THE BEGINNING

Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham quizzes Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Off! founder Keith Morris and hardcore, underrated bands of today and how his new project started.

Photography by Dan Kendall

Photography by Dan Kendall

FUCKED UP’S DAMIAN ABRAHAM QUIZZES BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS AND OFF! FOUNDER KEITH MORRIS

When Black Flag were recording Nervous Breakdown, did you guys think of it as something radically different or did you look at it as extension of the other punk stuff that was happening around the time?

We didn’t really let it weigh us down in the thought or comparison department, as our situation was ‘the blind leading the blind’. The four of us were just a bunch of angry, frustrated, depressed, bummed-out, beach rat nerds who just wanted to make a large noise! We had abso-fuckin’-lutely no idea as to where we were going or what we were doing… we just did it! We had no clue as to the fact that getting club gigs meant recording a demo and handing out 3 or 4 song cassettes to promoters, so consequently we played parties in backyards, living rooms, basements, garages and rented small halls to throw our own get-togethers.

What are your thoughts on Circle Jerks’ ‘VI’ (The much maligned “metal” record, which I think is actually pretty good)?

The thing that was happening with the CJs at that time was large quantities of beer and Hollywood happy powder, which messed with a couple of the guys’ creativity and one of the other members had become a full time guitarist in another more popular band so they became his priority. Some of us just went along with what the others were up to and didn’t really pay attention to the direction the band was heading. Our drummer, Keith “Adolph” Clark was playing in a pre Spinal Tap metal parody band and we thought it would be cool to record a few of their songs. What the fuck were we thinking? Once again, as it was in Black Flag, we just did it! But Damian, I don’t sit around listening to any of the recordings I was or am a part of. I’d rather listen to your record, ‘David Comes Alive’, Deerhunter’s ‘Microcastle’, The Shins ‘Chutes Too Narrow’, or anything by No Age, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Black Lips and the rest of the albums in my record collection.

Some people feel that Circles Jerks attracted a fanbase that was more prone to violence. How do you feel about that?

We didn’t associate ourselves with the troublemakers even though the new batch of fans were way more athletic and aggressive compared to the clique of early Hollywood punker dunkers who were more concerned with fashion and had an ‘Art School’ or Bohemian mentality. When Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Agent Orange showed up so did a whole new gaggle of crazy peeps bringing along whatever garbage they dragged with them from the suburbs. There was a new rash of violence and the jock mentality, which we didn’t align ourselves with. Our mentality was to help create the soundtrack for the party; we wanted everybody to have a great time and not get hurt. While I was a member of Black Flag we’d play and shit would fly while we were oblivious to what was going on, whereas with the Jerks we paid a little bit more attention to our surroundings and wanted to be a part of a festive vibe.

Is it true SST has an unreleased Circle Jerks record in the vault?

NO! SST would not have anything to do with us as Greg Ginn was power trippin’ and we’d not bow down to any of his demands! You’ve gotta’ remember that Ginn and some of those other SST peeps did not dig on the Jerks as we were stealing some of their thunder. There was a competition between the two camps so we went off to do our own thing and they obviously created their own scene. Even if there was an unreleased Circle Jerks recording, which there’s not, it would never have come out through Ginn and SST.

How did the collaboration with Debbie Gibson come about on ‘Oddities’?

The producer of ‘Oddities, Abnormalities And Curiosities’, Nico Bolas who had worked with Neil Young, was dating Debbie Gibson and that’s DEBORAH GIBSON as she’s an adult now, who just happened to be in Los Angeles while we were in the recording studio. She showed up one day and I noticed her tapping outta’ beat to a playback which struck me as odd and having Nico inform me that she actually was into what we were doing! We tracked a cover of Robin Hitchcock and the SOFT BOYS ‘I Wanna’ Destroy You’ and needed backing vocals. The typical thing to do in this situation is to have all the guys gather in the vocal booth to sing/yell the track, which is something I’m not into so it dawned on me to hit Ms. Gibson up to do this. My original vision was to have her in the vocal booth with Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner from L7 as one of my friends, Mike Martt (FUNERAL, TEX AND THE HORSEHEADS, THELONIOUS MONSTER, GUN CLUB) was living with Suzi, but L7 was leaving for a tour so it wasn’t gonna’ happen and we settled on Deborah’s track. She’s AWESOME!

