Damaged I, with Dez singing, is what turned me onto Black Flag. That song is five years of American punk rock condensed into four-and-a-half minutes of snarl and thrash. It's everything hardcore should be, while throwing away everything hardcore was expected to be. It was loud, slow, intelligible, and it seethed with anger.
Black Flag were the most intense band to come out of America since the Stooges, and I love 'em for it. When I decided to interview Kyle about Solger I knew I had to talk about Black Flag too—Kyle is an archetypal hardcore kid: saw Black Flag, sang with them, arranged their next few visits to town, formed his own band to play with them, and finally just drifted away from it...
What follows is nominally about Black Flag, but Kyle was happy to share his memories of managing Ten Minute Warning, sitting on the board of directors for Tobacco Smokers of America, being a punk in dangerous times, and the vagaries of promoting shows.
OBIK: Do you wanna do Black Flag first or Solger first?
KYLE: Whatever you want, whatever you need.
OBIK: Okay, then I'll do Black Flag first.
OBIK: How did you find out about Black Flag to begin with?
KYLE: Well, because I read all the mags that were out at the time, anything that was available and out there, out of LA—
OBIK: Slash magazine, Search and Destroy.
KYLE: Yeah, anything up and down the west coast. I'd gotten sick of the British thing and the east coast and all of their stuff. Anything, any product, that was from our coast.
I remember reading about—well first of all anarchy, just the word anarchy. I didn't know what that meant until the Sex Pistols. I think that's true with most of the kids. What is anarchy? I just didn't have a clue until I heard the Sex Pistols. Then Crass came by and expanded that, and the Black Flag is one of the symbols of anarchy, so when I first saw the words Black Flag I thought, "Oh, this is an anarchist band here on our coast. Great!" So I read this article—I think it was in Hermosa Beach or Huntington Beach or somewhere—and the first article I read about them was about a riot.
OBIK: They had a number of riots.
KYLE: Yeah, it was like a constant scene, and I was thinking, "Man, I've gotta see this band or meet these guys." Well, the guy who was doing most of the shows up here in Seattle—he'd already booked the Dead Kennedys and such, and I put flyers up for him for that show and some others—he booked Black Flag at the Bahamas.
I went and talked to him because it was an over-21 club and I was 17. I asked him how come he booked them for over-21, and he said that he didn't know anything about these guys, and if they were a big deal. They'd sent him an EP, and he gave it to me, and that was the first Black Flag EP in Seattle.
OBIK: Nervous Breakdown.
KYLE: Yeah, so I took that thing home and listened to it and sang to it over and over and over and over (laughs).
I had two friends, a buddy named Tom, and Patty and Chris, these two girls. We were like a crew. We just listened to that thing over and over and over again, so on the night of the show, I figured, "Screw my buddies, I'm gonna try to sneak in by myself," since it's easier for one to get in than four. I was doing my best to break into this nightclub and I couldn't do it. My wife was there at that show—my current wife. In fact the West Side Lockers played, they're out of Olympia, they played the first night, but they're not on that flyer.
The next day, I think it was Chris, the girl, called me and said, "You're not going to believe this but Black Flag's up at Tom's house." Tom was an indian guy, Sitka indian.
I grabbed my camera, cruised up there and started filming, first Ron Reyes, he was sleeping on the couch, then the guys waking up and me introducing myself (laughs). Chris told them about me. I filmed them all that day—a little piece here, a little piece there—and they got to know me. I told them how much we liked the EP, how much we listened to it, and we started talking about setting up an all ages show.
Robo snuck me into the show that night and I hid behind the drum kit and all that. I got to sing with them, and even hurt Gary when I smashed into him while he was playing. It was a blast and they hung out at my house after that.
Then we did the all ages show.
OBIK: In February of '80?!
KYLE: No, the all ages show was in May.
For this show the bands were the West End Lockers as special guests, Exquisite Corpse, and Chinas Comidas—those bands don't go together at all.
OBIK: I can tell by the names...
KYLE: Right. There was a guy in Exquisite Corpse, his name was Dag, and he was Tor's brother. These guys were like the early punk rock stuff like the Telepaths. They were the whole art thing...I don't know if you've ever heard the Telepaths' Frozen Darling.
OBIK: No, no.
