In October 2011, I interviewed Keith Morris whilst he was on the road with OFF!. We had a yarn about ‘what is wrong with the world’, the Pied Piper paradigm, his experiences with Black Flag and Circle Jerks, and evil West African warlords. The connection kept cutting out – Keith reckons that it was because he was around tall buildings, but I suspect our transmissions were being intercepted by Greys. Despite this, we had a good old bro-down and chuckle-a-thon. I’ve chosen to present our talk with minimal editing to retain the authentic tone of our conversation. I’ve kept the bad connection bullshit in so you can see how much of a patient legend he was. The original, edited version can be found here.
Hi Keithy*, how are ya mate?
Good, how are you?
I’m pretty good. What have you been up to?
Well, OFF! are in the van. We’re driving to the most beautiful city in this part of the world, in Texas – a town called Austin. We can see the skyline from here but it’s kinda bumper-to-bumper right now. Luckily we don’t play until about 12.30 tonight…which is kind of late for an all ages show, but hey.
Yeah, that is kinda late hey?
So, you guys are playing a few shows there and then you’re coming to Australia in December. Are you pumped for that?
Yes, we are very, very, very much looking forward to it. I have never been there before.
Yeah I was gonna ask if you’d ever been here…so, first time? Are you ready for the heat?
You know what? I’m getting some kinda like…it sounds like a microwave or kinda science fiction noise…
That’s just the UFOs in the background. The Greys are coming.
This connection is terrible. I’m getting some kind of like grindy noise on this thing. ‘Dot’, is it cool if I call you back?
Yeah no worries mate.
[Totally unintelligable crackly Keith robot voice and static]
Hey ‘Dot’, sorry about that.
You’re right mate.
We’ll just try again…[more robot death crackles…I am put on hold and forced to endure some pop-punk bullshit that I later found out is Weightless’ ‘All Time Low’. Fucking terrible]. Are you there?
Is the connection clearer?
Yeah awesome. That sounds way better.
Hi, again. That’s better, I just had the most horrible on-hold waiting music. Okay so, I was asking you about coming to Australia…
We will be there in December and I’m, like, totally psyched on this because I’ve never been there before. Mario [Rubalcaba] our drummer’s been there with his other band Earthless [as well as with Hot Snakes and Rocket From The Crypt], and Dimitri [Coates] our guitarist has been there with his other band Burning Brides. I don’t know if Steven [McDonald] our bass player, who plays in Redd Kross has been to Australia…
[“Twice!” – Steven in the background]
Okay, twice. See, so I’m the guy that’s not been there, so…
Oooh! Virgin territory.
I guess I’m the most excited about going. All these other guys can say they’re excited but they’re only slightly excited. I’m totally excited; I’m literally shaking with anticipation [laughs].
Yours is legit excitement! Nice, well you’ll have to be ready for the heat because it gets a bit sticky around here in December.
But we are Southern Californians…the majority of us. [Dimitri] is the cold weather guy and he’s Polish so he can fend off any kind of weather whereas the other three of us, the three guys who are more important, the most important guys in the band, are from Southern California and that kind of climate so your weather is not that far removed. That Pacific tropical weather…we’re used to that.
Okay, good. I’m glad. We don’t want you faintin’. I’m pretty stoked that you guys are playing some all-ages shows, and you’re doing one tonight obviously. Is it fun to sweat on all those little kids, and get in their faces?
Um, I can barely hear you…
Oh I was just asking, at the all-ages gigs that you’re playing tonight and that you…
This connection is really bad again. Maybe it’s because I’m passing through a bunch of taller buildings. Maybe…I don’t know. I don’t know how these things work. Can you hear okay now?
Yeah, I can. Keith?
Um, speak up please? You may have to yell into the phone because it’s a bit delayed as well.
Can you hear me now? I’m hovering right over the phone.
Yes, I can hear you now.
Sweet, I’ll just hold this pose then [downward dog] for the rest of our yarn. So OFF! came out of the ashes from a fight with Circle Jerks, who also came out of the ashes of a fight with Black Flag. I think that sets the tone really nicely for your sound, you know – that fighting, aggressive, in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall rocknroll thing.
What’s happened is we have a rash of these well-coiffed…um…it’s kind of like a giant box that is spitting out all of these big atoms, they all look and they all sound alike, maybe this is just a reaction to all of that. Also, we live in really horrible, social-political times…
…that, coupled with the anger against some of the other music that’s out there, that’s not a good reason to be in a band, or doing what you’re doing. Maybe being a foil to some of this stuff…also being a mirror of some of this stuff. What had happened was, all of the bands that I’ve usually been associated with, there’s always been some kind of aggressive anger towards certain things that are happening, and that’s also part of the fuel for what we’re doing. Plus we are having a really great time, we’re getting ready to go play in Austin, we get to travel, people like us, a lot of people are into what we are doing, and so we’re having blast. We’re having a great time.
