Keith Morris of OFF! On That Time The Band Got Arrested For Taking Used Cooking Oil in Phoenix
Anyone who's braved the blitzkrieg that is hardcore supergroup OFF!'s self-titled bruiser, released on Vice Records earlier this year, knows that Keith Morris fits a lot of content into little spaces.
Cramming 16 furious songs into just over 15 minutes, Morris and company (Dimitri Coats of Burning Brides, Mario Rubalcaba of Earthless/Rocket from the Crypt/Hot Snakes, and Steven Shane McDonald of Redd Kross) inspire the sort of reckless energy Morris' albums with the Circle Jerks and Black Flag did. Our conversation followed suite -- with Morris getting in as many lyrical jabs and jokes as he could during our half-hour conversation.
The band plays Scottsdale's Martini Ranch, and Morris is unfazed by the idea of performing in the heart of the club district. "If that's the party section, we'll just be bringing our flavor," Morris says, his voice dripping with Californian attitude. "We'll bring our own party favors." It has to be less stressful than his last visit to Arizona, when ¾ of OFF! found itself on the wrong side of an Arizona lawman.
In March, 2011, the band was arrested for taking used cooking oil from Ono Hawaiian BBQ. The band's tour van has been converted to run on the stuff, and while they didn't ask for permission, they figured the restaurant's proprietors would be happy to have it taken off their hands.
"It was a citizens arrest in a parking lot of a shopping mall next to a fast food place," Morris says, recounting the event with a bewildered sense of humor. "And...we...got arrested for something that even the cops [called to the scene] were scratching their heads [about], like, 'Why are we dealing with this?'"
"Even [the police] were bummed out, because it was blazing hot, the guy who busted us doing what we were doing took on the persona of John Wayne, or Chuck Norris, or Charles Bronson, or Rambo, [saying something like] 'Oh, this is America, and you don't do that here, I'm an American and your communists, and you're fascists, and you're homosexuals and you're fagots and you're doing heroin and you're this and you're that.' The whole scene was pretty...absurd. But the cops were like, 'The only reason why we're doing this is because that guy's part of a corporation.' They actually told us, 'We don't want to be doing this, this is ridiculous. We've never dealt with anything like this, this is the equivalent of a hobo digging through a dumpster. They said that if it were up to us we'd send you on your merry way and let you drive to the South by Southwest festival and get out of here. We don't need to do this.' What else would they be doing in a suburb of Phoenix on an insanely hot day, except maybe being indoors where there's air conditioning, maybe drinking coffee or having lunch or talking about sports or their girlfriends, what have you?"
Luckily, with the help of a city attorney who turned out to be a big Circle Jerks fan , the band was able to get off doing public service in its hometown of Los Angeles. Morris doesn't hold the slight against Arizona, saying that the band is more than happy to return and do what it does best: go off. At 57, Morris doesn't tour as much as his younger self (the band is filled with dads, he says, and his diabetes requires he spends some time resting up before rocking out). "When we get the opportunity to [play] we take advantage of it," Morris says.
It's the same way Morris has been living his life since getting into the punk rock scene in the late '70s.
"When we started Black Flag, we didn't know what we were doing," he says. "When we started Circle Jerks, we didn't know what we were doing. But we adhered to a credo; our modus operandi was 'just do it.' Just go with this wherever it takes you, play with whoever you can, play wherever you can. So we played living rooms, and we played garages, we'd play in basements. We would play in any of the clubs that would allow us to play and then once we played and we were banned from the club then it was time and go out and find other venues in other venues, in other cities, in other states, in other countries."
OFF! is scheduled to perform Friday, September 14, at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale.
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