The individual roots established by Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks), Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), and Mario Rubalcaba (Earthless/Hot Snakes/Rocket From the Crypt) are uniquely woven throughout the rock music canon. Each has challenged society's cyclical and complacent ideals in their own respective bands, and three decades on they've never strayed from their intentions.
Now they come together as a four-piece called OFF! and they're as confrontational as ever, lunging inside the aesthetic of West Coast hardcore to push life's most provocative issues to the forefront. The pinch-hitting First Four EPs box set – available November 23rd via Vice Music – marks their explosive approach for a total of 16 songs in just under 18 minutes. The band split its recording into only two sessions, with the first nine songs completed in January 2010, while the latter half was hammered out on August 25th. The limited edition 7", 1st EP, is out October 12th and it's your official entry to OFF!'s dark party.
Keith Morris has been a seminal figure in the American punk movement since the late '70s, having been a founding member and vocalist for the infamous L.A. band, Black Flag. After the group issued their groundbreaking 1979 debut, Nervous Breakdown EP, Morris left to form the Circle Jerks. Together the band issued six studio albums, including their seminal first album, Group Sex, in 1980, and 1983's standout Golden Shower of Hits.
Steven McDonald has had his hand not only in the Los Angeles rock scene, but in the international rock scene for over three decades, having co-founded the alternative-rock band Redd Kross (aka Red Cross) in 1978 at the tender age of 11 years old. In the early days of the LA punk scene, Redd Kross shared countless bills with Morris and Black Flag as well as a rehearsal space at the now infamous Church in Hermosa Beach, CA. As a producer Steven has worked with a myriad of varied artist; from the indie pop sensations Imperial Teen to the full blown deathpunk spectacle of Norway's Turbonegro. As an artist, he has continued to rock audiences worldwide, not only with his mainstays OFF! and Redd Kross, but with other legendary artists such as Beck and Sparks, to name but just a few.
Dimitri Coats began the visceral alternative rock stylings of Burning Brides in 1999. The trio went on to issue four albums, including their latest, the critically acclaimed Anhedonia, in 2008. The band has toured extensively with such acts as the White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age, and Mastodon. Coats also stars as the lead villain in the film, Suck, also starring Malcolm McDowell, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper and more.
Mario Rubalcaba hails from San Diego, having recorded and toured with Earthless, as well as Rocket From the Crypt and Hot Snakes. During the 1980s and early 1990s, he made a name for himself as a professional skateboarder for Tony Alva's (of the celebrated Z-Boys crew), Team Alva.
What formalized in late 2009 was a mix of fate and irony. Coats signed on as producer for what was to be the Circle Jerks' first album in 14 years. But it was during breaks in the studio that Morris and Coats created a few raw demos of their own material, and through that, a strong collaboration took shape. McDonald and Rubalcaba were added to the lineup to sire the propulsive force that is OFF!
"I didn't know what kind of ride it was going to be," Morris says. "But I walked away incredibly blown away. The intuition, the gut feeling, and the immediacy, it just blew up. The best way that I can describe it would be, with me coming from a band called Black Flag and the history that I have with Steven having been in Redd Kross, and taking that vibe and mixing it up like Led Zeppelin had at their highest energy level."
"It's been an inspiring kick in the pants," McDonald says. "One that is so vitally rebellious and anti-establishment."
Coats adds, "One of the many great things about this band is that the first time we ever locked ourselves into a room together and played these songs, it happened very fast. It pretty much sounded like it does if we walk on stage tomorrow. It was pretty intense."
The term "dark party" is something Coats likes to refer to when describing the muscle behind OFF!'s songs and each one aims for that bull's eye. Delving into the social and political chaos of the time is heavily weighed throughout, particularly on Coats' ravaged riffs of "Upside Down" and "Darkness." "Black Thoughts" is equally intense with Rubalcaba's and McDonald's riotous delivery, while Morris' fiery disposition during "I Don't Belong" is another reminder why hardcore mattered in the first place.
Morris continues to be moved by some of this noise coming from the outside when it comes to he and Coats writing music. "I've seen all of this stuff and it still bothers me. Times get tough and the economy gets tough. There's more cars, more crime, and people work longer, and the politicians get slicker and become better liars. You think 'Well' and you just throw your arms up say, 'Hey whatever,' but that's not the way that I am. A lot of that comes through the stuff that we're doing."
McDonald also credits OFF!'s time in the studio as quite in the moment, and such an approach really stands true to the songs themselves. "As far as executing this music, it's been easy," says McDonald. "We've all been playing for a long time and [with this project] we didn't think we needed to polish this. It should sound like the first time we ever played it, and I think we documented that."
The First Four EPs will be available as a four EP 7" collection showcasing the artwork of Raymond Pettibon. The American artist is best known for his black and white drawings, which provided a backdrop for Black Flag's overall visual presentation during the late '70s and early '80s, and Sonic Youth's unforgettable Goo cover, among others. Pettibon is also regarded as OFF!'s honorary fifth member and will design all sleeve art for the box set as well as the limited edition poster for the first EP.
"[In Black Flag], part of our deal was to make a lot of noise and to irritate and bum out as many people as possible," Morris says. "Now, this is what we do and Raymond senses that kind of quality."
"There's a dark sarcasm that's prevalent throughout his body of work and it fits with what we're trying to get across with our band," adds Coats.
Armed with only a handful of songs and no stage time, OFF! made their live debut at South By Southwest in Austin in March 2010. Such a move was incredibly bold and defiant to the industry standards, and it was exactly how it was supposed to be for OFF!
"It wasn't a total conscious decision to make those [SXSW shows] our live debut," Rubalcaba says. "We just thought that we were ready to get it onto the stage, and that immediacy just took over. We felt that in one weekend, we could play to people from all over the country and the world, and in turn just push [OFF!] even further.
That force propelled the band to their first hometown show in downtown L.A. in May, when they played to over 1,200 people at The 6th St. Warehouse for what has become one of the hardcore scene's most pivotal and historical shows of the last 20 years. The room was decked with Pettibon's signature work and its legal capacity only allowed for 250 people. But as the free beer flowed and as the mass of bodies swelled inside, a monumental space in time was rising. The band's set inside a skate ramp only lasted 18 minutes. Morris likes to say that there was something in the air that night. It was more than just a show.
"What took place was that the neighborhood surrounding the warehouse was near other similar spaces and with the volume of people there, they turned the neighborhood into an art walk with other musicians. It wasn't about OFF! It wasn't about Raymond Pettibon. It wasn't about the free beer. It was about this thing that would have happened 25-30 years ago and it would have been the same thing that would have happened at a Black Flag show."
It was there that OFF! reached into the crucial creativity of years past to resurrect its rawness for the present. The dark party rages on.
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