KYLE: It's just, it's like the whole pre-Ministry, well before Bill Rieflin was in that band—it's just really dark, weird....art.
OBIK: Screamers type stuff.
KYLE: Yeah. The Screamers were actually from here.
OBIK: The Tupperwares.
KYLE: Yeah. So you had that kind of group of people doing that kind of weird. They were all playing off the whole New York scene, which I found tiresome, and Chinas Comidas was a really bad version of that sort of stuff. So we started working on a plan to get them back to Seattle. It was on May 2nd—that was when they came back.
What happened then is we'd gone out, me and my crew, to call Crass—in the middle of the night because they were in England. We went out to my buddy's mom's real estate office, and we were just gonna break in there and use their telephone because we didn't wanna pay for a long distance telephone call. We went over there, started to break in, but the door was open, so we just walked in there. They had a jug of wine in the refrigerator, so we drank some wine and then we stole the xerox machine.
KYLE: I don't know if you've seen the flyer that has Black Flag, the Subhumans, and Vains...
OBIK: Yeah, you have that up on the website.
KYLE: I made that flyer with that stolen xerox machine.
OBIK: How on earth did you steal a xerox machine? They were huge then!
KYLE: We took the xerox machine, carried it out—it took all of us to carry the sucker out—and we put it in the back of the station wagon. When we pulled out there was a cop sitting across the street and we're all shitting our pants, trying to be cool.
We took it up to Tom's place, where Black Flag stayed last time, and he said, "No way, get this thing outta here," so I took it home, put it in my garage, made the flyer for the show on it, and then I sold the machine to Black Flag for $200.
OBIK: So is that the SST xerox machine?
KYLE: I don't know if they still have it, but I sold it to them for $200 because I needed the deposit for the hall (laughs).
OBIK: Oh, so this was all kinda last-minute, spur of the moment stuff.
KYLE: Well, I needed to come up with some money, and they were willing to pay $200 for it, so they payed for the hall by buying the machine.
I found a guy with this really nice sound system that he brought in, and he saw all these kids—all underage—drinking, drunk off their gourds, no security—I hired no, zero, security (laughs)—and he just said, "I'm out of here."
So Chris Utting from the Vains—he was in the Muffs later—said he'd bring his band's practice PA, but he wanted to charge me the same amount that the guy with the real nice sound system was gonna charge me, and that pissed Greg and Gary off big time. They were just pissed, and they said, "No way, that's just totally fucked, bending us over a barrel like this."
Ron Reyes and one of the guys from the Vains had an argument in the bathroom, and when Ron was up there singing, a guy named John, who was friends with the Vains, threw a quarter and hit Ron just under the eye. That just set off...fisticuffs...people flying on the stage...people flying off the stage.
OBIK: That was the riot you mentioned on the website?
KYLE: Oh yeah. They...people just started going crazy because there was so much tension, so many people were drunk, and there was no security, no one to pull people apart.
OBIK: It was a free-for-all.
KYLE: I'm seventeen and I'm hammered—ripped—and I'm sitting back and enjoying the mayhem. There was a kid there named Al who was in the Bludgeoned Pigs—I heard just recently from Joey Shithead that he passed away—and he tried to commit suicide on-stage by slashing his wrist with a broken beer bottle, so this was...
OBIK: That's pretty fucked.
KYLE: (laughs) It was like the show to end all shows. The police came, and the fire department came, and they closed the show down.
Some kids destroyed the stairwell to the public defender's office that was in the same building.
OBIK: That was probably a bad move.
KYLE: Yeah, they tried to sue me over that and I said that the contract I'd signed with them was worthless because I was seventeen, and my signature was nothing. That upset them, but I had 'em...I wasn't legally able to sign that contract.
The show was pretty much a break even deal, but from what people tell me, they say, "Kyle, you took the money from the show and you went down Longacres Racetrack and you blew it all."
I don't recall that, but it's certainly a possibility. All I remember is that I pretty much broke even.
OBIK: Did you hang out with the Flag after the show?
KYLE: Yeah. At that point they hung out at my house—I was talking to my mom about it last night—and they were there for about a half-week to a week and the whole neighborhood knew it—they had their van painted with Black Flag on it.
