Jello Biafra Talks Politics, Music and The Music Business
Interview and intro by Danny Baraz
Getting some people to open up in an interview is like pulling teeth. That is not the case with Jello Biafra. It was about 20 minutes into our conversation before I even asked one of my pre-planned questions. That made the nerves I had before interviewing one of my ideological heroes dissipate instantly, so that our conversation about politics, music, the music business and the upcoming gig for Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine at Punk Rock Bowling feel like a casual conversation with a friend. I realized quickly why Jello has become such an icon of dissent. His ability to verbalize, crystalize and satirize pre-meditated confusion surrounding pop-culture, popular disinformation and the status quo make you feel sane in an insane world. One thing that surprised me was that he’s not buying into any far-reaching conspiracy theories that involve a small group of people controlling the world stage, either. He is an honest, intelligent and steadfast beacon of integrity and a lexicon of information.
(Jello Biafra portraits shot by Elizabeth Sloan. Guantanamo school of medicine photo by Curtis Stankalis)
“I was informed that I should be spending my high school years preparing to become a dental hygiene assistant.”- Jello Biafra
Danny: Hey, Jello. It’s Danny B from Janky Smooth.
Jello: Yup. Cool. recording?
Danny: I am recording right now.
Jello: Good. Want to play it back to make sure or…?
Danny: I’m not very OCD, but that’s one of the things that I’m pretty OCD about. So, I think I’ve done that about three or four times already.
Jello: Remember Spin Magazine?
Danny: Of course
Jello: Yeah, they did an interview with me and Ice T together right after the so called, “Rodney King Riot,” but should have been called, “The Reagan Riot.” And you know Reagan/Bush Riot if you will, and it was a great conversation. And then they take that back to New York and it was blank.
Danny: Oh my, God! You can’t capture that kind of magic again
Jello: So, we had to recreate a fake conversation separately over the phone with the writer and needless to say, it wasn’t nearly as good. Well, the weirdest thing was they did a photo session with the two of us over at Ice’s place and I wore a T-shirt saying, “Bush spells crack.” You know that’s the first President George Bush, him and like at least two of his sons have been implicated by some to be up to their neck in government dope dealing that brought us the crack epidemic and then they spun it down to the cultures and all. And when the Spin article came out, there I am, wearing a plain white T-shirt.
Danny: Oh my, God!
Jello: They of all people censored that out. Quite possibly because it mentioned drugs. The big, you know, anti-drug message campaign that Road Runner records did, but even came down on their artists, you can’t do stuff about drugs on your album which is all the more ironic when the Brujeria album came out before, about just dismembering people and all kinds of horror and gore and crime and violence. But, you can’t mention drugs. So then, they (Brujeria) will follow it up with a tribute to Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug lord. (laughs) Road Runner wouldn’t put it out, so we had to put out the El Patron single because it was talking about drugs.
Danny: Well, that sounds like your benefit. Sounds like you should be thanking them for being so uptight. It’s crazy that a rock and roll outfit would be that, sort of squeamish about topics like that. I mean…
“It does feel really weird sometimes when there’s that many people, I know we’re kind of little dots on stage like … I wonder what they’re getting out of all this but at the same time, I kind of figured well, it’s probably the best avenue there is to remind people I’m still alive and still doing cool shit.” -Jello Biafra on playing festivals
Jello: Well, it’s kind of like the original demands that Tipper Gore and her friends who were fronting for the religious right and shit were making. You know, the original senate committee hearing to censor music and stuff and music has gone too far, Blah blah blah. They wanted a separate red flag for suicide. You can’t talk about suicide, even if you’re saying, “Don’t kill yourself” and they didn’t get that. But one other thing that I’ve had to counter people over the years in the gay community who were still angry at Ralph Nader thinking they cost Al Gore that 2000 election, I got to point out that another thing Tipper was demanding at that time, was a red flag kind of ex-rating for homosexual content.
Danny: Damn. What year was that?
Jello: This was ‘85, ‘86 and the net result were those Tipper Stickers you see on album to this day, and they are “explicit lyrics, parental advisory”.
Jello: Seems nice and innocent until you realized how many chain stores where a lot of this music was sold at the time, a lions share actually wouldn’t stock anything with the Tipper Sticker on it, which meant that the major labels had in-house lyric screening committees, and they were, in some cases bleeping out and dumbing down the content of their artists without even telling them.
Jello: They’ve done that to people like ministry, white zombie and of course, the fetus’s on the back of the In Utero album were blacked out, and so they could sell the CD at Walmart.
Danny: Wow. The mind control…
Jello: Exactly ironic but Walmart where you’re not supposed to, they take great pride in not stocking anything that advocates gun violence, unless of course its a country music album. But you can trot on over to the other part of Walmart, and buy yourself a gun and enough ammo to load up and shoot everybody in the store before you even get to the cash register.
