Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine just released Tea Party Revenge Porn, a jacked-up album that might be their best LP yet. To that end, Punknews' John Gentile spoke with Jello Biafra about a whole bunch of things, including the LP, the upcoming election, and voter defense. It's a wide ranging conversation that we are breaking up into multiple parts. Today's section includes Jello waxing on The Dead Kennedys, reissues, and what's next for gSM.
See, that’s something interesting. You brought up the Dead Kennedys. From an artistic, or critical standpoint, isn’t the war over, and you’ve won? So, why-- Well. I’ve never had any doubt that history is on my side. They can run around and re-register the songs with BMI and say we all co-wrote all of them, and even include Peligro on songs that were written before he was in the band- I don’t know how he sleeps at night over that one. “Oh yeah Biafra just wrote a few lyrics and had a little bit to do with the music” but, where’s their new songs?!
The ugly fact of the matter, they used that lawsuit which was primarily over the Levis commercial, and then we paid everybody in the wrong amount and then we paid them the right amount before they sued, which I’ve always regretted- but they were paid. They were my brothers. You don’t rip off your brothers. It was basically a scam to swipe all the rights.
Yes, there is an ex-bandmember partnership, and I’m the odd man out, I’m the estranged whistleblower. But, there’s not really any vote. My vote doesn’t count. My idea doesn’t count. And it’s all through fuckin’ lawyers and stuff. Sometimes, I’ve actually gotten back to them and objected to something just so they would think it was a good idea and go ahead and do it.
I don’t know if Ray is more like McConell or Donald Trump in the personality department. As soon as I realized how thin skin and childish Trump is, I was like, oh my God, he reminds me of Ray. The nation does not deserve this! They are the ones who decide to do all the horrible things they do.
I guess you’re aware of, or you posted or reviewed some remix of “Chemical Warfare” that just came out. I’m like, “what the fuck is up with this?!” I’ve heard it. I don’t even think it’s a remix. If it is, and if its with a super big budget Hollywood producer that does movie scores and Batman and all these other blockbusters, how could any of them put their name on this? It sounds like, somebody, to my ears, in my opinion, it sounds like somebody recorded the song off the original pressing, badly mastered version of Fresh Fruit in England where Cherry Red rushed it through and it was mastered at the wrong speed at the wrong settings, so it’s slightly fast and there’s no bottom end and sounds like it’s on helium.
It sounds like the original Fresh Fruit put through autotune. What’s the point? What’s the fucking point, here? Who do they think is going to buy this especially if they re-do the whole album here. I’m not the only one that feels like they spray painted the McDonalds logo on the Mona Lisa or something. But, that’s the way they operate. It’s like, there was a time when Klaus and Ray cared about how our things sounded. They cared about being tight on stage. They cared about sound quality. How do they sleep at night with this? How could they possibly have let this mix go through when it doesn’t even do a thing to improve on the original? When you’re going to remix something, you really ought to go through and improve on the original.
The thought occurred to me that Plastic Surgery and Frankenchrist do have a fuller sound then what we got on Fresh Fruit- and the sound is fuller with Geza X on the “Holiday in Cambodia” and “Too drunk to fuck” singles. I wanted him to do Fresh Fruit too, but Ray and Bruce our first drummer shot it down- Ray because he didn’t want to pay him and Bruce because he didn’t really get along with him, so no Geza. And Fresh Fruit came through pretty well. I had the final say on which mix to use and all that and the sequencing and the art like I always did.
I mean, I think the original is an iconic record. I don’t know if re-mixing it will improve the legacy. What’s really scaring the shit out of me now is that they are going to remix the whole album with this Chris Lord-Alge guy. He strikes me as someone who wouldn’t even take your call unless you’re offering a million dollars. He’s a very, very big deal. Five Grammy awards. He has all this studio equipment that he has patents on. Why is he doing this? And how much money that would theoretically go to band members is being pissed away on this? When was the last time an album that people really loved got remixed and it sold like hotcakes again? That didn’t even happen with Paul McCartney when he remixed Let it Be. Did you even know that album existed?
