Dead Kennedys
 
 P 
unk Rock Is Not A Cult

Let's begin with what we told the band in the end of this interview - it was a great honor for us to talk to Dead Kennedys, probably the most influential band on the U.S. punk scene of the 1980s. It's been years since the band broke up, and the recent news of the lawsuit filed by guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Claus Fluoride and drummer DH Peligro against singer Jello Biafra made the idea of seeing Dead Kennedys back together a dream that has no chances to come true. Thus, when all of a sudden we learned that Dead Kennedys are coming to Moscow for a gig, this was like a shock to us. Even more shocked we were when we got an opportunity to do an exclusive interview with the whole band, but we couldn't miss such an opportunity. On the day of the show, Dead Kennedys, now featuring new singer Brandon Cruz, did a news conference, and when all the reporters were gone, we took a breath and jumped right in…  

Brandon Cruz, the new man in the band, was the first to answer our questions. Naturally, we started with the activity of his other group, Dr. Know.  

Dr. Know covered "Master Of Puppets" for a Metallica tribute record ("A Punk Tribute To Metallica"). Why did you do this?

Brandon: A label specialized in putting out tribute records asked us to submit a track, so we took a nine-minute metal song and turned it into a five-minute thrash song, we kinda made fun of Metallica, we called that "Napster Of Puppets", because they sued Napster, so that was our way of responding to them.

But the booklet still says it's "Master Of Puppets"… 

Brandon: It's hard to say what I say, because I sing it kind of rough (imitates growling vocals, everybody laughs).

Yeah, because otherwise they would have sued you… 

Brandon: Well, it would have been fun, actually I've been sued by Metallica because of the publicity along with Dr. Know. (laughs) I know Lars and a couple of the guys, and it was just a way of poking fun at them, not to be mean, just to have fun.

At that moment Claus joins in, but he thinks he's supposed to do another interview so he says he can answer just a couple of questions…  

Dead Kennedys' recent live album "Mutiny On The Way" (2001) was recorded a very long time ago, back in the early 1980s. Where were the tapes lying all this time?

Claus: Those tapes were the tapes that were unfortunately stolen by Biafra. We wanted to put out a live album for a long time, but he was more interested in promoting his solo career. He was not putting out, he was not releasing, he was not willing to release, all he did was lip service, he would say, "Oh yeah, I will put something live out soon," but everything we would submit would get, "Oh no no". The same is with the live DVD that's finally coming out in autumn. There was no partnership, everything we offered would get vetoed.  

Now the conversation is joined by East Bay Ray.  

Probably there's some more stuff hiding in the basement…

Claus: There's tons of stuff, there's tons of live tapes, but not all of them are of high quality. We're not gonna put out stuff just to get it out, we're not gonna put out low-quality stuff.

Ray: We have about 40 hours of video tape, but we have edited them. The making of "In God We Trust, Inc." (another video that is coming out soon - ed.) is like a documentary, we discovered it when we were going through the tapes. But that'll be another video. Plus, we also have "Live At The Death Club" tapes, which is the original five-member line-up, a very classic tape. (laughs)

Claus: Was it 1979? That's with 6025 playing the guitar and Ted on drums. Actually you'll be interested in this, it has a version of us doing "Back In The USSR".  

Wow! 

Ray: Yeah, it's the only time we ever played it, and we have it on tape.

Claus: I'd love to talk to Paul about using it. (laughs)

About this guy 6025, we've heard that he has serious health problems. Are you still in touch with him? 

Ray: No, I'm still in touch with his mother, 'cause she's the trustee for him, she gets his royalties.

Is this so serious?

Ray: Yes.

Brandon: Ted actually played with us at our second show after I joined the band. It was in San Francisco. He came in and played one song. That was pretty cool, because I had never met the man. I met them in 1980 or 1979… No, I had met him, just briefly though.

Claus takes this moment to leave, but soon finds out that the people he's supposed to be doing "another interview" with are yours truly, so he comes back to stay.

The song "Moon Over Marin" has some really outstanding surf guitar stuff. It's very unusual to hear tracks like that from a punk band. Ray, what were your influences?

