Everyone can relate to a title like OFF!’s new album, Wasted Years. We’ve all thrown away a calendar year or two on someone or something that wasn’t worth the trouble. Or, we’ve all spent at least a year of our lives literally wasted. Off chops. Bamboozled. Sideways as the horizon. I spoke with Dimitri Coats, guitarist of punk outfit OFF! who spent the last few years in the latter sense of the term. Boasting members of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Burning Brides, Redd Kross and Hot Snakes, OFF! are the real deal, and they’re about to set sail on tour around America. They’re also named after a bug spray. Fun facts!
You collaborated with Shepard Fairey for Record Store Day, which is coming up on April 19. How did that come about?
I think one of the first records Shepard ever bought was a Circle Jerks record so he’s been a Keith (Morris) fan for years and he was actually a Burning Brides fan as well. One day Keith and I went down to his studio just to say hi and hit him with the idea of like “wouldn’t it be fun – I mean he knows we work with Raymond (Pettibon) almost exclusively – but wouldn’t it be fun to do a one-off 7” for record store day?” So I proposed the idea of him creating artwork first and we would write a song based on what he presented. It didn’t quite work out that way, there was a lot more back and forth where he would send something, and then we would come up with music, and then he would hear that. Or we’d send him some lyrics and we’d go back and forth and he would change the artwork based on the lyric we sent him. It was a really cool, true collaboration, and he was extremely open to ideas. It was encouraging to work with someone who is on such a high level and for that person to have very little ego in such a situation.
Are you all California guys?
I grew up on the east coast – I’m the only guy in the band that’s not a southern California boy, its kind of funny. I manage the band, and I like trying to get these boys to tour in cold weather. They just freak out! You know, the idea of being in Boston in February, I might as well be trying to give them a jail sentence or something. They don’t know how to dress for that kind of weather. They just show up like they normally would anywhere and they’re like “Hey, I brought a jacket!” I grew up playing ice hockey, skating on ponds and stuff so I’m a little bit more ready for the rugged temperatures than they are.
Speaking of record stores, what is your favorite and why?
I’ll tell ya, I worked at a store in Philadelphia called the Philadelphia Record Exchange and its still going and the guys there are awesome, total heads – turned me onto a lot of music. One of the guys plays in one of my favorite bands from Philly called The Strapping Fieldhands. It really defined the idea of a record store being a library or a community center; a place where you can go and hang out and ask “what are you playing right now?” And then you get into a conversation about Hawkwind, and you learn that Lemmy was the bass player in Hawkwind, and I just love being around that kind of stuff. As far as I know you cant really major in Rock and roll, so that was kind of like the closest I got to an education in that.
Is OFF! the end of a sentence? Like: Piss OFF! It’s going OFF! The milk’s OFF!
Sure. Everything. I mean if you want to know the truth, as Keith and I were starting to write songs together, he would say “Oh, this is really speaking to my roots with my first band!” So I started listening more to that, and people that had heard it started saying “Oh my god, it’s like Keith never left Black Flag!” Keith was already talking about using Raymond Pettibon as an artist and I just thought, fuck it, I went to a bug repellant website – Raid was taken – and I called up Keith and said “What about OFF!?” In fact, the big parent company, SC Johnson, came at us and was freaked out that we had snagged the rights to print our name on a t-shirt. We had a lawyer sort of look into all this stuff and for some reason you can go ahead and take out the trademark. We settled pretty quickly and came to an agreement that they can do our shirt and we can do ours.
No but David Markey is a friend of ours and I think he sent all of his stuff to us on a dvd but I don’t know if I got to that – I need to watch it, there’s been a couple of people who have mentioned that he did a documentary on those guys. Dave also did 1991: The Year Punk Broke.
Hollywood Blvd is a cluster-fuck at the best of times. It must have been crazy filming there?
We had a crew with us and Jack Grisham was one of our superheroes, and you don’t mess with that guy, I don’t care who you are. He’s just a badass. I think they just took one look at him and said “Oh yeah, you can work here!” We had a crew and a rented cop, so it was a little less gorilla style than I thought it was gonna be.
The new album is called Wasted Years. Which do you consider your wasted years?
Yeah, for me, the record means something different than it does to Keith. Keith is talking about a time in his life where he put a lot of effort into another band and he was ultimately let down by that situation. Whereas for me, those literally are my wasted years, those years leading into writing that record, I was kind of in a different place, partying pretty hard, but now I’ve kind of come out the other side.
For this record, we had a vision for it before we even started writing it. I knew the artwork was going to be black, we knew the subject matter was going to be dark, we knew the music was going to reflect all that as well. We were listening to a lot of Sabbath and kinda of pushing everything, it was sort of like an exorcism of cobwebs from the soul, and I was a bit of a mess between the last record and this one. I was having a good time but just a little bit veering off the rails. Looking back, I’m going to remember those as my wasted years.
What about your most productive years? Have they happened yet?
Well I’m productive no matter what. Just because people are fucked up doesn’t mean they’re not doing cool shit. I work my ass off no matter what state I’m in. I know the next record, we’re going to change direction and do something very experimental for us.
I love that this album is just coming out yet and you’re already talking about the next one.
Oh yeah! Well its kind of like a 2 record concept – we already knew the artwork would be black, but when we talked with Raymond about the record after that (the one we haven’t made yet), we already knew what the artwork for that would look like, too. Sometimes these things come all at once and you just have to follow that path and see everything though. We’ll see how things go, but that might be the end of the band at that point. We’ll see.
The fact of the matter is we do approach this as like, shitty art, you know? We’re sort of trying to achieve a kind of crude excellence, you know? There’s a whole mentality that’s involved, a whole game plan, like an assault, and it should come to an end at some point. Keith’s almost 60 years old. He would probably be fine dying on the stage, but we love him too much for that, so this thing has to come to an end at some point. There’s probably one more record left in us and then that’s it.
Wasted Years is out now.
OFF! US TOUR DATES – all dates w/ Cerebral Ballzy, NASA Space Universe
4/9 – Metro Operahouse – Oakland, CA
4/11 – Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR
4/12 – Fortune Sound Club – Vancouver, BC
4/13 – El Corazon – Seattle, WA
4/15 – Neurolux – Boise, ID
4/16 – The Loading Dock – Salt Lake City, UT
4/18 – Black Sheep – Colorado Springs, CO, NM
4/19 – Marquis Theater – Denver, CO
4/21 – Club Congress – Tucson, AZ
4/22 – Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ
4/23 – The Roxy – Los Angeles, CA
5/7 – Triple Rock – Minneapolis, MN
5/8 – Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL
5/9 – Small’s Bar – Detroit, MI
5/10 – Mod Club @Canadian Music Week – Toronto, ON
5/12 – Asbury Lanes – Asbury Park, NJ
5/15 – Ottobar – Baltimore, MD
5/16 – First Unitarian Church – Philadelphia, PA
5/17 – Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY
5/18 – Middle East – Boston, MA
5/20 – Exit/In – Nashville, TN
5/22 – Fitzgerald’s – Houston, TX
5/23 – Club Dada – Dallas, TX
5/24 – Launchpad – Albuquerque, NM
5/26 – Punk Rock Bowling – Las Vegas, NV