Keith Morris Speaks Freely On Lawsuits, Politics & Punk Rock
Not a lot needs to be said about Keith Morris and his contributions, not only to punk rock music but to the entire culture of “art” itself.
I could easily get too wordy in this intro, to this transcript, of a bucket list interview with Morris for the temporarily defunct Janky Smooth and the NSA radio show from this time last year, but why?
Everything I could say is in the archives of this interview and in his biography, My Damage
I imagine there aren’t too many icons in the world who have remained as authentic and right sized as Keith and the fact that he gave a smaller publication like Janky Smooth one of his first, post lawsuit gag order interviews just speaks volumes about what this man values as an artist. Authenticity can not be feigned in art as easily as it can be in life and it’s rare to talk to someone in any capacity and get the vibe that what you see is what you get- especially when they’re talking about themselves.
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This interview took place in April of 2016 as one of our previews of Punk Rock Bowling. In it’s 19th year, Punk Rock Bowling just continues to grow at an amazingly organic pace and continues to be one of our favorite festivals of the year. Stay tuned for more interviews and articles about this year’s Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas and now, Asbury Park, New Jersey.
For a more complete recounting of his life in his own words, pick up Keith Morris’ biography, My Damage
Danny Baraz: What’s up Keith? It’s Danny.
Keith Morris: How you doing, Danny?
Danny Baraz: Oh man, just living the dream. How you doin. What’s going on?
Keith Morris: I’m living the nightmare. No. I’m just kidding. Just reading stuff on Facebook.
Danny Baraz: The usual time suck?
Keith Morris: Right now it’s “Eagles of Death Metal dropped from festivals over terrorism comments”
Danny Baraz: Comments by them or…?
Keith Morris: No they got dropped from some festivals in France and hopefully they’ll get dropped from all the festivals. I got a couple friends that play in the band and I’m really happy they’re employed. Musicians, given the opportunity to go out there and play…to pay their bills and play. Not a fan of the band. I’ve seen them a couple times. Last time I saw them- they were ok. We played a festival with them in like in, Serbia or Slovakia. On an airstrip. Used to be an airstrip. It was actually pretty fun. I only watched a couple of songs. Like I said, I’m happy my friends are employed and they’re traveling and getting to play. But I’m not a fan of that guy.
DB: What happened to them
KM: He apparently made some threats or some comments about the security. The security wasn’t very good or it was the security’s fault…or.. I didn’t read too far into it. Sometimes you just read the headline and the beginning and you don’t need to go any further. To me it’s not one of these interesting or important things.
DB: Right. Right. Right. They’ve had an interesting run of things since everything went down, you know?
KM: Well, it was at one point, I think that their PR person played it like, the terrorists actually showed up there and wanted to kill the lead singer. Like they were looking for him.
DB: Oh man. Spin it into that? Crazy. That would be a weird way to get publicity.
KM: Well, you know it got em like pffft… they couldn’t buy that kind of publicity.
DB: Eesh. Well, for me, just so you know, I’m stoked you’re doing this and that you came through on this. This is an honor. Just want to chat a little bit about some stuff. So… it seems like you guys are back in business, so to speak. Is it still called “Flag” or did some things get resolved?
KM: The legal situation only allows us to play as Flag. That’s just the way that it is when it comes to all of this legal stuff . I could get into all of the bloody, gory details but everybody that would be listening right now would just probably start crying, be bored to tears. It’s not really that big of a deal. I mean at one point we were told by the opposition that they were gonna make it cost us $500,000.
DB: $500,000 for what?
KM: For the lawsuit at the halfway point. Like a lawyer puffing up his chest trying to be mister tough guy. We were very fortunate our lawyer went out of his way to do all the work that he needed to do and try to get everything done as quickly as possible. You know, explaining as we’re going through the process that the only ones who really make money are the lawyers.
DB: Right, every time.
KM: Well you know I hear stories of bands hiring people that go in through all of the books at the record label because they feel they’re owed money, and there’s money that hasn’t been paid out. One of the stories I heard was from somebody that was associated with Gwar, how they spent $10k to hire the person to go in and read the books and paperwork, and ultimately they were due $11k. You know, spent $10k to make $1k?…So yeah, that’s normally the way the situation is. The people at the record label just fold their arms and put their nose up in the air and mentality is, what are you gonna do to us?
“Hey little man! What are you gonna do to me? You’re an ant.I can step on you and squash you and make you go away.”
We went through all of the legalities and the fun stuff like going to court . I didn’t go to court, I really dislike the court system so I try not to participate. So we went through that, it’s all good. We’re all in pretty decent health because we’re older guys and we’ve been presented the opportunity to go out and play some festivals and play a bunch of clubs. Just because we play all of these big festivals doesn’t mean we’re not playing and doing what we would normally do.
