"Trim the fat and get with it."

Keith Morris has been around for a long time and in that time he’s done a lot for music. He was a founding member of iconic punk band Black Flag and was the singer on their first EP ‘Nervous Breakdown’, which some people unfortunately forget about thanks to another outspoken frontman that took over the image of the band later on. Upon leaving the group after ongoing creative differences, Morris went on to be involved in bands such as Circle Jerks, Midget Handjob and, most recently, OFF!

OFF! are vicious, mouthy, opinionated and most noticeably fast. Their new record has 16 songs and clocks in at around the 16 minute mark, but has double the amount of fuck-you-world notions in it that your average heavy album does.

The man himself meets up with Clash in a Crouch End beer garden to talk about hardcore music, what OFF! are really about, the effects of the internet and everything else that’s wrong in the world (which is a lot).

I put out my hand to welcome Keith Morris to the table I’m sitting at. What I get in return is a clenched fist. No, it’s not a punch, it’s a Californian fist pump - obviously. Keith asks, “What’s that you’re drinking?” pointing at my pint of urine coloured liquid. “It’s cider,” I reply. He doesn’t say anymore. I pull out my laptop and he stares at it, a stare that almost becomes trance like - an early warning sign about his distaste for technology.

It becomes clear at this stage that this is going to be an intense and maybe even slightly awkward interview. I have to tread carefully: don’t dive into Black Flag and drug use early on, we don’t want this to end up being a 30 second interview.

I don’t know if Keith Morris likes me much, but it’s alright - it becomes obvious that he is unhappy with a lot of things.

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Do you still see hardcore as an outsider genre?
I don’t really pay that much attention to stuff like that. I look at it as very aggressive music and a lot of people getting together and jumping around and letting off steam and getting away from their computers (points at my computer), going out and doing something, going out and being part of something, hanging out with your friends, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot, drinking beers. I don’t listen to bands and go ‘they’re this type of band.’ For me it’s wide open, I don’t want to say ‘this band fits into this category.’ Maybe they do, but I don’t want to be the guy that says that they do. First off I don’t look punk or hardcore, I’m just the guy next door that’s pissed off about a bunch of things.

How do you think punk has progressed in the last 30 years?
You have a lot of people doing things on their laptops...you have GarageBand. People can just record whatever they’re going to record on their computer. I think that kind of takes away the energy and realness. I fight with the guys in the band all the time: ‘Keith, when you going to get a cellphone? Keith, where’s your iPod?’ It’s like, fuck all that. When I listen to music I want to hold a record, I want to see the guys, the people, the girls who are making the music. I want to see who wrote the songs, I want to see where they recorded it, I want to see who produced it, I want to see photos of the band. A lot of bands rely too much on this (points at my laptop...again).

The new OFF! record comes across as very angry - what are the things that make you angry?
Well there’s a lot of different things happening where we live. We’re constantly being lied to, we’re constantly being led astray, we’re constantly being told that things are the way they are but that’s not the way they’re supposed to be. We don’t really exist as a band. We exist as a band now because we’re all together, but three of the guys are dads, and because they’re dads they have those responsibilities, which means we can say we’re a band, but we’re only presented with so many opportunities and we try to take advantage of as many of those opportunities as we can. We also take into consideration that people’s attention spans nowadays because there’s so much going on, there’s so much information. We’re part of this world where you press a key and it’s all presented to you. You’ve got YouTube, Facebook and MySpace, all of these different things. We don’t have a lot of time. We’re older guys and we’ve got shit that we got to do. We got stuff we got to say. Trim the fat and get with it.

When you say about people’s attention spans being short, is that why most OFF! songs are less than two minutes?
You sneeze and you’ll miss it, go to the men’s room and you’ll miss it, go to the bar and order a drink and you’ll miss it. There’s too much stuff going on, there’s too much information. Getting back to this thing right here (once again, points at my computer), you go to write a friend and all of a sudden you’re sidetracked. There’s so much going on it’s hard to think. ‘Well I started to write a letter but now all of a sudden I’m watching stuff on YouTube. I started writing a letter but now I’m looking at photos of naked women.’ There’s too much stuff going on and it’s hard to grab onto these things and ride them out. We realise we’re apart of all that and our opportunity is maybe six inches long.