Ray (laughs): I grew up in California, I didn't really listen to surf music that much, but the bigger kids in the neighborhood and my brother and sister used to listen to it, and I kinda absorbed it. But I was also influenced by psychedelic guitar players, in the 1970s I was listening to 1960s stuff, because I didn't like the 1970s stuff that much. I listened to Syd Barrett, the first guitar player of Pink Floyd, and I listened to Jimi Hendrix, then I was also listening to my dad's fusion records. I can play blues too, but it doesn't really fit…

Claus: Which is funny, because Hendrix said, "You will never hear surf music again…"(everybody laughs)

Ray: Well, he wasn't right about everything. (laughs)

Brandon: Drugs may have played a part in that.

Ray: And the other thing is when we started, I didn't have a very good amplifier, I didn't get the sustains, so I did the double picking, which is like Dick Dale sound (Dick Dale is the "original king of the surf guitar" - ed.)..

Some friends of mine from the United States said they wanted to thank you for the song "Nazi Punks Fuck Off". 

Claus (smiling): They're welcome.

…And they were asking if there was any personal experience behind the song.

Ray: Personal experience? 

I mean, did you have nazi guys at your shows or something like that?

Ray: Dead Kennedys very very rarely had nazis or skinheads at our shows. Some bands had a bigger problem, most of those people may come once or twice and stay away, 'cause it's just not good for them. DH, do you have any personal experience with skinheads?

The last phrase was addressed to DH Peligro, a sizeable black gentleman who had been sitting at the table quietly for a while, listening attentively but not joining in.

DH: Yes, I do. (everybody laughs) You know, some skinheads would show up and they would wear racial T-shirts reading "if they're black send them back," and… there were another incidents where skinheads would just treat me a certain way, not all skinheads, I don't really know if they were fascist or what they were, but once they found out the band, it was a whole different buy, they just treated me different.

Ray: In England, I remember back in the old days, one time the National Front came and they started a fight. We just stopped the music, the security escorted them out, and we just made it known that you come to our shows for rock, fun, intelligence and politics, you don't come to be stupid, and it really hasn't happened that much since.

Claus: Yeah, you can learn something and have fun at the same time, and then tell your friends about what you learned and maybe they think about it and may come next time or see some other band.

Here comes a very trivial question, I guess you've been asked it a million times. Still I haven't been able to find an answer to it. Why did Dead Kennedys break up in 1986? Was it because of numerous lawsuits that you were facing at that time?

Ray: Our music was kinda running out of steam, in the mid-1980s the punk scene kinda swept apart, the audience was stupid in the pit, people were testing how big you were, it was not like in the beginning when we started. On this tour now we've been doing for a year and a half, the audiences have all been very intelligent, there are women in the pit, it's about having fun, not about being macho. Back then the crowds were just no fun.

Claus: We'd been together for eight years also at that point, and to keep together any relationship with just two people for that period of time is a lot of work. A band is four people who have egos enough to wanna be onstage, and there's a lot of inter-personal work to keep the band together at any point for even a month's time. We parted friends basically, and now we reformed almost by mistake, but we're four friends still trying to maintain interpersonal relationships and keep things going for as long as we can. We'll see what happens.

Ray: All of that has nothing to do with any court case. We decided to break up before any court case.

What do you think of cover versions of Dead Kennedys songs done by other bands? For example, there's a Dead Kennedys tribute album…

Ray: "Virus 100". 

Yeah, and there are various bands, from Napalm Death to Neurosis, doing tour songs. 

DH: Sepultura just slayed "Drug Me"! I can't speak!

Claus: The cover of "Looking Forward To Death" (by L7 - ed.) is fun.

DH: And "Winnebago Warrior" by Mojo Nixon is a great one. All of different styles, and it's really a privilege and an honor to have your songs covered with their own flavor and their own taste.

Claus: And I got to play bass with Sister Double Happiness on "Holiday In Cambodia", so it got to be included.

Brandon: Dr. Know wanted to be on it, but we weren't asked. (everybody laughs)

Claus: And there are also tribute bands, which is kinda silly and fun and an honor, there's a Japanese group called Kat Dennedys put out "Too Drunk To Fuck", singing totally fanatically in Japanese and stuff like that. Actually they sing in English, but they didn't speak a word of English, they can't talk, but their cover work is almost exact, it was fun.

Ray: You can't take yourself too seriously, punk rock is not a cult, and Dead Kennedys is not a cult, so it's good if there's humor. There's humor in our songs.

Claus: When we go to our shows and there are bootleggers outside and we don't have too much people or something like that, we don't check them down and say 'go away' or call the police and all that stuff, we just look at it like, 'Hey you know what? They're bigger capitalists than anybody around here.' (laughs)

Does it mean that you have nothing against bootlegging?

