Philadelphia-hailing rockers Mannequin Pussy have been conjuring music that moves, both physically and mentally, since …
To say Keith Morris is punk rock royalty is like pointing out Snoop Dogg is partial to the devil’s lettuce.
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Lead singer in semi-demi-supergroup OFF! means he has been in three iconic punk and hardcore bands that crawled out of the sewers of LA: first as vocalist for Black Flag, then as rabble rouser deluxe for Circle Jerks. Known for his explosive performances as much as his long dreads, boilermaker’s cap and round Lennon glasses, there’s little of punk rock’s legacy he hasn’t left his grubby fingerprints on.
Touring third album Free LSD in Australia in January next year, we interrogated the esteemed Mr. Morris, mining him for all the punk posterity we could possibly handle. Like playing with Spinal Tap, The Blasters, and Slayer, for example. Oh, and pressing him with the ever present question: what is punk?
Hysteria: OFF! Is coming back to Australia and it feels like you are here at every given opportunity. What is it about Australia that you love coming back? Can’t be the airplane food.
Keith: You’re damn straight I’d come back to Australia at every chance afforded. I grew up in Hermosa Beach which is part of the South Bay in Southern California and most of the cities included in our tours of your part of the world always remind me of where I spent the majority of my youth. And most jet food is unhealthy garbage. Why can’t they serve us a great burrito with red sauce and cheddar cheese? Ha! Ha! Ha! Of course this will never happen! One can only wish.
You and the band have been touring Free LSD which was eight years after the last record. Do you just love touring and recording is secondary? What’s your process with that?
Well I’m answering your inquiries from a hotel room in Sao Paulo, Brazil while on a seven date South American tour. So far this crazy run of dates started in Dublin, Ireland and had us bouncing around the United Kingdom and then over to Spain and jumping on a flight to Mexico City. Next up was Guadalajara, Mexico and then down to Santiago, Chile to start our South American dates. We enjoy being able to go out and perform as much as possible as this is how we earn a living and let people know we exist as a band. Recording is a part of the process that leads to us having the opportunity to perform live. The process goes as follows, get together to test our creativity, write some riffs that turn into the music for songs all while coming up with lyrical ideas and placing them where they belong. Eventually recording in two studios. The first is the full blown all instruments being played live in a big room. Once this is done we move the recording session into a much smaller studio where I vocalise on the tracks and we’ll add extra instrumentation known as overdubs at a lesser cost. Cutting corners! Saving some moolah!
Raymond Pettibon did the artwork for the album, and you’ve known him since the Black Flag days. Do you have a concept and he bring it to life, or do you just let him do your thing?
I’ve known Raymond from our High School days at Mira Costa in Manhattan Beach going back to the early 70s. He and I became good buddies while his older brother, Greg [Ginn] and I started Black Flag. Raydog was one of BF’s first bassists who adhered to our situation that was “learn as you play”. The way we work with him is that he allows Dimitri (Coates, OFF! guitarist) and I to come into his work space and rummage through his pieces. Sometimes we don’t know what we want for imagery and let whichever painting piques our interest and let this dictate what’s going to make us create our album title. Nobody tells a great artist what to create!
You say you never want to be painted into a corner when it comes to musical taste or genre, or whatever. If punk is a movement, then it’s an anarchic one without a lot of rules to begin with. I suppose my question is if punk is so ephemeral and out there, how would one point at something and say, “that’s punk” or “that’s hardcore?” Do you think there’s an over-emphasis these days on “looking” the part?
Sadly what’s happened with “Punk” is when we started there were not too many rules. Now with the invention of the internet and sites such as Facebook it allows anyone with an opinion to become a member of the “Punk Police” or an authority on the subject of anything regarding punk. “I was there in the beginning and you weren’t so don’t tell me about punk!” which is some of the lame ass mentality I read and hear on some of the punk sites. What is punk? Punk should be whatever you want it to be. Punk is FREEDOM! That was Black Flag’s mentality as we didn’t care what people thought of us as we were young and having fun! Now for OFF! we’re a totally different creature as a couple of us were never part of the punk rock thing in the first place.
Dimitri comes from a place that’s inhabited by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Ray Davies (The Kinks), Neil Young, Kurt Cobain and a small army of others. When you ask about looking the part does this mean you’re referring to the “Sid Vicious look alike” contest? I’ve never won the little gold statue with my name etched on the front as I’ve never entered the competition. This is for someone else. Go out there and look however you want!
What is punk? Punk should be whatever you want it to be. Punk is FREEDOM!
[ Keith Morris ]
One of your first jobs was working at a record store when you were a kid. Record stores are becoming a bit extinct thanks to Spotify and ordering vinyl online. I’m a vinyl lover and love crate digging; but do you think kids are missing out on this crucial music experience these days? Does it matter in your view?