We went to a whole bunch of movies, we saw Apocalypse Now, and then we went to a drive-in theater where Gary was making out with Chris—one of my female friends—and they were just hanging out. We went to Renton, which is just south of Seattle, to this theater—we were drinking—and Ron—in the middle of the movie—stands up, unzips his pants and starts pissing, right there in the middle of the theater, dead center (laughs). We were heading for the door before they could kick us out.
OBIK: And then they came back on August 16th?
KYLE: Solger played with them in August. They came back around and we'd managed to get our band together. We'd been together...I don't know...a month and a half by then and that was...I actually did that show sober. I have a tape of that and it's actually the only show I ever did sober.
KYLE: Dez was in the band then. The thing that was cool about him was that he would actually sing off beat. I don't know how many times...did you ever see Dez?
OBIK: No, too young.
KYLE: Keith, to me, was the perfect singer. Ron Reyes just copied the way Keith sang. It was probably Greg saying, 'Sing it like this.' I don't know what the deal was with Dez, but he would sing off the music, and I would sit there in the crowd and just look at him and watch him singing off the beat, and I just thought it was just the greatest...
OBIK: And he had that rasp too.
KYLE: Well, he was from Jersey, so he had that east coast thing in him, even though he'd been in Red Kross with Ron and these guys were buddies and stuff, he still had an east-coastness in him and he would wear a football jersey, which was totally uncool at the time. People weren't wearing football jerseys back then, and he wasn't afraid to wear whatever pleased him.
He also walked the stage, back and forth at the front of the stage like a caged lion or something, just back and forth and back and forth, with such intensity, and singing off beat...it was just...the best performance you'll ever see. It was wonderful to watch the guy.
And he was kind. You couldn't meet a kinder guy. Gary was extremely kind—there was nothing threatening about them except for when they got on-stage, then the intensity of their music lit the place up. Greg was probably the most intense, but he was very quiet.
OBIK: Yeah, I've heard that about him.
KYLE: He pretty much ran the show, very smart, very quiet—and he smoked a lot of pot—but he pretty much ran everything from the background. I remember after we played with them we went to Portland and played with them—
OBIK: But there was an afterparty on the 16th first...
KYLE: Right, right, and that's when the Fartz actually had their first show, at that afterparty. A guy from Rolling Stone went over there to the afterparty with us, and he actually thought we played better than Black Flag. He thought that we were really raw, and we always were raw.
OBIK: Do you know if the guy from Rolling Stone actually reviewed the show in Rolling Stone?
KYLE: No, he did not.
KYLE: He was a longhaired guy, and he stood out big time. He pulled up in a limo—
KYLE: —and he just did not belong.
OBIK: And then you went up to Portland. Was that planned in advance or was it just Black Flag saying, "Hey, come along?"
KYLE: Our unofficial manager, Mike Vrainey, who was the DKs and TSOLs manager later, he set it up.
He said, "Hey, I'll give you $25 if you'll go down there with them." Then they called Urban Renewal, and they came down to get us and we went down there with them. People in Portland knew us though, our first show was with the Neo Boys and a band called the Stand who broke up in my apartment at a party.
The Stand went to my apartment, where I was living with two girls, Chris—the one girl who helped with the burglary—and another girl. We were living in a rat-infested place, and they had a party there. The Stand broke up, so Mike said, "Well, the Stand broke up, do you guys wanna fill in for them?" So when we went to Portland with Black Flag we already knew the Stand and the Neo Boys.
The show with Black Flag was really good, but one of the guys from the Stand stole Greg's lucite guitar.
OBIK: The clear one?
OBIK: That was pretty stupid.
KYLE: That guy was a total jerk.
OBIK: What did you have to do to get it back?
KYLE: I think there was a beating...there was a little bit of violence involved. That guy eventually got killed...I don't remember if he got shot or stabbed or what. He finally pushed someone's button the wrong way. His name was Mark.
I remember the night that the Stand broke up in Seattle we were walking up the avenue and there was kind of a punks vs. rockers situation. These rockers came at us with this 2x4 and Mark just let the guy hit him with it, then grabbed it and started pounding on this car (laughs).
KYLE: We were just...fuck, here come the rockers and (tape garbles).
