Circle Jerks
by Interviews

A reader, Ryan J. McBride, send us an interview with Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Ryan explained:

I ran into Keith at Club Polaris where the Circle Jerks were playing in July of 2008. We set up the interview for when he got back home in California over the phone. The following is a two hour interview consisting of Keith's thoughts on politics, technology, his personal opinions and his experience with the burgeoning LA Punk Scene in the late 70's.

How are you Keith?

I'm doing… pretty darn good considering everything that's been happening lately. We ran into each other in Philadelphia at Club Polaris and you were gonna interview me after we got through with our set and the problem that I had was that I'm a Diabetic and if I don't eat on schedule, everything kinda gets tossed out the window. And for me to perform without….like uh, a full meal before we play is like a car at the Indianapolis 500, a car that's only got like a half a tank of gas, so it doesn't complete the entire race.

I honestly didn't even notice until the very end when I was sitting with you and you looked really tired and I was actually like "jesus! What the hell? What happened? Yuh know?

For about the last three or four songs, I was on my knees crouched down in front of the stage. Luckily, there were all the kids there. The great thing about the three shows we just did on the east coast is that we played in all of these venues that don't erect barriers in front of the stage.

Oh! It was Phenomenal!

That allows everybody to be right at the front of the stage and…We as the Circle Jerk have no backing vocals. I am lead vocalist and backing vocalist which can lead to me getting winded at times so as long as there are all of those kids and people at the front of the stage I can just shove the mic down in front and there's gonna be a whole chorus of people willing to sing whatever is necessary. And I really appreciate that. I mean, you go and see these bands like Bad Religion has like three vocalists, four vocalists, you know? If you wanna play this kind of music, you have to be in shape because there's physicality to this music. If there's no jumping around, if there's no energy you might as well shoot a music video with a bunch of people standing around with some kind of storyline and not even have the band perform in the video.

You know, it's like one of those bands on the Warped Tour like Fallout Boy or some crap like that! I was just reading a story about Bo Diddley who just died and I don't know if you're familiar with Bo Diddley but he created a rhythm pattern that the Yardbirds, David Bowie, Sousie and The Banshees, the Cramp and The Clash, they all used it. I read a portion of this interview where somebody else was saying they would hang out with Him [Diddley] and he would never say anything bad about any of the other people who were playing music at the time, all the way up until his death, he would never say anything bad about any of the other musicians, the other bands etc…and I was just thinking…maybe this is a guy who listened to his own music and only listened to the bands the bands that he was playing with. If there was a live situation where the other bands on the bill like Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones or whoever. So, he never bad mouthed anybody and I just had the feeling that maybe he never really paid that much attention to any of the other music that was going on around him. And I kind of wish I could be that way but, the problem is, I listen to a lot of music…I see a lot of bands and…

Even now?

Even now. Even to this day. I just got through working for a record company for the last five years. On certain nights I would go out and see as many as seven or eight bands. I really have to say I wish I could be like Bo Diddley but I can't because I pay too much attention to these bands and a lot of them aren't worth being paid attention to. Sometimes when we're on stage I'll start making comments and Greg [Hetson] our guitar player will start cringing because he is a staple on the Warped Tour and I love the Warped Tour for what it is, not what it's become, but because of what it started as, not what it's evolved into. The majority of the bands on the warped tour really aren't worth badmouthing, they're that bad.

I agree!

We're driving down Broadway…We played two shows in New York and the Philadelphia show that I met you at. We were staying in Manhattan and one day we were driving down Broadway and there's the MTV building and there's big photos of this guy who I guess is the lead singer of Fallout Boy and I dis a lot of these bands like them. I hear a chorus or a verse, or maybe even a combination of the two. So I turn to Greg and I say "Now when I dis Fallout Boy, Am I correct in doing so"? And Greg said, "Yes, Actually you are, they're really not very that good." This is a band [Fallout Boy] that's probably sold, oh maybe six or seven million records, maybe even more than that.

Absolutely! Well, I happen to agree with you and I'm not just saying that because you are who you are, I happen to agree with it and believe me, I listen to as many bands that you grew up playing with, I can honestly say that I do not have one Fallout Boy Record and I wouldn't know them if I fell over them to be honest with you.

Ok! You wouldn't know them if you were driving down the street and you ran over them (laughs)

I honestly would not know them if I was driving a humongous bus and they were lined up in the street with a sign that said "Here is Fallout Boy! Please drive over us!" I wouldn't even know who the fuck they were. (Laughter)

You started out in Black Flag in the late 70's. Tell me how all this materialized and what prompted you to initiate the forming of the Circle Jerks?

