Try to imagine John Lennon fronting the Beatles and the Stones, and, then, a few years later starting a band with Mick Ronson, Dennis Thompson and Dee Dee Ramone – just because he felt like it. Put the CV of Keith Morris in perspective here for just a second and connect the punk rock dots a bit to see that the man has had, and is having, a pretty good run as a driving force in some of the most all-time relevant A-List West Coast Punk Rock Combos. As a founding member of both Black Flag & the Circle Jerks, he’s hit the highest highs of the rock and roll life and its excesses, then almost kicked more bucket than ass before his resurgence as a pissed off force/freak of nature sporting even more mojo in his mid-50s than he had as a trailblazing hyperactive 20-something.
While OFF! may have started out of a failed attempt to re-energize the lilting Circle Jerks – make no mistake, this is Keith’s de facto number one baby. Joining Morris are bassist/engineer Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) drummer/pro skater Mario Rubalcaba (RFTC, Earthless) and, producer/co-writer/guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides). OFF! are on a mission to kick it up a few notches kids – this ain’t some paint-by-numbers-Warped Tour-Epitaph-cash cow. Morris makes no bones about not taking the yellow brick road with OFF! noting that they “took the opposite path of what we were supposed to take… of what everybody thought we were supposed to do. And, that was to cater to a certain crowd. And that would be the people that were gonna see us anyways.”
This band is sweat and pain, and the no-bullshit, take-no-prisoners musical upbringing that drives the members of OFF! is reflected as Morris emphatically states that “there’s another part to all of this which sparks our intensity & our love for doing what we’re doing and really tossing ourselves into it… we don’t have a lot of time to sit around thinking about what we’re gonna do. We just gotta get in there and mix it up!”
It seems as though Morris has found peace through his battles in life as he’s playing the music he loves with a bunch of music geeks who are easy to get along with and collectively help out with some aspect of the OFF! machine (sound, marketing, writing, production, engineering).
And OFF! have no plans to rest on their laurels. That life motivates Morris is clearly understood as he spiels further, “Getting with Dimitri (and Mario and Steven) it’s been full force since we started, and we haven’t looked back. And, I need to thank them – and, I mean the CJs – for kicking my ass because I knew it was going to be the clogged commode it turned out to be. Here’s the thing…if you wanna make disastrous decisions that’s all fine and wonderful when you’re a teenager or in your early 20s…you can bounce back from that but how long can you spend around people who think they’re so cool – Oh! We haven’t made a record in 15 years so we can just record anything and all of our die-hard fans will love it because we’re the guys that we are. What a backward mentality!”
Morris does seem inspired. Perhaps it’s the epiphany he had in 1989 after a near-death experience and his ongoing battle with diabetes. He offers this take on how his sobriety has influenced his subsequent decisions, “I did all that stuff (drugs, drink, excessive partying) because it was all readily available and it still is. But I don’t need to do it anymore – not because I’d had my fill of it but because the buzz from being up onstage and having all these wild, different energies abound – you know, we gotta give it to them (the fans) and they’ve gotta give it to us, electricity is flowing through the air, we’re plugged in, start strumming – that’s a feeling you’re not gonna get ANYWHERE else.”
Amen Brother Keith, Amen!
As we wind things up, Morris lightheartedly offers up some special plans for the fifth member of OFF! – renowned artist Raymond Pettibon (creator of the iconic bars logo and band name for Black Flag and estranged brother of that band’s guitarist Greg Ginn). “Eventually we’re gonna wrangle him to come up onstage and play theremin,” he laughs. “Or maybe sleigh bells.”
You can get OFF! @ Fortune Sound Club in Vancouver on April 12th.
By Boy Howdy