The family values Nazi’s never cease to amaze me with shit like that. You know, they love the unborn but the minute they’re born fuck em. We don’t care if you get scars, or hours of being left alone all day, because both parents have to work two or three jobs. We got a nice prison for you, when you turn, you know 12 or so and we’ll pay for that but we’re not going to pay so you can eat.
Danny: Well come on, do you really think that 80% of those jerk offs believe the stuff that they’re saying, or is it really just to create more inequality by creating more divide between us? You know to push peoples hot buttons….
Jello: Well, I think they did. Well, they believe in both that and inequality. You know, God helps those who help themselves, right? And so the whole thing that even kind of started trickling down as a teenager, you got to go out and help yourself, fuck everybody else and push further and further in that direction, and that there shouldn’t be any kind of community or common good and everything should be privatized, right ? We’re getting plane crashes again. Some people are talking about trying to privatize air traffic control.
Jello: And what good is that going to do? How do you make money with air traffic control? The same way you do when you privatize the waterworks or even the prison. You fire half the staff and pocket their salaries.
Danny: Right. And charge double.
Jello: Then planes start crashing and hey, even killing families, well that’s just the magic of the marketplace. Some people win, some people lose.
Danny: Right, unless the people who are losing are billionaires and then, they all believe in a sort of corporate socialism.
Jello: When Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the house, when the extreme right first seized congress, when the Clintnoids were asleep. He talked openly about his vision of an ideal economy in society where there’s no such thing as a permanent job, let alone any benefits or pensions or anything, where everybody is a temp and you have to compete, dog eat dog with everyone else to make sure you have a job every single day when you wake up. And slowly but surely, the economy is kind of… they’ve been trying to skew things that way ever since.
Danny: Absolutely. Seems like that vision is becoming a reality. I heard an Uber commercial the other day that was advertising to attract drivers. It was weird to hear a commercial that was targeting the work force instead of the consumer.
Jello: Sure they’ll open a Mercedes plant in your starving southern town, but no unions and everybody’s a temp, therefore no health insurance and shit like that just goes on and on.
Danny: Yeah. Do you think that we’re under a media mind control right now, not me and you, but in general the population?
Jello: That’s kind of too simplistic, in a way, I mean we all believe what we want to believe, and of course, you know the people who sit on most of the money, also manage to seize most of mass media outlets the people depend on for their so called knowledge, and this began way back in the 80’s when the Reagan Regime deregulated a lot of corporate and hostile take over laws, so all of a sudden there wasn’t any more independence from people like NBC, CBS or ABC. They all got bought by larger corporations, you know, and in a couple cases NBC and CBS, they both were owned by defense contractors for a while. You know, General Electric and Westinghouse and then ABC of course, that’s seized by Disney eventually.
And at that point, that’s when the news department started getting budget cuts right and left because all of a sudden, we don’t take pride on the quality of our work, the news itself should make a profit and the head of Westinghouse even said when they took over CBS; We’re here to please advertisers. And so, what you basically have anybody trying to report anything, they have to answer to the suits from a corporation who is interested in making you know all of their other ventures make money. You know, there’s not going to be any criticism of nuclear power with any place owned by GE, who of course eventually sold NBC to Comcast.
And so you’re not going to hear and they have all kinds, just specific stories over the years about specific stuff getting censored because it might offend an advertiser. So, that’s all the reason and you see more and more dumbing down of what you want is a blur, that you blur the lines between, the news and entertainment tonight and get more and more babes from modeling agencies plopped in front of the camera as news presenters, not reporters presenters.
Jello: And that’s what they call them in Britain and that’s kind of what they are.
Danny: Right. Well, you say that it’s simplistic to state it kind of broadly like a media mind control and I guess, that’s just one facet or one part of the plan. But you started to talk about working class people voting or being against unions, talk about how they divided everyone up in terms of right and left, and talk about all these conspiracy theories and of course, saying media mind control makes it very simplistic and it goes along with the plan of defunding education. So once you have [Crosstalk]…
Jello: I would be careful about talking about everything as one big plan.
Danny: Right. Right.
Jello: Some of this is inertia, some of it is a system run by crocodiles where it all feeds itself. But to think that the people with that much money, and that much power, and that much nastiness in their competitive personality, can all sit around in Palm Springs at the golf course and cooperate with each other. To some degree, that’s ridiculous. You know, a lot of those people fight with each other.
Danny: Right. Right, true.
Jello: You know, tie everything in a neat little bow. I mean, I’ll leave that to some of the fringier people. I mean, remember my song done on the first Lard album, “Can God Fill Teeth?” …
Danny: Yeah, of course.