Well, my life early on before the Punk scene was that I listened to a lot of music just like I listen to a lot of music now. I grew up with my mother turning on Am radio every time we got in the car. The music of the 60's in my opinion would be the greatest time for music. We're talking about music like the British Invasion. We're talking about the riot on Sunset Strip, Laurel Canyon and Folk music that originated there. The bands that I would mention at that time period would be for example The Seeds, The Birds, Love, The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, The Stones, The Who, and The Kinks Etc… That's just the beginning of the list up until the great music of the 70's where you would have bands like The Move, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, and Alice Cooper Deep Purple etc… Than the late 70's, early 80's you would have bands like X, the Bags, the Weirdos, the Plugz etc… Than you would start moving into when we were doing are thang. I don't know if you were paying attention to our set. We have a part in our set where we cover two songs. One of them was written Co written by a guy name Tito Lariva who was in the Plugz, a guy named Chris Degardens who was in a band called the Flesh eaters, who is also responsible for signing bands to a record label called Ruby which was part of Slash. Now Slash put out FEAR, X, and the Germs first album. And on Ruby, they put out the Misfits Walk Among Us, which is an amazing album.

One of my favorites to date!

The next song that we played would be by the Weirdos who set the template or blueprint for us [Circle Jerks] as a band.

Matter of fact, on stage I heard you mention these bands and I remember you mentioning these bands that were very influential to you such as the Weirdos. Why were they as influential to you as a band?

Well, if you listen to the Weirdos, they have an attack that also was a punk rock starting point for Black Flag and not to mention there was a mutual respect between the two bands. All of us were very good friends. That was one of the great things about the early LA punk rock scene. There was a comorodary amongst all of the bands where everybody was friendly with eachother. There wasn't any kind of back stabbing bullshit, ego trip; our band is bigger than yours so we have to play after you.

You have been involved in music for so long. You have seen a lot come and go. What do you think of the "Corporate Beauty School" that is the so called punk rock scene of the last fifteen odd years? What are your thoughts on that?

You mean the way the record companies have been treating some of these bands, the way the industry has been looking at some of these bands, the way that the money making machine has been able to pick and choose certain bands to, how would we call it? Blow up!

Well Yes, very importantly…How do they compare to the first wave of the American Hardcore bands in your day, for example your Circle Jerks, Black Flags, FEARS, Bad Brains, Minor Threats etc…How would you compare those bands to what is happening today?

See, The situation now I believe is just…there are so many pockets of different genres of music that the comerodery, really if it's there, it's really in the background. I believe that the record companies have to serve up their Pabulum to placate their shareholders and stockholders to keep them happy. They have to come up with these perfect bands to put in their slots. They perpetuate this really bad bowl of oatmeal to serve to the public. We actually need these bands! We need the record companies to do some of the things they're doing because what happens is when you have these horizontal bands, when something vertical comes out, it stands out. It's kind of like the search for the needle in the haystack and when you find the needle it's worth it.

Have you found that even in 2008? In the last eight years of the millennium, have you found that golden needle, so to speak?

Oh yeah, I trip and fall on golden needles on more occasions than you would think. There's a whole new wave and rash of bands coming from all over that are really cool and interesting that have a great energy. Anyone from Matt and Kim, The Monotonics [two of the bands that opened for the Circle Jerks in Philly] Burning Brides etc…

That is something I was very interested in asking you. Which of today's music do you find influential; the ones that really strike a chord with you?

There's also more bands…The Jesus Lizard, The Melvins, Superchunk, Hotsnakes, the Nightmarchers, Turbonegro etc…I'm very fortunate in that my mom was pop oriented. She would sing to my sister and I, like Doris Day songs, something you would hear on the radio, whereas my dad; he was a jazz drummer. He was into Coltrane, Ornet Colman, and Elvin Jones etc…

Are they still around?

My dad is dead. He's sadly gone to wherever it is he was gonna go.

Your mother and father?

Oh, my mom is still alive. My mom still rocks out in Tucson, Arizona.

Oh! Is that where she is, because I saw an old school picture of you and your mother in the house that had to be the house you grew up in. You still had the short hair, you had a Budweiser and you were biting your nail and it was you and your mom.

That was in Englewood, California.

You know that picture?

Yes…and about half a block away was where South Central started. We would say NWA, Ice Cube, Ice T, The Crypts, The Bloods, and the Frontlines. And they, while I was living there never ever messed with me. The Black gangs that lived there believed that you don't mess with crazy people, even though some of the guys in the gangs are pretty crazy themselves. You can mess with everybody but crazy people. My point is, is that they thought I was nuts because I was one of the only white people in the neighborhood. This was after my mom moved out and her parents died. I was in this neighborhood where on one side I had a guy that worked for the U.S. Postal Service. On the other side of me, I had as a neighbor an Englewood Police officer. And right directly across from me I had a LA county Probation Officer. So you would think that the neighborhood was pretty much middle class black. But there was still a lot of gang activity. Like I said, they never messed with me because they knew I was a freak!