You mean that album Let it Be… naked? I think they also remixed Abby Road and Sgt. Pepper with Sir Thomas Martin’s son. That’s like letting Donald Jr run Trump’s casino empire. Maybe he’ll know what to do, maybe he won’t? For that matter, where’s Julian Lennon when you need him? I didn’t even know those even existed and that’s part of my point. There have been some other spectacular examples when these things didn’t go the way they were supposed to, which makes me all the more worried that if a Chris Lord-Alge sized fee and recording budget is pissed away, then some of us are going to have trouble keeping afloat. Ray and Klaus, that’s their sole source of income- what are they thinking? Or maybe they’re simply not thinking? Or maybe somebody sold them a bill of goods like “you’re going to get into all these movies and video games that you wouldn’t get otherwise.”
Of course, I’m not given any explanation for this at all. It’s all done behind my back completely. I did send them, had my legal guy send them an objection when they sent over the “Chemical Warfare” remix saying this doesn’t sound good. Why would anybody involved including Chris Lord-Alge want their name on this?
I remember when the Operation Ivy album came out and I was talking to Tim Armstrong who went by Lint at the time about what I thought of the album. I said, “you know, the production sounds a little small and tin-y, it kind of reminds me of Fresh Fruit” and he got kind of an offended look on his face and in am offended tone said “we LIKE Fresh Fruit.” I thought, “that right there is why I should give up all thoughts of remixing Fresh Fruit or anything else I’ve ever done.” It’s a lightning in a bottle, it’s a point in time, it has it’s own magic, leave it like it is and move on with new stuff and let it be… Let it be! No pun intended!
One of the old school country pioneers, Lefty Frizell, his son David frizell was a contemporary country star, the kind that Hank III wrote “put the dick in dixie” against. David Frizell had the idea tot ake his father’s voice and put contemporary session guys behind it and re-do his hits… and that didn’t go over very well. It didn’t get Left Frizell and new a audience and it didn’t do much for David Frizell’s reputation. Where is he today? No more need be said.
And then, how many people out there knew that there was remixed version of Raw Power. Did you even know that?
So, I’m aware of the David Bowie mix and the Iggy Mix from ’97. People always said the Bowie mix was ”weak,” but I was like, “if that’s weak, I can’t even imagine what a ‘stronger’ version would be.” The Iggy Pop mix I think is too white line. It’s too hard to hear in my opinion.
Well, if I had remixed Raw Power I would have tried to get Ron Asheton’s bass up where it belongs and neither of them did. I’ve heard live stuff from back then and he is just DRIVING the band. He’s playing more like Mike Watt than Mike Watt did in the Stooges. Just a powerhouse bass player and one of the most important guitar players in my life. We wouldn’t be talking if not for Ron Asheton, not just Iggy, but Ron Asheton, Scotty Asheton, Dave Alexander, and James Williamson and Steve McKay. None of us would be here.
So, what do I find year later in a bargain bin but a vinyl copy of the Iggy mix! Tat’s how well this went over! So, I played it. I think some songs sound better and some songs sound worse. There are overdubs that we all know by heart that aren’t there, and there are ones that weren’t there before that are there now. So, it’s an interesting alternate version and is probably my go-to one now, just because I don’t know it as well. If you can get fresh magic out of an album like that, so much the better… but I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen with this possible upcoming butcher job of Fresh Fruit. I just hope that they haven’t pissed in about five years of people’s savings into a white elephant.
Another classic album is Marc Bolan of T-Rex. He was in this classic mod band John’s Children. Different lead singer- Andy Ellison, but you can definitely recognize Marc Bolan in the back there. [singing] ”Desdemona… DesdemonaAaAaAa!” Not everybody can do that trill, but I can! Thank you Marc!
That had a producer named Simon Napier-Bell. Napier-Bell got ahold of a whole album’s worth of demos from back then and took Bolan’s voice and got late 70s and early 80s session guys to play the music instead and then release it on the anniversary of Bolan’s death. You can imagine how that went over. And guess what label did that? And it took a while to repair their reputation after that- none of than Cherry Red Records, who has the world wide right to Fresh Fruit in perpetuity and are going full speed ahead in this questionable remix album that I don’t even think is a real remix.
Well Jello, I think history has proven you to be the victor- as seen by the latest album, which is great. So thank you for being you and thank you for existing. Well, I seem to be built as one of these people that is genetically prone to depression at time and nearly checked out when I was a teenager. That’s the lowest point I ever had- when you can’t even kill yourself right. But, once you go through something like that it never quite leaves, does it? So, every once in a while I ask myself if it’s finally fuckin’ time to die or if I should have done it years ago…
But, looking at this, I’m really glad that it’s out digitally. I apologize to everybody for it taking so long and the hardcopies-the CDs and the vinyl- won’t be pit before the election. The vinyl won’t be out until next year I think. But, I have to thank the digital age for this. We put it up online before the election and it’s getting around and it’s having exactly the kind of rip-your-head-off impact and whacking people between the eyes with the lyrics that I was hoping for. My fangs are as sharp as they ever were and I don’t even need to work at that.
