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Keith Morris Talks FYF Fest and the Future of FLAG

FLAG
FLAG
Dimitri Coats

Last week, we published a segment of our interview with Keith Morris in response to Greg Ginn's lawsuit. The lawsuit talk only made up about five minutes of our 30-minute discussion. The main purpose of the interview was to discuss FLAG's presence at FYF Fest, a two day music festival in downtown Los Angeles, where FLAG will share the stage with the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, The Melvins, and much more.

Check out Keith Morris' take on the early days of FYF Fest and the past, present, and future of FLAG after the jump.

See also: Keith Morris Responds to Greg Ginn's Black Flag Lawsuit: "We've Done Nothing Wrong"

FLAG at Punk Rock Bowling
FLAG at Punk Rock Bowling
Melissa Fossum

After explaining how his cell phone got turned off, Keith Morris launched right into FYF Fest talk. The original name was the Fuck Yeah Fest. We had to change the name because when you're dealing with the LA city council, the business people of Chinatown, the LAPD, and the LA fire department, you can't go in and say 'we're doing this festival in the park and it's called the Fuck Yeah Fest.' That doesn't work, that's like going in in front of a judge and saying I'm guilty.

I hear you used to help organize the festival. I'm the old guy in the picture. I'm the guy who says, 'why don't you get the Butthole Surfers on the bill? Why don't you have the Jesus and Mary Chain on the bill? Why don't you have the Pixies on the bill?' What's great about this year is that the majority of the bands that are playing, like all of the bigger names, are bands that I've been trying to get on the festival since I started working on the festival.

I go back about seven years. The first one that I was a part of, I was actually supposed to talk between bands-- do spoken word, tell jokes, introduce the bands, give a little bit of history about the bands. The first year that I worked with [FYF founder Sean Carlson] was at the Echo and the Echoplex in Echo Park and the rooms were so crowded that you couldn't move. First off, you had to go outside to smoke, so there were a lot of people out front on the sidewalk and in the courtyard smoking and drinking and carrying on.

There were so many people in the room that there was no way I was going to make it to the stage. I would have had to crowd surf and that wasn't going to happen because the people were facing the wrong direction. I was at the very back of the room, so I got on my hands and knees and thought, you know what, I'm going to crawl between their all of their legs to get to the stage, and that wasn't going to work either, because there was no room to move.

I went outside, I said 'I'm not going to be able to put up with any more of this, it's too much of a freak show.' As I was walking home, I noticed that Sean Carlson, who is the guy who puts it on, is drinking hard liquor out of a paper bag at a bus stop with a couple of girls. I looked at him and I said 'dude, it's your festival, you're supposed to be back there telling everybody what's going on' and telling the stage managers this and that and dealing with the people that own the venue and he was just like 'nah, I'm going to get drunk, it's too much of a clusterfuck.'

Do you still have a hand in organizing the festival? Even though I manage a couple of bands and I've been in a few bands and I have some organizational skills, I don't do that. Like I said earlier on, I'm like the senior citizen. I'm the guy that everybody tells 'no.' I'm the guy that while I'm talking, everybody's talking to somebody else, like nobody's paying attention.

My role basically is at the beginning of rounding up the town for the festival. I'll have a list of bands that I think should play the festival. A lot of the bands that are playing this year like The Melvins, Thee Oh Sees, My Bloody Valentine, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and TV on the Radio, these were all bands that I've been in their corners and I've been rooting for them all the way through for all of these years. This is the year that my original list of bands to play actually are playing.

There's music for everybody. They punk rockers are like, they're butting heads and fighting over their territory and there's not a lot of that kind of music or hardcore music on the bill. The Melvins are on there, that will pacify some people who are into the heaviness. The fact of the matter is that I love music festivals because I love music, and I don't consider myself to be some sort of musical snob or cooler than thou or smarter than you because I'm familiar with more of these bands.

For one thing, it goes with the experience of being in a big place with a bunch of people with all of these different tribes gathering and being able to stumble upon something new. The problem that we have nowadays is everything's available to you on the little screen in front of you, so why get up and go and do something when you can stay at your desk and watch it on your computer. You fail to experience the vibe, the dirt, the smog, you fail to get out and see what's going on in the world or that little section of the world for that time of day. You don't get the vibe.

