Q&A: Keith Morris of OFF! Culture Room Show October 23

Though introductions should be entirely unnecessary, Keith Morris was a founding member of seminal punk band Black Flag. Shortly after he left that band, he founded the Circle Jerks, which he fronted from 1979 until quite recently.

Keith now performs with the hardcore punk supergroup OFF!, which also include members of Burning Brides, Redd Kross, Rocket From the Crypt, and Hot Snakes. But where most supergroups fail to reach their perceived potential, OFF! has excelled above and beyond the promise of the names on the record sleeve, and gone on to forge an identity of its own.

At 55 years old, Keith shows no signs of slowing down. Though experience has certainly left its mark, the gargantuan amount of buzz generated by OFF!'s debut live performance at the 2010 edition of SXSW show that Morris has only grown better with time.

If you're still amongst what scant few skeptics remain, we urge you to give the band's initial four EPs a spin to hear what many are hailing as the best punk band since its members original acts. The four vinyl seven-inch releases are sold together as a box set, and between the Raymond Pettibon jacket art and era-specific sonic aesthetic, these records will be right at home next to their Frontier and SST ancestors.

OFF! recently launched a fall tour of the U.S., which ends in Fort Lauderdale at Culture Room on October 23. In anticipation of that date, County Grind caught up with an under-the-weather, though no less talkative, Keith Morris while he recuperated from the flu at home in Los Angeles.

OFF! With Cerebral Ballzy and Retox, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, October 23 at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $13. Call 954-564-1074, or click here.

County Grind: OFF! just got home from a tour of Europe. How was the reception over there?

Keith Morris: The European tour warranted that we not leave Europe and just move there, but I'm in a band with three guys who are dads, so they had to come back and get into all of that family type stuff. Being the only "single" member of the band, with none of those types of responsibilities made it very easy for me to say "I'm not coming back!"

That good huh?

We were very well received. We were almost treated like royalty and I've not been to Europe since like ...1985! We played some big festivals and it was pretty amazing. One of the festivals was in Oslo, Norway and it was a beautiful day. Apparently in Norway they have maybe three days of summer-type weather and we just happened to be there on one of them.

We got up on stage and did our line check and there were like, 24 people in the field in front of us and I'm looking at the guys and thinking, "This doesn't bode very well for us." Everyone is on the other side of the park listening to some soft Swedish or Norwegian "Peter, Bjorn and John" doing their la-la-las with their keyboards and it just doesn't look good.

So we go back stage and did all of our yoga and stretching and yodeling, and I did my classical voice exercises to warm up, and we go on stage to what looked like 10,000 people!

Do you really do yoga?

No, I'm just pullin' your leg. I did yoga once and it was pretty amazing. I got through doing it and I don't think I've ever been that high. It was pretty bitchin'!

When was the last time you were in South Florida?

Well, I remember being there with another band I was in for a little over thirty years, and the last show I remember in Florida was at the State Theater in Saint Petersburg. Some friends showed up with their seven-year-old son, and the little kid was totally bummed. He didn't want to be there and hated everything, just did not want to be there.

About a third of the way through the set, his mom was so pissed off at him and fed up that she walked up to the front of the stage and threw him into the crowd! It was brilliant because in that situation, a seven-year-old weighs what? Maybe 30 or 40, possibly 50 pounds?

He crowd-surfed all the way to the very back of the theater, and then they pushed him all the way back to the front and in a very nice, gentle way pushed him back on stage. He immediately, with out looking at anyone on stage turned around and dove back into the crowd! He probably had the experience of his life until his parents take him to Disney World. 

There is a lot of information available on how OFF! came to be, but could you give some of our less informed readers a little synopsis?

A guy was fed up with the situation that he's been in for the majority of his life. Fed up with being in the position of writing songs for a new record that was intended to be for the other guys in the band, whom he was fed up with. He was told that he had to quit the band because of another situation in his life.

This might be a terrible analogy, but I don't think the Rolling Stones are going to go to Mick Jagger and tell him that he's no longer in the band. I don't think the guys in The Descendents would go to Milo and tell him "your services are no longer necessary." All of this ridiculousness and stupidity, and a bunch of decisions that were made based on pills, and bills and cheap thrills, and not really thought out. 

A guy named Dimitri [Coats, of Burning Brides], who was producing the CJ's album, and I decided that it was time to start OFF! This whole thing is fresh and new and exciting, and it feels like when I first started being a part of a band back in Hermosa Beach at the Church in 1977 with Greg Ginn and Robo and Chuck, and the kids in Redd Kross.... And now I'm in a band with one of those kids (Steven Shane McDonald) and he's a father. I'm having the time of my life, I feel like I'm 21 again!

