Just hearing Keith Morris talk about his music — heck, music in general — is like listening to an evangelical soapbox preacher rave about the eternal damnation. He speaks about the records and bands he loves with a charge that makes his everyday thoughts on bands like the Seeds sound like the Gospel.
Tonight at 8 p.m..
The Magic Stick
A true believer in the power of a damn good record collection, Morris has been a mover and shaker in the world of DIY music-makers his entire life. Through his short-lived stint as the first frontman of Black Flag, then the Circle Jerks and now OFF!, his latest project, Morris is a living relic and centerpiece to the sound that has become known as hardcore punk.
To highlight his newest project’s stop tonight at the Magic Stick in Detroit, Morris talked with The Michigan Daily about the band’s throwback album packaging, time travel, and why Pitchfork’s music selection just ain’t too exciting.
“Maybe it’s just our turn,” Morris said of the positive reaction to OFF! from the music industry at large. “Sometimes you just do what you do and let all the pieces fall the way that they fall.”
OFF! released a string of EPs last year, packaging them together in a Raymond Pettibon-illustrated four-by-10-inch collection titled, simply enough, First Four EPs. Channeling the raw sound of early hardcore punk — think The Germs, X and, yes, the first Black Flag recordings — OFF! captures a group of aging punks (Morris is in his mid-50s) banging away with the same fury they had 30 years ago. If punk’s dead, it sure doesn’t sound like it when listening to these guys.
“When Dmitri and I were going through our songwriting process, he created a time-travel device through his guitar that took us back to a Baptist church on Manhattan Avenue in Hermosa Beach, where a lot of the blueprint was drawn out for (hardcore punk),” Morris said.
This blueprint proved to be the birth of an entire movement, Black Flag’s classic 1978 Nervous Breakdown EP paving the way for an entire generation of bands in the coming decade.
“What we were doing was just moving at our own pace,” Morris said, describing the M.O. of early Black Flag. “There was no manager, there was no record label, there wasn’t anybody standing over us saying ‘Well this is what you need to do if you want to get from point A to point B.’ There were no rules, there was just a list of things to do today.”
Given his past, it’s no surprise Morris is a little put off by today’s age of required online exposure, overnight YouTube sensations and up-to-the-minute critiques of new music by amateur bloggers and professional critics alike.
“The way that I would describe a site like Pitchfork is that it’s very horizontal, and we’re vertical,” said Morris, in reaction to OFF!’s critical success in 2010. “They were excited about us because we’re pretty exciting. A lot of the bands that they write about aren’t very exciting bands, they come from the head more than the heart or the soul.”
Which isn’t to say Morris is out of touch or swears off today’s more cerebral brand of indie rock — he confessed to being a fan of groups like Deerhunter, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and Nobunny. The guy is far from having been asleep for the past 30 years — and he wants you to know it — though fortunately the sound of First Four EPs is as frozen in time as a record like GI. The sound, energy and attitude that OFF! exudes is so iconic that Morris would be forgiven for being surprised when newer fans marvel at its “fresh sound.”
“There’s a lot of people out there who like my other band (Circle Jerks), but there’s a lot of new people out there, like fresh young pups that aren’t aware of some of the other bands that I’ve been in,” Morris said. “This is actually a new thing to them. And the situation is that not only is it new to a lot of the kids but it’s also new to a lot of the people who work for the magazines and blog and people who are part of the music industry.”
When sitting in his living room, surrounded by the records he loves, Morris can’t help but relate the best way he knows how — through music. But really, he just wishes people nowadays would listen to more of the classics.
“People need to listen to more Sonny Boy Williamson,” he said. “And Blue Oyster Cult. And Gil Scott Herron, and Golden Earrings and Television and Burning Brides and the Who and Sparks and …”
The list goes on and on.