Were the Circle Jerks jamming in your garage?

Uh Huh!

Oh! That's great! I was listening to what you were saying on stage. And you were talking a little bit about politics in between songs. What do you think about what's going on today with the war, the presidential campaign and even fuel prices? What are your ideas and what do you think can be changed as a result?

Well, we deserve all this because they allowed George W. Bush to get away with what he did not once in Florida but twice what he did in Ohio. Where, those were both key states and they were both states Al Gore won the election in Florida. What they did was they had someone come in and scratch names off the list. Like, you can vote because your last name is Smith for example and so you're a convicted felon. Because there's a convicted felon in one of the Florida prisons with the last name Smith. Another example is that they would tell a 50 or 60 year old senior citizen that they couldn't vote because they were registered criminals and these people couldn't fight back because it would have been too much of an expense to higher the lawyers and take it to court. So my feeling towards Al Gore is that warning everybody about Global Warming was totally brilliant, but I still think that he's a chicken shit for not standing up for those people down in Florida. I feel the same way about John Kerry for allowing the Republican thugs to show up at polling places in Ohio and actually threatening senior citizens with like physical damage if they were to vote. The reason why these guys like Kerry don't stand up to the heads in government is because they're pretty much all members of the same club. Getting back to the camaraderie of the punk bands in LA, there's sort of that same kind of camaraderie amongst all of these politicians. That they don't want to step on each other's toes. They don't wanna do anything that's gonna interfere with any of their much larger political endeavors. I think President Bush gets paid $165,000 a year to be president of the United States.

I think it's more than that.

Uh, no I don't think it is. Actually, it's not much more than that because of all the other opportunities that are allowed to him. All of this oil company, all of these political donations. His pension after he leaves office; add another couple of hundred thousand to that each year. He gets that for the rest of his life.

You had a lot of people in the punk rock scene when it was happening who hated Reagan and his policies. How do Reaganomics compare to Bush and his policies today?

Well, It's much worse now. This guy, his cronies and all the people who work along side of him make Nazi Germany look like fucking Saturday morning cartoons. These are some of the most evil people that have ever walked the face of the earth. You would look at one of them and go "He looks kind of grandfatherly, he looks kind of like a nice guy." You look at these people and they don't look evil, but they are. These are the types in Washington today. I believe I made the comment about what happened to the Czar and his family at the start of the Russian Revolution. This should be the same treatment that these people in Washington should get. They took the Czar and his family led them into a basement and executed them for serious tyranny. What we need to do is eliminate all of this half-time crap at the Super bowl. They need to have a public execution because they have way too many people in prison. If you kill somebody and you're found guilty…you shouldn't get to hang around.

As you've gotten older, growing up in California and being a major participant in the burgeoning LA Punk Scene, do you find yourself angrier or more tolerant to the things going on around you?

Well, I wish that I could meditate. I had a doctor teach me some easing meditation techniques. I live in Los Angeles and it's really stressful. I live underneath a helicopter pad that leads to three different hospitals. I live four houses away from one of the biggest intersections in the world. I'm also right around the corner from a fire station, you know, with the paramedics; there's always the sirens and the flashing lights etc…

How do you feel about our latest in technological advances?

Oh! Like a CD Player and Wide Screen Television?

No! Not that technologically advanced!

Like being an owner of several computers in disarray and none of them work or having only owned an electric razor for maybe three months out of my life!

By Technology, I mean I pods, Cell phones, I Tunes etc… Fifteen years ago, I was using a payphone to make calls to my mother to come pick me up.

And it worked, didn't it?

It worked! Yes it did!

Have you ever seen a movie called Repo Man?

Oh yeah! You're in that with Emilio Estevez.

I'm going to refer to one of the characters in Repo Man. The three Punk Rock kids that are running around. Um, They have their Mohawks, their flattops and their skinheads and one of the Punk Rock kids is a friend of mine whose name is Dick Rude. He made a statement one morning when I was working at a restaurant serving him coffee. He was sitting there with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bob from Thelonius Monster. Both Flea and Bob were talking on Cell Phones and Dick wasn't. And Dick said Keith? You know what? We were doing just fine before we had these!

I happen to completely agree with you because I didn't even have one myself until about 2002 when I was 22 years old. Now I look at it and I can't go anywhere without the fucking thing!