We've heard that you're a pretty serious vinyl collector, have you picked up anything recently? 

I recently had a birthday and one of my neighbors works for Light In The Attic Records. He gave me a double album by a guy named Shin Joong Hyun, and it's this South Korean psychedelic acoustic guitar funk jazz stuff and it's pretty amazing.

There's a whole stack of stuff next to my turntable right now. I've got about 5000 records, so I could rattle off a whole bunch of stuff. I do an Internet radio show called Totally Psyched on It runs Tuesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. Pacific Time. I'm one of the only guys that actually plays vinyl only. Hopefully I can get them to do some re-broadcasts while I work my way to South Florida. 

It's become apparent that you've made a big fan out of Red Hot Chili Peppers' singer Anthony Kiedis as he has been living in his OFF! cap and invited the band on tour. I've heard you expect the younger fans to feel alienated by your going on tour with them, but are you concerned with how the current crop of RHCP fans will react to an OFF! set?

Well, I'm at a point in my life where I can't be concerned with that kind of stuff. You just go out and do what you do. The fact of the matter is we caught some slack because of Anthony Kiedis, and I've known Anthony since the beginning of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Anthony and Flea are my friends and if I want to go out and play shows with some of my friends, I'm going to.

I've been playing music for over 33 years, and I have some friends that are in extremely large bands. Maybe it's not cool to like them, but I couldn't care less. I like the Red Hot Chili Peppers because they're my friends, even though they did start a genre of music.

I've been extremely fortunate. I've been around a lot of different people on a lot of different levels, and my life has been extremely interesting, and if the Red Hot Chili Peppers ask us to play some shows, sure, we'll do it. We'll go out there and play in front of all of the people there to see RHCP and that means we've got to prove ourselves!

We could go out night after night and play to people who know who we are, and that's all fan-fucking-tastic, but part of our job is to take it up a couple of notches. Those people may hate us, but maybe they'll love us. There's only one way to find out and that's to do it. 

So you relish the challenge? 

We've been extremely fortunate that everywhere we play, everybody has been able to see the realness of what we do. The thing is we didn't read the book with the chapter that tells you what to wear to make it in front of these people.

We've been playing a lot of festivals and catching slack for that, but we're having a blast. There shouldn't be a list of where a punk band can and cannot play. We don't have someone standing over us telling us how to get from point A to point B.

How exactly did Debbie Gibson wind up on the Circle Jerks song "I Wanna Destroy You?" 

Her boyfriend was producing the album and she showed up in the studio to visit him. They were acting like hopped up teenagers when hormones and testosterone are flying, and I noticed that when were listening back to the songs, Debbie was actually moving to it.

We had just recorded the song and I felt that it needed backing vocals. Normally in that situation, when you need a group chorus, you've got no one except the guys in the band, and they're going to get in the booth and it's going to come out oi-oi-oi and it's so overdone and tired that it felt like, why bother? I didn't want to sing the chorus because it can get pretty winding live, and the light bulb goes on over my head, Could this be a good idea? A great idea? Maybe a terrible idea?

So I asked Debbie to do it. I had envisioned not only her, but a few of my friends from the band L7 in the room as well, but that never came to fruition due to a couple of them having the flu right before a tour, kind of like my situation right now. Anyhow, it wound up being just Debbie and I thought, "That's pretty cool."

She's so far removed from whatever hardcore punk rock kinda label that it just makes perfect sense. It's kind of like rubbing the dogs nose in the shit, you know? It worked out beautifully, and she joined us on stage at CBGB's after and it turned out to be a blast and an amazing experience!

When can we expect some new music from OFF!?

Our recording hasn't even been out for more than seven or eight months. Give us some time, don't be in such a hurry. We're starting to write songs and I'm starting to write lyrics. As we speak, Dimitri is at a wedding in San Francisco and I'm looking at his guitar in the middle of my living room. We know we will need new material pretty soon, and we're shooting for maybe April. 

Thank you so much for you time Keith, and we hope you fee better soon!

Let's have a party at The Culture Room!

Here is OFF!'s official video for "Crawl", which features Thrasher Magazine's 2010 skater of the year, Leo Romero, falling. A lot. Maybe this video has something to do with drummer Mario Rubalcaba's former work on Tony Alva's old skate team, though maybe it's a visual metaphor for the band's sound. 

"Crawl" by OFF! - Official Music Video ft Leo Romero from RVCA on Vimeo.

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