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Interview: Keith Morris of FLAG on collecting trash, diabetes, why Fucked Up isn’t punk, DIY, Miley — everything but Black Flag vs FLAG

 

Remember the time that douchebag skateboarder wearing a Black Flag t-shirt ran over your foot? Do you remember when, during the ensuing verbal scuffle, you called him a poseur because he couldn’t name three songs? Lo and behold, history has vindicated the rapscallion’s allegiance to brand name recognition over any rebellion that isn’t for sale at Urban Outfitters. He might’ve been one of the most authentic punk rockers of all, because at its core, punk is a marketing strategy.

I don’t know for sure if Greg Ginn’s lawyers would agree with that statement, but I have my suspicions. Not enough facts have surfaced for me to comfortably paint Ginn as the bad guy in the much publicized FLAG vs. Black Flag legal brouhaha, even though I really want to paint him as the bad guy and other people totally have.

Ginn claims that his one-time frontman and current OFF! singer Keith Morris, along with his way more famous other one-time frontman Henry Rollins, attempted to bogart the rights to the Black Flag namesake in September 2012. The plaintiff says he’s more interested in preventing the sale of “bootleg” items than any performances of Black Flag tunes. The situation, it seems, has little to do with music and plenty to do with what may or may not be for sale at FLAG’s merch table.

 

RELATED: Get in two vans: Black Flag split a punk rock legacy, by Daniel Brockman, June 13, 2013

The Black Flag cover band known as FLAG includes Morris, bassist Chuck Dukowski, drummer Bill Stevenson, and guitarist Dez Cadena, all formerly prominent members of Black Flag. Despite the litigation casting a doomy cloud of doom on their otherwise acclaimed tour, they’ll be decimating the Paradise on Friday.

Morris isn’t allowed to comment on his court drama due to legal restrictions, so we talked about Miley Cyrus and what he usually has for breakfast.

 
 

Barry Thompson: Considering all the other bands you’ve been in, is it weird that your name is still closely associated with a band you were in 30 years ago for something like three years?

Keith Morris: Um, well, I was one of the founding members. Greg Ginn and I had developed a friendship. At one point we were really good friends, and we developed a liking of a lot of the same kind of music, and, um, we didn’t really have any kind of a plan. We were just kind of clutching at straws. We went through three different bass players until we lucked out with Chuck Dukowski. Once he became a member, we actually became a band. It wasn’t just, “We’re going to be rehearsing. Who’s going to be playing bass?” [Truck noises suddenly appear in the background] Today’s Wednesday. Today’s trash day for me. [More truck noise]. Nope! Not the trash truck.

You’re getting your trash picked up today? That’s pretty rad.

Well, we have two different companies. All of the units in the building pay, like, $30 a month to have the trash picked up. Then we’ve got the building next door to us that has the rollaway metal trash bin. When those guys show up, you know they’re in town. They make their presence felt very loudly, and they’ll be pulling up any minute. I need to pay more attention to the days when I’m talking with journalists.

 
 

Speaking of journalism, I just realized I have no idea if you still live in LA or not…

I’m at one of the busiest intersections in Los Angeles. It’s pretty crazy. We’ve got a market. We’ve got a movie theater. Some people moved down from Seattle, and they’re making coffee on the corner. That’s good. I’m looking at the Childrens’ Hospital of Los Angeles, which is right next to Kaiser Permanente, which is right next to the Hollywood Presbyterian hospital. Spent a couple of days in there. Suffered a couple of diabetic comas, but I’m doing much better now. I’m up and about and doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m doing insulin, like, three times a day. It’s fun! It’s fun when you skip a meal and don’t know where you’re at and you’re shaking and sweating and your heart speeds up and you want to know what’s going on and you actually do know what’s going on, but at the same time, you don’t. One of my things that used to happen is I would go into the supermarket knowing what I wanted to purchase, which would normally take maybe 10 minutes. I would go into the market and I would wander the aisles and be in the market for about an hour and a half.

Does managing your diabetes make touring more difficult? Well, of course it does, but how much?