The Stand were pretty good and I'm amazed that there's no record of them. I've looked for them in punk journals and stuff, but nothing. Just on that one flyer. I thought they became Poison Idea because they had a big fat singer and they were big dudes, but they didn't.
OBIK: And Black Flag came back to Seattle on February 14, 1981. I'm kinda curious, did you go up to Vancouver to see them on the 13th, at the Hardcore '81 festival?
KYLE: One of the Vancouver shows they didn't play because they had Chris in the van and they got sent back at the border. We went there several times to watch them play but I don't remember '81...who was on that bill?
OBIK: Uh...DOA, No Alternative, 7 Seconds—they came up from Reno.
KYLE: Okay, no I did not see that show. There was a No Alternative/Black Flag show that I made a flyer for.
OBIK: The 14th.
KYLE: Yeah. The Fartz wanted on that bill and I said no. I just wanted two good bands. They were furious (laughs). My scooter got vandalized that night, it got trashed, the brake lines were cut. Very mysterious (laughs).
OBIK: And that night you sang Louie Louie.
KYLE: Yeah, actually I sang "Jesus, Jesus, fuck me, fuck me." I did the Exorcist version of that. That was a crazy night.
By that time they'd started letting people come up and sing...it wasn't as much of a novelty as it was early on.
OBIK: When you sang Nervous Breakdown with them.
KYLE: Right. I really got pretty juiced for it. I didn't realize I could do it. I knew the songs, I knew how to be aggressive, I just didn't...
OBIK: Was it singing Nervous Breakdown that inspired you to form Solger?
KYLE: Yep. I'd already written all these songs. I'd written Raping Dead Nuns even before this point and some other songs that never had music made for them.
Once I did that, that's when I started looking to find the right person, and Paul put an ad in the paper. He wanted to do more of a New York thing, but I talked him into more of an aggressive Black Flag mixed with Darby Crash. He still had kind of a Stooges thing going on in the background.
OBIK: Do you know if Flag came back up in '81?
KYLE: Yeah, they came up several times every year.
OBIK: February 14th is the only Seattle date I have down for '81 right now.
KYLE: There were two other shows in Seattle during the Ron Reyes/Dez era in Seattle. While watching BF play, I think at Gary's Place or Rock Club, or something like that, in Vancouver BC, somebody suggested that they play in Seattle at Cleve Land, which was a party house in Seattle's University District. I forget the name of the band and guys that lived there, but it was the same house where Doug and I picked a fight with the Dead Boys. Anyhow, Black Flag played until the police showed up and then they played Police Story once they were told to cease and desist, the Seattle police then shut the power off. The other pre-Henry show was at the Russian Hall on Beacon Hill. The owner of the Hall just freaked out when the slam dancing starting and called the SPD to get everybody out of his place. Fear of it being trashed, I guess. The police officers were telling kids to disperse while simutanuously beating them with their batons. The kids were trying to get out in an orderly fashion but were being beaten as they went out the front door, it was fucked up.
Hmmm...I put a show on with them in...'83?
OBIK: With the Meat Puppets and Ten Minute Warning.
OBIK: August 7th.
KYLE: I did that show, and that's the last time I saw them and the last time we spoke. I had...no, actually I did speak with them, they helped me out of one last jam.
Here's what happened. There was this show...I was under kinda tight constraints. We were having this thing called Seafair up here—a big huge thing where all the Navy ships come in and the whole town parties like a Seattle Mardi Gras. It's just based on boats and people drinking. A guy got killed like two years ago...but anyhow, I had to rent police officers for the show because the hall said, "You're the Kyle Nixon from the Washington Hall show, we know the people from the Washington Hall, and they've told us about you. We want a damage deposit and police officers in the house." Plus I had their in-house security that I had to pay for too. I got a 2000 watt sound system, which was hard to find but what I needed to fill the hall, and I made the agreements.
I did all my shows with fraud, by the way. I always used fraud or thievery.
KYLE: I had a fake company called Tobacco Smokers of America that I was president of, with Blaine Cook of the Fartz.
OBIK: Were you actually incorporated or was it all bullshit?
KYLE: All bullshit. I did get a city license though, so I could open up a bank account and get a check book. I went and I got some tickets printed for this Black Flag and Meat Puppets show, and there was no money in my account, just the few dollars to open it. Of course, the check bounced, the printer called me, and so on.
