the late ’80s and into the early 90’s when SST was putting out, literally, tons upon tons of releases, most unmemorable.
Well, you had a situation where the label was doing amazing. If it had stayed on course, it would have done even more amazing. You could’ve watched somebody like Kurt Cobain, who was wholeheartedly influenced by a majority of the music that came off of that label. All of a sudden, you have the spokesboy for a sound and for a generation and a batch of bands. And then you have one of the bands also on the label, being Soundgarden. But, all of a sudden, it takes a turn for the worst when the guy, the head guy, says, “Well, I’m gonna start signing the bands.” And the guy that’s been running the label is no longer running the label.
Changing of the guards.
That all said, you’ve been on the outs with [SST Records proprietor] Greg Ginn essentially since you exited Black Flag back in 1979.
Um, we tried to make up, tried to be “punk rock boyfriends”—I’m just being facetious, of course. I’m writing a book and one of the chapters in the book will be “What happened when he and I tried to get back together.” There was a scenario where Black Flag was going to play a couple of reunion shows at a place called the Hollywood Palladium [in 2003]. The Hollywood Palladium is a space that if you jam it full of people, there’s 5000 people in there. I was asked by the promoters to come in and make sure that, you know, Robo was going to perform and Dez and Ron Reyes and Henry and Chuck Dukowski and Kira was gonna be there and it was gonna be this truly amazing thing. Once I started to get involved and started to take the bull by the horns, I got gouged by the bull. It got really ugly. I’d only rehearsed twice. When I left the rehearsals it was like, “You know what? I gotta start making calls. I gotta make sure the guys are gonna be here because if it’s gonna be anything like what these rehearsals have been, I’m not gonna be there.” It started to spiral into this “He said this and you’re talking shit and you’ve been spreading vicious rumors.” It turned very, like, third or fourth grade, like little kids pointing fingers at each other and I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. All of a sudden, I started to see the headtrip, the skulldruggery, the BS starting to rise up. I was starting to feel the bad vibes and I realized this is pretty much the same reason why I left in the first place.
Were the bad vibes mainly coming from Ginn, or from the other Black Flag members, as well?
Well, in the psyche department, in the headtrip department, we have to say anybody that looks at the situation and you look at the list of credits and you look at the mastermind, Black Flag is Greg Ginn’s band. Now, I’ve talked to a few other people, and Keith Morris says, “That’s right. Greg Ginn was the mastermind. Greg Ginn wrote some pretty brilliant songs.” But all of us stumbled into something—we didn’t know what we were creating. But the fact of the matter is, you can’t have a band unless you have other people playing in the band; you can’t go up on stage with just a guy and his guitar and play those songs. It just doesn’t work. There has to be some other people. There has to be a Ron Reyes or a Dez Cadena. There has to be a Billy Stevenson or a Kira Roessler. There has to be Chuck “The Duke” and there has to be Johnny “Bob” Goldstein. It doesn’t work any other way. I’m an administrator on the Black Flag Facebook page and I’m one of the guys that has to deflect some of the bullshit. A lot of people get on there and want to immediately grind on Henry Rollins. Henry Rollins in Black Flag: I saw him perform with Black Flag twice and they were pretty fucking amazing. At one of their performances, I was in tears, I couldn’t move, I was paralyzed. When I walked away, while I was crying, I was thinking to myself, “Why did I quit this band?” One of the greatest bands I’d ever been a part of, but also one of the greatest bands I’d ever seen perform. So, I get to let everybody know that you don’t get to badmouth any of the people in this band, because everybody put in their time, had stuff thrown at them, had their lives threatened. We were constantly having the police kick in our door and making us vacate a space at three in the morning, five in the morning. “Grab whatever you can and run.”
It appears that most of the ex-members of Black Flag are on good terms, but Ginn is the isolated one.
He chose to be the isolated one. He, being the creator and being the guy that who he was, also brought a lot of BS onto himself in some of his moves and the way that he practiced his business and just some of the terrible things that he’s done.
You obviously are tight with Raymond Pettibon. His artwork graces the covers of Black Flag and OFF!’s records, and he’s in your band’s videos. Pettibon is Ginn’s brother and the two haven’t spoken for many years.
