Keith Morris was the original vocalist of Black Flag. The immortal scream on the Nervous Breakdown EP belonged to him. And then after becoming the first casualty of Greg Ginn's fascist approach to leading a punk band, he went on to form the equally significant Circle Jerks.
Now Morris is the frontman of Off!, a hardcore supergroup costarring Burning Brides guitar guy Dimitri Coats, Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald, and drummer Mario Rubalcaba. In their own words: "It sounds like '78 and smells like the real deal."
Last week, as Morris and Off! prepared to hit the pit (or dance floor?) at downtown Miami's Grand Central, New Times chatted with the hardcore punk pioneer about sweaty guys, dancing chicks, and being in a "dark party" band.
New Times: When was the last time you were in Miami? The Circle Jerks played in Coconut Grove a few years ago, right?
Keith Morris: Oh, the Grove. Jeez, I'm trying to remember. The Circle Jerks bring back all of these ugly memories. I'm doing this new thing because of them. And I'd like to thank them for firing Dimitri. He was going to produce the Circle Jerks record, and the music those guys were writing was really mediocre.
I didn't realize there was a Circle Jerks without you.
There isn't. I got a drummer who hates lead vocalists. I have a guitar player who turned Circle Jerks into a part-time band because of his full-time band, Bad Religion. And then I have a bass player who I would keep looking over at, and I knew that he was bummed out because he was playing bass and he was looking across the stage at a guitar player that he played circles around.
What's the chemistry like in Off!?
We're just happy to be older guys presented with the opportunity to go out and do what we're doing. We're touring. We're allowed to record. Wherever we go, people love us. We're friendly guys. We wanna bring our special flavor to the party. We want to bring our squirt guns and our party hats — squirt some red food dye onto the swimming board, bounce the keg off the diving board into the deep end of the swimming pool.
So you would consider Off! a party band?
[Dimitri] said, "Keith, even in your fastest, most brutal moments of music, there's always a danceability." And when we say dance, we don't mean a bunch of sweaty guys beating each other up in the middle of the floor or guys who couldn't make the football team elbowing and punching and all of that. We mean that the girls can shake their asses. To us, that is most important. We play with these bands and [the vocalist] will be screaming, "Circle pit! Circle pit!" And then you see these posts on Facebook like, "That pit wasn't very big, so the show wasn't very good." Fuck all of you fucking idiots. That show was totally happening because all of the chicks at the back of the room were fucking dancing. That's how you can tell what's a great gig — not by how many guys get dragged out on stretchers.
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We played Coachella. Here we are playing in a tent and all I can see are all these girls dressed in their summertime outfits. What an amazing sight. For years and years, going back 35 years, it's just been a bunch of sweaty guys acting like the Three Stooges.
It sounds like you've arrived.
It's not a matter of arriving. The crowds are different. And that's amazing. We play a lot of festivals. It's not "cool" for a band like us to play festivals. That's not "punk rock"; that's not "hardcore." But it allows us to play with a bunch of bands that we would not normally play with, which means that we play in front of a bunch of people we would not normally play in front of. We're playing with bands like the Cure, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Guided by Voices, TV on the Radio, Wilco. I said the Cure. Why would a band like us play with the Cure? How many of those people are there to see Off!? But it doesn't matter. There are 6,000 people in front of us.