Fun Fun Fun Fest Interview: Flag

First Black Flag singer Keith Morris dishes

Keith Morris leading OFF! at last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest
Keith Morris leading OFF! at last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest (by Gary Miller)

Confusing time to be a Black Flag fan, with two competing lineups of the classic California hardcore punk band currently working the circuit. The easiest way to view it: It’s not Black Flag if founding guitarist Greg Ginn isn’t involved. Which is why Flag is called Flag: They aren’t Black Flag. Although most of them used to be.

Or think of it in terms of the Damaged lineup – with bassist Chuck Dukowski and guitar Dez Cadena – only original Black Flag singer Keith Morris replaces Henry Rollins, third drummer Bill Stevenson supplants Robo, and Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton steps in for Ginn.

Whichever way you turn this punk Rubik’s Cube, it’s Flag that plays Fun Fun Fun Fest Friday on the Black stage. Morris spoke to us by phone in late September.

Austin Chronicle: This all came about initially because of you and Chuck playing with No Age, right?

Keith Morris: We were invited to perform six or seven songs [with them, as No Flag], and it was pretty amazing. It was pretty undeniable – the energy and the kids just freaking out. We actually had a guy crowd-surfing his wheel chair! That speaks volumes.

You can see all the stage diving. You can see the circle pit/slam pit/mosh pit/whatever you want to call it. We have all these idiots that see all these photos from these shows and they’ll go, “Well, it wasn’t a very good show, because there was no pit.”

They judge the show by the size of the pit.

Right now, if you could see me, I’m sitting in my living room. There’s no lights on – the only light that I’ve got is coming off my computer. But I’ve got my hand in the air, I’ve got my fingers folded back, except for my middle finger. That’s what I say to all these people that rate the show by the amount of guys beating the fuck out of each other.

Who needs that kind of situation happening at their show? That’s not the reason I go see music. That’s somebody else.

AC: That was one of the reasons you formed the Circle Jerks: You wanted a band that would be more fun for everyone involved.

KM: Having come directly out of Black Flag and not really having the opportunity to play a lot of shows – though the shows we did play were very chaotic – it was a breath of fresh air to have that horrible weight taken off my chest. Just being able to lighten up, be more fun-going, more, “Let’s take the party on wheels.”

AC: Getting back to Flag: Given all you’ve just stated, why would you want to revisit this music?

KM: Chuck and I, after we got through playing [with No Age], looked at each other and the thread was, “We’ve gotta do this some more!” We had a total blast. It was like, “Let’s go out and play some more.” We didn’t really have the wherewithal to put it together, because Chuck has this mentality. He wanted to get Kira [Roessler], he wanted to dig up Emil [Johnson], and get Chuck Biscuits. It was bizarre!

AC: He wanted the whole history of the band to go on the road?

KM: I don’t know. He came to his senses when he put out a couple of calls.

Let’s fast-forward a few months. Chuck was asked to do a speech at the Goldenvoice 30 Year Anniversary Party by Gary Tovar, who was the guy who founded Goldenvoice. We applaud him. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Gary Tovar, because he was the promoter who put on shows for bands that nobody wanted to touch, bands that nobody wanted to go near. He was bringing in all the Limey bands: the GBHs and the Discharge and Exploited, Broken Bones, and all of these bands – Cockney Rejects.

I remember the Circle Jerks going in for the Cockney Rejects one night because they didn’t make it out of Heathrow, where they got detained by the future TSA guys. When they flew into New York or wherever they flew into, they were told they couldn’t come into the country. They had to go home.

But Siouxsie & the Banshees and the Go-Go’s: All these bands that none of the other promoters would go near, Gary was like, “Oh, yeah! I love this stuff! This is what I want to do.” So, consequently, the Circle Jerks became the Goldenvoice house band. So, Chuck and I, and then Billy Stevenson and Dezo, we all owe Gary this debt of gratitude.

So he’s throwing this bash, and he asked Chuck to come up and give a speech: “You wanna give a speech at the big shindig I’m doin’?” Chuck’s response: “I play bass. I’m gonna play music. I’m not givin’ a speech!” So he called me.

The Descendents were already gonna be there. Our guitarist and drummer for the night? They’re already there. And of course Stephen Egerton, he grew up listening to to TSOL and the Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks and Black Flag. The idea was to do the first EP, the Nervous Breakdown EP. We would just get together at soundcheck and we’d have about 15 minutes to rehearse.