Well, Raymond got treated the same way a lot us and a lot of the other people were treated, you know? How about a royalty statement? How about a list of how many records have been sold, or CD’s, or t-shirts, or what have you. None of that ever appears,
And Raymond, his brother… he just… you know… I think the mentality is that “Well, you’re working for Black Flag and you’re working for SST. You should be really happy. We’re doing you a favor.” I think that might have been the mentality. There is a huge rift between Henry and Greg, ya know, like, “After you left the band, you weren’t supposed to become successful. You were supposed to wash dishes or go back to Haägen-Dazs in Washington, D.C., and sell little cupful of ice cream.” And that’s not how it works.
Recently, the Voice sat down with Joe Carducci, who helped run SST from 1981 to ’86. Do you recall anything about Carducci?
Well, here’s the thing with Joe: Joe was maybe second- or third-generation SST. See, I was first-generation. We were the first stuff that came out on SST. But then I was gone—gone after that first [Black Flag] EP. We did some recording; we tried to record an album’s-worth of material and I’m sure some of that stuff has surfaced here and there. I know a lot of people that have worked for SST over the years and they don’t necessarily conform to the owner of the label—just because the owner is a dick doesn’t mean the people that work for him are dicks. Carducci has a blog that he puts up like once a month and it’s actually really, really cool. Ya know, a lot of great photos, some really cool stories. I get his blog. I guess I’m a member of the crew that gets the blog and I find it very interesting. I’m glad and happy he’s doing what he’s doing.
Ya know, there are a lot of people that have been associated with SST all sorts of different levels and some of these people are amazing, incredible people and some of them, just slugs. But with any group of people, you’re gonna have your apes and you’re gonna have your chimpanzees. You’re gonna have the ones swinging on the trees and you’re gonna have the ones shlumping next to the tree.
There was a period in the ’80s where both you and Chuck Biscuits were in the Circle Jerks together, and both of you were in Black Flag at different points. Did you ever talk to Chuck about being in Black Flag?
Chuck Biscuits, at one point, was asked to be play in Loverboy. What would have happened if he played in Loverboy? Then he would’ve gone from D.O.A. to Loverboy and he would’ve skipped out on the real fun bands.
We never talked about Black Flag. This was a period of time where we were in the van. It’s all about survivors; being a survivor, going from town to town. Hopefully, the promoter doesn’t stiff you. Hopefully, a bunch of people show up. Ya know, we were doing these things… [Mike] Watt seems to pride himself on the fact that he could do like “60 shows in 40 days!” [Watt’s like] “I’m just trying to run myself into the ground and kill myself as soon as possible.” Well, we went through that! There was a time and a place where there was no “All ages” unless there was the Moose Lodge or the Elks’ Lodge or the Masonic Temple or the VFW Hall. Some kid or some promoter had the wherewithal to rent the room. It was always about pulling in front of the nightclub, the bar, 21 and over. It’s like “Dude, we’ll play a show that starts at six in the afternoon, seven in the evening. So we can play for a couple dozen kids.” That’s how we built our followings. A lot of these bands nowadays, they don’t know that shit. The record company rents out a bus for ’em, slaps the XBOX on the side of it, gives ’em some energy drinks and sends ’em out on the road for the rest of their lives.
You’re not frowning upon what Watt does, though, right?
No, no, no, no. I don’t frown upon that. That’s Mike Watt. He’s the captain of his own ship. He can run his ship however he chooses. I, personally, love the festival because it’s just a giant party. It gives you all of these choices. Granted, the festival is a little bit more expensive. But even if you’re going to a festival and you’re playing like 60, 70 bucks—you’re still gonna get your money’s worth. You’re still out there doing something and out there with a bunch of likeminded people, getting sweaty, having a few drinks and trying to tip over the Port-o-Potty, trying to set fire to the trash cans and all of that wonderful stuff.
That said, are you over getting into the van and playing clubs?
I love playing clubs; I love the intimacy because you can see the people in the back room and you can see the response. I like that. But the reason I say that about the festival is because it’s become something new in my life. I’ve been to plenty of festivals. When I was a kid, I’d go to Anaheim Stadium and see Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ted Nugent and Foreigner and like three other bands in like an all- day thing. Or I’d go see Jeff Beck and Aerosmith and Jan Hammer an all sorts of bands like that. I love all of that stuff.