I think you’re wrong about record stores, as the ones I frequent are doing great business. Not everyone goes on streaming sites as the majority of vinyl buyers understand that bands still see a bit of royalties through record sales and these people want something physical to hold in their hands. What bums me out about a certain portion of the music listening population is they’ve never experienced walking into a record store and seeing and hearing new music. What I dislike are the record shop employees who think they’re cooler than the rest by playing some obscure music that’s not even being sold in their place of work. I also feel sorry for the YouTube viewers who sit at home and never go out to shows to be a part of or witness and hear the vibes that are happening! The energy between the band and the crowd is not caught on someone’s cell phone!
I also read you had an original pressing of Aussie classic rock band Masters Apprentices debut record but lost it. Have you ever tried to find it down here?
I have an original English pressing of A Toast To Panama Red but being the idiot that I am I moved from Los Angeles to roam the world and in the process leading up to me leaving I sold about a hundred albums and one of them was a mint condition copy of Choice Cuts on Regal Zonophone that still has me kicking myself over this…
With an OFF! Show, you’ve said that from the start it’s like “chaos, unpredictable.” That you want that adrenaline to kick in because you keep yourselves on your toes. Is that still the OFF! way – or just how you want things to be?
Well when I said this we were playing with Justin Brown who comes from the “Buddy Rich” school of drumming that equates to him being the leader on drums. He’s played with Herbie Hancock which makes him a “Jazzbo” and has him falling into certain patterns that are totally necessary for the songs but the majority of the time we find ourselves in the middle of chaos. I personally love his playing not knowing what he’s going to come up with next!
We’re currently playing with Mario Rubalcaba (also of Earthless, Rocket from the Crypt, etc.) who’s heavier and gives us a solid beat to fall back on. He’s explosive and very John Bonhamesque compared to Justin’s Keith Moonisms and drumming insanity. Justin keeps us on our toes! Early on with Mr. Brown, Dimitri was hammering on this mantra of changing our set list every night and I called bullshit on this as playing with Justin was a completely different experience every night. This coupled with all of Dimitri’s different guitar tunings and me being a lazy ass meant that we’d adhere to a list to not add to the confusion! WHEW!!!
For the new generation, they’d be surprised to learn Circle Jerks played with a young Slayer and Spinal Tap – was it as insane as it sounds or has it become this fixed historical point because of what all three bands have done since? How did it feel at the time versus how you look upon it now?
You failed to mention The Alvin Brothers along with their rhythm section of Bill “Buster” Bateman on drums and Johnny Bazz on bass known in most rock and roll circles as The Blasters. It was one of Slayer’s earliest gigs as that night’s lineup went, Spinal Tap, Slayer, the Circle Jerks and The Blasters headlining. What a great bill! This was one of my most memorable nights as a member of the CJs as our lineup at that time was Chuck Biscuits on drums, Michael “Flea” Balzary on bass along with Greg Hetson on guitar and when we hit our first notes the crowd’s jaws dropped, their eyes widened and everyone moved back about three feet. It was as if they thought we were some crazed characters that were just released from the nearest insane asylum and we were there to sever limbs. My close friends and drinking buddies, Jeffrey Lee Pierce (Gun Club, Tex And The Horseheads) and John Doe (X) both cornered me in the backstage area and exclaimed that they’d never witnessed anything like what we just did. As for my friend, Dave Alvin, who played guitar with his older brother Phil in The Blasters was totally pissed off over the CJ’s set asking me “How are we supposed to play after that?” My response was, “you’re The Blasters and are going to get up there and blow people away!” Now how I look at this currently is that it’s still one of my proudest performances!
As a gamer I have to ask, has anyone passed you on the street and remarked, “Oh shit, it’s the Channel X guy from Grand Theft Auto V!”
It happens several times a day! It’s made my life miserable as I can’t leave my house without being stopped to explain how my participation in GTA V came about. I’ll be standing at a urinal and the guy using the one next to me will ask “Aren’t you the guy from GTA V?” while looking at me and pissing on my leg. Of course I’m just being facetious! I had a classmate at my High School 45th reunion ask me what I’d been up to and I explained that I did a voiceover for GTA V and he almost fell out of his chair. He told me that it’s one of the biggest things ever. He said that it sold over $800 million dollars the first two days when it was released. It sold a billion dollars over the first weekend it was available. That’s ridiculous!!!
OFF! AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2024
- Wednesday, 10th January // Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA
- Friday, 12th January // The Gov, Adelaide SA
- Saturday, 13th January // Republic Bar, Hobart TAS
- Sunday, 14th January // Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
- Wednesday, 17th January // The Basement, Canberra ACT
- Friday, 19th January // Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
- Saturday, 20th January // Princess Theatre, Brisbane QLD
- Sunday, 21st January // Vinnie’s Dive Bar, Gold Coast QLD