“And when we got in the room and he started playing, I was floored because Greg always reminded me of the guys in science class that would get straight A’s and the guy that would loan you his notes. If you were taking a test, he would be the guy that pushed his the paper a little bit closer to where you’re sitting so you could see his answers. And i didn’t expect what I heard to come from him.”- Keith Morris
DB: Right, right.It’s insane when people can’t work things out with themselves. When lawyers get involved you know that it’s gonna be more complicated than either side wants. But I think that everyone’s happy that it did get worked out and that Flag will be on tour. I’m just really fucking excited for next week . The first time I saw this incarnation of Flag it was at GV30 at the Santa Monica Civic for Goldenvoice 30th anniversary a few years back. Santa Monica Civic was like my high school auditorium growing up and I’ve never felt more intensity than it was during that first ever set back for your guys . The cool thing about the fact that you couldn’t even really hear you guys- I listened to the video playback and you guys were a little bit rusty, but you couldn’t even hear over how loud the crowd was singing on each song. It was insane. You guys weren’t on the lineup but rumors were swirling all around about you guys maybe playing. It’s been quite a ride since that night for this festival huh?
KM: Well we played that show and we were all excited. The music’s very volatile and lights some fires under some people’s asses but the way that we viewed it was we have such a great time doing it, we’re all friends and we got such a great response why not do it again and see what happens? It turned into us being able to actually go out and stringing dates together. We got offered festivals over in Europe. A couple of us are in our sixties and it’s like, we might not get the opportunity to do this again. You’d be an idiot to not take advantage of it . How could you not want to go to Sweden and France and a couple of festivals in Germany? We’re gonna play a couple nights in London at a really small club and that’s gonna be fun. Get to hang out in London for a couple of days.
DB: Yeah, fucking livin the dream huh?
KM: Well you keep saying “living the dream” because when we first started our conversation when you called me, you said you were living the dream and I said I’m livin the nightmare. Just being facetious.
DB: I try to say it in my mind. You know if you say it over and over again it becomes like an affirmation.
KM: I don’t dream about going on tour, I do dream about leaving LA because of my love hate relationship with Los Angeles.
DB: Yeah I hear you on that one.
KM: You know I love this city but at the same time after I’m here for a while it’s like, some of the people that are running around all the time, why would you want to hang out with them?
DB: It’s kind of fun to watch them like they’re in an aquarium though. See how they chase their tails around, chasing whatever dream they’re chasing, or nightmare, as it were. Let me ask you-when you were a kid what did you think you would be doing with your adult life, at this point or even earlier?
KM: Well I was a stoner. I was the guy that could get by just at the skin his teeth. So when I was in school I developed really terrible study habits. My grades were good enough to just get through so I never ever really applied myself. And my senior year in high school I actually was presented with a scholarship to the Pasadena Art Center, which many considered to be one of the greatest art schools in the world. At the time, the art dept I was a part of at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach was considered one of the greatest high school art departments in the United States. So the Art Center out in Pasadena had no problem presenting 3 scholarships each year to graduating members of Mira Costa. So we’d had a giant display at the LA County Fair which is a pretty big deal. And I won 3 gold awards. One of the paintings ended up being on the cover of West Ways magazine which is the Triple A (AAA) magazine that you get like every 2 or 3 months. And the people at the Pasadena Art Center were kind of impressed by that to the point where I was one of the 3 recipients.
But I ended up getting punk rock on one of the teachers, I was asked what I thought of the class because the whole idea was to get your scholarship you had to go through all of the classes you had taken in the art department and describe what you learned and what the deal was and what you thought of the teacher and your fellow students and here I am in front of a class of surfers and stoners..There’s always these classes at school just to get your C, just to get the hell out of there, all you have to do is just show up, you don’t get flunked and you get to move on. This one particular class was one of those classes, and I actually described the class as being exactly what I just told you. The teacher wasn’t having it. Like, “how dare you bad mouth me in front of all of my students?” And I’m looking at the class and they’re all my friends, I party with all of these people. They knew what was up; it wasn’t like I was lying, it wasn’t like I was making anything up.
But she started to grind on me, and she started to call me names and for some reason I snapped back at her and called her a bitch.
That doesn’t work: the student doesn’t get to call the female teacher a bitch, that just doesn’t work and she said that’s the reason why you’re not going to receive your scholarship.
Like, you’re not cool if you do that. You’re not cool, you’re not punk rock if you listen to that band or you’re not punk rock if you wear those shoes..That’s a really piss poor mentality. – Keith Morris
So initially, my big goal in life was to cruise through all of this and take some classes at junior college. See, to go to Pasadena Art Center, their prerequisites are basically the same pre reqs that you would have, to have to go to USC or go to UCLA or Cal , or wherever your were gonna go- any state university or college. And what they basically have you do is you take a couple of classes at the Art Center, and you take 3 or 4 classes at the college or the university.
So consequently there’s a lot of driving around, and I’m not into driving.
I wasn’t really interested in like trigonometry and stuff like that so I’ve was not very scholarly. Just kind of a slacker and consequently I ended up just going to junior college and almost earned an associate arts degree, which is your first degree, and then you start working on your bachelor’s and then you start working on your master’s. Somewhere in that process I met Greg Ginn and we at one point decided we were going to start a band. We had a lot of the same musical interests.