What I enjoy is—because my musical palate isn’t limited to black and white or green and yellow—I love these festivals because it’s whole different batch of people. We—OFF!—get a lot of flack because we are signed with Vice Records. Ya know, the “trendy hipster, ya know that’s their crowd, that’s their group of people… look at their magazine.” Yeah, well, ya know, if you look at the magazine, you would think because all of the fashion shit that’s in it, it would be geared to those types of people. But look at some of the stuff that Richard Kern does. Look at some of these photojournalistic photo essays that take place in the magazine. It [Vice] is certainly not about hipsters and trendsetters. It’s actually a very interesting magazine. Well, they’ll say “They’re just a bunch of hipsters. There’s the guy with the shite sunglasses!” It’s like “Who fuckin’ cares? Get over it.” It’s a big world that we live in. Grow up! I’m finding a lot of the people that we play to, there’s still those people that hold on to this mentality that this music that we’re playing doesn’t belong to anybody else but them. It’s a very selfish, fuckin’, self-centered thing where it’s like “You’re not cool if you look like that” or “you’re this and you’re that because you do that.” It’s like, who the fuck cares. Get the fuck over it.
So you get flack from old school punk type people?
Old school, new school. Ya know, there’s all these kids who think “they’ve lived it” because they got the tattoo or because they went out and got the skank kid tattooed on their ass or they got [Black Flag’s] four bars. All of a sudden, it makes them experts on the field, ya know? I don’t need to talk to any experts. Now, the only expert I need to talk to is guy who can take my turntable and that way he can make the belt drop so I can listen to 45’s and singles, ya know? I don’t need to talk to an expert on hardcore or punk rock. I’m 56 years old. I mean, I’ll listen. But I’ll listen and take it with a grain of salt.
The thing is, and I’m gonna go all the way right back to the very beginning when we first started playing, we didn’t care about any of that stuff. We just wanted to play music. One of the first parties that Black Flag played was in a garage in North Redondo on a Friday night. The kid who’s throwing the party has the garage door down, like he’s making a big deal out of it. It’s like “I’m gonna open the garage door, you’re gonna start playing and it’s gonna turn into just a giant, wild orgy and everybody’s gonna be fucking and drinking and doing drugs!”
It wasn’t that way, and it’s part of our learning experience. But what was totally cool was all of the people that came to the party that were in the backyard, you had your group of leather bikers over in one corner, there were the athletes like the quarterback and the head cheerleader and the head guy on the water polo team. We’re from the South Bay—a lot of water polo and a lot of swimming pools. Then of course there’s the drug dealers, the flakes, freaks and geeks and the guys that hang out underneath the pier in Hermosa Beach, surfers and chicks that are totally suntanned. So it’s just this big, wild mixture and we start playing and, of course, it bums everybody out. If there were 200 people in the backyard, there were maybe a dozen people that liked what we were doing and instead of it turning into this massive party and this massive orgy, it swirled into this giant, hate-filled “You guys, we hate you, where are the Led Zeppelin covers, how come you’re not playing any Doobie Brothers? We want to hear [‘Bohemian Rhapsody’] by Queen.” All of that kinds of stuff. So now all of a sudden, bottles are flying, half-empty cans.
We kept getting caught up in these baptisms of beer and booze and rocks and bricks and the guy that was throwing the party closed the garage door immediately and we were standing there looking at each other and looking at all of the broken bottles around us. I felt sorry for Robo because there was no place for him to go. This was how we were treated; this was how we were accepted. So, I’ve lived all of that stuff and I don’t need any expert to tell me the way it’s supposed to be. The last think I need is for some 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid to tell me that I’m a sellout because I’m on Vice Records. Get over it.
You said earlier that, after seeing Black Flag with Rollins, you questioned yourself about quitting the band. Do you still feel that regret?