Jello: “Look anywhere long enough, you’re going to find a conspiracy”, man, life is a conspiracy.
“You know, nobody with that much stuff welled up in em, is just going to want to freeze in 1980’s and play the same songs over and over and over again.”- Jello Biafra
Danny: Right. Right. Yeah, I mean…
Jello: Be careful with tying things in neat little bows. I mean, that’s another reason I refused to classify myself as an anarchist, or a libertarian, or a socialist, or whatever. I mean, when I vote, I vote issue by issue. You know, I take those ballot initiatives questions very seriously because hardly anybody pays attention to those which means the more people like us show up and vote, the more likely we’ll actually get the results at the grass roots level. Finally we’re getting some momentum in decriminalizing marijuana, finally. You know, it’s the only way to get rent control or the sheer joy of voting down publicly funded sports stadiums and things like that. And I’ve occasionally, even voted the ways some people say are conservative.
There’s ballot initiative in San Francisco to ban handguns and I thought, well, I’m all for that, but damn it the toothpaste is out of the tube, and all of this is going to do is waste hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in legal fees for the city that’s damn near broke, all to fight to save this law, when you know the Supreme Court is going to throw it out because they already threw out the previous attempt to ban handguns in San Francisco which was a cynical ploy by Dianne Feinstein, who was the mayor at that time, to announce the ban the same day a commission came down with a report criticizing our police department of being totally violent and out of control. But then, to keep her name in the paper with a great bowl of handguns, she melted down a bunch of pistols into a cross and gave it to the Pope when she visited him.
Danny: Yeah, It’s kind of remarkable or I wonder, and so shocked when people are still fully, whole heartedly behind any party, like Democratic Party or Republican Party. It just still shocks me, you know that people actually think that some of these politicians have their best interest in mind.
Jello: Right and then now all … Now all of a sudden people will say, “Oh, Elizabeth Warren will save us.” Well, I’m kind of doubtful of that. You know, number one, if she actually got in instead of the Hilary monster, She might find herself way in over her head just like Obama did. I mean for all his great speechifying, part of the problem with the Bar-rock-star is that he has been completely incompetent as a leader and an administrator.
But the other thing is everybody loves what she says about economic stuff. It’s similar to what presidential candidate Obama said in 2008, at least the Hilary monster was more honest that she was just a corporate fuck and this is all she intended to do and that Obama got in and did exactly what Hilary said she was going to do, instead of what he said he was going to do. With a lot of the people she would’ve hired; he hired to do it. But we don’t know anything about Warren as far as like would she stand up to Netanyahu, would she finally get a Truth Commission up and running to expose all the war crimes that the Bush regime made in the Middle East? I mean, to me that’s one of the worst heartbreaks that the Bar-rock-star administration was not just that they let all the Wall Street crooks off the hook, so they could just go back and do it again. But they did the same with the war criminals.
Danny: And not even delay in letting people know he wouldn’t prosecute war crimes… it was right away.
Jello: I’m not nearly as spooked by clown prince Dubya, or Cheney or Rumsfield, as I am of the people who worked for them. And those people are going to come back at some point in higher positions of power knowing they can get away with anything, and that water boarding can just … and you know, just throwing people in prison without a trial or not even letting their family know where they are, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, one thing that none of the bigger media outlets are reporting on, is not only does the CIA have black sites and some stuff where they held people in secret and tortured the shit out of them and stuff; The Chicago Police Department is doing it too.
Danny: Their own black sites, yeah.
Jello: Yeah. And where people disappeared for awhile and come back with the crap beat out of them and one of the people they took then died.
Danny: Yeah, and it’s incredible barely any coverage of that [Crosstalk]…
Jello: You know, the only place like I’ve seen is in the Guardian and that British Daily Paper is unlike any we have over here, but boy can we use one, but they do more and more American reporting, conscious that no one else is doing that over here. The Muckraking Daily Paper, et cetera. You know, so they have an online version Guardian.co.uk…
Danny: UK, right.
Jello: With a lot of worries about our own country, that our own country’s media doesn’t want us to know and that’s just one of them.
Danny: Well, our reporters will lose their privileges if they ask anything real in this country, you know, lose their access. And that’s sort of what makes me talk about the media mind control is, you know we’re not going to show dead bodies of soldiers coming back or coffins. They’re not going to show anything that really affects American’s negatively, and it’s consensus across the board whether you’re talking about MSNBC or Fox or…
Jello: We’re not going to show poor people, unless we can make fun of White trash on reality show.
Jello: Otherwise, poor people and families just trying to feed themselves at the lower end of the spectrum, you don’t hear about them.
Danny: Right, or how they’re dragging down this country, you know…
Jello: No, it’s not poor people dragging down this country, its rich people who are dragging down this country.
