Keith Morris interview: ‘I was on a crash course for the garbage bin’

We chat with the original Black Flag frontman about the real-life close calls that inspired Wasted Years, the latest LP by his current band, OFF!

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OFF! (from left: Keith Morris, Steven Shane McDonald, Mario Rubalcaba, Dimitri Coats)

OFF! (from left: Keith Morris, Steven Shane McDonald, Mario Rubalcaba, Dimitri Coats) Photograph: Steve Appleford


The watertight Black Flag legacy sprung a few gaping leaks last year: rival reunions, potshots in the press and a messy legal squabble, which finally ended with a settlement last month. If anyone’s come out of this morass looking like the good guy, it’s the OG hardcore band’s original frontman, Keith Morris—unlike the other players in the saga, he’s out on the road with a hungry, non–Black Flag–related band, OFF!, supporting the brand-new 1983-style ripper Wasted Years. We steered clear of the Black Flag drama in our interview, but no matter the topic, the man is a gushing hydrant of hard-earned wisdom.

When you title the new OFF! record Wasted Years, are you talking about your drinking and drugging days?
It’s a combo platter. Because if you look at the album cover, you see a guy that resembles Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and that could easily be Fast Times at Mira Costa High, the high school that I went to.

What about when you sing “Death Trip on the Party Train?”
That goes out to a lot of those Jeff Spicoli characters and newer characters that I had surrounded myself with. I’m, like, two blocks from where I was born on Sunset Boulevard, and I’m not that far from where I was running with all these different characters: drug abusers, alcoholics, rock stars, late-night vampires, all of them. 

Did you expect to be one of those characters and fade into the life of a wastoid?
I crashed into the wall, you know, rolled around on the bottom. I got into a fight with a girlfriend, and I was actually throwing punches at her in the kitchen in front of her friends. 

How long ago was that?
That was about 25 years ago! I realized I had done something that I would not normally do, and it was due to the fact that I was on a crash course for the garbage bin and I had to do something about it. I pat myself on the back for having the wherewithal to be able to understand and realize, You know what? You’re not going to get any higher than you’ve gotten. You could get lower, but who needs to go there? You’ve gone out and scored drugs at five in the morning in gangland. You’ve purchased crushed aspirin from the drug dealer on the bus heading to Inglewood. Just all sorts of ridiculous scenarios. 

If OFF! hadn’t come together, would you still be doing some iteration of your post–Black Flag band, Circle Jerks?
Well, seeing that I’m a rock star and I’ve been showered with money throughout my musical career—I mean, I can’t even count it—what I’d be doing is renting out my Beverly Hills [house]: 32 bedrooms, 18 bathrooms, six swimming pools, Jacuzzi, mud bath… We’ve got the giant chocolate-pudding cup for the exotic dancers.  

That all sounds like what Keith Morris is into.
Well, I’d be renting out maybe eight of the rooms for adult video shoots.

OFF! seems to be doing well, so maybe you can make that work.
We’re paying our bills. I mean, it’s not a comfortable situation. Throughout all this musical mischief, mayhem, what have you, it’s never been comfortable, where we could just kick back and go, You know what? I can take three or four years off. It doesn’t work that way.

What’s the best thing about doing OFF!?
The fact that I’m able to play with the guys that I’m playing with. They are all really fantastic musicians, and they’ve got a really great musical instinct. When it’s time to turn left, they turn left, and when it’s time to turn right, they turn right. They don’t need anybody cracking a whip—they just instinctively, 99 percent of the time, go to the right place. 

On Wasted Years, you take aim at politics. I read that you think there should be another political party. What would you call it?
I occasionally think about what I would do if I was elected President, which would never happen because, first off, I’m not gonna wear a suit and tie and I’d say, probably, 90 to 95 percent of the American population wouldn’t vote for a guy that looks like me. My party would be the workers’ party, which would make me come off looking like a socialist or a communist or somebody that actually cares about the common person, the everyday person, the nine-to-five person, the person that’s working in a warehouse or a sweatshop. I certainly wouldn’t have signed any trade agreements that gave away all of our jobs. It’s great that we care about all these other countries, but all of the aid and the money that we are sending is money that we should be spending on ourselves first. What about all the starving kids and the homeless? What about the education process? Let’s just make everybody stupid and sit around and watch cars going around on a racetrack, eating some kind of deep-fried Pringle type thing and washing it down with liquid sugar. 

If you were to run for President, do you have a suit to wear? 
I have a suit. Occasionally, you get invited to an event where it’s in good taste to wear a suit, like a wedding.  

But you don’t see yourself as President Morris anytime soon?
Um, that’s not gonna happen. Not enough people would vote for me. But the first thing I would do is take every corrupt politician—the majority of them—and just dig a giant ditch in the desert and make them go away. 

OFF! plays Bowery Ballroom May 17.

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