Keith Morris has fronted some of the greatest punk bands of all time, expounding his worldview to the fury of acts like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and most recently, OFF! But he’s about to add another feather to his hat: filmmaker. Keith and his OFF! cohorts recently welcomed a Kickstarter campaign to the world to fund their new film project, Watermelon. We caught up with the newly zen punk legend about his new pet project, and the future of OFF!’s musical direction…
RIOT FEST: This interview starts out with Keith joking that he was going to hang up on me because I called him five minutes late…
KEITH MORRIS: I thought it would add some levity. I’d come at you from a different angle, you know, try to be a pompous, arrogant, rock star, motherfucking prick, like, “Hey, you called five minutes late, I can’t talk to you.”
Well, I wasn’t expecting that from you, but I’m glad that that’s now how it panned out!
But yeah, I’m calling from Riot Fest, and I guess I just wanted to talk to you about the Watermelon movie, and the Kickstarter, and all that…
What’s it all about? What’s the project all about, where’d it come from?
Well, we filmed the intro to the movie as kind of a rockumentary/documentary/ mockumentary. We were on tour, and we were having a great time… we were having a great time for the most part. But we’re older guys, and we go on tour, and it’s like, “Oh, I don’t wanna be here, I wanna be with my kids.” Three of the guys have kids, they wanna be with their kids…
One of the places we played, we pulled up and it resembled a biker bar, with a bunch of motorcycles parked out in front, and part of what we were doing… we knew that we were filming, but we didn’t know what we’d be filming. And here we are—I’m just using the biker bar as an example—it’s like, “Keith, you’ve gotta go in, you’ve gotta go talk to them, because, all of their bikes are all parked in front of where we gotta move our equipment in! Can you go in and ask for them to move their bikes so we can move all out equipment in?” And here I am, there’s actually a scene where I’m talking to these guys, these bikers, [saying] “Hey fellas, could you move your bikes? Um, guys? Um, we have all of this heavy equipment we have to move in, would I be possible to move your motorcycles?” So there’s that scene, and it was actually a lot of fun, but also some of it was kind of stressful.
Later on [in] that particular—I wanna call it a club, but it wasn’t really a club, it was a bar—what equated to the stage for that particular night was shoved over in the corner. This also was the night that Steven [McDonald] and Dimitri [Coats] busted out their very-heavily choreographed stage moves where they do this circular thing, and I’m fuming. Like, “How dare you?”
Was this all real? Or was this all made for the movie?
I’m not gonna say! I’m going to be remain neutral on that one. I will remain like the country of Switzerland on that one. I will add that all of the money that we spent paying Michael Jackson’s choreographer to teach these guys those moves really paid off. It was all worth it!
Was this movie all filmed on tour?
No, we’ve not even filmed the real part of the movie.
So that was all just for the teaser trailer that’s up on the Kickstarter site?
That trailer is just our acknowledging that there’s a really great rockumentary/documentary called Spinal Tap. Our movie is CRAZY. When Dimitri came to me and said “let’s make a movie” and we started talking, we were of course talking about Spinal Tap, but we were also talking about the Monkees’ Head—you know, a movie written by Jack Nicholson. You know, how could you not bow down to the greatness of Jack Nicholson? Here’s this serious guy wanting to drop acid and hang out with the Monkees—and when I say the Monkees, I don’t mean just going out into the wild and hoping there are some chimpanzees and orangutans running around. So… our thing is crazy.
We’ve reached out to John Doe from X; we’ve reached out to one of our favorite guys, David Yow of the Jesus Lizard and Flipper; we’ve reached out to Maynard James Keenan, we’ve reached out to one of my new new favorites, one of my new heroes, Jack Grisham from T.S.O.L. We have our stable of actors and actresses we’ve worked with in the past, like Jack Black, David Foley from Kids in the Hall—when he heard about what we were doing, he said, “Guys, you got my number, give me a call.”
Can you give me a synopsis of what the movie is about? It’s like a science fiction thing, right?