Danny: I know, but through the media and politicians, they, in a very crafty way turn it around to make it about Social Security, and not about defense spending.
Jello: Yeah, people generally, when they told people about what they really wanted was just hand Social Security over to Wall Street about the only people that really think that’s a good idea, are the people pulling the strings up at the top. But everybody else thinks that’s a really bad idea.
Danny: Right. That’s why it’s sort of hard for me to not be like, to try to stay out of that, you know tin foil hat conspiracy theories modality, but then you just see things that seem so obvious, that most people don’t catch, but yet, there they are right in front of you, things like that. You know, where it’s like, “Oh, we had this major event where the entire economy and not only ours, the entire world economy almost collapsde,” and seven years later we’re talking about Social Security and Obama Care as opposed to some of the real waste and spending. That’s where it’s like, so…
Jello: that was even going on when I was a kid. You know it was obvious even before I got out of middle school, okay that was a simplistic view at the time. You know, everybody up there is working for oil companies and that’s who runs the show and okay, it’s a little more complicated than that. But, I mean there’s another horrifying thing where I think it is Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon, came right out and said that they intend to, you know dig up and burn every last thing they think they can get access to, climate collapse be damned. They’re not even really going to try to do anything else they don’t intend to, you want to stop us, try it, fuck you. That got very little media coverage
“I went through an anti-voting stage early on, because you know; I looked at Reagan and Mondale for president, that’s not a choice. Feinstein and a bunch of business puppets for mayor, that’s not a choice. And Frank Zappa, among others talked me back into it, when they pointed out the importance of local elections and what they mean…”- Jello Biafra
Jello: but as they said, they have no intention of cooperating on climate collapse at all. And this is the scariest part, “mankind has adapted to things before, we’ll just adapt to this.”
Danny: Right. You know, and along the talking points and party lines, people aren’t afraid of it at all, on the right yet, they think that ISIS is in this country crossing the border and our borders are being overrun … like the end of the world.
Jello: Maybe a few of them do, but you got to admit there would be a lot less comedy in this country if the tea party weren’t around. If they get too much power it isn’t funny anymore, but until they do, you know. Some of the shit they pull and they say, it is funnier than shit, and the Al Qaeda Training Camp to send illegal brown people into America for terrorist acts, that’s just one example.
Danny: Just one of many. Yeah. So we’re in so… you know, it’s funny but this has also made me want to cry at the same time, that so many…
Jello: I mean Ted Cruz, one of the more brilliant buffoons we have right now. But he said, you know this whole premise of him running for president is that the laws don’t come from the Constitution, they come from God which is exactly what these higher ups and ISIS have been trying to tell us too.
Danny: Right. (laughs) Exactly! But yet he mentions the Constitution in almost every other sentence.
Jello: Yeah. Well, I mean probably one of these original intent people who are fully conscious that the Constitution originally said only white, male, land owner could vote, and that slavery was cool.
Danny: Right. Right.
Jello: Yeah, he may have a Latino last name, but that dude is about as lilly white Caucasian as it gets. You know, he’s Cuban American and even though he was born in Canada, suddenly because it’s Ted Cruz, he can run for president legally apparently. That’s a weird one to me too.
Danny: I don’t get that. How was that even possible that he’s even able to run for president?
Jello: Because you know, what corporations want, corporations get although, I think they just want him in there to skew the whole conversation further and further in to right-wing extremist world.
Jello: I mean, both the Clintons and Obama, are kind of where Richard Nixon was in a lot of ways. You know, they’re Nixon Republicans, but now they’re considered dangerously Liberal Democrats because the whole thing has been shifted and skewed so far. But I think we’re too much in cartoon world, in a lot of this conversation because I think we would both agree that what we really have here is a one party state masquerading as a two party state. The corporate party has two branches, you know, it’s kind of … you know the Soviet communists and the Ayatollahs in Iran, picking all the candidates to run and then you can choose which one you’re more comfortable with.
Jello: Which also means, they won’t do that as much, or as well with lower offices. You know [Crosstalk] important to pay attention to the ballot initiatives, important who’s mayor and city councils and for crying out loud who’s on the school board.
Jello: Nobody pays more attention to these things especially school boards than the religious right. So you got to pay attention and not just you know, sit on your ass and say “it’s all one big conspiracy therefore, I won’t vote.” That doesn’t work for me.
Danny: You know, this interview was my window kind of as a guise for pre press for the upcoming punk rock bowling gig, to cross off like a bucket list interview for myself. So I appreciate it definitely. I know you don’t do a lot of them. So, you know I still have fun and I was kind of…
Jello: It’s not that I don’t do a lot of them, but I can’t do as many as people want me to. If I did every interview the people wanted me to do that’s all I do.