Well, you’ve got to flow into a groove. I’m normally the first guy up, which means if we’re staying in a hotel or a motel where there’s a restaurant attached, I will be eating breakfast while everyone’s still in their REM, or trying to wake up and scratch their nuts and cough a few times and figure out if they’re going to take a shower. So I’m at the van while everybody is just starting to show up. “Let’s go, man. Time to go!” They get to eat Egg McMuffins and I have poached eggs with sourdough toast and a side of fruit, and maybe some kind of turkey meat sausage or turkey bacon. Chuck, in his hippie dippie vibe, brings burritos and fruit and nuts and stuff like that. So there’s all sorts of fun shit like that going on.

 
 

Excellent. Good way to take care of yourself.

Well, we can run ourselves into the ground as quickly as possible or we can take our time. I still have some places that I want to go see. I still have some people I would like to meet. I would like to sit down with John Waters and maybe have a discussion like, “Why are you such a sick mother fucker?” At a certain point in your life, when you’re running around acting like a drunk and a drug addict and a heathen and a future yardbird, you have your epiphany and realize, “Well, you have that stack of books over in the corner that you haven’t read. You’ve got a record collection. Why have you been collecting records all these years? Maybe you might want to sit down and listen to some of them.” I’ve still got a book to write! I’ve still got a movie that I’ve got to complete! I’ve still got stuff to do! I do have those days when I wish that everything was over, but the sun comes up the next morning, and it’s time to get up and get with the program.

What’s your movie about?

Um, it’s a long one. It’s, like …um …guy on a downhill slide gets the offer of a lifetime, ends up on the west coast of Africa, gets chased by the fiercest warlord – a guy named Charles Taylor who went on trial for human rights crimes. [The main character] becomes a hero and gets the girl in the end! Y’know, we’ve seen or read that story before, but mine has all of my twists and turns and special effects and all sorts of fun stuff like that. It could be something that Terry Gilliam could work on. It could be something that Tim Burton could work on. It could have a little bit of the look of Pacific Rim. did you see Pacific Rim?

 
 

Nah, but I saw trailers.

Yeah, well, I love all of that kind of stuff. I need special effects. I need a lot of color. I need to watch a movie and feel like I’m on acid without taking acid.

What did you think of Miley Cyrus at the VMAs?

Um, my girlfriend was watching a little bit of that last night. Her sister said she almost vomited while she was watching that. I don’t want to really say this, but I’m kind of addicted to Facebook, and there’s all sorts of stuff lying around on there where people…the bottom line, to me, is a lot of people were whining and complaining with, “This is what music has become!” and “We’re doomed!” and “Honey Boo Boo” and “Dark Duck City!” or whatever those redneck duck hunter guys are called, and all of that fun, wonderful reality stuff.

 
 

[pullquote align=”right”]The fact is everybody needs to go out and be a part of or create their own reality, and not deal with all this other crap. We’ve got more important issues.[/pullquote]The fact is everybody needs to go out and be a part of or create their own reality, and not deal with all this other crap. We’ve got more important issues. What, aren’t we getting ready to kill some people in Syria? We have no business over there. If those people want to shoot at each other and kill each other, that’s up to them. We are never going to create any kind of peace in that part of the world because they’re all tribes, and they’ve all fought amongst each other, and they’re going to continue to fight amongst each other. End of story! No happy ending! No reach around! No smile on anybody’s face! But Miley – more power to her if there’s that whole group of people flocking to check her stuff out.

Do you find it troubling that mainstream pop culture is geared toward 12-year-olds, maybe even more than it used to be?

When I was a 12-year-old, we had the Banana Splits and The Flintstones and Batman and the Monkees. Now I can’t keep up with all of it. There’s more people on the planet, which means there’s more stuff pushed in our eyes and crammed in our ears.




I can remember people telling me the version of Black Flag you helmed was “more authentic” or whatever than Black Flag with Rollins, but now, I guess, people are saying it’s not the real deal without Rollins? Are Black Flag fans really this hard to please?

It’s a stew. It’s a jumbled-up mess. Like I said, I’m addicted to Facebook, and everybody who goes on Facebook has their own opinion. Everybody who gets on Facebook is an expert, and you’re getting all these different shots fired at you. Thus far, I’d say the response has been two thumbs up. We’ve been told that we’re better than the other guys doing it, but we don’t care. We don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. We’re just going out and doing it.