OFF! - Cracked

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Do you see the internet as a negative influence?
We’re surrounded by a lot of negativity. Our governments are probably some of the worst people ever to walk the face of the earth. Your government’s just as bad as our government, your government follows our government. If we go to war your government is right there...coming right up the rear...fully erect...un-lubed...getting right on up in there. Let’s go fuck with a bunch of people who all they want to do is live their lives...they didn’t do anything to anybody! We’re constantly being bombarded with ‘Well, you’ve got to look out for these people because they’re going to do this and their skin is that colour so they’re evil and they’re doing all these evil things.’ That’s not the way that it is.

I’ve read that growing up you were into The Doors, Beatles, Rolling Stones - so how did you come to be in these types of bands?
I grew up listening to a lot of bands. I grew up listening to AM radio and on the AM radio where I lived there were two main stations: one played safer and lighter music, like the Mamas and the Papas,The Temptations, The Monkees. Then there was the darker station that played The Seeds and The Standells and The Rolling Stones and Otis Redding and Stax records as opposed to Motown records. I grew up listening to all of that stuff and a lot of that goes along with you, it becomes apart of your psyche. You take bits and pieces of that and you start putting it into what you’re doing and you carry a lot of it around with you. A lot of it gets you through difficult times, a lot of it gets you psyched up and jumping around like it’s party time, it’s Friday night and we’ve been working all week, let’s go out and drink and smoke and raise hell and wreck cars and jump off buildings and throw the keg into the swimming pool and piss all over utensils in the kitchen.

I’ve listened to so much I think that I think that’s a really great thing. There was times where there’d be a lot of drugs and a lot of booze and we know where a lot of that leads. I have a lot of friends that are no longer here because they spent too much time dabbling and getting into all that kind of stuff. Where for me, I was doing a lot of that stuff but I came to a realisation that it was nowhere, and certain music raises your spirits and certain music can make you depressed. There’s nothing wrong with that, but music gets you through a lot of the things you need to get through. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the refrigerator has always been filled with all sorts of different things, rather than just having beer in it. If you don’t listen to a lot of different music you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Looking back, how do you view your time in Black Flag?
It’s a part of growing up, you learn from your mistakes and you try not to repeat them. But to look back and say why didn’t I do this or why didn’t I do that doesn’t matter, because you can’t go back and change any of that, all you can do is live in the now and be who you are and try to be the best that you can be.

The lyric: “You think that you’re the king of the scene that you created - but I’ve got news for you.” Who’s that about (from ‘I Got News For You’)?
You can’t figure that out for yourself? Do you have any sense of history? Has anybody ever screwed over? Has anybody ever stood on your toes? Anybody ever pushed you around or told you what to do or told you to do something that you didn’t want to do? It’s a very hateful and spiteful song. There are a lot of different people that that could be: a political leader, it could be the guy at the cigarette store selling you a cigar instead of cigarettes.

So would you say a lot of this music on the album can relate to everyone, they’re not just from personal experiences?
Well a lot of it is personal experience, but my personal experience could be your personal experience. Let me use this as an analogy: you’re an alcoholic. You go to meetings where everybody is talking about being an alcoholic and people are trying to stop being an alcoholic. Somebody gets up and talks about cocaine or heroin or cigarettes or sex or food. My personal situation might not necessarily be your personal situation, but you might have had a situation like that so you can relate to it. ‘You can’t talk about cocaine, you’re supposed to be talking about alcohol!’ My little bag of cocaine could be your glass of cider.

Photo Credit: Aaron Farley
Words by Jamie Carson

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'OFF!' is out now.

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