An interview with Black Flag, from LA, who played the Buddha earlier with Rabid. Conducted in East Van. Thanks go to Ken Lester, Dave Spanner, and Black Flag. Done by Scott Skitzo. Photos by Bev Davies.
SS: OK, introduce yourselves.
Person in polyester: My name's Gary...I play bass.
The tired looking one: Ron, is the singer.
Tall conservative guy: Greg(g?), I play guitar.
Man in hat: Rob.
Greg: Robo plays drums.
(for this interview Greg will be spelled with one "g". Humblest appologies it's wrong. Sorry.)
SS:How old is the band? How long have you been together in this configuration?
Gary: Bout two months.
Ron: Explain that.
SS: Were you around before that with different people?
Greg: Uh, yeah. The band's been together almost three years. Our singer Ron has just been in the band a few months.
SS: How long has the band been called Black Flag?
Greg: We've been called Black Flag about a year and a half. Before that we were called Panic. We played a lot of the same songs. We changed the name because there was too many other Panics.
SS: Where'd you get the name Black Flag?
Greg: Well Black Flag is a symbol of anarchy, and that's basically where the idea came from.
(ah, so not from the insect repellent!)
SS: On the whole, what are your songs about, lyrically? Love songs, or antisocial songs, or...
Greg: Most of 'em deal with frustration, we don't have any specifically political songs. More general and personal type of songs.
SS: Who writes the lyrics?
Greg: I write most of the lyrics.
SS: And you all collaborate on the music?
SS: How long are your sets?
Gary: About 25 minutes...if we break a string or something.
SS: How drastically different are the audiences from LA to San Francisco to Vancouver?
Gary: Both ends are good...
Greg: And there's a lotta bullshit in between.
SS: You played all the bullshit?
Greg: Some of it, we're gonna play more of it. Vancouver is great. We really like LA a lot too.
Gary: Bands here are really good. They should get and make waves in other places.
SS: Have you played any big-time concerts in LA?
Greg: No, no. There's a whole lotta bands in LA, and they only back major bands half the time.
Ron: We played with Madness.
Greg: The Dils backed up the Clash one time. X backed up Devo, but they very seldom do that.
Gary: Madness wasn't a concert, just a regular gig.
SS: Ever been to the east?
Greg: No. We wanna go though.
SS: OK, umm...Did you start with the punk "explosion" that happened in LA?
Gary: Not really. We were there.
Greg: We were one of the original punk band in LA. So our style was determined before that. The first punk band around was the Ramones...And the Stooges, so they were our early influences, mostly.
Gary: And MC5.
Greg: Iggy Pop WAS the greatest. He's pretty burnt out now though.
SS: How did your audiences react to you in the very early days?
Gary: Great. It was good.
Greg: We're from the suburbs of Los Angeles. We had some trouble breaking into the LA scene. In fact it took us a couple of years.
Gary: But we got good responses at parties. And that was great. We did that for a long time. Everyone had a good time. But it took a long time to get into the cool LA/Hollywood scene.
SS: OK, what or who are your favorite bands?
Gary: Right now? Hmmm...
Greg: The Subhumans.
Gary: Subhumans and DOA....and Rabid!
Greg: Ya, but hey, there's a lotta great LA bands. I have about 20 favorite bands, and the one I saw last is always my favorite.
Gary: Germs and X and The Plugz. Fear. I like Fear a lot.
Greg: Spittin' Teeth (or Spit & Teeth). They're great.
SS: What do you sound like?
Gary: It's all real hard, and pretty damn fast mosta the time. The songs are short, doesn't sound like the Stooges, doesnt sound like the Sex Pistols, or the Ramones.
SS: Is it punk like the Subhumans or varied like The Dead Kennedys?
Gary: It's different than the Subhumans and its not arty like The Dead Kennedys.
Greg: It's something in between that.
SS: Any immediate plans for further recording?
Greg: LP in about...March. So hopefully next time we...We're gonna try to come back up here in April. We're gonna hopefully have an album out by then.
SS: So this is gonna break it for you?
Greg: Well its not a major label...
Gary: But break our pockets, yeah.
Greg: It's a very small operation, we're just trying to scrape thing together and do it.
SS: Where's your leather jacket?
Gary: Oh we got new uniforms up here.
Greg: Some guy called him punk ass motherfucker and he retreated. (much laffter)
Gary: You mean when I took them off? I took em off cause it was dark. Now I've switched to leisure suits. (flashes his double knits). It's comfortable.