Well, Dimitri and I wrote 25 songs, and the subject material is heavily drenched in conspiracy theories. How many times can you say you hate the government? How many times can you pound the air with your fists and bang your head against the wall and go out there and be pissed off and want to wrap your car around a tree late at night on a long lonely road? Dimitri said, “Look Keith, you’re known for doing a certain thing, how about we get outta the box?” You know, the punk rock thing.
There’s the punk rock ethics committee that, if you do something wrong, they’re gonna be knocking on your door. They’re gonna be giving you a call. They’re gonna be ranting and raving on all of the social media sites. I’m really starting to appreciate and love just how wide open Facebook is. And the situation with us is one of the reasons I’m chatting with you—because you called me on the phone—but [because] we’re running a campaign. We’re about ten days into a Kickstarter campaign, and the way that we rolled the Kickstarter campaign out confused quite a few people… [Editor’s Note: They announced the campaign on April Fool’s Day.]
Yes, I was privy to that…
The way that Kickstarter rolled it out didn’t really help us out, so we have damage control. we’re running around like, “What are we gonna do? How can we correct all of this?” At one point I told Dimitri, “I’m trying to get zen-like here, I’m gonna get naked and sit on my front lawn and let people drive by and throw things at me.” Actually, I’m not gonna do that. I was just like, we got ourselves into a situation where… I work a program, I’ve been sober since 1988, and one of the steps in my program is,when you find yourself in a situation that you have no control over, you just throw your arms in the air and say, “Hey, fuck it.” Let it be what’s it’s gonna be. Everything’s gonna work itself out how it’s gonna work itself out.
What I really want to reach out and grab and hold onto is the philosophy of the old Jewish lady who owned the liquor store across the street from my dad’s store as I was growing up in Hermosa Beach. I would go in there and buy a candy bar, or I’d buy a Coke, or I’d buy a Pepsi, or Strawberry Crush and a bag of barbecue potato chips, or maybe some pork rinds, or a Slim Jim, or whatever garbage I was eating at the time as a young kid. But I always remembered the last thing she would tell me as I was walking out of the store. I would be walking out the door, and she’d say, “Hey! Don’t forget!” And I’d turn around and I’d look at her and she’d say, “Everything’s gonna be alright! Don’t worry about anything!”
I would like to wholeheartedly hold onto those words of wisdom from the old Jewish lady. Everything’s gonna work itself out. Everything’s gonna be okay. Don’t stress out. Don’t wig out. Don’t freak out. It’s all gonna be good. Couple that with whatever step it is from Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Sex Anonymous, Gambling Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Overachievers Anonymous, all of these anonymous organizations, it’s all good. However it all ends, it’s all good. What else is it going to be?
So these new songs—in this big batch of songs—are they going to be like the soundtrack to this movie, and the movie goes along to that?
Well, we pride ourselves on the fact that we listen to a lot of different music. We were listening to Can, and NEU!, krautrock, and we started to move into areas including Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten. We actually started listening to Man Is the Bastard and Bastard Noise, and we have a new couple of heroes. One of our friends played briefly in one of our space rock bands out here in Los Angeles, Farflung, and Hunting Lodge. We also have a friend Henry who does a thing called Amps for Christ, and we were thinking, “you know, we do this oom-pa-oom-pa-oom-pa-oom-pa kinda thing, the punk-rock polka, the hardcore headache kinda thing, the fucking all of this wonderful stuff.”
We just looked at each other and just kinda said, “Well, what are some other of our favorite albums?” And our friend Henry turned us on to an album that George Harrison put out that was [that] Ravi Shankar kind of thing, where George Harrison went to India and hooked up with this guru. And we thought, you know, we love the Bad Brains, we love the Misfits, we love Minor Threat, we love Black Flag, we love all of these bands we’ve been in, we love Burning Brides and we love all this angry, aggressive music. That’s what we do and that’s what we know. But at the same time, we know other stuff, we know other people. We wanna include that in what we’re doing.
So are you hinting at a new direction for the band on this record?
We certainly aren’t going to give up what we’ve been doing. Because that’s what we know. But at the same time, we wanna travel down some other avenues. We wanna take some detours.