DB: What were you guys listening to at the time when you were writing the first riffs and lyrics?
KM: Well he was listening to a lot of Grateful Dead. We actually listened to a lot of radio so we were listening to whatever was being played on the radio. It could be Styx, Kansas, Journey.. We listened to all of that it didn’t necessarily mean we enjoyed or learned it, or went out and purchased any of it- you know,we were just stoner music lovers.
DB: And radio was always on in the background right?
KM: Well you go into his workspace and the radio would be on. When I was working the first thing I’d do in the morning I’d grab a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette and turn a radio on.
DB: Where were you working?
KM: I was working in Hermosa Beach. I remembered listening to KNAC. KNAC was great because they’d play ZZ Top and T Rex.
DB: Little harder edged.
KM: KNAC eventually turned into the metal station. They were the guys that would be playing Black Sabbath and Slayer. If the other FM radio stations weren’t playing that stuff or just barely playing sprinklings of that stuff, KNAC was playing all the heavier, harder stuff.
DB: Yeah man that’s interesting to hear the story about the scholarship, and who knows what might have been different if that ended going through. Im sure, you know, you and Greg were in the same neighborhood and things could have work out the same way, but who knows!
Tell me about the circumstances around the first time you guys actually decided to get together and play music. Were you guys talking about it for weeks? Like who approached who? What were the first songs you played together? What was the rehearsal space like?
KM: Well, a lot of those details are blurry for me because I had a period where I was in a lot of white out, and when i say white out I was trying to hang out with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell .
DB: (laughs) Taking a lot of LSD?
KM: No, no. Never, actually. I was dosed a couple time. But never did i say “Yes I’m going to take lsd.”
What happened with Greg and I, our situation was that where we lived there were about 2 or 3 record stores and I would hang out in the record stores. I had one place that I would hang out at, it was called Rubicon on Pier avenue. And my friend owned it. My friend had a mad crush on Greg Ginn’s younger sister, Erica. So they were going out and hanging out. She’d come to the store, she’d bring Greg along with her and her and Michael the owner of the store — RIP, Michael Piper– they’d take off and do whatever they were gonna do and I’d be in charge of the store and I would immediately go to the record bins or the cassette player or what have you. And look to remove the music that was being played to add some excitement and some volume and some edge. Let’s riot, let’s not be like our parents, let’s be loud and abrasive, I don’t wanna be like you, us vs them.
Consequently at that time, that would have equated to Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent and Aerosmith, ZZtop. I hadn’t listened to the MC 5. I’d not listened to the Velvet Underground, yet even though I don’t actually place them in that category. They’re extremely important and in that they had a mentality that was like we don’t want to be like everybody else.
We certainly didn’t want to be like everybody else, we didn’t know we were gonna be in a band.
We were becoming friends. We started partying together, then we started going to shows together,. I remember the show that was the solidifying factor in Greg and I looking at each other going , “yes we need to make noise.”
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We talked earlier about the Santa Monica Civic being your auditorium, and you went to the GV30 where you saw Flag. I used to go to shows at Santa Monica Civic on a regular basis and saw a lot of shows. That was one of my favorite venues. I loved it because first off it’s down by the beach. The weather down there is cleaner, fresher, and it reminded me and being from Hermosa Beach- It’s the same kind of vibe, same kind of weather. Just a freshness, crispiness, cleanliness.
But the particular show that I’m going to bring up was Journey and Thin Lizzy. We went because Thin lizzy had the hit on the radio and journey hadn’t turned into the Journey that we have grown to dislike. Journey early on was couple of the guys from Santana, and Aynsley Dunbar playing drums . The guy with no testicles hadn’t joined the band yet.
“Henry Rollins ,Chuck Dukowski, and I had at one point sat down and had a meeting where we decided that there were some things that needed to happen to make things right for everybody…”- keith morris
DB: Right, they were more like prog rock then right?
KM: They were like a heavy prog rock band and they were actually really good and very listenable. They were like that for two or three albums. It was a happening show.
That was the night that the seeds to Black Flag were planted.
And it would be probably 2 weeks, 3 weeks later Greg would say to me, I got a handful of songs, you wanna hear em?
And I said, yeah let’s get in a room and you can start thrashing around do whatever you’re gonna do.
And when we got in the room and he started playing, I was floored because Greg always reminded me of the guys in science class that would get straight A’s and the guy that would loan you his notes. If you were taking a test, he would be the guy that pushed his the paper a little bit closer to where you’re sitting so you could see his answers. And i didn’t expect what I heard to come from him.
DB: You remember what the first riff was that you and him played?
KM: No i don’t, but like i said there were like 5 or 6 songs and they weren’t complete songs ‘cause we didn’t know what drum the pattern was gonna be, what the bass pattern was gonna be.
It was just him slashing away on his guitar. And then he said Keith- i have lyrics for these songs, so he gave me the lyrics and the next time we go together I had managed to come up with a mic and a chord and I just plugged into his guitar cabinet. So he was playing guitar and I was singing through the same cabinet .