Claus: We weren't saying we have nothing against that, we were saying that we can't tell them what to do. That's their conscience.  

OK, but you know, you come to Moscow for the first time, there are people who have never seen you, and they may use bootlegs to get to know what it's like. Of course, there's a live record, but live records are often overdubbed in the studio…  

Claus: Our live record has no overdubs.  

Ray: It's absolutely live.

Claus: The same is with the DVD you're gonna see, you're gonna see scratch vocals, raw material, that's recorded as it happen.

Most of the bandmembers were releasing solo stuff in the 1980s. Why did you feel the need to go solo? 

Claus: I released some stuff in the 1980s and one thing in the 1990s, and unfortunately it seemed to me that the focal point of Alternative Tentacles did not lie with other members of the group as much as one specific member of the group, we all know who that is, as far as promotion and publicity for those things. They sort of disappeared. I'm re-releasing some of that stuff myself and adding new stuff. It took the wind out of my sails, I didn't feel like recording and putting out something when I still had ties with Alternative Tentacles, because I knew that it would just go into a hole or something.  

Ray: We trusted someone, and he didn't honor that trust. Claus' first solo records was the second biggest seller on Alternative Tentacles in the 1980s, and they promised him a big promotion for the next one, but when the next one came out, he got no promotion, and Biafra got $3,000 for promotion (actually Biafra is the owner of the label - ed.). And they were telling Claus, "we have no money for promotion." We found out in the court case that they had money for promotion, they just weren't spending it on DH, myself and Claus.

That doesn't quite answer my question but that's still interesting, isn't it? OK, moving on… 

There are many legends and rumors about the very first Dead Kennedys show in 1978. Some of them say Jello Biafra jumped off the stage and tried to beat some people up… 

Ray: He didn't try to beat people up, he poured beer on people. (everybody laughs)  

Claus: There's a difference. He disturbed people. Some people were just sitting at tables like this (points at us and himself - ed.), and he says, "Don't be so complacent! Get involved! If you're not gonna get involved, I'm gonna involve ya! I'm gonna get you mad!"  

Ray: Our band has always been opposed to violence.  

Claus: Yeah, yeah. Basically we've never tried to start a fight. Sometimes we tried to resolve fights.  

One more question about your old stuff… 

Claus: We prefer the word 'classic". (laughs)  

OK, classic stuff. How controversial was the "In God We Trust, Inc." mini-LP when it was originally released in 1981? Did it cause a lot of problems for you and disturbance among the people?  

DH: I think it did disturb the moral majority a little bit. Tipper Gore and her 'Parents Hypocrisy Association'. But they need to be told what's going on.  

Ray: There was a guy that had our record burning, and I think we had a photo of it in some place. And there was also a church citing our lyrics.  

DH: So we're right up there with Ozzy! (total laughter)  

Ray: There was a church that read the lyrics in the Sunday school to show how low punk rock had gotten, and they put out a pamphlet with the lyrics from "In God We Trust, Inc."  

Claus: One of the things we used to do is join things like The Moral Majority in order to get the publications and join these right-wing groups. In a way it was weird giving money to them, the absolute minimal to get their information sent to you. I listen to radio and I also listen to evangelists on the radio, in America there's this big evangelist things, I watch these people because you have to know that they influence a lot of people and if you don't know what you're up against, there's no intelligent way to combat it.  

Brandon, was it difficult for you to get into the band? It's a totally new band for you, a totally new environment. Was it difficult to rehearse the old songs?  

Brandon: From the moment I first heard Dead Kennedys, they became one of my favorite bands. It is one thing to drive your car or be at home and listen to the songs singing along and thinking you know every word, but it's very different when you're in the studio and you look at the people you respect and have respected for quite a long time as punk rock icons and pioneers. At the first rehearsal we had, Claus started to play the bass, and I just kinda froze. He stopped playing, looked at me and said, "Are you gonna sing?" (everybody laughs) And then I realized, "I'm with Dead Kennedys here!" And he started to play the song again and I did it the best I could…  

Claus: …jumped right in…  

Brandon: …jumped right in…  

Claus: …and here we are in Moscow…  

Brandon: Yeah, here we are in Moscow now. (a new burst of laughter) It was a bit difficult to learn some of the timing changes of the songs, because their musicianship is far superior to many punk rock bands that I was used to. There are many bands that have incredible musicians in them, I just had never played with them before. So the way DH plays his drums or Claus's bass lines or Ray's guitar playing - that type of punk rock was all new to me. So learning where to come in exactly because their timing changes and their beats was so different. It would take a bit of study and a bit of time to learn it. But once I got comfortable with it, it's becoming easier and easier every show we do, and we have done maybe 150 shows now.  

