OFF! Interview

Keith Morris needs no introduction. For nearly 30 years he has been at the forefront of punk rock. Last year he created the supergroup OFF! and many would argue it’s some of the best punk to be released in a long time. Keith was very candid in revealing how OFF! came together as a unit and what’s changed since he started out in his first band. OFF! is set to rock the Pitchfork Music Festival on Saturday, July 16th and they will also be playing a second show at Reggie’s the following day on Sunday, July 17th. 

Kevin – So, OFF! is playing the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on Saturday, July 16th…

Keith – Yes, the big Pitchfork “blog” Festival, with Thurston Moore who just released a new album. I heard it’s pretty happening. It was produced by Beck, who is an interesting character, so between the both of them it has to be a decent record. We know that Guided by Voices are performing and everyone loves Guided by Voices. How could you not like them? We were talking about The Beatles and Buzzcocks earlier and pop music. I would also put Guided by Voices in that category.

Kevin – How would you say OFF! differs in comparison to your previous bands? In terms of writing, is anything different than your old bands?

Keith – The difference between Dimitri Coats, Steven McDonald and Mario Rubalcaba in this band is that we are all friends. We’ve been through so much and we have a great history. Our members have played in Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt and others. Steven played with Courtney Love and he’s played in Sparks, which is a pretty amazing band. Dimitri has played with a lot of cool people. He’s done Desert Sessions with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Mark Lanegan from Screaming Trees. All of these bands are amazing. Not only the pedigree, but what separates us from the other bands that I’ve been in is that we are more focused and we’ve been through so much, so we are more thick-skinned. We are looking for the party, but not the party favors. With my last band, there was so much cockiness and arrogance, this mentality that we are who we are and we can write whatever we want and people will love it. That’s the wrong way to be going about things. You have to set a bar.

Kevin – What went into recording your first complete release, First Four EPs, that spans the 16 tracks you have recorded so far? How did you hook up with Vice Records?

Keith – The recording process was really quite easy. We rehearsed three times if that, we don’t rehearse. We would be in the studio and Steven wouldn’t need a refresher course. There are certain bands like that, including us. We were originally going sign with Epitaph. We are very familiar with Epitaph and the bands on the label. One of the guys in the band made a comment on how there’s a lot of crappy bands on Epitaph. Another member argued with him that there are a lot of crappy bands out there on these record labels, so you can’t escape that. The contract was drawn up and we were prepared to sign with Epitaph. I know all the guys at Epitaph. I’ve known Brett since Bad Religion first got started. One of the guys made an inquiry about what they were gonna do with us. They told us to call Kevin Lyman to get OFF! on Warped Tour. On our list of things to do that was not very high up there. It’s not a diss to Warped Tour, but they would have put us on the “old school” stage and that’s not where we want to be, we wanted to play on a stage of newer bands. Even though we are older guys, we consider us a newer band. We got this predictable response, plus we knew Epitaph was going to release new Bad Religion, Weezer and Social Distortion albums, which meant that all the people who work at the company would place their effort on those records and we were going to fall through the cracks. One of the guys in our rhythm section knew the people at Vice. We were in the mindset that we could sign with Epitaph and they would give us a good chunk of dough, nothing spectacular, but could make us comfortable. The music was played for Vice and they wigged out. We played it for Epitaph and Brett told us it was the best music he had heard in five years. When I played the first four songs for Brett he fell out of his chair and was beside himself. He said Circle Jerks weren’t gonna write anything good, how can they? They were a bunch of old guys. He said, “Keith, you sound like you are 18 years old!”. Anyways, we decided amongst ourselves that no one else was interested in what we were doing. Vice came back and their girl Jamie started rattling on stuff that was very impressive. We were taken aback on how quickly she got back to us with so many ideas. They submitted us with a window of opportunity because they weren’t releasing anything. They said, “If you can get these songs recorded, we can make stuff happen for you guys”. We were really impressed about their marketing, because it’s not about their record label. They have a big media empire with 22 different offices in the world. They just opened one in China. And that’s the story on OFF! and how we leapt through flaming hoops like little poodles at the circus.