DB: Gnarly. And how long were you guys practicing those initial numbers before you decide, Hey I think it’s time we played a show?
KM: Well, we went through 3 bass players and we had Brian Migdol playing drums. The reason we had Brian playing with us was because we didn’t know any other drummers. I mean I knew a couple other drummers but they were prog rock guys, they weren’t gonna be interested in just banging and bashing and making a bunch of noise . So Brian was the only guy I knew that had a drum kit that might be slightly interested in what we’re doing. Now, granted he was not of the same mindset: I believe he was doing it because it just gave him something to talk about amongst all of this friends. Like, I’m playing in a band. His friends would come and see us and they’d be fucking running towards the doors with their hands over their ears.
DB: And so was that during rehearsals or was that during the first shows?
Keith Morris: Well we didn’t play what you would consider a real show with a real PA until like the Moose Lodge which was… Robo was in the band by then. See, when Chuck Dukowski became a member of the band, that’s when we started our regimental rehearsal program. Where we were rehearsing every night for minimum 3 hours.
Danny Baraz: And that was upon his insistence? Or everyone said, Wow this really came together let’s do this as much as possible?
KM: No it came together after we started rehearsal process. He basically took the reins and said this is what it was going to be.
DB: Chuck did or Greg did?
Keith Morris: No, Chuck did. ‘Cause Greg and I, the whole process for us was just you know.. Well what are we gonna do tomorrow? There was no premeditated, well we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do that, and because we’re doing these 2 things it will allow us to do a 3rd thing which will allow us to do a 4th thing, and once we get 5 of these things done then we’ll move on to 7 and 8, and 10 and 13.. And we’ll know what we’ll need to do.
We were never like that. Not until Chuck entered the picture and started cracking the whip. And that’s when we started resembling a band.
Granted it was wild and it was loud and it was chaotic and it was fierce and angry and volatile.
We were just like these nerdy dudes; we didn’t know what we were doing. We were frustrated because we didn’t know that you recorded a 4 song demo and put it on a cassette and went to the guy that ran the club, or the woman who worked at the club that booked the bands.. We didn’t know any of these procedures. It was the blind leading the blind…
DB: Thank god.
KM: And we played it as it laid. We played the hands that were dealt us.
DB: So what were you so angry about at the time that it came out like that?
KM: Well there was a period of time here in LA where you really had to go out and search for any kind of creativity because the majority of the bands , you’d go out into a bar on a friday or saturday night in certain neighborhoods all you were gonna hear was whatever was being played on the radio . You weren’t gonna hear a band with any new fresh ideas . Occasionally you’d hear a band that would toss in a song that they’d written , like an original song that they’d created. But for the most part all you were gonna get was Top 40.
All these bands would play like 3 or 4 sets on a Friday or Saturday night. And you’d hear the Eagles and you’d hear the Doobie Brothers and then you’d hear a couple more Eagles songs, and maybe you’d hear like really watered down versions of Led Zeppelin or you know whoever was being played on the radio.
DB: Just bands playing cover songs?
KM: Yeah and you’d have to go to the Sunset Strip to hear any originality. Like catch bands that were on tour, we’d go to the Whisky a go go; I actually told the guys we gotta end practice early tonight because we got a load in the car and we’re gonna go up to the Whisky a go go and we’re gonna see AC/DC on their first us tour. And that was pretty amazing.
DB: Damn. that must have been incredible. You talk to a lot of iconic punk figures such as yourself, you kinda hear the same stuff over and over again.. I wonder how much of t they’re making up, right?
Like there are very few people who say, hey we were listening to Journey when we got the idea,right? You always hear ,”Oh I went to the Ramones show and then everything fell together.” It seems like every fucking punk in LA that ended up being in a band was at the same Ramones show!
KM: Yeah all 5 thousand of them. At the Whisky a go go that holds 400 people.
Danny Baraz: Right. So it’s interesting and definitely a little bit refreshing to hear a kind of a variation from that scene and hearing the raw goods
Keith Morris: Well we saw those Ramones shows. We saw Blondie at the Whisky, and I don’t consider Blondie to be punk rock band, but you know i saw Budgie and Uriah Heep and Freddy King and all sorts of… You know my musical palette is wide open . I’m open to listening to just about anything . That’s why i consider myself to not have a box for a head. And that’s the problem with punk rock. It’s a fucking club, you know?
Like, you’re not cool if you do that. You’re not cool, you’re not punk rock if you listen to that band or you’re not punk rock if you wear those shoes.. that’s a really piss poor mentality.
See, when we started playing music or making noise, we didn’t care about any of that. We were happy just to be bashing and banging and turning it up and bumming people out. The girls in front would be like, “Ewww, I don’t like that!”
It’s like, Ok, then go party with somebody else. We looked at it just: it’s a form of freedom and then all of a sudden there are all these rules. Now you have to compete in the Sid Vicious and whatever the English are wearing. You gotta look like them. And it’s like, I’m not dissing. All of that was fun and fine and fantastic, but you know, I’m dressed in hand me downs.
