It’s no surprise that punk supergroup OFF! are very opinionated. Members hail from boisterous acts across the genre’s spectrum, including Black Flag, Hot Snakes and Redd Cross. They’ve fought the power and garnered some seriously heavy-hitting fans. Though popular in their respective bands, OFF! itself has gained international acclaim and celebrity fans like RHCP frontman Anthony Kiedis. Perhaps more surprising than their activism and ideals is exactly what those opinions happen to be about.
I met OFF! in the lobby of the Omni Hotel in downtown Austin during SXSW. Despite the high profile hotel, the band had been staying in a house on the outskirts of town. Our afternoon interview ultimately culminated in the band posing with myself and a buffet salad expertly prepared by guitarist Dimitri Coats. What happened in between was weird as hell and, according to their tour manager, “par for the course.”
We only briefly touched on their latest LP, Wasted Years. It’s an impressive offering that harkens back to their early years growing up in a punk world divided. “I hung out with a bunch of surfers, stoners, skaters, skiiers. There was a certain part of the mentality that was like, ‘Whatever, dude, okay, here we go’ and the other part of the mentality was ‘Let’s not stand around and look at it and try to figure it out; let’s just jump in and do it.’ It was a gung-ho mentality,” frontman Keith Morris explains.
“It also had a bit of athleticism to it. One of the things that happens, where we come from, being at the beach, you’re surrounded by these conflicting mental attitudes: the stoners and the surfers and it was just this mash-up of being around all of these people and watching this big space. The big space would be the Wasted Years”
For Morris and bassist Steve Shane McDonald, their Wasted Years were a shared celebration of their youth, at once terrifying and exciting. The bandmates are still as close as in those early years, even more so due to the fact that McDonald’s wife happens to front That Dog, a quartet Morris’ girlfriend also just happens to also be in.
“I guess it was my fault with letting Keith take me out for the night and let him be my adult supervision for the evening,” McDonald recalls. “There was this one night where we ended up at an IHOP at 5 o’clock in the morning and I wanted to cry because my parents were going to kill me. And we were driving like crazy around Sunset Boulevard. There’s an infamous part called Dead Man’s Curve. The first time I drove Dead Man’s Curve was in the back of Keith’s Impala Chevelle, whatever that thing was and just fearing for my life during Keith’s wasted years.”
The rest of the band seemingly wandered in and out of conversation, eventually ending up in that hotel buffet. Drummer Mario Rubalcalba discussed the band’s problems in London with bedbug-infested accommodations and the aforementioned Coats tried to pass off being the band’s manager, jokingly stating that his guitar speaks for him. For the most part, however, Morris and McDonald held court.
We circled back to the festival itself, to the fact that it’s the things you least expect that you remember the most. “I took a bus ride, the 486 from 6th and Congress to where we’re staying just outside of town. The bus ride was interesting. I stumbled into a place and there was this dude with dreadlocks to his ankles and another dude playing congos,” McDonald says. “They did a reggae version of ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon and I tell you it was ass-kicking and the guy’s name was Mike Love. Totally random, I stumbled into this place. Not Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Mike Love.”
From there, our conversation consistently devolved, albeit hilariously. Morris gave a lighthearted glimpse into a life of healthy living and trying to find more healthful food options on tour. He recently got called out on Facebook for eating at Jimmy John’s and, oddly enough, the criticism stuck with him. “I’m gonna get a Jimmy John’s even though Jimmy John had his photo taken shooting a lion or elephant,” Morris says emphatically.
“A guy wrote me on Facebook asking, ‘How can you eat food by this guy?’ I had to tell him that I’m a diabetic and when we’re out on tour we don’t always get all the great choices. We’re not always in a major city where you can turn around and have some great food here and across the street there’s still great food. A lot of the time, you have to choose between Taco Bell and McDonald’s. Jimmy John’s makes a pretty healthy sandwich. I like it that he takes the loaf. Everybody calls him Jimmy like they know him, but his name is James. James ‘Buffalo Bill who did you kill?’ John. They cut out part of the bun so you’re not getting all carbed out.”
As for what’s next for OFF! it’s presumably a whole lot of Jimmy John’s. The band is currently on tour throughout North America and will be heading into the UK and EU in the fall.