I have two Cell Phones and both of them were actually gifts because I am not about to run out and buy myself a Cell Phone. But the first one I decided to take out of its little plastic display after like a year. I took it out, started reading the instructions and I looked at it, put the instructions back and I put the Cell Phone back in the box. It's still sitting on the shelf! About the I Pod… Somebody was telling me one guy has like 40,000 songs or 100,000 songs on it. You know what? If I had a gun, Id just blow my brains out! But, now I got a question for you…Who produced the song? Where was it written and who wrote it? Here's a question that more important than those last few…What does the band look like? When did they record it? Where was it recorded?

RMcB I got mine Stolen?

Were you jumping up and down in the street in a state of euphoria? Were you pounding your fists on the sidewalk wanting to bang your head against a brick wall? Did it really matter?

No, Very much disposable. Punk Rock is so easily accessible nowadays. It isn't the DIY (Do It Yourself) of yesteryear anymore when you were making your own shirts and recordsleeves. I'm sure you went and handed out flyers wherever you went right?

Well, you can still do that. Every now and then somebody has the wear with all to do something like that, yeah. What happens is, getting back into the technology thing. I know where you're leading to and you're leading to the computer. Like MySpace, Face book, Personal websites where you can read about all the hustler honeys and the Playboy Bunnies etc… But most importantly on the computer are the bands. These bands, they don't even have to go out and let people know they exist as a band. All they have to do is put it up on their website.

Do you ever once in a while pop in Group Sex (First Circle Jerks Record) and just jam out to it on the stereo?

I don't listen to my own music unless we're gonna go out and play some songs that I haven't played in a while. No, I don't listen to my own music. We're gearing ourselves up to record another record. And it's really difficult because I just got through working at a record company and I've worked with some really amazing bands. While I was working at the record company, I heard amazing bands! Like two or three great bands a week. For every say, couple of hundred mediocre bands, I would hear one really good band. Than that really good band I would have to put up against another really good band to see which one of those bands would be the next happening band! So, it became a competition which I really dislike. Kind of pitting bands against each other which I guess is a competition…

But, Back in the day when you first started, you can honestly say that none of these bands were in competition with each other?

There weren't that many bands

What about bands like Bad Brains? Everybody idolized the Bad Brains.

How could you compete with the Bad Brains?

Circle Jerks couldn't compete with the Bad Brains?

Why would you even want to compete with the Bad Brains? Bad Brains at their worst were going to just level the field. Ok, it's kind of like Jimmy Hendrix couldn't get a gig here in the United States. He went to London and put a band together with two other white guys. He was managed by Chaz Chandeler who was the bass player in the Animals. He went out, he played and it was like he just leveled everybody!

With Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell.

Right! He would go out and play and all the other guitar players would be there. Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Slam Dancing didn't start until the beach kids started playing Punk Rock. These bands drew kids that rode skateboards. If you ever watch somebody Slamdance. Basically, it s a guy riding a skateboard without a skateboard. There you have it.

I must have stage dove in front of you like ten times that night!

Another Southern California maneuver. From the Slam dance to the Stage dive. The Stagedive basically the same kind of motion when you're diving off of a diving board. And there's sections of California where every other house has a swimming pool.

And you grew up in Englewood?

And Hermosa Beach. That's where I met Greg Ginn (Black Flag)

And that's where the whole thing started? The Black Flag thing?

I worked in a record store. Greg came into the record store with his sister. The owner of the record store had a crush on Greg Ginn's sister who was a very gorgeous girl, Erica. And, that's the start of Black Flag. We can blame Erica Ginn, Greg's younger sister who is Raymond Pettibon's twin sister. And a skinny, Hoe dad, intellectual British Rock Star wanna be named Michael Piper who was the store owner. He was the catalyst for Black Flag. But, you can't blame all of this on Black Flag, because it goes back farther than that. For Gregg Ginn, it was the Grateful Dead.

For Gregg Ginn it was the Grateful Dead and Black Sabbath's Vol. 4.

Well, we listened to a lot of other stuff besides that.

And I was only born in '79. I'm as old as the Circle Jerks Band!

Well heck, you could have been born the same day we started rehearsing!

You See, Punk Rock is in the blood!

The year of the Jerk!

What message do you have for the youth of today?

You've got to stay positive. And you can't be burdened with all of the crap that is going on today and there is a lot of crap going on. You have to be true to yourself. You have to be a good citizen. There are a lot of people who use the Punk Rock Moniker as an excuse to be ignorant and stupid and that's the last thing that needs to happen. We need everybody to be focused. We need everybody to be Sharp. We need everybody to be as intelligent as possible because we're just being dumbed down. We're just being numbed. We're just being prodded and pushed into categories and that's where they want us. They want us to be have-nots so they know where we're at and know what they can do with us or to be able to do to us.