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Danny Baraz: Right and that’s the interesting thing to me. I love Punk Rock Bowling. I go almost every year, it’s so much fun. I love all the music…the club shows are the best.
But you know the punk mentality is supposed to one of individuality so when you see every single person wearing denim or leather jackets with patches all over it and they all kinda look the same, it kind makes you go, Hmm this is not what this was supposed to be but hey, I love it anyway, you know?
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(Break for a block of music)
Danny Baraz: Since its been a few years since you ‘ve been able to really talk about it on record, what do you want to tell your fans and the world at large about the friction and litigation around that Black Flag stuff with Ginn that couldn’t really say publicly? What’s the result of all the proceedings?
Keith Morris: Well we won, and we get to continue using the name Flag. we had something that we had to give up , and when i say we , Henry Rollins ,Chuck Dukowski, and I had at one point sat down and had a meeting where we decided that there were some things that needed to happen to make things right for everybody and rather than go to all of the players – and when I say all of the players i mean Billy and Robo, you know everybody’s run of to their parts of the world , so everybody’s scattered.
We don’t get to talk to Robo because he’s down in Colombia. Ron’s up in Vancouver, Dez is out in New Jersey, Billy’s in Colorado , Ginn somewhere in Texas but we weren’t gonna talk with Greg Ginn.
The whole idea was that that majority of us had never been paid royalties. We’re talking about when they invented the compact disc and all this was available on compact discs, everything went through the roof. And now we have everything on the internet and in the ether digitally, and that’s a big deal.
So there’s tons of money coming that’s supposed to be divided amongst all of the people that played on the records . You know it’s kinds of our reward , it’s kind of like something that’s owed to us , it’s due to us.and we’d heard about all of these other litigations , we’d heard about all these other bands that had sued to get their royalties, we always heard the horror stories .
So the 3 of us came up with a plan : we were going to make the tapes and bring them up to like modern listener quality .
What we were planning on doing was doing a series of vinyl releases and whoever played on the record would contribute liner notes. Like, “hey i was 19 years old and my front tooth was chipped and I was at a keg party and all the girls were there and I was living under the church and all my favorites bands were the Alley Cats and the Descendents…
You know everybody was gonna contribute. There would be photos, there would be little blurbs, there would be stories.. This is what I remember when we recorded this, this is where we recorded it, we were working with these people… We were just gonna like bring everything up to where it was supposed to be.
And in the process something went wrong and we were sued and it got ugly.
But we managed to win the case, but we’re not going to proceed with trying to please the fans by coming up with all this digitally re-mastered, or cleaner artwork, or adding flyers- souping stuff up and going, you know what, paying 25 bucks for this slab of vinyl. I’m getting all this extra stuff- you know like all of the guys that were a part of it contributing to it, we’re not doing any of that. We were planning on doing that but it just turned into some ugliness.
Danny Baraz: Can’t hold up, right?
Keith Morris: And I’d told you a story earlier, Billy at one point actually went to SST to ask for royalties because Billy had some beyond serious health issues. And what i mean by that is he had a grapefruit sized tumor removed from his brain… That’s pretty hairball.
He passed a polish sausage sized blood clot, which if you just try to picture that…It’s like not humanly possible. His doctor, when they found it, was just like, Dude you’re not even supposed to be here, we’re not even supposed to be doing this. So he had health issues and he went and said, look, I need my royalties. He played on about 7 Black Flag albums. He’s like the lone original member of the descendents, so he played on all of those records and those some of the biggest records that SST put out . So you know, hey how bout some royalties?
Danny Baraz: Right, break me off, what the hell!
Keith Morris: And they got all huffy and puffy, and it got ugly. I could tell you more stories, but I think we’ll just leave it there. Everybody pretty much knows corporate rock sucks. Not all of it, maybe the corporations suck, but so do a lot of these indie labels.
Danny Baraz: Right, clearly right?
Keith Morris: At one point SST set the example of hat an indie label was supposed to be. How could you argue with the label that had the Minutemen and Husker Du and the Meat Puppets and the Bad Brains and Screaming Trees and Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr… I mean the list goes on.
For them to be unfair, there’s nothing cool, about that. So you know, I could go on a tirade, I could say really bad things about some of those people but i won’t.
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Danny Baraz: But that’s sort of what kicked everything off was Bill Stevenson’s health issues and then sort of everything kind of came to a head and that was some of the reason, to make sure to get everything cleared up legally?
Keith Morris: Well we were forced into a situation where we had to defend ourselves. We weren’t gonna sue SST. That was never our intention. And then we were sued and we had no choice but to stand up for ourselves.
Danny Baraz: I was always crushed. Soon as I found out about how what a hoarder Gin was with all the spoils of war, if you will.
Whenever your heroes sort of fall off the pedestal it’s always kind of tough to take. Kind of interesting I’ve been noticing a trend of old school punks starting to talk like republicans about big government , like how did they reconcile the fact that Ronald Reagan imagery was such a vital piece of the 80’s punk aesthetic and now they go around using terms and phrases that Reagan would have used himself. Have you noticed that?