Greg: We're all gonna wear leisure suits.
Gary: So this is our spring fashions.
SS: Are they any LA bands that get a lot of press under the punk banner that you think they don't deserve it or aren't punks?
Greg: ..........Well The Knack have been called punk.....I don't really care if bands get a lot of press they don't deserve. As long as the people hear about the other bands, that's OK.
SS: Whattaya think of the Pointed Sticks? Musically or lyrically. That type of music.
Greg: Basically I don't really like it. It doesn't do anything for me.
Gary: I like the drummer as a guitarist.
Greg: Ya, yeh, Rude Norton is fun! I've only seen them one time, and uh, I guess the lyrics are a fault. Not my idea of fun really. There's alot of bands in LA like that.
SS: Like who?
Greg: Oh,hundreds in LA. Literally.
SS: What about the Young Canadians?
Greg: We heard their record. Uh, it's funny but uh...We like The Subhumans, (laughter), and DOA, Rabid....
Ron: The Dishrags.
Greg: We like them. That type of thing.
SS: Heard The Devices?
Greg: Uh uh.
SS: Heard The Payolas?
Gary: Whats TV like here?
SS: Uh, Nite Dreems on Channel 10 will take local video tapes.
Gary: What about radio?
SS: C-Fox MIGHT play local stuff on the Import Hour, C-Fun might play stuff in a certain slot. And Alternative Chartbusters on Co-op radio.
Gary: Are you the only fanzine in town?
SS: No there's Idle Thoughts. Used to be Snotrag and Public Enemy and Vacant Lot. What about LA zines?
Gary: Quite alot.
Greg: Slash, Flipside, Panic, Addicted.
Gary: A lot of small ones that may or may not publish again. Why don't you Vancouverites start publishing your ideas? C'mon.
SS: Have you heard the Vancouver Complication?
Greg: I thought it had too many artsy fartsy bullshit on it. The good stuff was mixed in with all this stuff I don't really care for.
SS: What are your fave releases from Van.?
Gary: Subhumans EP and Triumph of the Ignoroids
Greg: I like all the DOA ones.
Gary: I like "The Prisoner".
Greg: I listened to one side of the Dishrags single and it was alright.
Gary: Rabid should record.
Greg: Or somebody should record Rabid.
SS: Uh, let's see. Whattya think of The Dils?
Greg: I like The Dils. Except they just broke up. I really like em. They had a unique style. They vary. Some times they were boring, and other times they were just real inspired. Any band's that way, just about. But for the west coast they're one of the best.
SS: What real good British bands have come to LA? Some of the best shows?
Greg: Well, I saw The Sex Pistols in San Francisco and that was pretty good. But other than that I was really disappointed in The Buzzcocks, just about every other British band.
Gary: I liked Sham when the came.
Greg: Sham 69 was pretty good. But I think there are better bands just in LA and San Francisco. In fact, I really think there are better bands just in LA than there are in England.
SS: OK, what was school like for you?
Greg: For me its OK y'know. I went through a lot of school. I went to college, I graduated.
Gary: I went to high school in LA when they had the teacher strikes, I got sent to a private boarding school. Got kicked outta there then I went to college. Four years.
Ron: I skipped outta eleventh grade.
Robo: I didn't go to school.
Greg: Oh yeah! Sure. He want to the army! Thats were he got his military attitude. No, he went to school.
SS: Did you go to school together?
Gary: No. Him and I (pointing to Greg) met in '76. No early '77. We were in different bands. We rented a rehearsal space right next to each other. It was a big party scene.
Greg: Ron what did you do?
Ron: I played drums in a band called Red Cross.
Greg: They're on compilation record, its really good. It's called the Siren from LA.
Ron: Don't buy it.
Greg: No, it's good. 2 outta 3 of the bands on it are really hot.
SS: What was the name of your band (Gary)?
Gary: The Worms.
SS: What about Robo?
Robo: This is my first band.
SS: OK, what about politics?
Gary: We don't want a new boss.
Greg: Yah, good line. We don't need a boss.
SS: What are your feelings on drugs?
Gary: I don't care whether people do or don't, personally. It's their choice but basically, drugs are a pretty big burnout. One of the worst problems with the LA scene.
Greg: The music that we play...well we have a lot of difficulty doing it, and we have a whole lot more difficulty if we're on drugs. It's really impassible to play, and if we played all the time, it would be impossible to do any drugs.