Kevin – You recently started a radio show and you broadcast weekly. What can you tell me about it and how can people tune in and listen?

Keith – The name of the station is called Moheak Radio. It’s and it was started out by my friend TK who used to be a main engineer at a radio station called Indie 103.1. We were sitting and eating one day at a burger joint and told me he had started this radio station and to come down and check it out. I showed up and he told me I should have my own show. So my show is called “Totally Psyched” and when I am in town and not touring it’s every Tuesday from 3:00 to 5:00 PM PST. I play AC/DC, Aerosmith, Avengers, Atlantis, Bad Brains and The Beatles. I play ABBA and wouldn’t be afraid to play them next to say Iggy and the Stooges. Buzzcocks, Black Sabbath, The Badge, Basement 5, Buffalo Daughter, Buffalo Springfield. Moving into the C’s…Captain Beefheart, Captain Beyond, Claw Hammer, Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4”. Mix it all up! Today I was listening to Bass Drum of Death and Crystal Antlers.

Kevin – I definitely endorse both Bass Drum of Death and Crystal Antlers.

Keith – Yes! They are both great. I endorse all of those bands. I love bands from Australia, so I play The Scientists and Lime Spiders, Rose Tattoo, Lipstick Killers as well.

Kevin – In 2003, you provided backing vocals for Alkaline Trio’s song “We’ve Had Enough” off their Good Mourning album. How did this come to be?

Keith – One of my bands was on another tour, in fact it was Warped Tour. We played four days at the end of tour filling in for NOFX, who split to do some European festival dates. The roster for Warped was very iffy. It included Good Charlotte, New Found Glory and a bunch of other bands I would never pay attention to. We were fortunate enough that The Damned, Bad Religion and Alkaline Trio were on the bill. We saw Alkaline Trio perform a few times and they reminded me of the same dynamic of Husker Du. You had Grant Hart, the drummer writing songs, and you had Bob Mould singing and writing songs. The same dynamic happens in Alkaline Trio, and they would come and watch us play every day and we would watch them every day. In the process we became friends and we had a lot in common, like The Misfits and The Damned. I was working for a record company and at one point the guy at the record label was considering signing Alkaline Trio since V2 had folded. So our friendship spilled into the studio. I recently saw Matt Skiba again in Los Feliz at The Bigfoot Lodge when I was DJing there, so fun.

Kevin – You recently played in Washington DC and spent time hanging with Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye. How far do all of you guys go back?

Keith – Henry and Ian go back to being teenagers together, so that’s an inseparable bond. Ian and I go back to San Francisco, going back to ‘79. One of my other bands played with Minor Threat for our first tour on the East Coast. I saw Ian four weeks prior when OFF! played at Black Cat. Scream, being a Dischord band, the rest of OFF! have their ties to Ian. Ian came and hung out which was totally happening and amazing. We all talked about Brian May from Queen and how he’s been so influential to us, whether you want to believe that or not.

Kevin – I’m sure most people would have never figured Brian May and Queen being such an influence on all you guys, including me. What is it about him that influenced you, his guitar work, his writing?

Keith – Both, the thing is that we grew up listening to all this different music. If I told you the musicians that have come up to me and have said that my music has influenced them you would  be taken aback. I mean Los Lobos sounds nothing like Black Flag, The Black Crowes don’t sound like Circle Jerks. Ryan Adams doesn’t sound like any of that. He doesn’t sound like any of the bands he grew up skating to, like Corrosion of Conformity, Superchunk, Circle Jerks, Black Flag and Minor Threat. You certainly won’t find any of that in his music.

Kevin – Current state of the United States and world affairs…What are your opinions on what’s going on in this country right now? Any issue or topic that’s most important?

Keith – It’s all important. You just can’t single out certain issues. The one thing that really irks me right now is the people who call themselves the “Tea Bag Party”. What we have here are these people who have taken an incredible piece of American history, an event that if you go back to that, it started the American Revolution. These people now are twisting around the history, Paul Revere, and what irks me is that these people don’t know what they are talking about.