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Keith Morris: My stance is that the majority of politicians, Republican or Democrat, are just as evil a each other.
A perfect example would be the Clintons and the Bush’s, and their ties with the CIA-
“we’ll have this person removed from the picture but you’ve gotta have that person removed from the picture”?
You know, we’ll scratch your back you’ll scratch ours? You massage my testicles, I’ll massage your testicles? I’m not doing that. That’s the position that we find ourselves in at this time where the majority of them are untrustworthy on both sides.
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Danny Baraz: Absolutely, I agree with you 100%. But to me it’s always more fascinating because we say, “Oh this politician is a piece of shit, or that politician, or this policy sucks..” but really, you know it’s just a reflection of us. In the end we cast the votes, and now there’s a narrative and people identify with certain narratives and I guess I’m really fascinated with why particular narratives really resonate with them. I guess that was kind of my question: whereas “democrats” used to sort of stand up for the little guy , which definitely isn’t the case any more, but you know it would make sense why a punk band would sort of resonate with that kind of message.
Keith Morris: Well you know that message is the ‘us vs them’ message. David vs, Goliath. But it’s true on both sides. We have these politicians that we prop up thinking that they are great and they’re not .
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Danny Baraz: I think that’s why everyone sort of jumped on the Bernie train, because you just sorta get an authenticity and you believe what he’s saying which is, I’ve never believed what a politician was saying my entire life, I know better than that, but i guess that’s sort of what the appeal is over there.
Keith Morris: Well did you get to hear any of Kennedy’s speeches? Did you pay attention to Barack Obama’s speech where you have a fairly intelligent person getting up there saying good things but ultimately, he’s not better than the person that he replaced, he was just more prepared when it came to make a speech? And what he said spoke to more people.
Danny Baraz: After his first election- I’ve always been a political junkie- I think that was the first time I said, Listen there’s no point in participating in any of this. Because again, people say their messages resonate and get people to vote for them, but they all have the same corporate agenda. They’re all taking money from the same people.
And that’s when I said for the first time ever, I’m done with this. Then you know, Bernie Sanders came along. He’s probably not going to get the nomination but I think what he’s helped do with some of the youth, at least I hope, what’s kept this country somewhat on the shred of honesty is young idealistic activist kids and it looked like this was going to be the first generation that wasn’t gonna produce that type of dissent. Both in art and music, I just didn’t see it anywhere. Then Bernie Sanders came along.
I hate using media generated monikers but what’s your opinion on millennials? Have you had much in depth experiences around the youth of today?
Keith Morris: Oh you mean going to Coachella? You mean the new people that have moved into my neighborhood? That just come and go as they please? And make as much noise as they want? And walk their dogs? And their dogs shit on lawns and they’re too busy or too self-important to take a plastic bag scoop it up and put it in the trash can? “Well I don’t need to do that. Somebody else can do that.”
Danny Baraz: Isn’t that what people have said about every kind of emerging generation?
Keith Morris: Not necessarily. The punks dissed the hippies. But the hippies, they didn’t want to go to Vietnam. They knew better. Why would we go fight a war in a country that did not want us to be there in the first place? And what was the big threat at the time? The spread of communism which eventually kind of just stepped aside?
Danny Baraz: Fell apart, right?
Keith Morris: Yeah.
Danny Baraz: Yeah, the boogie man of the time.
Keith Morris: One of our problem is, we’re California . California can suceed from the union and do just fine one its own because we’re the seventh largest economy in the world. Our problem is not (unintelligible) in the San Fernando Valley, or the films that are being made in Hollywood, or our agriculture, pistachios and our almonds and our walnuts and our avocados and our oranges and our strawberries and our vineyard growing the best grapes in the world because of the soil that the grape plants and trees have been planted in. It’s our military, the companies..
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Danny Baraz: The branches.
Keith Morris: Well no not the branches, it has nothing to do with the branches. It has to do with the manufacturing, the creativity, the war machine, all of that that’s being produced here.
It’s like a major portion of our economy. We’ve apparently just allowed this to become much much larger than it’s supposed to be. I just listened to a woman that’s stated we spend 61% of our tax money on going to foreign places and bombing the fuck out of people. And if we’re not bombing them we’re selling them guns to shoot at us, we’re arming them to so we can create these wars.
Like this ISIS threat? Screw that. I’m not scared of that, not in the least bit. I live under the emergency flight path to the children’s hospital of Los Angeles, and I’m looking at it right now out of my front window and I can see the helipad and I’m more scared of a helicopter for some reason deciding to crash into the roof of the apartment building that I live in. I live at the corner of Sunset blvd and Hollywood blvd. It’s 8 corners and the energy just because of the traffic and the mentality and the me before you, and you gotta race up to be the first one at the red light so I can the first one to rip out of there when it turns green.