SS: Are you interested in riding skateboards or surfing? (That's sposed to be funny)
Gary: No. Ha, I saw a skateboard park up here.
SS: Yeh, its an embarrassment. Do you see any slight chance in your musical direction for the near future? Like right now ska is big, and also some reviving of old rocknroll tunes...
Greg: I'm interested in some of the various forms of punk rock, but I don't see ourselves making a concious change...
Gary: We're not gonna do a reggae song or a folk-punk song. Rockabilly...none of that.
SS: What do you think of the use of the term Punk Rock? Is it dated?
Greg: No,I don't think its dated.
Gary: There's a little book that comes out called Punk Rock and its a list of rules.
Greg: Yeh. When I first started in punk rock, one of the main reasons I liked it was it's lack of rules. And now it seems like on a lot of the scenes, one of the main things is rules. You have to play a certain way, you have to have to have certain types of lyrics. I think its real confining if you think along those lines. I'm looking towards a way to resist that. Yet I think the best and most creative bands are those called punk rock bands.
SS: Do you call yourselves a punk band?
Greg: Yeh. Well, we call ourselves different things. If we wanna play in a park or something, we'll call ourselves a rock band. Or if we play at a new wave club we'll say we're a nice new wave band. Then when we show up, they find out just what we are. Boy do they.
Gary: We played this park. Polliwog park. About 2,000 people showed up to see us and the other "new wave" bands that were playing. A minor riot ensued.
SS: Are there any concerts in LA being done as Rock Against Racism or Prisons?
Greg: There was one Rock Against Racism free show in a park. They had some really shitty bands.
Robo: DOA was on the bill, but they didn't show up.
SS: What do you think of so-called punk bands that may be lyrically anti-society or whatever but musically are wishy washy? Should they be called a punk band?
Greg: I think the main thing is your attitude. That can come across in music or lyrics or both. I wouldnt say it has to sound any certain way to be punk rock, that's where the rules come in.
Gary: There are bands that look OK, spiky hair, black leathers, and then they sing about blood and violence, shoot your teacher, kill the ice-cream man...and they're boring.
Greg: Yeah, I'd rather hear a band with maybe a lighter sound, but a real attitude. I think that's more important.
SS: What do you think of Tom Robinson?
Greg: I don't like the music.
SS: What about as a person. Are you assured of his authenticity?
Greg: I don't know and I don't really care cause I don't want to listen to him.
SS: What about the Clash?
Gary: I think the Clash smoke too much pot.
Greg: They should get off that stoner habit and get back down to reality. I think basically theyre a good band. (looks of dissaproval from various witnesses in the room) They can smoke pot if they want, but they should let other bands on the bill play as loud as they do.
SS: Are you gonna ever get a manager, or can you handle things on your own pretty good?
Greg: We don't need one. If we would get one, it would have to be someone who believes in the same things as we do.
SS: What do you think of the mod revival?
Greg: I've only heard Madness(?) and I really don't like them.
SS: What about then...The Specials?
Greg: I've heard The Specials and I really don't care for them either. If people want to dance around though, then thats fine, I just prefer lyrics that cut a little and music that does the same. I see a lot of the music coming out now is similar to the early 60's. It's just, "lets forget about things, let's have fun, lets just hop around and have a good time". That's not why I play music, and thats not why I listen to music.
Greg: I'd rather hear a band with substance 99% of the time.
Gary: It's not that we don't have a good time. We have a good time doing this.
Greg: Ya, I think you can have a good time, and at the same time say something. Get a little crazed.
Gary: You get a LOT more crazed if there's something behind what you're doing.
Greg: I'm not into Cool. A lot of the bands like the B-52s, or Madness...They're into Cool. That's what I'm
SS: What are some of your favorite English bands, and what's the major problem with youth today?
(An easy one)
Gary: Who's coming outta England right now...
Greg: Stiff Little Fingers.
Gary: Yeh, I guess that would have to be it for me......UK Subs is good.
SS: What about the Angelic Upstarts?
Gary: I like em alright,but....They get me off but they're a little recycled.
Greg: I gotta repeat myself again, the best bands are coming out of the west coast. I like the Subhumans and DOA (laughter at the inevitable quote) better. And the youth thing...Hey, it's the same old problem. Everybody has a choice to make, they're gonna...y'know...
SS: Are things lookin up?
Greg: No they're lookin about the same. If you think it's lookin up, then you relax. If you think they're lookin down, then you neutralize. It's about the same y'know?
Gary: Don't take it easy.