Danny: That’s why I’m so stoked. And just to get into music a little bit, and talk about punk rock and I still have fun at Punk Rock Bowling and punk shows and punk rock still gets me off and even though my taste in music is pretty diverse now, I can’t deny that punk and thrash have guided me through a lot of things. But, it does seem that punk rock has experienced a sort of conformity to an image and I’ve found for the past couple of decades that, you know any sort deviation from that conformity is met with an almost, kind of violent opposition…
Jello: And which species of the conformity are you talking about, that everything should be pop punk or everything should be hardcore?
Danny: It’s more to hardcore punks, than the pop punks I don’t really count that in the same category because it’s pop, you know. People you have that…
Jello: I mean, even in the late 80’s, we started getting so many wimpy kissy ass poppy demos coming into Alternative Tentacles. You know a lot of them wanting to be the next REM or something, that I was already crying for the generic hardcore to come back. I mean, I don’t begrudge some of the bigger bands who gotten so successful with it because at least they are the ones were good at what they do. But it’s the ones who just you know, use kind of the same chord progressions that were done to death by early British Oi Bands, and what not over and over and over again. And then, whining about their personal romantic troubles, or whatever, you know this is nothing but the Eagles with loud guitars (Danny Laughs) but whenever I hear the Eagles with loud guitars, out of my stereo it goes.
Danny: Right. Right.
Jello: That doesn’t mean I down all melodic punk, just the poor formulated kissy ass stuff which it’s been long enough now that some people who grow up on this stuff thinking, oh, this is what’s punk. We get our friends to like us and we can use this bouncy cool little formula and we can look like Sid Vicious and Boy bands at the same time.
Jello: But, I also counter that with saying, “Look, there’s so much music out there,” and one of the great beauties of the punk explosion in late 70’s is it brought back the independent release, independent records, CD’s, downloads, whatever… cassettes. And man, anybody can make their own thing and put it out without having to spend years trying to play like Jimmy Page, or should I say Jimmy Buffet and try and get Warner Brothers or Universal to sign you. It doesn’t work that way anymore.
You know, the beauty is that it can make their own thing and the downside of course is also, anybody can make their own thing. And so, how do you find the good stuff? Well, for starters, you gotta quit complaining and stay curious and just look for it. I had very little patience for people bitching and moaning that the whole scene had died because Green Day got popular I’d say, “Hey, wait a minute. What about all these other bands out there that are still playing at Gilman Street and that’s their home? How about supporting people who needs some friends, who needs some support of music you like?” You know, forget about shit you don’t like, I kicked pop culture out of my life in about 8th grade if not sooner, I’ve been much happier for it.
Jello: You know, I don’t really care what the top ten music or top ten movies or books are, whatever. I just don’t fucking care. Life is too short anyway, to keep up with all the music I like.
Jello: And my tastes are wide enough that I never run out of cool new discovery. Anything I haven’t listened to before even if they were recorded long before I was born, it’s new to me when I hear it. So, I never get bored.
Danny: That’s actually a great segway because to mix what you are just saying about like the poppier stuff, but then also, I don’t know if you’re familiar with labels like Burger Records and Lollipop Records. But, they are bringing back that whole cassette and vinyl movement in such droves. You know, the destruction of the music industry is really what led to the emergence of labels like this or these [Crosstalk]…
Jello: I never heard of Lollipop. I know about Burger, but I’ve never heard about Lollipop.
Danny: Right. Right. So, you know they are making a lot of really poppy music, all kinds of different, you know, they’re releasing ten bands a week on the cassette. So, it’s good to that sort of coming back and there’s so many kids picking up instruments again today, that it really kind of…
Jello: Well, it’s not again today. That’s been going on steadily. Growing steadily, I mean there was a huge jump after Nirvana broke, and another big jump on top of that after Green Day got big.
Danny: Nirvana was like they couldn’t be ignored Green Day was kind of formulaic and it spawned…
Jello: That again is simplistic. I mean, even when I heard their first album, wondering why the hell they got to a successful straight out of the game. Okay, they don’t sound like all the other pop punk bands and they know what they’re doing.
Danny: Right. Right, they can play.
Jello: So, you know … You can’t call them formulaic at that time because that formula wasn’t in placed yet, at least you know, at the Tinsel town level it wasn’t there.
Danny: Yeah, they created a formula which is a lot more admirable…
Jello: I mean the majors would still … The major were still throwing a lot of mud against the wall to see what suck. I mean, at one point [Epic] even signed 7 seconds, and there were some, million dollar contracts for Seaweed, or whatever and of course They didn’t see that money at the end, that’s not how those contracts are really structured. But basically, I mean those kind of, you know after Nirvana broke, there was kind of a panic among the old major label executives who’ve been keeping those chairs warm all these years, “Oh my, God! What’s with these weird kids? They really don’t care what Bob Seger and Eric Clapton are doing anymore, shit. What are we going to do?”
