OFF! will never resort to what’s popular. The foursome have had a lot of commendable success with other bands – including Redd Kross, Rocket From The Crypt, and FLAG – but it’s never pushed them to abandon what works because why showboat a fancy new wrench when nothing’s broken? The group’s forthcoming record, Wasted Years (out April 8th on Vice Records), does right by that motto and then some, as the record’s 16 tracks are plastered with tempos and riffs that swing at your head like a six-year-old trying out for the tee ball team. We reunited with OFF! down at South By Southwest and discussed the irony behind their formation, Keith Morris’ love/hate relationship with Los Angeles, and how their crazy lives as dads and drums escorts are helping them keep things to the point.
I don’t know if you guys remember this, but we actually met at SXSW two years ago.
STEVEN MCDONALD: I do remember you, you had colourful hair.
We also had a lengthy discussion about Lady Gaga and how I should audition to play bass for her.
STEVEN: Did you?
Unfortunately, I didn’t. But she’s here in Austin, so maybe we could go see her show together?
STEVEN: I didn’t know she was here!
KEITH: How could you not know? She’s at the Doritos party!
STEVEN: That gigantic Doritos vending machine? What’s the biggest stage?
KEITH: That would be Beerland right?
STEVEN: I wish she would play Beerland, that is a really good idea. Gaga at Beerland – she would kick ass. I’m going to go out there and say I’m a fan. Fuck yeah.
I would like to see her perform one day, maybe just not here. What brought you guys back to South By this year?
KEITH: What it does is it just gives us something to do. It’s not like we don’t have any kind of a schedule, it all just fell together. We didn’t know that we were coming to SXSW until two weeks ago.
STEVEN: But we do have a new record coming out, so it’s fitting. However, I don’t know what Keith would do otherwise. He always goes to South By Southwest.
DIMITRI COATS: He’s a hipster!
KEITH: Can’t you tell by my look? I follow this weird part of the VICE team and they have this book that comes out every now and then called “The Dos and Don’ts”. I wholeheartedly subscribe to what they say to do and what not to do. That’s the reason why I’m here, full garb, Silver Lake.
STEVEN: Is SXSW one of the things they say to do?
KEITH: The problem is that I forgot my fake moustache and beard. I actually shaved it off. The first time I attended SXSW I was working for a record label and that’s actually how I met Dimitri. The record label sent a couple of us out here to do what we had to do, like before I left I compiled a list of 300 bands I wanted to see.
STEVEN: It’s funny because we’re all veterans from rock bands prior, but we were re-discovered at SXSW. Keith was in his ’50s, and he was getting his start once again, in Austin, Texas, carrying his guitar, practicing our songs with no amplifiers and learning them, just like when we were 16. This place is pretty fucking insane, it’s unique.
Maybe that’s what keeps you guys coming back!
KEITH: What happened in our discovery, which was at the old Emo’s, is not only did we find a manager but we also discovered a booking agent. Dimitri is now the manager, he’s the one who cracks the whip. He’s a fucking slave driver and he can be a real dick at times.
DIMITRI: I’m talking to your girlfriend. I’m going to tell her you said that.
STEVEN: I told you he’s a whip cracker.
DIMITRI: I get results though.
As you said, you guys do have a new album coming out. I listened to it and I like it…
KEITH: Yes, the second week of April, it’s really exciting.
STEVEN: It’s an easy listen, but I wouldn’t call it easy listening. It’s my favourite OFF! record, for what it’s worth. It will be our third record and it’s a good time for a band, especially if you’re actually a good band because you’ve either broken up by now or you’ve just started to cook, and I think we’re starting to cook. It was made quickly and it was a spontaneous moment but they’ve written some great tunes.
Writing and recording quickly is something you also did with your previous album. It seems like you guys don’t like spending time in the studio.
KEITH: We were fortunate this time around that we had set aside some time. One of the things we have going on with this band is there’s three dads with kids, wives, and a home life. Our drum escort plays in five or six bands.
MARIO RUBALCABA: Did you call me a drum escort? Is that what you just said?
KEITH: He’s not a drummer boy, he’s a drum escort. So, our schedule is crazy. When we have the opportunity to get together we just have to cram as much as we can into the little time that we have.
STEVEN: That’s always been the deal with us. There’s a practical reason for it and we’ve always been able to produce some great creativity in that time span, but also it’s kind of fitting for OFF!’s music. The sound comes from the first or second time that we’ve ever played the fucking riff and then it just gets recorded! We’re all veteran musicians, so if we practiced too much someone would be adding hammer-ons to it and too many overly fancy fills.
KEITH: If we polished it then it would be like Rush. These guys like Rush and I hate Rush.
STEVEN: Does that happen often? Because you’re a Canadian website, do bands want to talk about Rush?
KEITH: What about Triumph? The Stampeders?
STEVEN: What about Platinum Blonde? Or The Tea Party?
KEITH: What about April Wine? Or Loverboy?
STEVEN: Do all interviews with Canadian magazines disintegrate into the band trying to conjure Canadian groups by making them more obscure and rare? Is Rick James Canadian? What’s his connection to Neil Young? Your readers should know this: that band Rick James and Neil Young had together was the only thing that Keith and Dimitri were listening to when they were writing the new OFF! record. Make sure people look for that spiritual connection.
Okay, noted! Is touring something you still get excited about or is it just an ordinary routine?
DIMITRI: I don’t get excited about it anymore. Once I’m in it, I enjoy it, but I don’t like leaving home. It feels like work – especially when you have kids and stuff – and the thrill of it is not what it was, but I really enjoy hanging out with these guys and kicking ass. It’s sort of like when you jump into a cold swimming pool – you don’t want to because you know how cold it’s going to be, but then once you’re in it, it’s fine.
STEVEN: That’s an extension of what Keith was saying. We all have kids and Keith is an uncle to many of our kids and other people’s kids.
KEITH: So my take on touring is completely different from their because I’ve done so much touring, it’s just a part of what I do. I don’t like being at home and having somebody breathing down my neck. Although the food is great and I don’t have to clean when I’m home.
STEVEN: That’s weird. Most people like to leave home because they don’t have to clean. I don’t know what to say about that. I do always wonder about it because Keith always rags on Los Angeles, which is weird because it’s such an obvious thing to do. Whenever we stop somewhere on tour, we’re always wondering if Keith wants to move there. Do you want to move to Chile? How about Austin? This is probably one of the places you’d consider.
KEITH: I lived in the Lower East Side of New York, so I got enough of that. I lived in Boston, which was actually pretty cool. Richmond, Virginia, was pretty amazing. There were some nice things about Charlotte, but it was basically connected to a K-Mart. I remember going into a Walmart with my sister and it was brutal. The combined IQ of everyone in the building was probably equal to one of those cement parking lot blocks..
STEVEN: The same density?
KEITH: (Laughs) I live at a very busy intersection in L.A., but the energy is horrible as it’s very negative. You’d think a busy corner like that would be industrious, but then all of a sudden someone shoots some guy for cutting him off and then some other guy on a motorcycle runs a red light and gets struck by a car. But my rent is great, the street I live on is pretty international, and I have on-street parking. Just try finding a parking spot in Los Angeles.