Keith Morris and OFF! are pressed for time
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The first thing Keith Morris says to start an interview, before even ‘Hi, how are you?’ pleasantries have been exchanged, is that he’s ‘not into it.’
Specifically, the member of L.A.’s punk rock royalty doesn’t like preordained press days. Make no mistake, Morris is outgoingly friendly and eager to discuss his new album with OFF!, but he makes it clear from the start that he doesn’t believe a 20-minute phone call with a stranger is a proper way to have a conversation.
No argument here, of course, but the comment is a tad surprising coming from Morris. After all, his band’s self-titled second album, due in stores Tuesday, is 16 tracks that clock in at less than 16 minutes. Morris, it would seem, wouldn’t be someone who would need a lot of time to get to the point.
‘We’re urgent,’ says Morris, whose roles in Black Flag and the Circle Jerks helped shape the Southern California punk scene, one where snottiness and rebellion were often coupled with skateboarding. The two worlds, says Morris, share a ‘get-up-and-go-type attitude.’
‘We’re hectic,’ he continues. ‘We don’t have a lot of time. Three of the guys in the band are fathers, so they have to be dads. Two of the guys play in other bands. One guy plays in four bands.’
Don’t interrupt Morris, and he’ll continue for a number of minutes, detailing the pedigrees of each member of OFF!. The band is something of a punk rock supergroup or, as Morris has referred to it in the past, ‘Plan B,’ as the band was formed after sessions for a new Circle Jerks album went south. In OFF!, he works with Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From the Crypt) and Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides).
Yet even when a song is just 44 seconds, everything feels in its proper place. These are tightly packed bursts of noise that riff, distengrate and immediately beg for a second listen.
‘That would be because of our musical director, Dimitri Coats,’ Morris says. ‘He comes from a different genre. He comes from a grungier, louder, stonier place. He’s played with Mark Lanegan and Josh Homme and all of those desert stoner guys. That’s not what we’re about, although we might have a bit of that running through what we do.’
Coats was to produce what would have been the Circle Jerks’ first album in more than a decade. The on-again/off-again band couldn’t find common ground in the studio, and Morris and Coats created OFF!. The group released four EPs in 2010 and compiled them for its first album, appropriately named ‘First Four EPs.’
‘What happened with Plan A was there was quite a bit of complacency,’ Morris says of the Circle Jerks. ‘For years and years, they tried to talk me into a new album. For years and years, I realized that what we were going to make would not have close to the energy with what I had been making with McDonald, Rubalcaba and Coats.’
The hyper pace is matched with plenty of anger. Morris is ‘Wiped Out’ in the album opener, a character drives off the road in ‘Harbor Freeway Blues,’ and ‘Borrow and Bomb’ tackles America’s debt to China in a tidy 46 seconds. Ask Morris about the song, and he’ll start ranting about why he won’t be donating any money to any political candidates this election year.
McDonald, for his part, says he tried to get Morris to slow down. He recorded and mixed the album.
‘There were times when we were making the record, which happened in five days, that I questioned the creative team of Dimitri and Keith,’ McDonald says. ‘Maybe we want to do a solo here? Maybe we want to come back for another chorus and make the song a minute and 20 instead of 56 seconds?’
He was, in short, overruled.
OFF! plays May 8 at the Whiskey A Go Go, 8901 W Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. FIDLAR and Spider Fever support. Tickets are $15, not including surcharges.
-- Todd Martens