Kevin – Recently your hair was analyzed and it was discovered you had arsenic and uranium in it. Have you found an explanation yet on this and do you have any theories on how this is possible?

Keith – Arsenic is in our water supply, there’s some traces of arsenic in some bottled water. It’s not gonna harm you unless you take it in large doses. The uranium on the other hand could be the fallout for what happened in Japan. Maybe there’s some toxic waste site in my neighborhood that I don’t know of. Our government likes to do that and not tell us, that would be my best guess. I’m also in the helicopter flight path for Kaiser Permanente here on Sunset/Vermont and the children’s hospital, they all have helipads. It could be the alien/UFO gang…would it be the Martians, maybe the people who live on the planet behind the sun? The Plutonians? Maybe they figured out a way to disguise their UFOs as the helicopters flying over my place and have been shooting me with radiation rays as I sleep.

Kevin – What do you think about the documentary American Hardcore in which you are prominently featured? There have been various opinions on how the doc turned out and what should have been included.

Keith – I liked it quite a bit. I thought some of it was a little bit lengthy. There were some parts that should have been left out, but I’m not a film editor. I think the best punk rock documentary is The Decline of Western Civilization because I will back the LA punk rock scene over any of the other scenes like London with Sex Pistols and The Clash. Our scene had as many great bands and personalities.

Kevin – Where have you played in Chicago and what memories do you have of the city?

Keith – I remember pulling into a parking lot of a hotel one morning, getting out of the van in my socks and making the mistake of not having my shoes on. I put my coat on, long underwear, undershirt, thermals and like another pair of socks on top of the socks I already had. I stepped onto a frozen blacktop driveway and it was six below! I remember that quite vividly. I remember playing at the Metro, I loved the Metro. I remember playing at the Vic a few times. One of my most memorable times in Chicago was playing in an art gallery next to the EL. Every time the EL would go by it was so loud that you couldn’t hear the music and all the art pieces on the wall moved back and forth like an earthquake here in California.

Kevin – For this upcoming year, what are your touring plans with OFF! and when will you be releasing your next record?

Keith – We have Europe for the month of August. We have a tour in the south, we are gonna play in Texas, Arizona, hopefully New Orleans. Have some shows in Florida and Australia. I believe our next album is due next April. Dimitri and I are getting together next week to write some new songs.

Kevin – Any new bands you are really into now?

Keith – I love Moon Duo, who is very droney and buzzy. The new Crystal Antlers and Bass Drum of Death records are really good, like I said before. There are a lot of new bands that are droney, reverb, lo-fi sounding bands that I’m into. Woven Bones, Crocodiles I like quite a bit. I witnessed a guy at North by Northeast in Toronto called Dirty Beaches and it’s just one guy with a guitar. Everything is recorded and sometimes he doesn’t even play guitar, he just sings and croons. I love Fucked Up and Trash Talk too. One of my favorite new punk rock bands is from Sweden called The Regulations. The reason why I love them is because it reminds me of all the bands I grew up with here in southern California, the Hollywood/Los Angles punk rock scene; The Controllers, The Plugs, The Screamers, The Germs, The Flesh Eaters, Middle Class, X. The Regulations remind me of Black Flag, The Adolescents and The Bats, and that’s a great combination.

Kevin – Thanks for the interview. Final comments?

Keith – You aren’t gonna end with that one question, “If you were trapped in an elevator for 24 hours, what farm animal would you want to be trapped with?”.

Kevin – I’ve never asked that question before, so what animal would it be?

Keith – That would be Arnold Ziffel from Green Acres. He’s that smart pig that’s smarter than all the humans that are on the show. Or, “What Kardashian would I like to be trapped in that elevator with?”. In that case I would hope that the elevator would be on the 70th floor and for some reason it decided to have a mind of its own and go crashing into the bottom of the building so it would end my life. Anyways, thanks Kevin!


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