Punk Rock Bowling interview: Off! vocalist Keith Morris

Keith Morris (left) and Off! play Punk Rock Bowling’s main stage Monday at 6:05 p.m.
Photo: Steve Appleford
Chris Bitonti

How’s the tour going? The first leg was pretty amazing. We had a couple of duds, which would equate to not selling out the venues, but that’s okay. We’ve gone to a couple of places where, as a fairly new band, we’ve still not got a foothold in a couple of these cities. But the shows have all been fun, and all the bands playing with us—Cerebral Ballzy and NASA Space Universe—are fantastic. We’re enjoying ourselves, not bickering like a bunch of teenage girls. It’s all good.

How are you feeling health wise? I picked up something coming out of the Rockies, driving out of the mountains out into the desert of New Mexico, and it’s still with me. It’s hard to describe it, but it feels like someone has a pair of pliers to my Adam’s apple. But it’s all good—when I need to yell and scream I can get that going.

I know you had a big scare last year. Is it tough to control your diabetes on tour? It is very difficult because the problem with diabetes is, one day it can be amazing and the next it can go horribly south. I’ve been extremely fortunate in that before we left on this first leg I was losing sleep and my glucose numbers were through the roof, and once we were, like, three or four days into the tour we kind of settled into a groove and I actually started to feel really great about my diabetes. I mean, you never feel great about having diabetes, but I was feeling really good.

See, I f*cked up royally and missed a couple of meals, and because of that found myself in a diabetic coma a couple of times, and because of that we had to cancel a tour. In my entire musical lifespan, which has been about 38 years, I’ve only canceled two or three shows. So to have to blow off, like, 15 or 20 shows was pretty harsh. So now I’m on a new insulin regimen, and I’m trying to stick to an eating regimen, where you eat every four hours, five hours.

Off!’s new album, Wasted Years, debuted in Billboard’s top 100 … Yes, it did. I don’t normally pay attention to that, but apparently to say that to a record label or a manager or somebody of stature is supposed to be a big deal. So hey, hip hip hooray, good for us. If it wasn’t us it would have been somebody else, maybe some schlocky boy band with an electric guitar player.

But when Black Flag was getting busted by the cops, did you ever think you’d have an album chart? Well, that was so far back, we were playing things by ear. You just live from day to day and hope for the best. Being in Black Flag, we never cared about anything like that; we didn’t even know about stuff like that. Maybe you would go to the music store and there’d be a Hit Parade and a Circus Magazine and maybe next to it would be a Billboard, but Billboard didn’t have Alice Cooper on the cover. They didn’t have The Sex Pistols or The Damned on the cover, or Patti Smith. I believe those types of magazines are industry trade news.

The record feels very live. What was the recording process like? We normally work under a lot of stress. We work under hectic circumstances, because we always set ourselves up for this situation where we book mastering before we’ve even written the songs.

The recording situation is learn and go, one and done—that’s a sports reference for all of those young guys who play college basketball for a season and then go to the NBA—but we didn’t play a season and go to the NBA. We have a couple of days to learn the songs, and because of the way our band is made up of dads we can’t say “Hey, we’re taking two months to record this records.” We don’t get to do that. These guys have gotta have something going on so they can pay their bills.

What type of result do you think you get from that type of urgent recording? You can hear it in the way we play—we’re not going in there and jamming out on a song for 15 minutes. We’re not getting in there and doing a verse and a chorus and a verse and a bridge and a chorus and another verse and then adding all of that on to the end of what we had already recorded and turning it into something radio-friendly, meaning puff and pad things and push things in the proper places and not say expletives and not be so angry. That doesn’t work with us. We know we’re dealing with people with short attention spans; the entire world is that way now. We have the computer in front of us, so we want results immediately. I want my answer right now. I wanna hear that song right now.

The title Wasted Years could be interpreted a lot of ways. It could be the years you’re drinking, or it could be symbolic of punk in general, or your career. What are you trying to evoke with that? All of the above. If you look at the album cover you’re seeing a guy that’s wasted and surfing his life away, you could also equate the guy to Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. There were 30 or 40 of those kids in my high school in Manhattan Beach.

And also, there are certain people who don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with you, and maybe you don’t have the wherewithal to say, “I am no longer putting up with this. I’ve already wasted part of my life doing this. Time for a change of direction. Time to surround myself with new people.”

That’s the reason I’m doing Off!—not being attached to somebody else’s schedule that dictates what you do with your life. When you’re used to a certain pattern, to break that pattern could be a difficult thing. Or maybe it could be an easy thing, depending upon your mentality, depending upon your outlook on life, depending upon where you are in your world.

I watched you headline Punk Rock Bowling last year with Flag. What was that like for you? Well, I have a certain mentality where I feel that there’s too many of these punk rock events—Punk Rock Bowling, Punk Rock Garbage Disposal, Punk Rock Picnic, Punk Rock Cruise—and I was adamantly opposed to it until I actually went and experienced it and saw it firsthand.

When we started Off! we were gonna sign with Epitaph Records. Brett Gurewitz was super-jazzed, super-psyched out of his mind, going completely ape-sh*t over Off! … We were in the process of signing a deal with them, and one of the guys in the band said, “Hey, I think what we’re creating is pretty happening. We would be selling ourselves short if we didn’t go out there and talk to anyone else.” So he talked to one of his friends, who happened to be one of the owners of Vice.

A lot of people dislike Vice, because they say it’s a trendy, hipster, cooler-than-thou label, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyways, during this process one of our guys went to his friend, his one and only friend at Epitaph and said, “So what are you gonna do with us? What is your strategy?” And the first words that came out of this guy’s mouth was that they wanted me to contact Kevin Lyman at the Warped Tour to see if we could be one of the bands at the Warped Tour.

That was the trap door answer, the boiling vat of hot oil answer. We didn’t want to do the Warped Tour. I’m not dissing the Warped Tour—it has its place. and there are some good bands on the Warped Tour—but that wasn’t the crowd we wanted to play to. That’s one of the reasons we’ve avoided going on tour with Pennywise and any of those types of bands. We chose to travel a different path, and we caught a lot of flack for it. “Oh you’re playing with them? You’re playing that festival?” We played Coachella, and it was pretty f*cking amazing! We played in a giant tent, there were like 6,000 people in the tent, and they were all going ape-sh*t. The majority of them were just girls who needed to get out of the daytime sunlight. It was pretty awesome. So here we are playing in front of 5,000 girls, nothin’ wrong with that—that’s almost like The Beatles.

Who’s more punk rock: 20-something Keith Morris screaming in Black Flag or 50-something Keith Morris still screaming in Off!? I’m just as angry now, if not more angry, because there’s just more stuff to be angry about now. As citizens of the United States we have let a lot of things slip away, and a lot of these things that we allowed to slip out of our grasp have turned around to bite us in the ass. I’ll never be president of the United States, but the first thing I would do is bring back all our troops from all of these different places in the world, so they would all be here—they would all be doing work here. And I would take every politician that has any dirt under their fingernails—and I don’t mean dirt from going out and working on roads or digging ditches—I would take them all out to the desert and dig a giant hole, and no one would ever see from them or hear from them again. Hooray! For the working class people of America.

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