After forming seminal L.A. punk/hardcore band Black Flag over 30 years ago, original vocalist Keith Morris only appeared on the band’s 1979 debut, the five-song EP, Nervous Breakdown. After a few years with Black Flag, Morris eventually exited the band to create the Circle Jerks.
With a musical career that spans more than three decades, this legendary, iconic singer is back with a jolt of vibrant fury in a new project known as OFF!. Morris, who is considered by many to be a veteran of the punk scene, revealed that OFF! is his new musical priority now that the Circle Jerks are ostensible on an indefinite hiatus. Morris explains how his new band OFF! came into existence.
“The band formed with Dimitri Coats, who is a producer and our guitar player,” he says. “Our band is also made up of Steven McDonald on bass and Mario Rubalcaba on drums. Dimitri had come to me before we began jamming over a year ago, and says I needed to put together a new record with my other band, the Circle Jerks.” Morris says that at first the guitar player was into heavier bands, but not necessarily punk.
“He was really into bands like Nirvana, The Melvins, Mastodon and Queens of the Stone Age, but we got him to listen to all the bands we loved, from Bad Brains, TSOL, Misfits and much more. The songwriting process really came out and we just progressed till we had that energy we were looking for, that certain sound that I think we achieved with OFF!.”
Morris admitted that this music is akin to his days of glory in the early ’80s punk scene, but that the sound was most important to OFF!. “We really wanted to get back to that really raw, organic and volatile sound that was in your face, to the point and full of intensity,” Morris explains. “We took that more stripped-down approach and hope that the fans will love, and it and so far at our shows it’s been a blast.”
In terms of the violence and chaos that many have read about in the heyday of the early L.A./Orange County punk explosion, Morris admits it was there, but says much of it was also exaggerated. “We were social rejects and the music really brought something out of us and allowed us to relate to each other. In terms of the violence, the LAPD should also be recognized for their complicity in some of the violence. Back in the day, the cops hated what we were doing and they showed it.”
So is there a difference between how Morris feels about politics now compared to when he was younger? “I’m much angrier than I was back then, believe it or not. Our government is really not representing us anymore. I hope that within our lifetime we can have a real third-party movement; not a ‘Tea Party,’ but an ‘against them’ party or a ‘we’re not with you’ party.”
Morris says that despite past health problems and a stagnant economy, OFF! plans to tour like there is no tomorrow. “I am a diabetic and have only been able to tour six weeks out of the year. But let’s face it: With the economy the way it is, everyone is struggling and as a band we’ll have to get out there and play shows like everyone else,” he says.
Morris says that he intends to take OFF! to Europe, and then hopefully Australia, New Zealand and South America. “With my previous band, due to other members’ tour schedules, I was unable to tour abroad, but with OFF!, we will go to Europe and overseas.”
But why does Morris think punk has remained such an underground yet popular mainstay in music and culture after three decades? “Punk will always be because as youths we will always want music that pisses off our folks. You think the music your parents listened to didn’t piss off your grandparents? Just look into how many people were pissed at Elvis or The Beatles.”
OFF! at the FYF Christmas Party w/No Age, Big Freedia, Dangers, Crystal Antlers, Tijuana Panthers and others at The Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802, www.theglasshouse.us; and Aladdin Jr. 2, 296 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 623-4333, www.aladdinjrrestaurant2.com. Sat, Dec. 11. 7PM. $12.