Well, I was fortunate enough to go to a place called the Cathay de Grande off of Hollywood Blvd. over in Hollywood on a Sunday afternoon. It was a matinee. We love matinees on Sundays because what happens is the show gets over early enough to allow us to make that last sermon in church. So I saw a band called Green on Red, who were pretty amazing. I saw the Bangles in a hot, sweaty room in their miniskirts and that was pretty hot. And then Black Flag came out and they could’ve just leveled the building. It was insane. It was like, “Yeah, I regret leaving the band for certain reasons but for the most part I did the right thing.” When I left, everybody was pointing the finger at me, like all of the shortcomings of the band were my fault. Later on, I had received verbal apologies from both Robo and Chuck Dukowski like “Keith, the band was never the same once you left. We had these really great singers but you, for some reason, just brought some weird, wild thing to the band that nobody else was ever going to be able to duplicate. Not Henry. Not Dez. Not Ron.” And I really appreciate that. It made me feel really great but I know when I left, maybe a month later, I was already rehearsing with the Circle Jerks. So it wasn’t like we were just sitting around with our thumbs up our ass trying to figure out which way the wind was blowing. It was like “Let’s get down and let’s do some business, let’s carry on people, let’s go.”
Your lyrics for some OFF! songs have been interpreted as “responses” to the Black Flag/Ginn situation, most notably “I Got News For You.”
Well, I think that that’s beautiful that people can read into it like that way, you know, because maybe that these lyrics aren’t that blatant, even though they are pretty black and white. How ’bout the fact that maybe, you know, somebody fucked you over? Somebody screwed you over? You bet I got something against you. Too.
Like I said, when I left the band, there was a lot of finger pointing. The Black Flag troops and all of their people and their co-conspirators, they were not happy with me and some of the things that I did in the Circle Jerks. But we’re over that. That’s way, way far back in the past.
Do you look at the big-time success OFF! is experiencing as somewhat retribution for all the shit of the past you’ve endured?
Um, what is big-time success? What does that equate to? Does that mean that I get to leave my $1000-a-month apartment and move into a house on the top of the hill, where I’ll have a Jacuzzi and I’ll have a giant Olympic sized swimming pool where we’ll film outdoor adult entertainment? Yeah, we’ll throw the orgy. I’m gonna go out and play two weeks in OFF! and while I’m gone you can use whatever part of the mansion you want for rap and hip-hop videos and if you care to choose, drain the pool and fill it with champagne or whatever is the popular drink amongst all of the coke-sniffing gangsta rappers and all of those characters? And I’m not dissing them. I listen to a little bit of that occasionally.
Let me rephrase, because “big-time success” may have been slightly exaggerated. People have responded to OFF! in a big way.
Well, maybe we just happen to in the right place at the right time. Getting back to the flow of the universe—that hippy-dippy phrase, flow of the universe. Sometimes, you just have to go with it. What basically is happening with me is the same mentality that I’ve had throughout all of the years and that is, “Let’s do this. Let’s not force anything and let’s see what happens and let’s take this wherever it’ll take us. Let’s go with it.”
Are you at least a bit surprised by the impact OFF! has made?
Well, we’re just a bunch of older guys doing what we do, and I think getting back to being in the right place and the right time, we’re being bombarded with a wave of very horizontal type music. I think there’s not enough vertical music and I think we’re part of the vertical. We’re the guys that’ll come in that if you’re painting in black and white, we will toss some orange on your picture for you and we’ll throw some green and maybe we’ll add a little chartreuse and dayglo pink, turquoise…
It certainly sounds like you’re enjoying yourself, though.
I’m having a blast. I’m 56 years old. Having started a new band, I’m not supposed to be having this type of success. Now, granted, our success is on a very small scale. We’re not running out and buying brand new cars over there. I didn’t buy the house up on the hill that I explained to you about earlier.
What were you up to between the years of the Circle Jerks’ last record in 1995 and OFF!’s inception just a couple years ago. Circle Jerks did do some touring in the interim.
There was no in between. What happened was the Circle Jerks were gonna make a new record. We hired Dmitri to produce. Dmitri, being the producer—any great producer also can pick up a guitar, or play drums [aside from turning] knobs, or tell you the song is taking a different direction [and that] you should make a left turn instead of a right turn, or [say] the songs that you’re writing aren’t good enough to be on a record—was actually telling us, “Some of these songs are really cool.”