I’m really excited to hear that. Do you have anything recorded yet, or is that all gonna happen when the movie’s made?
Here’s the situation with OFF!: We have our favorite bass player in the entire history of the music business and show business, Steven Shane McDonald, who also just finished recording a Redd Kross album, and the guys in the Melvins… when King Buzzo Osborne gets a wild hair up his ass, he needs to record, so he snaps his fingers and—all of a sudden, magically—the Melvins have new music. Believe it or not, Buzzo needs to get in a couple of rounds of golf every day, so we’re working early. I love this.
See, Dimitri and I, we’re supposed to hate the Melvins, because we don’t get to work because of the Melvins. It’s all good, like I said. Buzzo’s gonna snap his fingers and they’re gonna be recording songs out with Toshi [Kasai] in their little compound in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of industrial complex known as Sunland Valley. It’s all good, because we love the Melvins. They’re one of our favorite things. In fact, we’re gonna go see Flipper tonight, and David Yow is going to be performing, and Dale Crover’s going to be playing drums.
Mario [Rubalcaba] kinda slept wrong and developed some sort of shoulder spasm: “Guys, I’m not gonna be able to learn the last two songs of the 25 songs we’ve written.” See, we’re planning on this sort of combo platter: Dale’s gonna record some songs, Mario, who he and his wife are expecting a daughter any day now… Hey! We’re a bunch of old guys! You know, there’s a bunch of kids! There’s wives, and dogs, and cats, and goldfish, and even more tropical fish, and kids going to school, and kids coming from school, and “Hey dad, let’s watch some basketball!” or “Hey Dad, let’s go watch the Dodgers!” So there’s all of this stuff.
So Dimitri and I have written 25 songs, and we’ve come to the realization [that] all this stuff’s gonna happen when it happens. We can’t force anything. Steven’s made a new Redd Kross record, Steven also plays bass with the Melvins, Dale plays in the Melvins, they all play in the Dale Crover Band, and we’re going to record our record. We have to present our album to our record company, the wonderful people at Vice, and I think we have until the summer to record it. And for us, our recording process is… Steven has his recording studio set up in our rehearsal space. So we go in, we learn the songs, they record the songs as they’re learning them, and then, me being the precious prima donna fourth member of the three tenors, I get to come in and add my colors and flavors and vocalizing on top of all of it. And it’s all good, ‘cause we’re the greatest. Just like the United States of America. We’re the greatest. If you don’t like us, then fuck you! We’re just gonna kill you, bomb you, and blow you up.
So then the movie happens after the record’s finished? Do they go hand-in-hand?
I guess our path is, we have the script, we’ve talked to a few of the people we want to participate in the movie, and we’re going to not only record tracks with Dale Crover, but we’re also going to record tracks with Mario once his daughter is presented to the world. See, Mario is actually recording Hot Snakes right now, and we know that he and the other characters that make up Earthless, they’re going to record an album, then some Earthless touring. There’s the Melvins/Redd Kross tour coming up.
Hey, it is what it is. And, you know. I’m not gonna get depressed, I’m not going to leap off of a two-story building in protest of all of this. I’m just gonna live my life, and it’s all good.
Hey Luca, what I would really appreciate from you is to let all of your readers know that OFF! has a Kickstarter campaign—and it’s really important, because when it rolled out, it rolled out as an April Fool’s joke. See, I am not the new head of the music department at Kickstarter, I am not gonna wear a suit and tie. I shave because I have a new friend that I’ve been dating, and I think she really appreciates being able to rub my baby-ass face. I think she likes the baby’s tuchus way more than she liked the Brillo Pad. There’s another special added bonus, there are all these things you can get; there’s t-shirts, and skateboards, and posters, there’s a DVD. If you don’t want to buy any of that, you don’t have to buy any of that. You can kick in five dollars, ten dollars. And it’s all good.‘Watermelon’
The aforementioned rockumentary featuring OFF! will wrap shooting early next year. In the meantime, you can go support Keith’s Kickstarter here, where you can snag a limited edition LP alongside plenty of other goodies.