OFF!’s Keith Morris: “The Whole Idea Of Punk Was To Avoid All Of The Rules In The First Place”

“Why would we want to be the guys walking around with our heads stuck in the same old box?”

OFF! have just released a brand new album called ‘FREE LSD’ that pushes the limits of what is expected from a hardcore punk band in 2022.

Ferocious, psychedelic, mind-boggling and vital, it is an album that is designed to ensnare and excite, pulling from all corners of sound to create something truly unique and untamed.

We had a sit down with the legendary Keith Morris to talk a bit about all of the components that make up not just his infatuation with music but also his approach to the music he wants to create…

“The thing with the Circle Jerks is that there are a whole load of new characters associated with the people in the crowds these days. Some people have never seen us before. They’ve seen ‘The Decline Of Western Civilisation’ or ‘American Hardcore’. They’ve seen the footage from back in the day and want to be a part of it. And that’s great. There are all of these new recruits, along with all of the old schoolers.

“We played a big show in Pasadena called This Ain’t No Picnic with bands like Turnstile, IDLES, Bikini Kill, and LCD Soundsystem. An eclectic group of artists. And we posted a couple of photos from it, where in one, there is a guy with his five-year-old son looking up and watching the lights on stage and another with his baby in a stroller next to the pit. First, I hope there were headphones on both of them, but that just shows how we have preschool involved just as much as old school. That’s an exciting and pretty cool place for us to be. We’re very fortunate to be in a place where this is possible.”

“We’ve had a lot of people asking if Circle Jerks will ever release new music at all, but it all depends on what direction the rest of the guys want to be coming in from. But when it comes to OFF!, that’s a whole new and different thing, which is why it exists in the first place. One thing that happens to us is that when we are getting ready to write songs, we are listening to loads of different things. Normally, the list would be pretty typical – Stiff Little Fingers, Bad Brains, Black Flag, The Damned, Alice Cooper – all things we love, cherish, and always listen to. Dimitri [Coats, Guitarist], who comes from a completely different place to me, leans closer to other things. His favourite musical characters are people like Ray Davis from The Kinks, John Lennon and Paul McCartney from The Beatles and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. This time, he brought out many of his secret favourite bands, like Throbbing Gristle, and we end in places like Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock, and people like that. We listened to a lot of free jazz, a lot more than before. We also started playing around with instruments like the sitar. So many things that you wouldn’t expect.”

“We just knew how much we needed to step out of the box we had been placed into. Being in the punk and hardcore box means playing by the punk and hardcore rulebook. You have to look like this. You have to sound like this. You can’t listen to this. There’s this list of rules, but the whole idea of punk rock was to avoid all of the rules in the first place. We are now surrounded by all of these new characters who look and sound like they have torn all of the pages out of that rulebook and stapled them to their brains. That’s what punk rock was all about. I’ve been doing this since 1977, so why would we want to be the guys walking around with our heads stuck in this same box?

“This record is also a soundtrack to a movie that we have made. Some of the songs, like the blasts of colour that you find titled ‘L’ or ‘S’ or ‘D’, and some of the lyrical content represent things that happen in the movie. It’s all been a case of adding even more colour to all the already present colours. That movie is set to come out sometime next year. It is being edited as we speak. Dimitri knows how to press all of my buttons and push me around into doing things like this without ever being physical. Working alongside him is amazing, and we have friendship, banter and creative understanding. We purposely took more time to ensure these songs had everything they needed to fit in with the movie’s script. A whole two years, it required that time.”

“Our current line-up consists of Autry Fulbright II, who played in …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead. He also co-manages Flying Lotus and Thundercat, so he is friends with Justin Brown, who plays the drums for us now. He is considered one of the hot new young jazz drummers. So we have a guy playing drums who is not your typical drummer. We have to be on our toes now. I had an argument with Dimitri where he said we have to change our setlist every night to keep things interesting. And I said, ‘Fuck that shit’. We have a drummer who has already said several times not to expect him to be playing the same thing every night on these songs. He will constantly be shaking it up, which alone is enough to keep us listening and fresh things. All of us are creating at the same time, spontaneously, within the breaks between songs in our sets. That’s why the excitement of playing live, the on-stage activity, is all we need to pay more attention.

“With Black Flag, we would rehearse three to five hours for anywhere between five and seven days a week. We knew those songs inside out. We knew that when we got on stage, and the adrenaline and the electricity kicked in, and all the people expressing themselves would create this ball of chaos, we knew that we would still be able to play those songs. When we hit that first note, we knew it would go off, and it’s like a drug you cannot buy. The same thing applies with OFF!. The adrenaline kicks in precisely the same way. And, of course, because of this new way of keeping us on our toes, there will be some fumbling around and learning what is happening, but that buzz and that energy will keep us focused.”

“I have been a part of genres in my career, but I never feel like I am a part of a specific group of people. I make music and hope to be accepted by the people that assume we are a part of a special corner of music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I am a fan of music. I am a fan of a lot of different styles of music. I love so much stuff throughout all of musical history and have got to experience so many things from being right in the centre of it all. From the British Invasion, some of the best bands to ever make music, to glam rock and heavy metal and everything in between. I never want to be painted into a corner. That’s just not going to happen. I love where I have come from, but I love so much more than that as well.”

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