Danny: Right. Right.
Jello: Okay, let’s kind of repackage this band we were going to try and launch as the next Journey and scruff them out a little bit, look and sound and call them the Stone Temple Pilots.
Jello: Or Ugly Kid Joe or whatever.
Danny: I was just checking out the Jello Biafra & the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All Stars and according to the press release, it states that you were dared to sing with the bands for Jazz Fest. Were there really a lot of arm twisting?
Jello: I know I had thought it was an interesting idea that might not come my way again, so I jumped in. I mean obviously the band I’m going to play with at Punk Rock Bowling is my main band, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine.
Danny: Love it. Right.
Jello: Yeah, but New Orleans Ranch and Soul All Stars was just kind of, catching lightning in a bottle went down there and it’s kind of an anarchist cacophony of sound because Josh Cohen from the Morning 40 Federation was in charge of getting the horn players. He brought in what would be more like in New Orleans Funeral March line up. There’s a souzaphone in there, a baritone with a smaller kind of a tuba, as well as course of, you know Tenor Baritone sax in really, really good trumpet player and stuff. He found some really good players and of course, they’d gave me the golden opportunity to work with Pete Gordon again. You know, made piano wild man, many people saw with Mojo Nixon and the toad lickers.
Danny: You know, it’s really entertaining.
Jello: You know it was a wild night and a great time was had by all and you know, they’re like, “Oh what the fuck, record to multi track, how could it hurt.” We may never do this again. A great time was had by all but the recording was a train wreck. Maybe for that very reason.
Danny: Right, because you’re having too much fun right…
Jello: Ben Mumphrey from Studio in the Country, who does, Frank Black and pixies and Dash Rip Rock and many more. He called the up and said, “Look, buddy I was at the show. I think I can fix this recording.” And bit by bit, over a multi year period when he wasn’t busy and I wasn’t busy, to keep an eye on. I mean, slowly but surely pulled some stuff together and it’s a fun little Trash Rock album. I mean it’s more for the diehard trashy garage fans than anything else, although I’m sure people that dig my other shit like this too. Everyone, so they’ll be people come up to me, especially at the Horton Heat show saying, “You know, I really like that album the Prairie Home Invasion you did with Mojo Nixon,” and that’s the one they’re really into because it’s closer to their own, the wheel house of their own taste. And a lot of them may like this one too. It’s less country and Rockabilly than the Prairie Home Invasion was, but my roots go very deep and I don’t have a chance to strut my stuff from that department and just concentrate on trying to be a singer. You know, I was kind of amazed and how much that shit I could actually sing.
Danny: Yeah, that sounded good, man. It sounded really good. And I don’t think a lot of people think so much of … people might say, “Jello Biafra the vocalist, you know Jello Biafra, you know… he does commentary,” but you’re really are a singer man, like some of the vibrato in there, it’s like … it’s really good. I was actually really entertained. I mean, not as much as I love Guantanamo School of Medicine, that still kind of getting your juices going, like you still have a lot of passion for that project?
Jello: Well, I mean obviously, that’s my main band. I mean, that’s where my… the songs I write go and that’s my outlet to get them in to force my shit upon the world. And even there’s a diehard retro people who, you know and live endlessly for reunions of old bands and show up just hoping to they’ll hear some Dead Kennedy’s songs. You know, they figure out pretty quick, they like these songs too.
Jello: You know, it’s not [Crosstalk]… I wrote most of the Dead Kennedy’s music, as well as the lyrics and it’s not as though I’ve forgotten how.
Danny: Right. Right.
Jello: You know, nobody with that much stuff welled up in em, is just going to want to freeze in 1980’s and play the same songs over and over and over again.
Danny: Unless they’re just trying to make a paycheck. Right. Right. Yeah, I mean I saw you and Guantanamo School of Medicine at Coachella in 2013 and I was kind of like, it was surreal. It was really surreal to see Jello Biafra playing at a stage in Coachella. You know was that like surreal for you, or were you excited because it’s kind of more…?
Jello: Not as surreal as that would have been if we weren’t already experienced with playing those kind of festivals in Europe. You know, the commercial version of Woodstock thing is a much bigger deal over there. In some cases, seems to be the only kind of thing that a lot of people go to because, they can block out some time from work and family and see a whole bunch of different bands they all want to see because they don’t go out to show at night anymore, especially not in school nights in the middle of the week.
It does feel really weird sometimes when there’s that many people, I know we’re kind of little dots on stage like … I wonder what they’re getting out of all this but at the same time, I kind of figured… Well, it’s probably the best avenue there is to remind people I’m still alive and still doing cool shit.