I have no fantasies of being lauded for “maturing and growing as a songwriter.” Whenever I see that about another artist, I know they started sucking, especially when they say that about themselves. I just do what I do and I’m basically exactly what they say- a singer-songwriter. All I can do is sing and write songs. I even have to sing the parts to the band because I’m so terrible with instruments.
I used to pick them out single string on a guitar. Eventually, Klaus pulled me aside and said, “listen, you sing on key well enough, why don’t you just sing us the parts and we’ll go from there.” Finally, I could make more complicated stuff and really go to town. I think the first song I ever sung to the band was “chemical warfare.” So you can imagine how I felt later when they lied under oath and said I couldn’t possibly have written anything because I couldn’t play an instrument and worse yet, he doesn’t even read sheet music! And people on the jury fell for it.
Whatever financial windfall or whatever else they thought that they were going to get out of that, where is everything today? So all I can do with the respect to Dead Kennedys is continue to be the brain of the operation even if I’m shut out of everything and maintain the legacy , and respect, and quality control as best as I can. I probably the only person left who still loves the music and loves what we did, and the vision behind it. It’ll always just tear me up to see what latest thing they’ve done to trash everything. Or more horror stories about how they treat people. Person to person it’s just really sad. I’m constantly getting emails about how poorly they played. That wasn’t the real Dead Kennedys. Sure, we were erratic, and I as one of the erratic ones, but we always took pride in knowing all of our songs- all of them! And those guys are such great musicians, I could, on a whim, call out something like “Drug Me” as an encore on the spur of the moment, having not practiced it for a year and we could fuckin’ play it.
Now, I get complaints that they screw up a song, laugh, screw up again, laugh, and the audience isn’t laughing. “Jello! Stop this!” I can’t stop this! I’m frozen out on the other side. It’s like that circus carnie who looks at the elephant man “oh my treasure!” and kidnaps him and puts him on display. I just have to keep it separate, knowing that what we did do was really good.
A lot of them are really fun to play or we wouldn’t play some of them in GSM. GSM was always meant to primarily play new material, and all the band agrees on that. As I joke once, I once said, “you wouldn’t believe the offers we got to play all of Plastic Surgery Disasters” and I saw all these worried looks on peoples faces in the band! They like playing some of the old stuff. It is cool to finally have two guitars back in the band and see what we can do with “police truck” and “holiday in Cambodia.”
When GSM launched, I made a list of all the Dead Kennedy songs and all the Lard songs and Jelvin songs, and covers, and even stuff from the Mojo Nixon album, and I looked at the list, and it was longer than a Grateful Dead set. “I guess I have to give up on us learning all these songs.”
One thing I always really liked about GSM was how you played Dead Kennedys stuff here or there intermixed with the other songs and didn’t make a big deal out of “and here’s a Dead Kennedys song now!” One thing that I learned early on is that if you put “holiday in Cambodia” in the first third, then you can get away with anything- and that’s when you hit them with something unlike anything they’ve heard before. That’s where we would put “brown lipstick parade” or “I am the owl.” You play something different before people realize that they are craving something different and it works really well.
What’s the next step for GSM? There are some more songs that we haven’t released yet, but I’m not sure how they’ll come out. They wouldn’t really fit together as a 7-inch. There is one song about the effect of hate talk about how it grew and grew and grew with the corporate takeovers of media, called ”blunderblubber.” I originally just worth it about Rush Limbaugh during the Clinton era. But, now it’s time to expand it. Talk about injustices. Ruth Bader Ginsberg dies of pancreatic cancer and Rush Limbaugh announces he has it and doesn’t die. If Limbaugh croaks, then “Blunderblubber” comes out the next day celebrating his death. I have no problems doing that to a guy like that. He has gone so far out of his way to hurt so many people and keeps laughing his way to the bank.
When Margaret Thatcher died, Chumbawamba put out that Margaret Thatcher EP. But me, I’m too superstitious. I’d be worried about getting bad mojo! Well… I dunno… my mojo is what it is at this point.