 

FLAG at Punk Rock Bowling
FLAG at Punk Rock Bowling
Melissa Fossum

How does it feel to play Black Flag songs again? I was a founding member and a lot of people have lost sight of that fact with all of the stuff that's going on. I've been accused of swooping on something that wasn't mine and there's more to what's going on, and more things will be revealed as we go along, after we get over all the hurdles that we need to get over.

The thing with FLAG is we're excited, just being able to get in a room and play the songs together in the rehearsal space with Billy [Stevenson, drummer]. I've known Billy since he was about 9 years old. Billy used to work for my dad, so Billy used to come into my dad's shop and Billy would be standing around and we'd get into our conversation and openly it would have lead to me saying, "Well, you need to listen to Iggy and the Stooges, and you need to listen to Cheap Trick, and you need to listen to Black Sabbath, and you need to listen to Aerosmith, and you need to listen to Black Oak Arkansas, and you need to listen to the Buzzcocks, and you need to listen to the Sex Pistols and The Damned and...' so Billy and I are like brothers, we have this brotherly love.

I've known Chuck [Dukowski, bassist] for probably 35 years and like I said, we'd get in the room and start playing, there's a lot of great energy, having a great time. We've played festivals over in Europe. There are a lot of people that are expecting us to pull into their town and play on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night and we've got a stay at home dad in our band, so our time together is limited. It's the same situation that I've got in OFF!. I've got three days in OFF!, so no deadbeat dad scenario. Everybody does our jobs, this is how we pay our rent, this is how we feed our kids, this is how we keep a roof over their heads, this is how we clothe them, this is how we pay for the gas to get them to school, responsibilities, but we're having a great time. The crowds have been great, everybody loves us and we're just going to continue on doing it as long as we can.

How did you select the lineup for FLAG? We didn't really set out to get us back together, it happened for us.

 

Billy asked Chuck and I to play some songs with him. The energy and the vibe was so amazing that Chuck walked away going, 'I gotta do this some more' and then Chuck was asked by Gary Tovar, who's one of the main guys that started Goldenvoice, who is one of the big promoters here in Los Angeles. Gary asked Chuck to give a speech at an event that he threw at the Santa Monica Civic, a three-night event. He wanted Chuck to get up, it was called the Goldenvoice 30 year anniversary with Bad Religion, Social Distortion, X, The Dickies, TSOL, all sorts of bands. The last night was the Descendents, and Gary asked Chuck to give a speech. Chuck said, 'you know what, rather than give a speech, how about you let me play some music?'

He called me, he was going to call a bunch of the other guys, but Chuck then realized that there really was no budget to fly Ron Reyes down from Vancouver, fly Dez out from New Jersey, and the Descendents were already going to be there. Stephen Egerton, who plays guitar in the Descendents, already knows the majority of the songs because it's what he grew up listening to and it's what he learned to play guitar to, so it was easy for us to get up and play the Nervous Breakdown EP. When we got up, the energy was so crazy that we said let's see if we can play some more shows, let's put this together, let's make this happen, because we already had the core- we had Billy playing drums, we had Chuck on bass, we had Stephen playing guitar, we had me as a vocalist, I said we're going to need some more people to round this out to make this even bigger than what it is, so we eventually went to Dez, and Dez didn't even need to think about it, he was in like immediately and he plays second guitar.

One of the best lineups of the band was Greg Ginn playing lead, Dez playing rhythm, Robo playing drums, and Henry Rollins as the vocalist, that was a pretty amazing band, that was a pretty undeniably great band. All of this just kind of fell into place, there's a certain thing that goes on, there's a certain energy, there's a certain path that you follow and we all just happened to land on this road on and the light was green, so we're going.

Since you're involved in other bands and there are a bunch of dads, do you foresee FLAG having any sort of expiration date? We aren't putting any kind of expiration date on this. It's a big question mark for us. We're going to a bunch of places that some of us have never been to, we still need to go back to Europe and do a full European tour, but once again, we have a stay at home dad, so we can't just take off and go and be gone for five weeks, we just play however we can.

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