How did OFF! come about?

My other band became so full of themselves that there was a prevailing mentality of, “We can record anything we want and our fans will flock to it just like thirsty animals to water”. I knew things were going to a place I didn’t want to see or go to. We were trying to create a new record and it wasn’t happening the way they wanted so they gave the second most important person in the scenario a pink slip and in doing so presented Dimitri and myself with this insanely incredible opportunity. I received a phone call informing me that a decision had been made that would force me to quit a band I’ve been a member of for over 30 years and helped start, and unless you’re Genesis or The Doobie Brothers you don’t fire your lead singer! Of course I quit with my head filled with guns going off, explosions and dead bodies everywhere, and a half an hour later when I came to my senses I realized I’d started the band and wasn’t going to walk away from something that’s been a part of my life for all these years. I’d do the same thing those other guys do… play in a new band, OFF!

The aesthetic of OFF! was so fully realised very early on. Was that something that was important to the band from the get go?

When it comes to looks and aesthetics, I’m not the goofball who pays much attention to that as I’m about the Black Flag credo of doing it and letting everything else fall into place. We didn’t consciously go to Raymond Pettibon with any idea as to using his pieces – we just hung out and went along with the flow of the universe and as hippie dippy as this sounds, Raymond latched onto mine and Dimitri’s vibe, feeling our energy and remembering what went on in the early days of Black Flag. He sensed what was happening and wanted to be a participant. Raymond totally rules!

What do you think the main differences with being in a hardcore band now versus in the earlier years of the genre?

Once again another sitch that I pay no mind to, as I’m ecstatic about being in this new band and letting all the descriptive adjectives and critical junk roll off the sides. I don’t consider myself a hardcore or punk rock kinda’ guy due to the fact that I would lose hands down in a GG Allin competition! I just wanna be happy, but spend too much time dwelling in a negative space, being angry and wiped out. I know I’m considered to be a leading figure in these genres or categories, but ultimately I’m just a gang member… the human beings.

I think that one of the coolest things about you is how much of a fan of music you are. Who are some of the bands recently that you don’t think have gotten their due?

There are so many but my list of bands that should be playing the Hollywood Palladium as opposed to the Echoplex would be The Bronx, The Melvins, New Pornographers, Crocodiles, Woven Bones, and I think your group should move up higher in the rankings – that will come with time.

I remember you telling me about a Circle Jerks album being in the works around the same time Off! started. How much progress was made on it? Will there ever be another Circle Jerks record or is Off! the main focus now?

My only concern is OFF! as everybody else in that other dysfunctional unorganised organisation is being busy with whatever else they’re being busy with. I was ready to jump on a CJs recording but the rug was pulled out from under me and when I got up, stopped hearing birds tweeting, seeing stars, dusted myself off I came to the realisation that the guys I’m playing with now are who I’m supposed to be aligned with and not being a part of something that ultimately makes me unhappy! CJs? Maybe somewhere down the line but not while OFF! is moving along the way it is and not while all these insanely great opportunities present themselves.

What are your thoughts on the other Black Flack singers? And do you prefer side one or side two of My War?

Ron is better than Dez who is better than Henry who is better than me but I’m better than Ron who isn’t as good as Henry but is better than Dez who’s not as good as I was, but I certainly was better than Ron who wasn’t as good as Henry who was better than I was, etc., etc., etc. All of us did our vocal thing in an extremely awesome way and when it comes to ‘My War’, I don’t have a favourite side! I love all of it! I’m INCREDIBLY proud to have been part of that scene!

Originally published in issue 31 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. September 2011.

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