Claus: At the very first shows we had to be really faithful to the recorded versions of it for Brandon's sake, because that's what he heard a billion times. After a while we were able to stretch out certain things and go to different places, because we knew each other's group. Brandon was still learning where it was when we were jamming or where it was when we were just playing the record.  

Brandon: Yeah, now I'm understanding when they're gonna stretch out a lead or DH is gonna do a bit more drumwork or something like that. I have a feel for it, I'm just becoming more aware of what they as musicians are doing and I'm knowing when to sing and when not to sing.  

OK, tell us your impressions about Moscow. Now that you are here, how much of what you heard about Russia has proven true? 

Claus: I thought communism was a silly system. 

Ray: So is capitalism. (everybody laughs)  

Claus: In theory it may work. The same thing is free enterprise in capitalism, but every country really is a mixed economy. In the United States our highway system is socialized, our food system is subsidized, none of that is capitalism or free market. Something should be left a free market, like what clothes you wear, something should be socialized, like medicine and education.  

Brandon: Even though Russia was considered an enemy at one point, I never experienced anything like that, I never felt the threat of a bomb coming from Russia to blow up America. (everybody laughs) 


Even in 1969? 

Brandon: Well, I was kinda young in 1969. I never felt a threat of that, I feel more threat now by my own president, although he's not my president, I didn't vote for him. I think it's a beautiful country full of very precious peaceful people, as far as I've met… 

Ray: Some of the architecture looks a little like a wedding cake…  

Claus: Well, Stalin wasn't very good at architecture. (a burst of laughter)  

He wasn't an architect, after all… 

Claus: But he picked the designs. You know the wedding cake building? I mean the Moscow University.  

Brandon: Going back to that Russia used to be a threat… Now since I've been on the road but I've been catching some of the news, I understand that Russia is going to veto that vote with the UN, so that kinda makes us allies, not enemies. And I applaud Russia for taking that stand, it would have been very easy to side with the United States, but why side with the madman? Bush is out of his mind.  

There are definitely people who think that the line-up with Jello Biafra was the best and they say they won't go to see Dead Kennedys without him… 

Claus (slightly irritated): They have closed minds.  

Ray: Why don't they come to see the show and judge for themselves?  

DH: Music does not come from any one person.  

Claus: It's a group, not an individual.  

Brandon: Although I have a different voice and a different way of performing than Biafra, it's still the same message, it's the same songs. People ask me why I'm singing songs I didn't write, but I like to ask them, "If you read a child a book, and they learn something from it, isn't that the most important thing, even though you didn't write the book?" I didn't write these songs, but I believe in these songs with all my heart or I wouldn't be here, it would be a lie. And punk rock means too much to me and Dead Kennedys mean too much to me to let the message die just because of things outside my control. When I was asked by DH and given the opportunity to join the band, number one I felt it was a great honor, and number two I felt that being a punk rocker for a long time, I have a kind of responsibility to help keep the message going, because it's very important. It changed my life when I was a young punk. I thought that being violent against the hippies was a cool thing, but when I started to hear more and more of Dead Kennedys and actually listen to it, not just hear it, but understand what they were talking about, I changed my ways.  

Claus: People that say they actually care about Dead Kennedys should be open enough, because we're telling people to open their minds all the time, and if that was that important to them, they should be open enough to at least… I'm not trying to sell tickets, but if they say they REALLY love Dead Kennedys without giving it a chance with what we're doing now, they're close-minded. If they're open-minded, they'll take the gamble. They can come up and talk to us later and say, "You know what? We liked the other thing better." We say, "That's your choice." But these people at least took the gamble. And when they get to talk to us and voice their dissatisfaction, that doesn't bother us.  

Before we wrap this up, could you make a kind of message to your Russian fans? 

Claus: Take care of yourselves, take care of the people around you, treat the world like you'd like the world to treat you, the beginning of change starts with you.  

Ray: Yeah, what you wanna change in the world, change in yourself first.  

Dead Kennedys on the web: http://www.deadkennedys.com

Special thanks to Natalie Kashtanova (B2 Club) for arranging this interview

Roman "Maniac" Patrashov, Felix "the Comrade"
Photo by Natalie "Lynx" Khorina, Roman "Maniac" Patrashov

March 7, 2003


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