I’m glad to hear that. So you were just saying that you’re pissed off at the world and what’s going on. We do live in in horrible times. There’s all kinds of terrible shit going down and people are being used and abused. You started out over thirty years ago…what things are the same that piss you off from back then and until now? What hasn’t changed?
Well, the only change really is that there’s just more of it going on. You know, more of the abuse, more financial abuse…like, we had these bailouts here, our government gave a group of people a huge bailout and they didn’t use it for what they were given the money for. They turned around and just spread it out amongst themselves rather then helping the people that the big bailout was supposed to be used for. So now we have all of these protests, and hopefully there’ll be some of these protests when we get over to Australia because it’s happened worldwide. It’s not just here. It’s kind of like there’s a group of people who control everything, and when I say everything that means in Australia, in Japan, in Europe, and we’ve pretty much had a bunch of people just string us along and lie to us, and you know, tell us how great things are, and now all of a sudden we have all of these people who are out of work, and can’t pay their bills, and being kicked out of their homes, and you know, that gets back to what I said initially – that our government gave out all of this money to these people to help these other people out and they didn’t.
Human greed at it’s finest, right?
Yeah, it’s really easy, when you see all of this abuse…when you see it next to you, you see it happening to your friends, you see it happening to your relatives, it’s really easy to be angry.
Yeah, definitely. It’s all connected. The music industry especially these days is part of that mega-machine of just churning out marketable, happy-sounding, money-making shit. And it’s nice that you guys don’t.
They’re doing that to save their jobs and the people that buy that probably don’t know any better. They wouldn’t know bad art from great art. But the situation with the record companies – because they’re in such financial disarray – they ordered it…they started scrambling to save their jobs and at one point they had become more important than the musicians and the artists, then the bands they were putting out. So they really have nobody to blame but themselves. If they lose their jobs, fine, they can go stand in the unemployment line, because a lot of them deserve to lose their jobs, just for of the shit they’ve put out. It’s a form of karma.
It is! They create all this bullshit, horrible music that gets put out and it ends up biting them on the arse. And that’s pure poetry.
So I was watching those Room 205 vids the other day…
I didn’t get a lot of what you just said Keith, it cut out.
Well I’m passing through a bunch of tall buildings. This connection is not that happening.
Fucken Greys…well, we’ll just see what we can do anyway. The film clip for Black Thoughts shows Raymond Pettibon creating the artwork that you guys are using. It’s awesome to see him featured in that film because you have been tied in with him from the start.
Well, he and I have been friends since the very beginning of Black Flag. We were actually friends in high school, so we go further back than even Black Flag. But he has always helped out and has always wanted to be part of the scene. He sensed the energy. He realised that what we’re doing is very similar to what happened when we were all hanging out and partying at a place called The Church in Hermosa Beach. And Dimitri and I played him four songs and he immediately caught on to what the vibe was about and he offered up his services; he volunteered. He wanted to be a part of it. See he knows that we’re tapping in to something that took place about thirty years ago and he senses the energy, he senses the vibe. He knows that it’s very exciting and he wants to be a part of it.
Yeah, well it goes down really well. Are OFF! working on any new songs, or are you planning to record a new album anytime soon?
We will start chipping away at some new songs when we get back. I mean, we’ve tossed around some ideas. We’ve got music for a couple of songs. I constantly do what Mike Watt from Minutemen and Iggy and The Stooges would say to be the ‘D. Boon method’. D. Boon was the guitarist and the vocalist from the Minutemen, and what it is, it’s when you come up with an idea and you just write words down here and there and then eventually you build upon it. I think it would be like, say, if you were making a movie, it would be like using the Francis Ford Coppola method where you would start off with the skeleton and then you start putting on muscle, and then you start putting flesh on top of the muscle, so you come up with a basic idea and then you expand upon it.
Just fleshing out the skeleton, right?
It’s the heart of darkness. There’s that word again – darkness. Black thoughts, darkness…
Apocalypse, death, destruction; all of that…
[both of us laughing]
So last year, or was it the year before? There were ‘creative differences’ you had with the rest of the guys from Circle Jerks. I guess you’ll always be friends, but are you on good speaking terms still?
I actually am friends with a couple of the guys. I don’t really spend that much time around them. I don’t really have a reason to because I am in a band, we’re out playing and travelling, and making new friends, and making new fans, and going across the country, and having all of the little kids follow us around, and Steven’s playing the flute, like Peter Pan…
The Pied Piper?
