United States Pist Off!

“We wallow in all these miserable things taking place, but we celebrate that we’re still alive, and we’re able to navigate through all this garbage.”
–– Keith Morris

Simply stated, we Bluefat pinheads are real, real glad to see the rude ‘tude likes of Off! treading the “boards” in this day and age, and here’s our compelling reason why: It’s the times, bud, everyone knows they bite the bag.

The Cali punk/hardcore supergroup comprises be-dreadlocked ex-Circle Jerks/Black Flag singer-provocateur Keith Morris, former Burning Brides mainman Dmitri Coats, Redd Kross/Sparks bassist-singer Steven McDonald, and the human octopus known as Mario Rubalcaba, who’s split the skins with Earthless and Rocket From the Crypt.

The band became an official unit when Morris quit the infamous L.A. hardcore combo the Circle Jerks after the other members of that band fired Coats, who’d signed on to produce the Jerks’ new album and then, apparently, overstepped his bounds as a producer –– the old boys got all threatened. Well, screw it, all for the best, concluded Morris.

“I was very tentative about recording a new album with the Circle Jerks anyway, because they would’ve opted for a producer who’d make it sound like every other band on the Warped Tour, bands with names like [laughs] Bring Me the Horizon. No wait, Show Me the Unicorn!”

Funny thing is, for years the Jerks dudes had been prodding Morris about writing some new songs, since they hadn’t done a new album in several centuries.

“But nobody was coming up with anything,” he says, “and one day people just stopped showing up for the recording sessions. Then Dimitri comes along, cracks the whip, we get in the studio and we start writing songs.”

Off’s eponymous full-length on Vice Records has by the time you’re reading this got vast loads of critical praise and hearty kudos; even those pussies over at Pitchfork liked it. The album (which follows four initial EPs) is an18-minute,16-song ragnarok of rage ‘n’ release with only a mere few songs that clock in at over 90 seconds; titles like “Wiped Out,” “Vaporized,” “Toxic Box” and “Zero for Conduct” give you an idea about where Off!’re coming from overarching-themes-wise. It’s not like there was any big concept involved in the Off! EPs or new album. Have to say, though, that when we major-league professional rock critics check out the lyrics on all this wild rock music we’re probing so very deeply, well, we’re gonna be looking for, like, overarching themes and shit.

So does Off! music reveal, like, overarching themes and shit?

“Yep,” says Dimitri. “Anger, disappointment, revenge and mental problems.”

“And roses,” affirms Morris, “a lot of beautiful, wonderful smelling roses.”

Off!’s first recording sessions went pretty smoothly, all things considered. Four veteran musicians; four huge egos; four…never mind. You know, Morris has a reputation for being a bit of a hardass, but then again, maybe he’s just got high standards.

“When I express my feelings, we’re not sitting down and chatting about it. I’ll be in your face and I’ll be screaming and yelling and turning red, I’ll be turning purple, I’ll be turning blue, there’ll be steam shooting out of my ears, I’ll be breathing fire. I’m not a nice guy.”

Now, making records with Off!, it doesn’t come to blows, does it, Keith?

“We yell and scream at each other, but we don’t come to blows because it would be Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris. Or, make that Bruce Lee vs. Lew Alcindor, later to be known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.”

It seems that Morris and Coats have this crazy li’l thing called chemistry going on.

“Besides my wife,” says Coats, “he’s the only one I can really talk to about anything, like personal stuff. You know, we were really cool friends way before this even happened.”

“When he says ‘close friends,’ says Morris, “that doesn’t mean that we kiss and hug, it doesn’t mean that we get naked and sleep together.”

Even so, the first time the Off! guys rehearsed as a band, Morris says he was shaking his head, asking himself if this is what he really wanted to do.

“I was thinking more along the lines of the energy of Black Flag, and with these players, they have a bit of a Led Zep mentality, and I was thinking, this isn’t right for me, this isn’t gonna work for me. But I had an epiphany. And I realized that I’m playing with great players, I mean, these are all really, really happening musicians. And you don’t tell a real great, happening musician what to play.”

Drummer Mario Rubalcaba in particular really shakes things up.

“He’s one of the heaviest drummers, and he’s got a great groove. But I like drummers that can not only hit hard, but they can swing. And that’s really important. You have to understand, I’m used to playing with people like Chuck Biscuits, like Dave Grohl, who I also worship; if you listen to the first Black Flag EP, I mean, you can almost dance to it. And to me, this band has that.

“Well, there’s also a very sexual quality to Mario, you know, that Latin lover thing.”

“And Steven brings a little bit of Paul Stanley / Paul McCartney to our band,” says Coats. “He has no problem dressing up in women’s clothing.”

Okay, so between tours bringing the real tuff titty to a starving nation of 18-to-24-year-olds, Off! are already working on a new record. And it’s gonna be different…probably.

“People feel we’re refreshing because what we do harkens back to a time when Keith was inventing this stuff,” says Coats. “But I don’t want to get into a trap where we’re only expected to be that one color all the time. Maybe we are just the Ramones and we’ll just keep writing the same song over and over again. But I think on the next record we need to throw some kind of curveball.”

“Yeah,” says Morris, “the first track will be 18 minutes long, and then there’ll be one 30-second song that follows it.”

“And the second song will be a hidden bonus track on the CD only,” says Coats, “and then our fans will be like, ‘How could you put that on the CD, we had to buy it on vinyl! That’s bullshit!’”

Likewise, on their upcoming tours the grizzled vets are gonna be doing it their own way, the right way, i.e., they’re not gonna overdo it if they can avoid it.

“We’re not 23-year-old kids who are just willing to get in the van and sleep on floors,” says Coats.

“And,” says Morris, “we’re also not the band that signed to a major label who puts an energy-drink logo on the side of the bus and sends us out on a children’s tour.”

By organizing and managing their live dates independently, Off! have thusfar been coming out ahead doshwise and relatively stress-free, far, far away from all the grabby middlepeople and looming label geeks.

“It’s really good that we’re actually successful,” says Coats, “because our wives would divorce us if we came back from a five-week tour and we didn’t bring home a good chunk of dough.”

photo: Aaron Farley

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