I had to wait until I got enough money from the ticket salespeople to pay for the tickets I'd printed, plus the bounce charge, plus the deposit. I just kinda sat back and waited, went around the record stores collecting money.
My idea was never to have to put money up front for punk shows.
Anyhow, I had the whole inside covered—any damage to the building. We had security in the bathrooms even, a woman in the women's bathroom, a man in the men's.
I had 660 people in a 240 capacity room.
There was no damage to building, but during their set Black Flag blew out part of the PA and it was like $350 of damage. So we sat down at the end of the night—this was actually the first time I'd met Henry and it was more just a kinda, "Hi, I'm Kyle" than anything else.
I paid out the money, and the deal was that Black Flag would pay the Meat Puppets so-much money, and I think Ten Minute Warning were free—I used to manage them and putting them on the bill was just a favor—and me and Black Flag would split whatever was left, except if there were damages—I would be responsible for the property and they'd be responsible for whatever they destroyed. I took the $350 out of their half, which really pissed them off. We'd been friends ever since they first came to Seattle—they'd slept in my bed, eaten my food, those sort of things. I made a business decision, and I walked out of there with $1240, and I think they had $800 or something like that.
But they did help me out, I had one more thing with those guys—I had decided to bring the Circle Jerks up to Seattle instead because they hadn't been here.
There was a club called the Metropolis—
OBIK: In Portland?
KYLE: No, in Seattle.
OBIK: Oh, there was a gay club called the Metropolis in Portland.
KYLE: No, this was Seattle. A lot of bands would call me, especially from the east coast—the DC bands—because Black Flag would give them my name and tell them to call me about Seattle. They'd send me their records, and I'd give them Hugo's number at the Metropolis, and I'd get free records that I thought were shit...but I made a deal with Hugo that I'd do shows and pay him afterwards, because I didn't have any money.
So, I was gonna do the Circle Jerks show and I'd contacted Steve Gold, their manager, and he made me send them $600 up front for travel expenses up there and make sure they'd play. Well, I didn't have the money, so I borrowed it from Blaine.
Then Steve called me and said they weren't going to make it, but I already had people buzzing around town about this show, and I'd already told a college radio station that they could do KCMU presents because I didn't want to do any flyer work. I didn't want to let anyone in for free for putting up flyers—nothing. And for Blaine giving me the money I put Malfunkshun on the bill, which had Andy Wood, later in—
OBIK: Did Hüsker Dü play that too?
KYLE: Yeah, here's the thing about Hüsker Dü, they called me up because they got the number from Black Flag. They said, "Kyle, we heard the Circle Jerks are coming to town and we were wondering if we could get on the bill because we're playing with them in Portland." I said, "Well, what do you want?" and they said, "Oh, a hundred, two hundred bucks, whatever."
I put them on the bill and I've actually got a pretty good lineup by now—Circle Jerks, Hüsker Dü, Malfunkshun. I hadn't heard Malfunkshun, though I knew them all, they were all cool kids. I was in Solger, and they all thought I was a cool guy.
OBIK: I've got a flyer for this show, actually.
KYLE: Someone actually made a flyer for that show...
OBIK: It's not a very good flyer, but...
KYLE: It was probably made by the Malfunkshun guys. They were so happy to be on the bill.
Anyhow, the Circle Jerks thing fell apart—Steve called me and said they weren't going to come.
I didn't tell anybody. I knew almost a month ahead of time, that this thing was not gonna happen, but I told nobody (laughs).
On the night of the show everyone's done their soundchecks—Hüsker Dü played Portland the night before and the Circle Jerks didn't show up there, and I was stalling, acting like I was waiting for the Circle Jerks to show up and I said, "Screw it, I don't think they're gonna come. Let's just have Hüsker Dü headline. Malfunkshun will open for them and we'll drop the price to $5, and if you don't want to watch, I'll refund your money." I told the crowd that.
It was 9:00, and there were some pretty angry people who wanted to see the Circle Jerks—and I had wanted to see them too—but most of the people came in for $5. Deranged Diction were there because they were friends with the Malfunkshun guys, so we put them on the bill too—hey, they're from Montana, they can play.