The guys [in Circle Jerks] were writing songs; they were submitting songs. We were banging some of songs out in the rehearsal space. Some of it sounded pretty cool, some of it was blatant and apparent that it was either going to be a thumbs up or thumbs down. Dmitri had the balls, was man enough to be the producer and say “That song is not good enough to be on a Circle Jerks album.” You tell [that to] a 45-year-old guy who believes that he’s one of the greatest songwriters to have ever come out of the songwriting school of songwriting. All of a sudden, you got all these ill feelings like “Oh, [Dmitri] is not punk rock. How can he tell us what’s punk rock and what’s not punk rock?” Well, what the fuck is punk rock? When we started playing music, we didn’t care. We were playing music because we wanted to make a lot of noise. We wanted to be in a room and we wanted to jump around and we wanted to be hot and sweaty. We didn’t know what we were doing and like thirty years later, all of a sudden, we know what we’re doing? It’s the blind leading the blind. All of sudden, you have a younger guy [Dmitri] telling a bunch of older guys their stuff’s not happening. So now, all of a sudden, there’s a conspiracy amongst a couple of the guys in the band to wrench back the power—the ego trip. And it’s like “I don’t dig this, I knew this was gonna happen.” Dmitri said “We’ve got a deadline, because one of the guys plays in one of the most popular bands on the Warped Tour.” And it’s like, “Guys, I’m getting ready to leave for three months. We gotta have the record recorded before I leave.” And it’s like “We’ll bow down to your schedule. Go out and play with all the kids.”
[Then it was like] “If we’re gonna record an album, we’ve gotta have songs to record guys, and these songs aren’t happening. We’re gonna meet in Keith’s living room, which is the most centrally located place amongst all of us.” And they couldn’t even show up. A couple of them showed up a couple of times, and we left it at that. One day I was with Dmitri and he said “Keith, if we’re gonna record this record, we’re gonna have to start chipping away and start writing some of the songs.” I said “Dmitri, I understand that. I knew that this situation was gonna happen. So let’s just continue on the path that we’re on.”
So one night I get a phone call. It’s 10:30 at night and it’s one of the [Circle Jerks] guys and it’s like, “Keith, we’ve made a decision and we know that you’re gonna quit the band. But we’re not working with Dmitri anymore. We’re gonna fire Dmitri.” I was like “Why would you call me and tell me something like that?” They were like, “We know you’re going to quit the band.” I was fuming. If the guy that called me would have been standing in front of me, I would have done my best to break his nose or break his jaw and I’m not a violent person. I don’t weigh that much. I weigh 130 pounds. So I’m not the guy that gets to run around, throwing my weight around. I was fuming. I was livid. I was very hateful and spiteful, and this isn’t cool. But a half-hour later, when I came to my realization, I had my epiphany: good players in the bands play in other bands, because the band that they’re in isn’t working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks out of the years, 365 days, what have you. So there’s a lot of off time and what do you do in that off time when you’ve run out of money and you need to pay your rent? You work day jobs or you play in another band—if you’re a good player you play in another band.
So all of these guys [in Circle Jerks] are playing in other bands and it’s like “Okay, big whoop de do. I’m gonna do the same thing they do.” I’m not quitting a band that I started 33 years ago. Are you kidding? I’ve been through too much stuff with these guys. I’ve been beat up and chased and thrown in jail and all of these things. It’s like “I’m not tossing this out the window.” I might close the door right now, but I’ll leave that door cracked just a little bit in case they decide to come back to me on their hands and knees, crying to me that they made a mistake. No, that’ll never happen and I’m not waiting for that. That’s an egotistical scenario that I created in my head. I’m not gonna quit a band I started because they made Shitty Decision No. 103.
So you can resurrect Circle Jerks whenever you want. They still exist.
In people’s minds and hearts and record collections. Our booking agent still gets offer after offer. I’m in a new band, and I’m having a great time and I love the guys in my band. I’m sure, you know, we’re older guys and it can get hissy and pissy and all of that kind of stuff. But I’m having the time of my life. I’m going back to Australia for the second time. I’ve been to Europe twice with this band. That wouldn’t have happened with [Circle Jerks]. We could barely tie our shoes in the other band. We could barely get it together to rehearse with the other band. I’m runnin’ with this. I’m goin’ with this as far as it takes me.
What do you think would have happened if the songs you were working on were released as a Circle Jerks record with Dmitri producing and OFF! never took flight?
Well, you and I certainly wouldn’t be chatting right now. We would not be talking.
OFF! plays with Refused tonight at Williamsburg Park.