Far from Chasing Trends, Fame, Greg Ginn Is in It for the Music : The guitarist from the late Black Flag is churning out albums on his independent labels--but only for bands he likes.
Rock ‘n’ roll time is different than real time. It may take a few hours to earn the money that’s spent in a minute on an album it took a couple of years to make. And if the band on the album is Boston, that couple of years can end up being a decade. On the other hand, guitarist Greg Ginn has made three albums in less than a year.
The Greg Ginn Band will be playing something old and something new as it concocts all sorts of loud and fast music Friday night at the Vampyre Lounge Cafe in Simi Valley, an all-ages venue that serves industrial strength coffee, but no booze.
Ginn, while working on his economics degree at UCLA in the late ‘70s, picked up a guitar and started one of the legendary L.A. punk bands, Black Flag. Soon after, he also formed SST Records, which seemed to release a new Black Flag record every few minutes. A lot of other famous rock bands also got their start on Ginn’s label, among them Sonic Youth, Soundgarden, the Meat Puppets and Husker Du.
Ginn gonged Black Flag in 1986 to concentrate on other projects and signing other bands. Following some legal hassles, SST remains alive and well. And Ginn heads two other so-called alternative labels, New Alliance and Cruz Records. In a recent telephone interview, Ginn didn’t talk nearly as fast as he plays.
Why are you so much faster than Boston?
Well, I guess I don’t perfect my backup harmonies to the extent that they do. I have my own recording studio--Casa Destroy--and I’ve gotten to the point where I can record very efficiently. And when I’m not touring, I work at it every day, and I work at a pretty intense level. I just go about recording until I feel like putting something out. Big stars hold off two or three years to build up demand, but I’m just into playing music.
Does the current success of punk bands like Green Day help SST?
It doesn’t affect us one way or the other. It was the same kind of thing when R.E.M. made it, then Nirvana. Some of these bands are playing sounds that are 10 or 15 years old. I heard it when it was new, but a lot of people didn’t, so it’s a new thing to them. It’s kind of a revivalist thing, like rockabilly. There’s all the clothes, all the trappings, but not the excitement of the original.
Besides being outsiders, how do independent labels fit into the scheme of things?
We always have been outsiders. What a lot of labels do has to do with a particular trend. I work with instrumental groups, different kinds of rock, spoken word, just a wide range of stuff. The only criterion for me to sign a band is that I like them.
Your indie labels are still independent?
The majors are always trying to buy me out, but I’m not looking for a label distribution deal. I don’t want to be a bureaucrat or an A&R; (Artists and Repertoire) guy, spending my day talking to accountants and lawyers who work for big companies. I have a pretty full day and I take my job very seriously. But I don’t dwell on that; I enjoy it. I’m interested in promoting new groups, and finding creative ways to promote them. It’s more exciting for me with a new group. Many of the groups that have left SST have gone and done albums for major labels with varying levels of success. I’m proud of the success of those bands; but I was never into seeing how many units could be sold.
How did Black Flag get going?
I wrote songs, but I didn’t ever think I’d start a band because my songs were too far out. The first Black Flag singer, Keith Morris, gave me the idea for the band. 1977 was when the band first started playing, and 10 years later, it was basically my idea to stop doing it. I was proud of what we had done. I’ve seen so many bands want to achieve a more commercial success, but Black Flag wasn’t a success by the standard American barometers. We always went against the grain, but then a conservative strain began to set in. A lot of times, bands aren’t as good as they were originally; that’s why I left Black Flag. It wasn’t as challenging as it had been.
When people think of Black Flag, they think of Henry Rollins. Why? Because he has more tattoos?
I guess so. Different people see different things. In Black Flag, I was working behind the scenes, the band was very established when Henry Rollins joined it. He was the fourth singer for the last half of the band’s existence, but he portrays his involvement as the whole story. He’s kind of slighted some of the other people. Black Flag was more popular and played to bigger crowds when Dez Cadena was the singer.
What do you think your current band sounds like?
Well, it’s pretty loud, high energy, but beyond that, I’ll let other people decide. . . . We still do a few Black Flag songs.
Is the mosh pit getting kinder and gentler?
I guess that depends where and on the audience. But it’s on MTV now, so people are learning the polite way to do some of that stuff, so it looks kind of tame compared to the way it used to be. Sometimes people who are reasonable at 10 p.m. become raving lunatics by 1:30 am. We try to go on early.
How did you learn to play guitar like that?
I’m still trying. I started playing when I was in college when I was 18 or 19. My younger brother started playing, and he left some acoustic guitar and chord books lying around, so I picked them up and started learning notes, scales and chords. My style just really evolved through improvising; it’s easy to mimic styles. The basic thing, to use an old cliche, is “if you don’t live it, it’s not gonna come out of your horn.”
* WHAT: Greg Ginn Band, Glue Gun.
* WHERE: Vampyre Lounge, 665 E. Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley.
* WHEN: Friday the 13th, 9:30 p.m.
* HOW MUCH: Six bucks.
* CALL: 526-3264.