…the Pied Piper, yeah. You know what? We’re in an alleyway right now and I don’t know if you can hear me, but..
I can…I can hear you fine…
Okay. The Pied Piper…
…leading the rats, and then the children…
[laughs] …all of the little kids…
…all at the all-ages shows…
[laughs] …that’s nice…
Back to what you were just saying – that you don’t have the time to sit around and hold grudges because you’re out there doing your own thing now. You’ve got this new band, and you sound amazing, and you’re doing really well, you’re having fun and it seems that that’s the case with the last two bands too. When you start a new band, you don’t sit around and mope. You’re still really respected in the eyes of all your fans and you’re just exploring something new and I think that’s really cool.
We’ve gotta keep the energy going, and keep it rolling. Take it everywhere; take it as many places as we can. What I would like to do though, when it comes to that band that I was in for over thirty years [Circle Jerks], is I would like to thank them for allowing me to be sitting outside the Red7 in Austin, Texas, ‘cos we’re gonna be playing later on and we’re gonna have the fucking time of our lives.
There are no fucken hang-ups, there are no chains around any ankles, no there’s no albatross around anybody’s neck. If there is, it’s around theirs. I get to move forward, I get to have a great time. I get to have a blast! [laughs]
[laughs] Good. It sounds like you are. So are there any other creative things that you do when you’re not rocking the fuck out in OFF!?
Well, I’ve been encouraged to write a book, which I’ve known that I needed to write a book for years – just to get all of that crap out of my head. So I have been chipping away on a book. My friend Brendan Mullen – you might wanna Google Brendan Mullen, who was the guy who pretty much put punk rock on the map in Los Angeles with the underground venue called The Masque – had been encouraging me to write a book. And my friend Brendan has written and worked on books, he did a Jane’s Addiction book and he was working on the third re-write of a Red Hot Chili Peppers book. But he’d also written a book called We Got The Neutron Bomb [The Untold Story Of LA Punk], and that would be the history of LA punk, like The Weirdos, The Alley Cats, and X, Zeros, Germs, TSOL, Flesh Eaters, Middle Class, and so I started chipping away on stories. I’m about six stories in on a book that’s probably gonna have a minimum of maybe twenty to twenty-five chapters in it with varying stories from Black Flag, Circle Jerks, growing up at the Beach, sneaking into the Hollywood Bowl.
I’m also about a third of the way through on a story for a movie. I have a friend, Richard Edson – who is part of Jim Jarmusch’s stable – tell me that “you don’t write a movie script anymore, you have to write a book.” What they are doing is, they’re going around and they’re buying up the rights to books and someone else then writes the screenplay for it, and then they make a movie out of it. When I get ready to do my movie – depending upon how I go about doing it, if I just sell it outright to somebody, or if I get people to help produce it – having lived in Hollywood and having done what I’ve done over all of the years, I’ve made a lot of really great friends and a lot of really great connections in the movie world.
Yeah of course. So what’s the movie gonna be about?
It’s going to be about me [laughs], egotistically speaking [laughs]. It’s a dark comedy. A major portion of the story takes place on the West Coast of Africa. Like, the areas of Monrovia and Freetown. One of the major characters of the movie is a guy who is in prison right now for human rights violations. And when I say violations, the human rights people say that this guy was probably the most brutal character that has ever walked the face of the earth.
And who are you talking about?
One of the presidents or dictators there on the West Coast of Africa. Chopping people’s arms off, chopping their legs off, chopping off ears, yeah.
[Could he mean this guy?]
Evil. Any last words Keith?
You write for an Australian magazine? So you’re all over Australia?
Well where out of Australia do you work out of?
At the moment I’m on the Gold Coast, which is about an hour south of Brisbane.
Okay. We’re gonna be playing Brisbane, which is where you’re gonna come to see us?
Of course! I’ll be there, front row, centre, sweating, singing…I’ll be there. And everybody else I know will be there too.
Will you be blowing kisses or will you be throwing drinks?
I’ll be throwing my hair around and jumping all over everybody, and singing and screaming and sweating.
Well, I guess the way we would want to end this conversation for this time and space, you know, we can talk later on, but…is just to let everybody know to come and have fun, jump around, scream and yell…
Oh they will! I’m sure you’ll pack the place out. Definitely mate, definitely. Well listen, have an awesome night tonight and enjoy the rest of your trip and I’ll see you real soon.
Cheers mate, bye!
Interview by Defender Of the Faith in October 2011 for Australian Hysteria Magazine.
KEITHY’S DONE HIMSELF A MISCHIEF!
*Yep, I called him Keithy in my best Chopper voice. I actually couldn’t help it – honestly.