One of our snags is that we don’t have any new material coming out. We keep getting asked that question, but we can’t answer it because two of the guys are in Descendents. They’ve got a new album coming out. One of the guys is in a band called OFF!. We’re working on a new album. One of the guys plays in the Misfits, and their touring schedule is relentless. I don’t know if I’d want to be a member of that band with the amount of touring they do.

Somewhere along the line, you’ve got to take a breath and have some space just to collect your thoughts. You need to be able to, like, put both of your feet down and have a good strong foundation on a chunk of sidewalk somewhere.

 
 

Do you think the DIY ethic of the early hardcore is still useful? Nowadays, everybody’s DIY, but it’s a million times easier to be DIY than it was back when.

Well, you have to understand that when you’re a band starting out, for the majority, we’re not all lucky enough to get the big payoff hookup. We don’t get the Xbox bus. We don’t get the Red Bull bus. You’ve got to get out there, and you’ve got to grind it out and get dirty and greasy and sweaty and bloody and mix it up with people.

But we get a lot of complaints from people who tell us we’re not punk rock because we play large festivals. The fact of the matter is being able to play these large festivals – that’s our reward for all the years that we’ve done whatever we’ve done. Our reward is being able to play these festivals, and play with a larger grouping of bands, rather than just doing the punk rock marathon where we’re playing a show with five bands and they all sound alike. That’s boring.

We’re older guys. We’ve been around, and we want to see some different things. We’re of the mindset that we’re not going to walk around with our heads in a box.

What bands have you dug at festivals?

Well, um, I got to listen to the Breeders. They’re not a newer band, although for the amount of time we’ve been playing music, they could be a newer band. For a newer-newer band, I would say Deerhunter. They certainly have nothing to do with punk rock or hardcore. If I’m going to listen to that kind of music, I’m going to bust out the Bad Brains. I’m going to bust out the Angry Samoans and Fear. I’m going to bust out Negative Approach. I’m going to dig into the Saints and the Damned and the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Were the Clash really a punk rock or hardcore band? I don’t think so. They struck me as more of a good ol’ rock ‘n roll band with some angry energy. I’ll listen to Limp Wrist. I’ll listen to Brutal Nights. I’ll listen to Career Suicide. I’ll listen to Fucked Up. They’re not really a punk rock or hardcore band, but the vocalist will make you think that with the way he does his vocalizing.

 
 

You think Fucked Up doesn’t count as a punk band?

Well, they can get in and grind it out. I like the fact that they’re open minded enough to have a flute intro in the beginning of the first song on one of their albums. Just because you’re in a punk rock band or a hardcore band doesn’t mean everything has to be guitar, bass, drums.

What’s up with so many seminal punk bands all hating each other? Jello and the DKs all hate each other. The Misfits all hate each other. The Ramones all ended up hating each other.

Well, this could actually be quite simple. When you start your band, you have a certain energy. Everybody is all for one and one for all. There’s a certain direction. Everybody’s pumping their first. Everybody’s gung-ho. Along the way, you’re learning about everybody’s personalities. A lot of us don’t really know any better. We’ve seen some of the guys go off and become lawyers. A couple of them became politicians.

The guys in the band who stick it out probably don’t know any better. Maybe they’re making a good living, but the fact of the matter is, like I said, as we go along, ultimately, it’s the conflicting personalities and some of the financial situations that create the rift amongst the people in the band. I’m in a situation dealing with a guy who I knew over the years. He certainly turned in his paperwork to join the human race. He mailed in his application, or maybe he presented it in person, but they still haven’t sent it back to him.

I guess when your band gets successful it becomes almost like you had a kid, and you’ve got to deal with the people who helped you make it, even if you don’t want anything to do with them.

 
 

You’re talking about the divorce, the big divorce scenario. I understand that. It could get ugly. Sometimes you prepare yourself for that, sometimes you don’t.

FLAG + TSOL + CEREBRAL BALLZY :: Friday, September 20 @ The Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave., Boston :: 8:30pm, all-ages, $30 :: advance tickets