AC: At the time you were getting this going, did you have any idea that Greg and Ron were getting a version of Black Flag back together?

KM: We didn’t, and we didn’t care. Even if we had known – even if we had gotten some kind of advance notice – we didn’t care. We saw the footage of Ron Reyes’ 50th birthday party in Vancouver [where Ginn and Reyes first reunited], and I watched one of the songs and couldn’t even make it all the way through the song. I had seen Greg Ginn perform and walked out, just shaking my head and asking, “Why? Why would you do what you’re doing? Why did you play those songs the way that you play them?”

Greg also did what eventually ended up becoming the “Benefit For Cats.” I’m sure if you ask him where the money went, he’d probably tell you it went for the rescue of cats on the streets of Long Beach, California. And there’s a reason he’s living in Taylor, Texas. I can’t get into any details. All I can say is, when Hüsker Dü gets through with their court case [against Ginn’s SST Records], you can ask them. You could ask the Meat Puppets. You could ask Andrew Courtney, who was the Bad Brains’ manager that talked them out of going to SST when SST was located in Torrance.

He talked them out of racing over there to torch the building and beating up anybody that came rushing out of the door – anybody that was exiting the flaming building. You could probably talk to Thurston Moore. I’m sure that he would not have anything good to say about the business practices.

AC: Are you going to be continuing with Flag? Is this a one-off? Will there be new music from Flag? Some sort of album? How is this going to work?

KM: That’s the $64,000 question. I can’t answer that, we’re friends. Being a bunch of older guys, there’s little bumps in the road here and there. As for new music, as for an album, as for this being more than a one-off? We don’t know what’s going to happen with the new music. We don’t know what’s going to happen with an album.

We do know that we’re going to continue playing shows, because somebody opened the door and dragged us into a space that we don’t want to be in, but we were forced into. Now we have a litigator that we have to pay, and the guy’s expensive.

He’s a great guy. At the beginning of all this legal garbage, I was hoping for the guy that steps to the plate and hits the ball into the parking lot when there’s three other guys on base, winning the game by four runs. In this process of talking to these people, it’s not about the guy that can hit the grand slam. It’s not about the guy that gets into the boxing ring, and one minute into the fight is pummeled and beaten to a pulp. It’s more kings and queens and pawns and knights.

AC: It’s who’s the best chess player.

KM: It’s more mental: Let’s be prepared. Let’s know what we’re talking about. Let’s gather as much information as we can, and we’ll sort through the information, pulling out the most pertinent and important parts of this information. We can’t burden the judge and the courts. There’s a certain way that you travel through these legal scenarios. You have to know whose toes you can step on, who you can slap in the face. And you can only do so much of that.

Amongst all these lawyers, there’s a way that they conduct themselves, and some of these lawyers are complete, utter fucking assholes. What’s the joke? The ocean floor is littered with lawyers? You’re out in a boat and you notice that there’s no anchor, so who do throw over the side of the boat to keep the boat from moving? You tie a rope to a lawyer’s ankle and toss him over the side.

AC: Willie Nelson told me a great one: Ever since Viagra was invented, lawyers are twice their size. So, obviously, you’re going to continue with OFF! It’s just that you’re concentrating on Flag for a bit?

KM: Here’s what’s happening: Chuck has the CD6, and he’s going to continue [with that]. He’s recorded an EP and he’s going to put that out, and they’re going to go play some shows on that. The Descendents have a new record coming out. They’re obviously going to be going out and playing, backing that up and promoting it. Billy’s got a very important band coming into his studio. They just blocked out three months of time in his studio. That pays a major portion of his bills, so he can’t turn that down.

They’re really good guys, too. They love us. They love everything that we do. They understand that they wouldn’t be doing what they do if it weren’t for people like us and the music and the noise that we made.

Me, I’m about three-fourths of the way through a new OFF! record. Dimitri [Coates, OFF! guitarist] and I are writing a new OFF! record.

The next Flag show is Fun Fun Fun Fest, and then that’s it for us for awhile. It’s time for us to pick up where we left off with our other bands.

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Flag, Fun Fun Fun Fest 2013, Black Flag, Damaged, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Keith Morris, Henry Rollins, Bill Stevenson, Robo, Stephen Egerton, No Age, Circle Jerks, Chuck Biscuits, Gary Tovar, GBHs, Discharge, Exploited, Broken Bones, Cockney Rejects

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