(Editor's note: We published this article about OFF! in advance of their October 2022 Valley Bar show; however, the show was canceled shortly after the story went up. The concert has been rescheduled for this weekend and we're republishing the story with the new dates.)
Every leap of faith comes with risk. In the entertainment world, those looking to leap run the risk of jumping the proverbial shark, and like the Fonz (who did it first), one bad jump can forever affect a legacy.
Now, you can't compare the band OFF! to Happy Days very easily, but the band, like the classic TV show, isn't afraid of taking risks. When OFF! burst onto the scene in 2009, the original quartet of vocalist Keith Morris (Circle Jerks/Black Flag), guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), bassist Steven McDonald (Redd Kross/Melvins), and drummer Mario Rubalcalba (Earthless/Rocket From the Crypt) had the type of pedigree that showed great promise, and the band promptly delivered the goods.
Early OFF! records and shows put the punk back in punk rock with short, succinct blasts of pure first-wave hardcore fury. It was the closest thing Morris has done to his initial work with the original lineup of Black Flag, and for fans of the style, as well as the guys in the band, it was a joyous and fun blast from the past. Except for one thing: It wasn’t the past. OFF! were kicking ass and taking names and seemingly having a great time doing it.
But all good things must come to an end, as they say, and in the last couple of years, OFF! found itself with a brand-new rhythm section after Morris laid down some law and McDonald and Rubalcalba were gone from the band. Tensions between the original members arose due to differences of opinion on how much time would and should be spent developing the material that has become OFF!’s new record, Free LSD.
The band will perform on Friday, April 28, at Valley Bar.
“We had to [change] because Dimitri doesn’t come from punk and hardcore. He comes from a place that is more songwriter-oriented, and when I say songwriter, I mean like Paul McCartney and John Lennon or the Davies brothers [Ray and Dave] from the Kinks. These are like his favorite people. I grew up with all of those people and I love everything that they do for the most part. When we were working on these songs, I was telling Dimitri, ‘This will be our Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.’ We’ve set a bar for ourselves that we may not be able to reach again,” Morris says.
He went on to talk about how OFF! has avoided playing with the “punk rocks” like Bad Religion or Rancid recently to play more shows with a variety of bands and performing at different festivals around the world.
“We love all those bands, but we didn’t want to play with them right now. We played Coachella in one of the tents during the day. It was like 100 degrees outside, and everyone wants to come in and cool off. I couldn’t believe it, though. The crowd was all girls, and they were dancing while we were playing. Some were even singing out some of our lyrics and I thought, ‘This is not supposed to be happening.’ This was never supposed to happen to a hardcore punk rock band,” Morris says.
The band began to discover they were enjoying the variety of acts they were paired with at festivals, such as Duran Duran, The Strokes, and Guided By Voices, and it was inspirational for their work on Free LSD.
“The recording process for this record made perfect sense for us to go some places we would not normally go. Let’s go to some unexpected places and be influenced by musicians and artists and musical groups we are not supposed to be taking any cue from, you know, like Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters backing Miles Davis. For a punk rock band, that’s a stretch,” Morris says.
While the record is clearly OFF!, the expansion of their influences is more than apparent. The seeds sown by Morris and Coats when it comes to the songwriting on Free LSD have yielded some intense fruit. There are hints of Stooges-esque bursts of heavy noise layered throughout, especially on the tracks where Jon Wahl (Claw Hammer) adds some heavily distorted saxophone.
New bassist, Autry Fulbright II (And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead), and drummer Justin Brown (Thundercat) have more than filled the rather large shoes left by McDonald and Rubalcalba, respectively.
“Autry came aboard immediately. It was time to be in a band with everybody that wanted to be in the band, and that is what we got with Autry and Justin. Justin is an amazing drummer and we understand that with amazing drummers, they are probably in three or four bands, so we understand we’ve gotten ourselves into the same scenario we had before [with Rubalcalba], but Justin brings something that none of our other drummers have brought to the table, and that is the attitude that he is going to learn how to play a new style of music because he sees it will take him somewhere he has never been,” Morris says.
For Fulbright II and Brown, they also stepped into a band that was making a movie. Free LSD, the film, will be out at some point in 2023, and Morris is very pleased with what he has seen so far.
“I’ve seen the rough cut and I’m totally down. I’m just waiting for the finished product. I’m enjoying the process because it is not a typical process for me,” says Morris.
The band has been releasing videos from the new record that provide some hints as to what the movie version of Free LSD is going to be like. “War Above Los Angeles” and “Kill to Be Heard” both feature the band and a cast of punk and noise rock luminaries like David Yow (Jesus Lizard), Don Bolles (Germs/Exterminators), and Chris Desjardins (The Flesh Eaters) in some wild scenarios set to some of the strongest songs on the record.
OFF! Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m., Friday, April 28. Valley Bar, 130 North Central Avenue. Tickets are available here.
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.