Danny: Right. Right.
Jello: And not just forming a half ass tribute band to my own music and sweatin to the oldies without the sweat. I will mention no names, but that’s not what I do.
Danny: (laughs) Right. Right. Yeah, I’m trying my hardest to bite my tongue on that one too and not say the D-K word but, I think that we’re almost through, so I think I made it. But, what’s your favorite band that’s on alternative that’s not you, that’s on alternative tentacles?
Jello: It goes back and forth, and I learned when the label started not to be playing favorites, because all the other bands are going to feel differently about that. I mean, obviously, one of most rewarding experiences ever, as well as the most unique was working with Wesley Willis.
Jello: You know, as far as punk spirit goes I mean, he had it in spades. You know, nothing but exactly who he was and made no bones about it. You know and the lyrics were just naked and honest as they could be, and you’ll learn a lot about people and about life that way.
Jello: Although, granted some of the songs that obviously, were triggered by times he was suffering from schizophrenia, I can’t deny that some of the songs where Wesley has trouble with demon voices on the bus are some of my favorite ones. But he was also, it also therapy for Wesley, he did this stuff over and over again, because he had to. He couldn’t not write more songs and luckily, some of these cases he was kind of in on the joke and knew why people cracked up over it and stuff. I know it must have been very heartbreaking for Wesley, who was a devout Christian and what not, when he got kicked out of the church for having an outburst and stuff. But, ‘They Threw Me out Of Church’ is my second favorite song of his next to ‘Rock N Roll McDonald’s.’
Jello: You know, “I called one of the deacons a motherfucker, the preacher talked about many servants. He told the congregation that I got a nasty filthy mouth and then merrily singing, they threw me out of church. They threw me out of church. For the second time, I told the preacher to fuck off and then I told Reverend Harold E. Miller to suck a male camel’s dick.” Which why my mother turned to me when I played Wesley for her and she said, “Well, at least it wasn’t a female camel’s dick.”
Jello: But I asked Wesley, “Wesley, did you really get thrown out of church?” and he just laughed and grinned, “Yeah”. “And did you really go up with a two by four and club the preacher on the head?” “I made that up.”
Danny: They almost sound like Jello Biafra to write satirical lyrics, they almost sound like satirical lyrics, but something that actually happened to Wesley. Interesting.
Jello: Wesley’s stuff is more direct.
Danny: Right. You think yours is more abstract?
Jello: At times, I mean it’s written differently. I’ll say one more thing. I mean, sort of stuff I’ve been doing lately was unearthing more really cool stuff from the past. I mean, we just put Really Red back out, who were kind of the more, thinking end of punk from Houston, Texas and like The Dicks and the Big Boys and others. They were up against some of most violent homicidal police departments in their very town and they challenged them, straight up which took a hell of a lot of guts. But listening back to and supervising the remastering, and everything. You know, the more I realize, I knew they were really unique then and they blew me away with one gig so much I put them on Let Them Eat Jelly Beans… But you know, this stuff is so, it’s punk, and it’s fiery … Their legacy speaks for itself but, this is in the same class as early Wire or Mission to Burma or something…
so we did both the albums, ran the whole album of the seven inches and some unreleased stuff. And before we did the Frantics from Colorado, we’re kind of like missing link between Flipper and Sixties Garage in a way, although they did a lot of hardcore too, that’s where they came from. And the two of them went into the fluid after that. And also another thing from Denver, we’ve been doing is, here I go again, putting out something almost unclassifiable and expecting people to figure out what to do with it … When they take it home from the store is The Itchy-O. You know… electronics… they are a 30-piece electronic marching band. But the music is actual songs and Bob Ferbrache, did all that 16 Horsepower and Slim Cessna and many other things in Absinthe Studio, he did the album and figured out a way to get all those college marching band drum from the Japanese Taiko drum and everything else in there, as well as the guitar and the bass and the keyboard and make it all work. And make it really intense around like Bob, you’re turning to Adrian Sherwood of the Rockies … the dance floor masterpiece.
But then, the people I know who DJ in that scene said, “No, our crowd won’t pick this up its too different. It’s too weird. There are too many jungle drums in it.” It’s not the rhythms people are used to”, but you can just imagine what it’s like live to have all these people in black masks engulf you, marching in from two or three or four different doors in the room at once, from the front and the back of the hall and just nailing you with this shit, and sometimes the keyboard or one of the things that walk by with an amp mounted on their back on an old mountain climbing backpack frame. You know, so they’ve got the amps on their backs too. And one time just to create more chaos, one of the female dancers who wear Burkas by the way, sneaking up behind people and getting them with a leaf blower when all this other shit is going on.
Danny: Right. That sounds amazing.
