Here’s the thing about OFF!. Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag), Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From The Crypt, Hot Snakes) have been involved with so many bands, not to mention producing (fun fact: McDonald handled the production on The Format’s 2006 epic Dog Problems), that if you made a playlist with every album on it, your head would explode and death would come knocking on your door. The best part is, they take a no nonsense approach to OFF! and what follows is a pure form of 100% punk rock that even Pitchfork couldn’t cut down into tiny slivers of sub genres. With a collection of shows at this year’s South By Southwest, we caught up with the Los Angeles group in Austin to talk about their new album, how the band is a recreational activity and why busting your ass off at what you do best is a whole lot better than flipping burgers.
From your perspective, what’s the hardest part of a new beginning?
DIMITRI COATS: About nude beginnings?
KEITH MORRIS: See he’s a male underwear model. He knows about nudity.
DIMITRI: Get it right dude, I’m a hand model.
Well as a hand model you don’t have to wear clothes.
KEITH: He wears gloves, cleans his fingers and his nails have to be perfectly manicured. But yeah… the hardest part of this is just being a part of it. Letting it grow and seeing where it takes us. Like do we really feel like we’re competing with a bunch of younger bands? We’re older guys; there’s four of us and we’ve become a marathon team.
MARIO RUBALCABA: I think the thing with the beginning was we didn’t want to get thrown into what I call “the punk rock graveyard”. We wanted to start a band that would turn into huge bands that we like and wouldn’t get thrown into the punk rock graveyard with all the bands that are not around anymore or have changed their attitude.
KEITH: I know a lot of them. So does Steve, even as a member of Redd Kross. Steven and I go all the way back to a place in Hermosa Beach called the Baptist Church, or just “The Church”, and he was in the basement with his brother and a couple of other guys and I was upstairs in what would have been the janitorial supply room with all of the mops and brooms and the buckets, and the Lysol… not that we wanted them there, they would have been there when the church was in full bloom and all the people were going there.
We just put carpet up and made a bunch of noise. There’s also the hardcore graveyard, where you can see tombs, like a sea of tombs. You look at and you just want to look back and run as fast as you can. (Loud noise interrupts) Is that the ship pulling in? Is that Mike Watt going off? You know about Mike Watt, right? He was in Minutemen and The Black Gang Crew. You know, if you’re not on the boat when it leaves the dock, you don’t get to go.
I didn’t realize we were that close to the lake or the river.
KEITH: Red River, right? Red River Street is right there!
That’s true (laughs). I understand you guys have another full-length album coming but it was completed quickly due to strict time constraints. Did you guys do that on purpose?
DIMITRI: Yep. Otherwise we’re never going to get it done. We need an excuse to write songs and go into the studio and all that and we don’t want to spend a whole lifetime doing that because we’d kill each other.
KEITH: See we only do this band as recreation as we each have more important things. Mario’s got an important five-year-old, Steven’s got an important two-year-old and Dimitri has a one-year-old and a three-year-old.
DIMITRI: And he’s Uncle Keith! It’s a family affair – Rated G punk rock.
KEITH: Rated G for…
KEITH: No, not graveyard – great.
So you did it intentionally so you wouldn’t kill each other.
KEITH: We actually had someone complain that it took three days to record our album. And we didn’t have the opportunity to explain it to them. See, he thought we were going to add strings and horns and synthesizers and we were trying to come up with our version of Yes’s Topographic Oceans which is a triple album I believe… no it’s a double. So we got this complaint that we spent too much time recording and that really bummed me out because the poor guy thought we spent three days in the studio but we didn’t do that, because you don’t spend three days in the studio for 24 hours a day. We were maybe in the studio each day for maybe 12 hours.
DIMITRI: I vaguely remember being there. I blacked out… for most of it. I was just nervous and I black out when I’m nervous. There was a lot of pressure, you know. At our age you could just fall over dead while you’re playing a song.
KEITH: And there are quite a few who should just fall over while they’re playing. We won’t say who. We’ll just allow the flow of the universe to take whoever it’s going to take.
