There is probably no bigger buzz band around at the moment than OFF! Featuring the legendary Circle Jerks / Black Flag frontman Keith Morris on vocals, one can't but be reminded of the classic Black Flag "Nervous Breakdown" EP when they listen to OFF! Guitarist Dimitri Coats talks about the inner workings of the band ahead of their first Australian tour in December.
So the story goes that you were working with Keith Morris as the producer on a new Circle Jerks album that fell apart and you both decided to form OFF! instead, with some of the songs you’d written together. So how did drummer Mario and bass player Steve enter into the picture?
Well Steven and Keith had known each other for decades when Black Flag and Red Kross used to play shows together, way back in the day. Mario had played drums in my old band Burning Brides, he filled in for a few shows during the Queens of The Stone Age tour we were on, and he amazed me not only as a drummer, but also as a person. So when Keith and myself sat down to piece together who we wanted to join the band, those two guys were at the top of the list and both of them jumped at the opportunity.
In your past band Burning Brides, you were essentially the frontman, handling vocals and guitar. How do you find taking a back seat in OFF! and letting Keith be the centre of attention?
Well playing in this band is kind of like going from being a passenger in a car to being on a motorcycle. Everything is going really fast and you have to pay attention. I actually had to change my style of playing with this band to everything being down strokes. The guitar is very aggressive in attack and I really don’t think I’d be able to sing over the top of what I’m doing. I think I’d get way too lost and I’d need a lot of practice to try and pull it off, it’s a very physical experience.
Were you a big Black Flag or Circle Jerks fan before you met Keith?
No, when I met Keith, I didn’t know he who he was. I first met him at a friend’s house, he was in the pool, and I first thought, who is this eccentric older guy someone let in? We got to talking and it turned out he was working for the record label that had signed Burning Brides. He was a real big fan and really supportive of the band and would show up to all of our shows in LA and help us with gear and sell our t-shirts. Over time I figured out who he was and I knew what he meant to people in punk, but it wasn’t really the background where I came from and its probably worked out better for the band as I’m not like star struck with Keith’s persona and history. We just became close friends and he is more just a good buddy than this icon to me.
To me OFF! really sounds like Nervous Breakdown era Black Flag. When you guys started working on new material was the goal to kind of style the songs on that sound or is that just how it came out?
Honestly I never really listened to a lot of hardcore growing up, but I always really loved the Ramones and I also loved the Saints, so I guess I when we started writing music I was just trying to replicate those bands. It’s funny you know, the way it came out, Keith kind of said to me, “wow this sounds like how Black Flag first sounded, you’ve been listening to Nervous Breakdown right?” And at that point in time, while I owned Black Flag records and had listened to them, I’d play them while doing the dishes or something, but I never was intently scrutinizing who sang what on them and what era was Keith, Ron, and Dez etc. To me they were just Black Flag records. I guess it just had that same vibe, but a lot the early punk stuff like the Bad Brains and the Ramones do too. I’m totally more into the Black Flag stuff now that I’ve been doing this band with Keith. I find his era of Black Flag was definitely more danceable and melodic, kind of like this big party.
Given the punk rock pedigree of the band, any number of record labels would have jumped at the chance to work with OFF! Why the decision to go with VICE Records?
Well we wanted to have the opportunity to play outside of the punk rock genre as we just consider ourselves to be a rock band. We didn’t want to get type cast into that Warped tour genre of bands. Vice just seemed like the best avenue to go down.
Do you get asked a lot of questions about Keith when you do OFF! interviews?
No the question I seem to get asked the most is “do I consider OFF! to be a super-group?”. I think its only natural people are attracted to Keith, after all he is the real star. Personally I probably have the least punk rock credibility out of the group. I’m kind of the guy behind the scenes that operates the levers and handles. I write the music, produce the records and manage the band, I’m really just the guy behind the curtain.
I noticed you are also handling the design of OFF! releases. Every band has one member who essentially handles all the behind the scenes workload. Are you that person in OFF!
Yeah I think so. I mean it was me who met with Keith to really get the ball rolling. He is the one of a kind, really unique, legend of a person, but he really needs someone to collaborate with in terms of a band to be able to pull it off. I don’t think there are that many people who would have been able to pull off what I did. A lot of it comes down to the fact that we are such good friends and we really trust each other. It still feels like two friends getting together, getting stoned, listening to Black Sabbath records talking about forming a band. I think my real contribution to the band is to write cool riffs and be able to bring out the best in Keith.
Okay so one last question about Keith. Do you think there will ever come a day when Keith just mellows out and is no longer angry at the world?
Ah no, that’s never going to happen. He’s really incredible you know, it doesn’t take him much to get fired up or pissed off! It’s the fuel behind what we do really. Sometimes it’s directed at me and that’s fine. At the end of the day if the end result is something satisfying and good then who cares about how we got there.
Have you ever been to Australia before? Anything in particular you are looking forward to?
I have been there before with Burning Brides and it was incredible. My wife Melanie, who was the bass player in that band, we decided that if we ever moved anywhere else in the world we would probably go to Melbourne. Really wonderful, friendly people, great food and everybody is into rock music. It’s just ideal.
What can people expect from an OFF! show?
A dark party where you get your head taken off in a good way, so come on out to the show. It’s the real deal, we feel it when were on the stage and we feel it from the crowd, it’s a good time.
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