“It’s like this big fucking hairy ball with rubber bands and staples and snow and it’s rolling down the hill and it’s going to crash into your house.”
That’s how Keith Morris of legendary hardcore punk band The Circle Jerks describes his critically acclaimed new outfit, Off! It’s a confident assertion given that Morris and Off!’s Dimitri Coats started their collaboration writing material for a planned new Circle Jerks album – a project that collapsed acrimoniously.
Keith remembers the moment the rest of the band decided they didn’t want to have Dimitri produce the album: “I got a phone call one night at 10:30pm and we had a conversation that was very, very lop-sided.
“’We’re going to take control.’ Are you fucking kidding? One guy wears cowboy boots because he can’t tie his shoes.”
On Dimitri’s account the ultimatum was provoked by him rewriting songs that other Circle Jerks had started. Here’s how he remembers the night Off! began:
“I put in a lot of work. My daughter, my first child, had just been born when we started trying to work on this album. I was climbing out of a hospital bed. Sleeping with my wife and my newborn daughter in this little hospital room going to these writing sessions with these guys.
“I’d really put a lot of my life into it at this point and for what? Nothing. All of a sudden I get a call from my wife. She goes, ‘you need to come home – Keith is here.’
“So I went home and Keith was there. Myself, Keith and my wife at a table. He goes, ‘Dimitri, I know you’re probably upset, but don’t be. I knew this was probably going to happen and it’s the best thing that could have happened because we’re going to form a band.’”
Drummer, Mario Rubalcaba, and bassist, Steven Shane McDonald, were quickly recruited and the big fucking hairy ball got under way.
In spite of the success of Off! Keith seems to have lingering resentment for his former bandmates from the Circle Jerks: “I don’t really have a lot of nice things to say about them. I’m happy that Zander’s off playing with Sean from Throw Rag – that’s really cool. Other than that, keep running. See you later. Eat my dust.”
The two records that have emerged from the new band sound a lot like the sort of hardcore punk that The Circle Jerks and Black Flag were turning out in the late seventies and early eighties.
Dimitri: “The music that he was playing for both of us for inspiration was not punk rock music it was all stuff that those guys were listening to back in the late seventies that inspired that first wave of hardcore or whatever you want to call it.
“I hail from that same place. It’s classic rock. All our record collections are not too far away from one another.
“I was forcing him to listen to his early material. He was yelling at me telling me what I can and can’t do on the guitar. Something just happened. We built this time machine by accident.”
The timewarp extends beyond the music to the artwork on the records. Raymond Pettibon, who provided the artwork for classic Black Flag albums, had been close friends with Keith back in the early days but the two had drifted their separate ways. Keith decided to get back in touch: “We hit it off and we were wondering why we hadn’t contacted each other.
“One night we were going to go to a rock show in San Pedro to see Mike Watt (ex-Minutemen bassist) and his band. On the way down we played Raymond and his girlfriend four songs.
“Raymond was like, ‘I want to work with you guys. If you want to use some of my artwork, feel free.’”
For hardcore punk fans eager for hints about what the band will do next Dimitri had this to say: “Cameron Jamie, he wants to do a movie where we’re the Monkees. His version of that.
“Cameron Jamie is a pretty serious artist. He lived in France for a while. Now he’s in Berlin. He’s the real deal. Painter, sculptor, film-maker. His shows are only shown in specific places and usually with a band playing in front of them like The Melvins. He loves Off! And he was talking about making a movie where we’re like the Monkees.”