Well was it not a stressful experience to bang out an album that fast?
MARIO: I just want to clarify something – we were mixing by day three.
STEVE MCDONALD: Okay, let’s do this all in reversal. How long did it take you to do your first album? No, I mean your second album. Just imagine, how long do you think it would take to record and mix?
From my experience speaking with bands, most have said it takes weeks.
KEITH: Who would you have play in your band? What’s your dream lineup?
DIMITRI: And would you change your hair colour to jet black?
No. I’m better with blonde. I may go back to pink as it suits me a little better. Back to my whole high school days, I played the bass but I never really took it too far.
STEVE: What kind of bass did you have?
I had a red Fender Squier. It had flatwound strings…
STEVE: Flatwound! That’s a good choice. They did not have those back in the day. Was it like a John Paul Jones kind of thing? Like where did that come from…
KEITH: Did you play with your fingers or did you play with the pick?
I played with my fingers.
STEVE: That’s cool man. Flatwound, Fender Squier, red bass.
KEITH: What did you play through? Like what was your amp?
I feel like… it’s a Fender amp. It was really cool because it had a red light under the bottom and it would light up to the music you would play.
MARIO: Would you drop everything, right now, to play bass for Lady Gaga?
STEVE: Like if Lady Gaga just came and swooped in and was like, “Flatwounds, we need some”.
KEITH: And you got the red flashing light still on your amp.
STEVE: “No one does it like you, man, like even all these people I’ve fired”.
MARIO: Would you rather play bass for her or Marilyn Manson?
Hmm… that’s a good question. I don’t know…
STEVE: That’s a good question (laughs). We got you.
I’m going to dodge that one (laughs).
KEITH: So you mean the boss told you that there were specific questions you had to ask us?
Well I was supposed to think of specific questions to ask you guys today and I was suppose to be interviewing you, not you guys interviewing me.
KEITH: Well it’s suppose to be free and friendly. When you’re interviewing somebody and they ask what’s the next question, there’s three options: you can tell them to fuck themselves, you get up and leave, or ask another question.
STEVE: You could always say, “I don’t know what the next question is, so go fuck yourselves”.
Luckily I’ve never had anyone say that. I’d be a bit taken back. But on the album – I’m impressed at how quickly you recorded it, but will you be able to hear that urgency in the songs when you listen to them?
STEVE: Well it sounds like 16 songs in 16 minutes.
DIMITRI: Does that answer your question? (laughs)
KEITH: It’s frantic. It’s chaos. When all of the takes come together… it’s hectic.
Well punk rock still exists. Does it embody that feel and attitude or not?
DIMITRI: Absolutely. Because it’s all about pressing his buttons just to get him excited and then it’s poppin’.
KEITH: I personally would rather travel with our gear in a trailer being pulled by the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. That’s all I’m going to say. You’ve never seen the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile guys? It’s like a giant hot dog. You pull up and all the kids will be hanging out wanting free Vienna sausages.
You would rather be in a Oscar Mayer Wienermobile pulling a trailer than doing…
KEITH: Than driving in a van. It’s such a brilliant vehicle. Everyone drives these limo vehicles and drives a van and you’re driving down the highway and it’s all a blur, and then all of a sudden you see the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Or the Batmobile too, that’d be good. Now, Steven would want the Partridge Family Bus.
MARIO: At our age we should be doing tours in an ambulance.
STEVE: We should buy an ambulance and then only play urgent cares across the country. I can see it now on Pitchfork – “OFF! Announces Spring Tour At Urgent Cares”.
KEITH: See I’d want to kick it up a notch with retirement homes.
MARIO: Now that sounds like a plan.
As you said before, OFF! Is sort of a recreational activity; will it be something you guys carry on for a while as a group or are there more important things?
KEITH: I hate all the important things and I would rather just spend my time doing recreational things.
MARIO: Life’s too short to not prioritize your recreational activities.
KEITH: Parks and recreation – ping pong, foursquare, basketball on the concrete court.
DIMITRI: It’s a lot of work, but it’s better than flipping burgers.
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