Keith Morris Talks OFF!, Politics & Touring In 2012
Photo By Katie Hovland
Next Thursday night, punk legend Keith Morris comes to Warehouse Live for his second Houston visit in a year with his group OFF!.
The band is made up of Morris, Steven McDonald of Redd Kross, drummer Mario Rubalcaba, and guitarist Dimitri Coats, also front man of Burning Brides. OFF! was birthed out of an aborted Circle Jerks project that Coats was involved with, but soon the other two were conscripted into OFF! and the band debuted at SXSW in 2010.
Morris co-founded Black Flag in 1976 with Greg Ginn and left in 1979 to form the Circle Jerks, making him one of the godfathers of American punk as we know it. But Morris doesn't rest on those credentials and instead prefers to push forward.
Two bands in one career names after insect repellant, joined by Morris and his spitfire vocals and signature flail. OFF! is probably one of the most refreshing bands touring today, and the lineage, authenticity and total fun of it all can't be ignored.
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OFF! has released two albums, the First Four EPs compilation in 2011 and a self-titled effort this past May. The two releases cumulative running time is just under 34 minutes, making for quick but satisfying live workout.
Rocks Off spoke to Morris recently while he was at home in Los Feliz, "home to Gwen Stefani and that Gavin guy from Bush." The guys from System of a Down also call the neighborhood their home, and Morris lives not that far from Little Armenia.
"I do a lot of walking, my strolls, my hikes, I get to see a lot of stuff going down," jokes Morris. "We have a lot of the "Hey Look Me" people, a lot of stinky cologne, smelly perfume." .
I asked Morris if there is more to be angry about in 2012 than in the late '70s and early '80s when he was rolling with Flag and the Jerks.
"There's even more of it," he says. "And there are just more uptight, uneducated white people now."
All of these people fail to grasp any sense of American history. Morris and I talk about terrorism, what he calls America's karma, and the coming elections.
"We're going to have new people in the White House that aren't even people. It's not fair, we're too great of a country to allow these sort of things happen to us," Morris says.
I relate that John Lydon of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd said something similar in an interview the day before in regards to the States' political climate. I ended up speaking with two of the biggest firebrands in punk rock in the span of three days while the Republican National Convention raged on in Tampa.
Morris still finds Lydon a viable voice and enjoys what he has to say, but Lydon's rage seems kind of endearing to Morris at this point, seeing that he has married into wealth.
OFF! received a jump in notoriety last year when Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis wore one of their hats in a music video, and other merch during other appearances, which led to a run on the hats and even some bootlegging. Morris says some of the people buying those hats don't even know that OFF! is a band until later.
People forget that Kiedis and bassist Flea were a part of the L.A. punk scene themselves, "brothers in arms," says Morris. That gets lost under the MTV and radio hits and frat/sorority element.
On a recent opening slot in front of the Peppers at L.A.'s Staples Center, they realized that the Peppers' current sound guy handled those same duties for Morris' Black Flag in the early days.
Now that OFF! is a touring entity, he sees younger kids in the crowd too, some reeled in by Kiedis' hat.
OFF! tours with bands barely out of their teens, like the feral Cerebral Ballzy, keeping the shows fresh. This time around though they are bringing Negative Approach, one of the most-revered hardcore punk bands of the early '80s. Dallas' own Power Trip are also on the Warehouse Live bill.
"We get the old-school people, the middle-school people," Morris says. I think our average age is like, 17 or 18 years old. I can hang with that. They are coming to see us because they weren't there the first time around."
Touring with younger bands keeps OFF! young in a sense, and imakes for a complete punk-rock meal.
"You want to hit them on a few levels. We need to show off a little bit of our knowledge," says Morris.
If they are touring they might as well put together the best package as possible, and not drag along a cruddy band because they are on the cover of a magazine, and all the teen girls like them, right?
"Why would we wanna do this at the age we are doing it at and show up and be wheeled in wheelchairs?" Morris laughs. "Or get hooked up to an oxygen tank?"
He talks of touring in an iron lung, but I tell him we would all just wheel him into the mosh pit at that point.
Morris relates a story about little kid at a party in L.A. that thought he was Ozzy Osbourne. He politely corrected the child. What would Morris 30 years ago think if he knew that he still be chugging along three decades on, or being mistaken for Prince Of Darkness?
"I would have just shrugged it off. We didn't know what we were doing in Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. We didn't know that it would equate to mapping out a touring schedule for other bands," he says.
Hardcore bands' routing would go on to inform those of the bands that would come after them.
"We didn't know that we were creating a genre of music," says Morris. "It was survival. It was looking for the next party. We were just excited to be doing what we were doing."
With Negative Approach and Power Trip, 7 p.m. Thursday, September 20, at Warehouse Live.
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