While some musicians ponder over albums for years, or even decades, OFF! only needs about three days to cut a masterpiece. Led by punk icon Keith Morris and Dimitri Coates, OFF! cuts violative, explosive music that harkens back to the nascent stage of West Coast hardcore, namely Morris' first band, the legendary Black Flag, all while feeling completely immediate.
In 2010, OFF! released their first collection, First Four EPs which gained acclaim from both inside and outside the punk community for being energetic, raw, nasty, and just straight-off-the-hook kick ass. Now, the band is gearing up to release their first true full length, which they wrote in about a week and recorded, mix, and mastered in about the time it takes Axl Rose to string his guitar. Because OFF! has a new LP coming up, staff writer John Gentile rang up Morris to talk about the new release, punching senators in the face and that one time Morris really made a connection with a cop over Styx.
Off!'s last release, The First Four Eps was a collection of EPS, but the new self titled album, is being promoted as an LP. Is there a significance to the format?
Not really. What happened, with The First Four Eps, was that we were told that there was a possibility that it would come out as a 12" and it never did. For this album, we decided to make sure it comes out as a 12", just to let everyone know. The record speed is 45 rpm, which isn't anything mind-boggling new or fresh, but itâs just the way that it is. We're just going to go with it.
Off! songs seem to have a connective thread, of only, because the lyrics come mainly from you. Is there a theme or connective tissue on the new LP?
Well, the situation this time around, was we allotted ourselves just a little bit more time to write and record. See, we recorded the record in about 30 hours. Maybe less than 30 hours.
We're a band that's made up of 3 dads, 2 husbands, and a couple of guys with girlfriends and they got their kids and because of that, there's a time or schedule. We don't get a lot of time. We're not one of those bands where it's like, "Guys, lets go out and drink" or "see this band" or "I'm having a pool party at the YMCA."
So, we gotta just dive into it. We had four rehearsals for this album. We might have spent 7 or 8 hours learning the songs. Our drummer Mario had it in his mind that we were going to have all the songs recorded the first day because he was going to go to a wedding on the second day. It was like, "Are you kidding? You might want to rethink that kind of mentality."
We only have three days in the studio. He thought that we would be doing over-dubs on the second and mixing on the third day. That wasn't really how it went down. Our time together is very limited. What you hear is the product of [OFF!'s guitarist and co-writer] Dimitri and I spending about two weeks writing the songs, and us rehearsing maybe eight hours, and then recording.
We called it "three days." But, normally, you are really only in the studio for 12 hours. The first day was about 5 hours, and just going through some of the songs, setting up mics, and trying to get the vibeâ¦ and the situation is that everyone's ears gets tired and we gotta get out of there.
You have a lunch break or a coffee break or a cigarette break, so when you say you are in the studio for 12 hours, you're really only working six hours. So, we recorded, I give it about 30 hours, and you can tell that there is a sense of urgency. There's the same urgency that was on the last record.
Recently, there was a news item about an "Indie Band" that spent $100,000 to make an album. But, in 2010, OFF! recorded one of the greatest releases of the year in just a few days. How did the new recording contrast against the last release in this age of expensive album cost?
This one was more hectic! Some guys though that they would take off early. When you're married and you have kids, you have to feed them and have them in bed. We are fortunate to be able to get together and do what we do. I really, really liked the record. I'm not one of the guys that sits around and says "We did this on this one and then on that one we did that." I've never paid attention to anything like that. If the music is good, it transcends.
I've never been someone who looks back and says "during this period, we were shooting heroin and shooting opium in the testicle and the drummer drank champagne and was strung out… I don't pay attention to any of that stuff. Just get down and do it!
I sort of think that the time crunch is what makes OFF! so immediate sounding.
I would think that we have a very compacted sound. "Letâs just do it! Letâs just do this! Let's have fun and let's make noise" and people can do whatever.
The first single from the new album, "King Kong Brigade," is a little different from the previous OFF! tunes. It's structure is somewhat unusual and it begins with an extended hanging note. Is OFF! branching out?
One of the things that happened with this record, we came to an agreement. You can't always do the same thing. A lot of our fan base wanted to hear "Darkness" and "Black Thoughts" and "Panic Attack." That's the music that I love going back to.
But, we call it a box. Within that box, there's only so much that you can do. Dimitri, one day in his frustrationâ¦ he comes from another placeâ¦ he comes from ZZ Top and Black Sabbath and Nirvana and The Beatles, and the Kinks, and thereâs much more stuff going on in those places that whatâs going on in our places. So, we stepped out of the box.
There are some guitar effects. There are some more musical bits and and not so much the downstroke and the grind and im wholeheartedly into that. We're sitting in my living room and we're surrounded by posters by bands like Sparks, Deep Purple, Sonic Youth, Golden Earring, Superchunk, Rocket from the Crypt, Alice Cooper and we're known for doing a certain thing, but we don't always have to that thing.
There are all these people that think the punk rock thing is getting back to the box, who want to play in a box, be a part of the box. When I read responses to certain posts, it kind of bums me out! There's a certain mentality in the punk rock community that it's gotta be a certain thing. There's no certain thing, there are no rules, so were gonna do whatever we feel like doing! Granted, we're known for a certain thing, but we don't always have to do certain thing.
Getting to the song itself, I am constantly being prodded by Dimitri to pretend to write like "What if you were this guy or that person" or "in this situation." Now, we're talking about creating something that I'm not. There are lyrics in the song "I want to staple your scalp to my steering wheel!" That's some pretty brutal imagery.