Jello: Not even the Crash Worship experience can quite prepare you for that, and it’s a little bit of a different thing and maybe darker and more thunderous than March Fourth (marching band), or extra action marching band … So it’s a very much its own thing…
Danny: I got to really check that out. That sounds amazing.
Jello: …keeps me interested in AT (Alternative Tentacles) is when you can voice something like that on the world or, you know some really good local punk and rock bands doing something different with bands like Pins of Light or Peace Creep or whatever. So, we keep on and we did the last World Inferno album too, and a new Ratos de Porao and yeah, we’ve been doing Jucifer’s vinyl for years. So, that’s a good one too…
Danny: Cool. And just leave us with this. You know, a lot of people when they get older, they kind of start to let go some of their closely held, even passionate beliefs. You know, it doesn’t seem like that to case with you. Can you name anything that you believed in whole heartedly in your early 20’s that you’ve let go of since then?
Jello: I don’t know. I went through an anti-voting stage early on, because you know; I looked at Reagan and Mondale for president, that’s not a choice. Feinstein and a bunch of business puppets for mayor, that’s not a choice. And Frank Zappa, among others talked me back into it, when they pointed out, the importance of local elections and what they mean, and why they matter and that’s where a lot of the money collected from taxes, that’s who decides how to spend it. affordable housing or a golf course? You know, should we teach Biology in public school or should we teach, crackpot, tea party creationism? And sneak it in as so called, intelligent design which of course, is specifically designed to make students less intelligent, kind of like they make you take all these Goddamn multiple choice test and in order to measure the success of the teachers in the school.
You know, regardless of income or other backgrounds, like English as a second language, those tests are designed to discriminate and re-segregate and that’s exactly what they’re doing. Even in 8th Grade when they had those Iowa tests of basic skills as they called them. You know, if I were to say, “Let’s see what happen. This is stupid.” I’m just going to make a grid, well slowly but surely fill out the dots and once the page is done, if you turn it on it’s side it says, “Fuck you.” And my score pretty much remain the same, as they were when I was trying to fill it out and get the answer right. You know, I just don’t trust the multiple choice shit, you know even back then before you know there was a heavy handed attempt to make everything into dumb down corporate schools to make everybody more obedient tax drones for when they hit the workforce.
I mean, I got called into this Office of the counselor, when I started high school who had a comb over coming from both sides of his head woven into a Brillo pad on top of this lizard face and what not. And he told me it was time to plan my career, I need you to fill out this multiple choice survey that will be sent to this big ICM computer in the factory outside of town. You know, there was a time when people didn’t all have computers; they were these great big machines. You had to; you know they weighed more than a soda machine or whatever. And I tried my sincere best to fill it out and yeah I’m into some theater, music, I’m good in English and Math and Social Studies and what not and you know back comes this punch card. Remember that punch card that somehow only, you know like a whistle, only dogs could hear. This is a punch card only counselors could read.
Danny: Right. Yeah, I do.
Jello: I was informed that I should be spending my high school years preparing to become a dental hygiene assistant. Needless to say, I never bothered seeing my counselor again, for any reason until I got out high school and then I had to pick up my ACT test scores from him. And for some weird reason at least for me, the ACT tests were way easier than the SAT, and I didn’t really study for either one. I didn’t really care. I was too busy smoking weed at that time. But here’s Mr. Brillo Pad and this greasy haired teenage high school hippie dude comes in, well for my ACT test and it looks me up and down, and looks up and down and looks the paper and back at me, “You’ve got the highest score of all my counselees.” That’s included you know, the school class president and shit and I just snickered, “Well, if you ever need help with your career. Oh yeah, great. Mr. Brillo will be sure to let you know I snatched the paper, out of his hand and left”.
Danny: Nice. It’s like dropping the mic. That’s great.
Jello: Yeah, I think I might have gone back one more time to pick up my diploma. I didn’t go through the cap and gown thing, thought that was kind of pointless. I’d forgotten to drop classes. So I wound up getting that credit, so I could graduate a semester early and I was so happy to get out of there. I just got the fuck out of there
Jello: I suppose in retrospect I should have just stayed one more semester and taken nothing but Art class, and had fun. But, that didn’t occur to me at the time I just been in school since I was five and I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.
Danny: Yeah, so he would say that the things that …You would say the things that…
Jello: Another good thing about it was, after I left a couple of months later, boulder high won the state basketball championship. I mean, just imagine how that would go to people’s heads, especially you know, the jocks and the seniors and stuff. I wasn’t there; I didn’t have to put up with any of it.
Danny: Right… Alright. Thanks a lot, Jello. I really appreciate it, man. It was great.
Danny: Have a good one. Okay? Maybe I’ll see you in Vegas. Okay, bye.
Jello: Alright. Bye.
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