This whole competitive “you don’t matter, get out of my way” mentality, just all of that negative energy… I’m more afraid of that. I’m more afraid of getting shot by a cop than I am getting my head chopped of by somebody dressed in black.
Danny Baraz: Right, it’s definitely more likely.
Keith Morris: We’ve gotta have some kind of a threat, you know, that’s part of fascism. That’s our government. They’ve gotta keep us scared, keep us fighting with each other, keep us off of the same page.
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Danny Baraz: So are you kind of saying that these kids have sort of grown up and incubated in the most extreme parts of that mentality so they were sort of nurtured on fucking hate and lies?
I’ve been around a lot of the younger artists with this whole NSA and Janky Smooth thing and aside from being a little bit sensitive, I’m a big fan. They’re pretty entrepreneurial. I don’t know if it’s the artist faction of the youth, I’m sure it’s a very exceptional demographic, they’re very entrepreneurial and they seem like their parents gave them more hugs than our parents did or told them how special they were but they’re definitely less violent, right? You go to shows you can see that.
Keith Morris: Yeah but you’re talking about younger people. They can drink and carry on and party and jump around and punch each other and leap off stages and tomorrow get up and do it all over again because they heal quickly.
I’m not gonna do any of that. I’ve already done that, I’ve experienced that. The younger people can do that if that’s what they wanna do.
My complaint is lack of respect. There’s this mentality where you don’t scold your kids, you sit down and you talk about it. Nice and friendly and gentle. Consequently, we have a rash of people that just think they can come and go as they please, that you don’t matter, that it’s all about me and whatever I’m doing.
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I do believe that the cellular device plays a role in that. I think the cellular device I see people using it for good things and I see people just blatantly being asshole with it. I’m an asshole so I can spot an asshole a mile away. It’s probably, besides the car and the helicopter and jet and the rocket and explosive devices and guns and bullets, the worst device that any fucking human ever created. So what that little spiel that i just laid out for you equates to is- I live in a cave.
Danny Baraz: You’re not coming out.
Keith Morris: I do have a laptop. I at one point broke down and I bought a laptop. And I do have a stereo, I love my stereo.
Danny Baraz: I find it just incredible that this device that we didn’t even have, or the internet or technology we didn’t even have 15 years ago widely available, you just can’t really live without it anymore if you’re doing business or interacting with the world.
Keith Morris: If your computer shuts down, you’re kind of fucked unless you got a cell phone.
Danny Baraz: That is troubling. Most things are a gift and curse. They have two sides to the coin in the ways that its connected us is incredible and in a lot of ways, enhanced life… but then its also like a soul stealer.
You see someone with their eyes transfixed on the screen and they haven’t looked up and they’re in a crowd full of people at a social gathering. That’s more and more prevalent.
I guess it all comes down to battling the good and the bad parts of human nature.
Keith Morris: Well if you’re a good person you’ll transcend all of that.
Now you were talking about a social gathering, let’s get back to the Punk Rock Bowling.
I just like to give a shout out to the Descendents, Dag Nasty , Agnostic Front.. I Think that the Anti Nowhere League are the limey equivalent to Fear but we also have the Buzzcocks, one of the greatest bands ever. There’s a ton of bands that are playing and it’s gonna be pretty amazing. Our friends from the Bronx, who happened to be there the night the Off! played at Alex’s Bar with the Drips who are actually the two thirds of the Bronx. The Angry Samoans, The Blasters… how could you not dig the Blasters?
Danny Baraz: Of all the businessmen in the punk rock space, I really respect the Stern Brothers. They’ve managed to grow and not do it too quickly. I’m just really happy for them that they’re expanding now and more people are gonna be able to take part of this festival . For a scene that’s considered violent, it’s really one of the most, in a lot of ways, peaceful to be around all these like minded people. There’s a lot of joy.
Keith Morris: Well the people that call the scene violent are the ones that had things go on here, where every time we turned around at a show here in Los Angeles, the Valley, Orange County, Hollywood, the police would be there. And the reason the police would be there was, you would think they’d be happy that these events were taking place because then they would know where there was a large group of these people. And it would be easy to just pull up and take a look and see that, Yeah maybe there’s a few broken bottles but they look like freaks and they look like they could be getting out of hand so we gotta go in and bust some heads, which was totally unnecessary. But the fact of the matter is that when the media started zooming in all of this, they didn’t zoom in on the message, they didn’t zoom in on the fact that if there were 400 people and there were 4 people that got arrested, that’s a pretty happening ratio for that many people that are drinking and getting crazy and blowing off steam. It’s better that they’re in there rather than out on the streets with guns an bricks and rocks and busting windows and throwing toilet seats through the plate glass window at the Bank of America, setting police cars on fire…that for the most part, the kids are having a good time, the kids are alright.
They didn’t look at it that way. They’d see the bloody nose, they’d see the guy who’s jumping around looking like they’re trying to beat each other up and just assume that “well that’s what they do at these shows. I don’t want my kids to go there.”