While I had created this imagery, Dimitri, was questioning me, "Where does this lead?" Whenever we're writing lyrics, he wants to tell a story. He wants to have a beginning and ending, and I don't want it to always be that way.
We can throw in some color, nothing wrong with that. Heâs questioning me, "why would you create images like that?" I believe that we all, even the best of souls, even the kindhearted really nice people, somewhere in their soul, they have this area that is reserved for "God I wish i could punch that guy in the face!!!"
You see someone, you're watching Santorum or Romney or Obama and you're like "I've had enough of this!" If I was able to walk through the crowd that was being lied to, and being fed what they are being fed, and if I could just punch him right in the faceâ¦ but, that's not gonna happen.
Don't at some point in your life, wouldn't it be cool if I could do that? "Oh, there's a brick on the sidewalk, and there's a big glass plate window at Bank of America or Walmart or one of those people that are evil." Wouldn't it be great to do something evil to these evil people? "I'm gonna stab your tires and set fire to your lawn!"
But, with "King Kong Brigade," it's the situation, that i explained to Dimitri, what about the guy who went to Vietnam and came back and was not given any kind of heros welcome? What about the guy that went to Vietnam and developed a heroin habit, like Deniro in Taxi Driver? That's what "King Kong brigade" is. That's the guy that served in the Middle East and now our country won't even allow him to go to a hospital.
I think we all have those thoughts.
Iâm not an evil person, but I can be a mean and evil person, but I'm not. My parents taught me to be a good person. My parents taught me how to navigate what's good and what's bad. I think that's its great that people are able to think evil thoughts every now and then. That's the way that it is. "King Kong Brigade" would be Travis Bickle.
You mentioned a conflict with Dimitri. Do you think this conflict is healthy or unhealthy?
I think that it is healthy. One of the things that happens between Dimitri and I, when he's writing music - I don't read or write I music, I don't play an instrument - some of the territory that we're traveling is unfamiliar to Dimitri, so I gotta sometimes push him, sometimes I gotta tell him, "Why don't you try turning that riff around?" "Why don't you try cutting that in half?" "Why don't you try tripping part of that out?"
In the lyrics, heâs a guy that says "Well, you don't want to use that word, it doesn't really roll off your tongue properly.You need to trim it or your line is too long." Consequently, I don't or he doesn't get away with stuff that we would normally do.
You frequently state that OFF! is the "Dark Party." What exactly is the "Dark Party?"
We get to say whatever we want to say. We're finding ourselves being praised by people who are afraid of saying what we are saying. You know, you're working the job and you can't tell your boss to fuck off. You gotta hold onto your job to pay your bills. There are not a lot of jobs out there, like the republican job thing, giving money to people to trickle down? We know how shitty that is. You're not gonna walk up to your boss to tell him to go fuck himself, unless your a female with large eggs or a guy with gorilla testicles or you are financially set and your not scared of losing your job. A lot of people are worried about paying their bills, they bite their tongues and grin and bear it, and just get through it. A lot of these people want to do what I said about the political figures. Walking up to them and punching them in the face. We wouldn't punch your boss in the face for you, but we would tell him to fuck off.
Early Black Flag shows were frequently shut down by the police. In 2011, you and the rest of OFF! were arrested for taking vegetable oil from behind a restaurant. But, shortly afterwards, you stated how the police actually didn't want to arrest you, but the owner insisted on it. I'm curious if this different treatment from the police has any significance for you?
What I experienced when we were arrested in Arizona, outside of Phoenix, was that the police actually were the good guys in the situation and they didn't want to deal with us.
There was a little car parked and the guy was sitting there talking on his cell phone and I thought he was just some guy. But, he was a stealth-like undercover weasel dick. When he showed up, he was trying to pull a John Wayne. "I've busted these guys and they're going to jail and were gonna sue them and use these guys as examples, because all of these vegetable oil containers were being locked down, because some corporation was paying the restaurant to keep their vats, or maybe the restaurant was paying them to remove the vegetable oil.
But, we found this vat we had gone to a couple of times. We were able to drive halfway to Austin. This guy pulls up in a little vehicle and he's taking pictures! It's like "Stop! Halt! Don't go there!" It was really ridiculous. It was Mario, Rubalcaba, Dimitri and I, and any one of us could have waked up to him and punched him in the face, but then we would have gotten pulled over on the highway at one in the afternoon and it would have been totally miserable and it was 100 degrees outside and there was no shade, no place to sit down.
The police show up. The guy worked for the company that had these big metal vats. He made the comment that they had $400,00 dollars stolen from the vats. Well, I say "Hooray to the people who take the oil out of the vats." The police were like this "guy is a weasel dick and we don't want to deal with this, but he's been here and they're gonna turn this into a big deal. We would just rather have you put the oil back in the vat and just head onto Austin."
The cop that I was talking to, he was like "What's South by South West?" So we're talking about his favorite band Styx. It's like, "I can talk to this guy about Styx. I've heard a few of their songs." The point being the cops didn't know how to deal with it, and they didn't want to deal with it. It would equivalent to catching bums pissing on the side of a wall. Our fine probably would have only been a couple of hundred if we went to court, but you have to actually be there, or they issue a bench warrant. It was surreal. It was like, "We're getting busted for THIS?"