The fact that Dead Kennedys are a staple of punk history is not up for debate. And neither are the reasons why: it’s clear that their ability to shape the political awareness of more than one generation with untamed chords and biting words has been entirely unparalleled. We had the honour of catching up with founding member and guitarist East Bay Ray, ahead of the legends hitting our shores in September to talk about koala bears, Google and what’s next for Dead Kennedys.
Hey Ray, how are you going?
I’m doing okay, how are you?
Well thank you. You came to Australia in 2011 for a limited number of dates. What are you excited about for the tour this time around?
We had a great, great time when we toured in 2011 and we were supposed to play last year but my left wrist developed carpal tunnel syndrome. I’ve since had surgery, we’ve toured the United States and Europe, so we’re looking forward to this. You have koala bears.
That leads me into my next question –what do you like most about coming out to Australia? Our koala bears?
The koala bears are one…wallabies! (laughs.) I think the thing is that you know, we’re kind of an underground alternative punk band, we’ve never been on a major label. Australia gets very few bands like that –usually they’re major label bands. When we played there the audience just really, really appreciated us and the more the audience appreciates us the more we appreciate playing and the more we appreciate the country. That’s the thing –the audiences. And Australia’s also very much into rock and roll, they’ve had some great bands come out of there –The Birthday Party, even AC/DC.
Not my cup of tea, but they are a classic band.
In my experience it’s always better to have a band like Dead Kennedys in Australia. Is it weird to have a younger generation at your shows?
No, actually it’s quite an honour. In America here, the audience is about 30% from back in the day and 70% new generation and that’s kind of true in Europe too. I think it’s quite an honour for our music to be able to appeal to different generations. Take for example like the band The Moody Blues who play in California every now and then. You know, The Moody Blues will play one of the casinos of Stateline and the audience is the exact same age as the band. And I think for us, to appeal to a new audience, like I say it’s quite an honour and we appreciate it.
Having been around so long you’ve seen the change in the music industry and you’ve spoken a lot about the impact technology has had on independent artists. Talk me through your views on the age of the mp3.
It’s not the technology issue -it’s the internet corporations that are the issue. Basically, the new boss is worse than the old boss. From all the independent musicians I know, I live in the San Francisco Bay area and we have all these tech companies, you know Pandora, Google, Facebook, and we see these 30 year old billionaires walking around making millions of dollars and all the independent artists I know –this is not just musicians but journalists, photographers, independent filmmakers–their livelihood has just been gutted because the internet just gives it away for free. The problem is that people don’t understand the moral difference between sharing with family and friends and distributing on the internet without permission for profit. There’s a website in Russia that has all of the Dead Kennedys’ songs and on the side are ads for Alaska Airlines and 1800 Flowers. So the mob’s making money off music’s clickbait – the more clicks we generate, or if you set up a website to generate clicks, the more money you make in advertising. There are ad agencies, like AdSense with Google and Yahoo has an ad agency –they sell the ads, so they’re making money. And then the search engines like Yahoo and Google feature those rip-off artists on their search engines and then there are ads over on the side. So the internet corporations are making money twice, the mob’s making money and these companies are sharing nothing with the artists –the people that create the things that people come to. And down the road it’s not just gonna be a problem for musicians, there’s problems with Facebook and Instagram where they’ll take one of your personal family photos and use it to advertise some beer that you hate (laughs.)
You know, the whole idea of using your life and your files on the internet to sell advertising without getting people’s consent is gonna be really scary down the road because how can you have liberty if people have no consent?
I totally agree and also with a band as legendary as Dead Kennedys, you’ve inspired so many bands to be politically aware and speak out about political activism. It’s sad that someone else can make money off what you basically own.
Yeah! (laughs.) Basically, it’s kind of going back to share cropper mentalities of the 1800’s. If someone does the work and someone else makes the money and doesn’t share that money isn’t that kind of one of the ways that we define slavery? And the problem is that the mobs are all happy because they’re getting free bon bons you know but you should realise that they’ll give you free bon bons until they come and start taking your stuff and then it’ll be a whole different story.
I really admire the fact that you speak out about it.
Well thank you it’s actually difficult – I get attacked a lot but I’ve gotten better at responding to it. And I think also people, in about the last nine months, are starting to wise up that it’s not kids in basements anymore –these are Wall Street corporations, they’re the new man, they’re the new institution, they don’t wanna change anything. I mean Google’s the second biggest corporation in America, you know? And it’s just funny when somebody supports them over independent artists like Cracker or Cake, some friends of mine, and Dead Kennedys, it’s like you’re supporting the second biggest Wall Street darling over an independent band, how cruel is that?
Are you excited about any new bands on the scene right now?
Well I like the Black Keys. Patrick Carney, the drummer, is actually kind of involved with some of the artists I’m involved with in trying to advocate for artists’ rights.
That’s so cool! I read an interview where you said there’s a pull between political awareness and careers for college graduates. What advice do you have for people who want to voice their opinions on social and political issues?
Actually write a blog. In my experience and talking to other people, Twitter and Facebook are basically filter bubbles –you only see the stuff you like. And I’ve discovered if you post stuff they don’t like it turns into a big hour long argument. You basically cannot change minds on social media. What you need to do is write a blog and use social media to spread that blog …am I making myself clear?
Yeah I totally understand.
Okay. So write a blog and there’s like, for artists’ rights there’s The Trichordist, a music technology blog, Vox Indie blog, Illusion of More. Those are all good places. Actually I have on my agenda to write some blogs for them. But I’ve been touring so much and recovering from my carpal tunnel surgery that I haven’t finished them all.
Arcade Fire recently covered California Über Alles at a show. Did you see that and what was your response to it if you did?
(Laughs.) No comment.
I’ll let people decide for themselves.
Lastly, what’s on the horizon for the Dead Kennedys now?
Well we’re doing more international touring. Skip and I, we attempted to, well we did write new music and as Dead Kennedys we were playing it but the internet just basically stole it from us so we’re still in debt for the recording costs and unfortunately since we don’t have any big label or anything to get people to hear the songs on radio, you know, you can just put them on Spotify but nobody finds them because there’s just too many songs there. So it’s basically ended up that we’ve stopped playing the new songs. But if somebody requests it before the show we’ll throw it in. It’s called Area 51, we’ve played it a lot, but it’s up to the audience.
Okay well I might just request it. Thank you so much for talking to me today, it’s been an honour to talk to you.
Alright, thank you then.
DEAD KENNEDYS AUSTRALIAN TOUR SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 2014
Tuesday, September 30 –Fowlers, Adelaide (All Ages)
With the Bennies
Wednesday, October 1 –170 Russell, Melbourne
With the Bennies
Friday, October 3 –The HiFi, Brisbane
With the Bennies
Saturday, October 4 –Coolangatta Hotel, Coolangatta
With the Bennies
Sunday, October 5 –The HiFi, Sydney
With the Bennies
Wednesday, October 8 –Mona Vale Hotel, Mona Vale
Thursday, October 9 –The Entrance Leagues Club, Entrance
Friday, October 10 –The Small Ballroom, Newcastle
Saturday, October 11 –Capitol, Perth
Full tour details here.