Danny Baraz: Yeah, when I was growing up in LA in the late 80’s early 90’s as kind of a late teen kid going to these shows there definitely was, compared to now, a lot of violence. Punk rock shows in southern California used to be all rival punk rock gangs.
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Keith Morris: No,no,no, no, no! No, you don’t get to go there.
There were all of those gangs, but what about all of the people that just wanted to go to have fun? What about the person that heard about it or was listening to KROQ and heard this band at noon being played like Monday through Friday for the lunchtime special and thought that song was happening and maybe I should see this band because I really like this, and not be concerned with the group of white guys from the valley that wanted to show up to fight with the guys from Venice.
A lot of that stuff was taken place out in the parking lots. Yeah there was some of that stuff going on in the venue but the people that were regular members of the scene that knew what was going on knew its like, you pull up to the bank, you’re gonna make a deposit and all of a sudden the vehicle pulls up out in front of the bank and you’re on the sidewalk out in front of the bank and you see these guys jump out of the car and they got shotguns and they got black hoods and all of that kind of stuff and it’s like, Well, we’re not going to the bank right now! I’ll have to come back on Monday.
Danny Baraz: I guess I might’ve been a bit of an asshole then, because I know that I was a lot different back then. I was a pretty angry kid and I got into a lot of trouble. Now I’m going to even more shows than I did as a kid because of this whole Janky Smooth thing, and they don’t have a violent bone in their body these kids, it’s crazy and amazing.
I remember before Alex’s when I saw you that last time with OFF! I saw you out at the Echo with Nasa Space Universe and it was still active, still a lot of energy in the room, people were going nuts and nobody really got hurt. I remember you were getting heckled a little bit at that show. I think someone said something like, “Over the hill”, and I think it was Dimitri that had the funniest comeback, he said, “over the hill like you cooks from the valley”. I thought that was genius.
It’s funny, part of me enjoys that type of interaction with the crowd, it seems like punk singers don’t have to run the gauntlet at shows as much as they used to.
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Do you get heckled a lot? You don’t have to fight like how Rollins or Lee Ving had to do? Seems like he was getting into fights at every show. Do punks still have that sort of heckling vibe where you kind of have to fire back?
Keith Morris: Well there’s going to be some smart ass out in the crowd. My favorite thing to yell at punk rock vocalists is “go back to art school!” Then there’s “get a haircut!”, that’s a new clever one. Then there’s “sellout”, and it’s kind of like, “Why are you here? If we’re sellouts and you’re opposed to that, why would you be here?”
And the fact of the matter is that I’ve been doing this long enough that I should just be able to do whatever the fuck I please.
Danny Baraz: Hell yeah. So you guys have any plans or talking about any type of Circle Jerks stuff?
Keith Morris: No circle jerks. We don’t talk about the Circle Jerks, bad business. We do talk about OFF!, because I’m a member of OFF! At this time while we’re on our hiatus one of our member is out playing bass with the Melvins, and that’s pretty bad ass.
That’s certainly something to go and check out. One of our guys plays in like 4 or 5 other bands, but he’s enjoying his time where he gets to to sit at home and listen to his record collection and barbecue in the backyard and spend time with his wife. A great drummer is always in demand. A great drummer’s not sitting at home on vacation but is out playing with the third or fourth or fifth band that he plays in.
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Danny Baraz: That’s the thing why talking to you is such an honor because you have a lot of people who just sort of try to resurrect what once was without any sort of view or inspiration or opportunity, I Don’t know, but it seems like you just kind of take it. But that’s what I love about what’s going on with you is not only can you go back and sort of revisit different parts of your career… but OFF! is really one of the best hardcore punk bands out right now.
Keith Morris: And we’re not punks! If you look at us? Nope, nothing that resembles punks. See because what we’re about is the fact that we’re at the age that we’re at and we’ve listened to all of the music that we’ve listened to, and we’ve witnessed all of the music that we’ve witnessed. We’ve absorbed a lot of that. They’re called influences. So you would think, well they sound like they’re dredging the depths of where Black Flag was, which that’s true, but we’re also aware that Mario certainly doesn’t play like a punk rock drummer. You know Dave Grohl played in a punk rock band called Scream, and had developed a heavier style towards the end of Scream that made perfect sense when he was in Nirvana.
Danny Baraz: Right, evolving the art. Or it’s even perfecting. As a fan, that’s how i look at OFF!, as a perfection of the art. Like someone who’s a winemaker, after a certain amount of time they have the perfect fermenting process, and that’s kind of how I view OFF!
Keith Morris: Or just the right amount of feet squashing the grapes.
Danny Baraz: Right, whatever the perfect process is. We talked about individuality and stuff like that, and then you also have the perfection of an art form where it’s not necessarily just regurgitating something from the past but it;s building on it and creating a new amazing recipe. I can’t wait to see Flag at Punk Rock Bowling next weekend. I really appreciate it Keith Morris. I really appreciate you coming on the show. Thanks so much.
Keith Morris: Right on, daddy-o, right on.
Danny Baraz: Right on, brotha.
Janky Smooth/Punk Rock Bowling Archives