So I had Deranged Diction open, then Malfunkshun, then Hüsker Dü. At the end of the show Hüsker Dü came up to me, I handed them the $200 and they looked at me and said, "$200? We were the headliner." They were pissed.
Anyhow, I couldn't repay Blaine that $600, I needed to get that money back from the Circle Jerks. So Black Flag pretended that they were gonna sign up with Steve Gold's management group in order to get that $600 back, and as soon as I got the money they called off the deal...so that was the last actual contact I had with Black Flag.
After that, I just stopped.
OBIK: What happened that turned you off so much?
KYLE: The thing with Henry, I'd seen him in a show where he'd taken off a girl's shirt, and I thought that was just outta line. I mean, she had a bra on, but that was just crossing the line for me. And he just didn't fit in with...I don't know what the DC scene was like or whatever but the west coast, we're not like that...uh, where are you calling from?
OBIK: East coast, DC.
KYLE: We're just not like that here. We're serial killers, but we don't take off a girl's shirt on-stage. And the other thing was...when Black Flag played the riot here, they invited me to go stay with them at the Church. I was in love with this girl though, my first wife, and I declined.
When they were in between singers, when Dez wanted to play guitar, I heard Mike X-Head, from the Decline of Western Civilization had been named their new singer. I was at work when I heard it, and I remember I was so pissed off. I was just like, "Fuck, I can't believe they let this dickhead sing," because I would have given anything to sing for Black Flag.
OBIK: A lot of people would.
KYLE: And then Henry came along, and his personality and build was really very macho, and...my build...Dez's build, the build of the Black Flag guys—
OBIK: They're scrawny.
KYLE: —is scrawny, white middle class or working class schmoes. That said to any loser out there that you can put out a powerful thing without being some tough guy, but when you look at Henry he was like this macho guy.
OBIK: He was like that, even before Flag.
KYLE: Yeah, he totally changed the look of the band and all of a sudden these meatheads would show up and start smacking people around and it just got really...not fun. It wasn't fun being out there slam dancing. It became brutal. I just thought that was the decline, it just ruined it. I didn't mind getting a bloody nose every once-in-a-while from a stray elbow, but with the new people, it was...
OBIK: They were going out there to hurt people, not dance.
KYLE: Yeah, they were jocks. When I was in Solger I weighed probably no more than 150 pounds—I was thin. And I was a vegetarian and anemic.
I hated jocks, and when you look at Henry he's got that real muscular look. He just represented everything I could not stand. He disturbed me.
I liked Damaged when that came out, but I just thought...they're not the same, they're not the same guys that mowed the lawn and shot hoops and I watched movies with and...I just kinda lost touch.
OBIK: We skipped over '82. Did you see them when they played Seattle on July 4th?
KYLE: Who'd they play with?
OBIK: I don't...Saccharine Trust.
KYLE: Yeah, '82, that was when he took the shirt off the girl. I talked to a guy from Saccharine Trust and I asked if he was at that show and he said he wasn't in the band at that time. Yeah, they played at the Mountaineers' Club, I think.
And that was supposed Cobain's first real punk rock show, but it wasn't really. He claimed in one article that it was the Mountaineers' thing, and I think that's the Saccharine Trust show.
OBIK: And what are your thoughts on Black Flag in general, from Keith to Henry?
KYLE: Black Flag is and was the quintessential, greatest hardcore band of all time. Period.
If you have their First Four Years and Damaged on CD, you've got it. First Four Years is the best, and then Damaged is the backup. To me that's the best hardcore. Now my favorite is the Germs' MIA—I've got two copies of that and every kinda bootleg you can get.
OBIK: Fanatical Germs fan.
KYLE: Yeah. The thing with Black Flag is they were tight and they practiced and they toured hard. Those guys hit the country, town to town, and built up a network, slept in people's homes, they made friends, inspired people like me to start bands by letting kids get up there and grab the mic and sing Louie Louie with them, and they really got hardcore to spread. Whereas the Germs were like us, a local band who refused to leave their neighborhoods almost (laughs) and didn't practice, and just were good at being...fuckups, which to me is like the ultimate punk. So they're the ultimate punks and Black Flag are the ultimate hardcore band.
OBIK: Okay, lemme flip the tape and then I'll ask you about Solger...