Hardcore punk buzz band OFF! was founded somewhat accidentally in late 2009 by Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides frontman) and the legendary Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks), while Coats was producing a Circle Jerks record. The realisation that it wasn’t working out led to the formation of this new project, rounded out by Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and Mario Rubalcaba (Hot Snakes, Rocket From the Crypt). Kill Your Stereo caught up with OFF! guitarist Dimitri Coats to discuss the band’s recently released self-titled record and their Big Day Out 2013 side shows…we mean, what side shows?
Who actually came up with the name OFF!?
I’m definitely the one who suggested it to Keith, and he seemed pretty excited about it. I don’t think he realised that I was looking at a bug repellent website. I said Raid was taken and I said, "But OFF! isn’t taken," and he’s like, "…That’s actually pretty fucking good… but we have to have the exclamation point."
So I’m assuming the name is sort of a reference to Black Flag?
I think there’s a little bit of a nod of the cap to Keith’s past, yeah. We have fun with that. Calling the first record ‘The First Four EPs’ and stuff like that, using Raymond Pettibon as our artist… yeah, sure, there was a little bit of marketing involved in how we presented ourselves. We have fun with it. Everybody was saying we sounded like early Black Flag, so y’know, why not fuck around with it a little bit?
Yeah, definitely. When you guys first started OFF!, what did you set out to achieve with the band, if anything?
It sort of happened by accident, so it’s difficult to say really. Once we realised people liked it, I think our goal was just to keep writing good songs and write enough songs to where we could release a record. It was really as simple as that. And luckily we’re good live, so any situation we were in where we had to play in front of a crowd seemed to go over really well. It happened very quickly for us, so I don’t really know what to say about that other than we just went with our guts and tried to have as much fun with it as possible.
Were you surprised by how receptive people were?
I was, for sure. I guess more than anything, I was surprised by how many young kids gravitated towards it right away. I mean, I knew that a lot of the old heads would dig it, but I guess I just didn’t realise how important it would ultimately end up to an entire genre of music. That’s pretty rare and pretty fucking cool.
Generally, how does the songwriting process for OFF! work?
It usually takes place in Keith’s living room. I show up, we drink a lot of coffee – maybe too much coffee – and he’ll put on some records and we’ll just hang out and I’ll get to the point where I get really antsy and I’m inspired by what I’m hearing and I’ll just pick up the guitar that’s sitting in the corner of the room and a little amp, and just start wailing on it. And I just keep playing until I come up with something. I’ll string together two or three riffs and I’ll say, "What do you think of that?", and Keith will say, "Well, that second riff, that one’s pretty happening, the first one and the last thing you’re doing is pretty mediocre." And then I’ll say, "Okay, alright, fine", and I’ll start with that second riff and I’ll just keep going and pushing and pushing until I look over and he can’t fucking say anything anymore.
Then I’ll record it and play it through the speakers and I’ll say, "Okay, what are you gonna sing buddy? Now it’s your turn to be under the hot lights," and he’ll usually turn to me and he’ll say, "Well, what would you sing over it?", and that’s when we kind of have fun with the phrasing together. We sort of figure out where the vocals are gonna land on top of the riff, and he’ll be hearing that, and he’ll start to scribble with magic marker on the tops of newspapers and then we sort of strew out all his writing all over the floor, and we’ll just sort of pick out phrases that jump out at us and we start stringing something together. Usually he has an idea of what he wants to talk about for subject matter, and then I’m really hard on him in terms of, like, I want every line to be as classic as possible. Especially when we get to the chorus, I want it to be anthemic and usually like the name of the song (laughs), and that’s really about it. We keep pushing until we feel like, "I’d listen to that".
A lot of OFF!’s songs are only around a minute long. Is that something that just happened?
We just play them so fast. They’re really like three or four minute songs, just played really fast. They have all the structure of what a proper length song would be, it’s just played at 45 RPM as opposed to 33 1/3.
Obviously OFF!’s sound is quite different to your other band, Burning Brides. Did that take some adjusting?
Yes it did. I’d never played guitar like that before, and I remember the first time Keith suggested I pick up the guitar and try to write with him – which was something I wasn’t really prepared to do, I was trying to produce the Circle Jerks record at that time, and that was falling apart. And as it was falling apart, Keith was a fan of my song writing in my other band, Burning Brides, and he was always very supportive. And he put the guitar in my hands and he said, "What would you do? Let me see you write a Circle Jerks song, or a pop rock song." And I started playing and he said, "No no no no no, all down strokes. Never stroke up, always down. We’re after a certain intensity, a certain urgency." And I said, "Okay, give me a second, I’ll try to figure this out." And it took me like an hour to start playing all down strokes with my rhythm hand, and then something started to happen to me, and I just played in a different way and I was therefore writing in a different way. And then almost instantaneously, Keith just… changed. It was really interesting, because I’d known him for years and he just changed. And he got real serious, and he even said at one point, "We need to go on a walk, just record that last riff you’re doing, we need to walk," and I said, "Okay." And we went on a walk and that’s when he told me that the stuff I was starting to play, like, "Fuck the Circle Jerks. That last riff you were playing, that reminds me of my roots in Black Flag. We’re going into a whole different, darker territory now." And that’s when I just went, "Well shit man, if you wanna go there, that’s where I’m going when I play like that."
So maybe that’s part of the secret recipe for this band; the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing half the time. I’m just kinda walking the tightrope on the guitar, and maybe because I’m more of an outsider, you know, having not grown up in the punk or hardcore world, I can have a very fresh perspective. And I don’t really give a fuck if what I’m doing is playing by the rules of that genre. Keith is really my gauge as to what’s passable and what’s unacceptable, y’know, and sometimes I try to push him. As we move forward as a band, I encourage him, like, "Hey look, we have to allow ourselves to develop as a band. We’re gonna stick to this thing that we know is OFF!, but we have to grow as a band." And especially on the new record, we took a few turns that we hadn’t taken before, and there were some really interesting results, y’know, like the song ‘Wrong’ and also ‘King Kong Brigade’.
Considering OFF! is made up of members of such huge bands, what’s the dynamic like? Any egos or anything?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it’s like, you ever see those cooking shows, like Master Chef: Showdown? It’s sort of like, everybody can fucking cook just fine, everybody has had success with their own restaurant and then we’re all supposed to get into a kitchen and cook together. I mean, luckily it works, but there are moments in the kitchen where somebody accuses somebody else of burning some bacon or leaving the tomatoes out too long, and we get in fights for sure. But at the end of the day, we actually do love each other, and we consider each other family, so it’s more like a sibling rivalry than any kind of serious problem that’s going to destroy us.
That’s one of the things we have going for us as far as being older that works to our advantage, and that’s that we’ve hopefully learned from our mistakes as younger guys and we won’t repeat them, and we can diplomatically get through almost any situation. But hey, at the end of the day, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, right? There’s gonna be some stuff you didn’t plan for. It’s fuckin’ war out there! They just give you a parachute and a knife and say, "Good luck," and just throw you out of a plane.
You’ll be coming back to Australia with OFF! for next year’s Big Day Out. How are you feeling about playing a festival like that over here?
Totally awesome. Luckily, we’ve been invited to a lot of these festivals all over the world, like Coachella and Reading and Leeds and Big Day Out, All Tomorrow’s Parties, that kind of thing, and we’re just really happy that we’re being thought of with all the big acts. It makes us feel really special and lucky, and we’re definitely a little bit of the odd man out. If you look at the poster, it’s like, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Band of Horses… OFF!. It’s like, it might as well just say Slayer or something. So we have fun with that. We didn’t set out to do anything other than play parties in our friends’ backyards, so all this stuff is kinda blowing our minds. But hey, we’ll take it as far as we can.
You vaguely mentioned on your Twitter and Facebook pages that you will be doing side shows when you’re here for Big Day Out. Can you give us any more details about those?
…I don’t know what you’re talking about!
I saw it!
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Well… you know, hey, I did post that, and all of a sudden I got an email from our booking agent saying, "Did you post information about the side shows?", and I said, "Hey hey Andy, chill out man, I didn’t give any deets." I didn’t even mention cities, I just said there will be some side shows because all the fans, that’s all they’re talking about is, "You’re coming to Australia and I can’t afford $97 just to see you." Maybe I was going for a lot of ‘Likes’ at 3 o’clock in the morning LA time, you know what I’m saying?
Well I got excited, so I’m looking forward to that. You’ve supported Red Hot Chili Peppers at some shows lately and you’ll be opening for them when you’re in New Zealand early next year as well. How did that come about?
I think it goes back to early Los Angeles punk rock, when Keith was in Black Flag and the Circle Jerks after that. And the Chili Peppers were from that scene a little bit, early on. Also, what a lot of people don’t realise is that Flea played in the Circle Jerks for about a year when Chuck Biscuits was on the drums, so you know, that’s all you really need to know!
What’s it like playing to that type of crowd?
Ha! Well, you know, we opened for them here in Los Angeles, and it was like a bomb went off. People didn’t quite know what to think of us, but we were awesome! It sounded so good on the stage, and I dunno, I think Steven and I especially, we grew up with tennis rackets in front of the mirror, y’know, spitting toothpaste out, pretending to be Ace Frehley and Gene Simmons all at once. And we kinda dig that whole arena rock thing, to a certain extent. It’s just ridiculous for OFF! to be playing at that scope, but hey, life is about experiences, and the catering’s pretty good, so why the hell not?
Yep, exactly! Well, I’ll wrap it up there, but thank you so much for talking to us.
Oh, of course, it was my pleasure, and we’ll see you at the shows, right?
Yeah, the side shows, right?
Side shows? I have no idea what you’re talking about… but I’ll be there.