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Interview with Jello Biafra - Jan. '81

TC - When did the band form? JB - We formed in San Francisco although we don't originally come from there and we played our first gig on July 19th 1978, after being together a week.

TC - What was that like?

JB - It was great fun. Because of the name a few people turned up to see just what the bottom of the bill support band would be like. We were the first band in San Francisco to cause a lot of chaos for quite a while. In those days there were so few people at the gigs you could jump through them. You could run past the people at the front to the people who were drinking at the back, sitting at tables and you could knock over the tables and shampoo them with cigarette butts and things, pour beer over them. Oh, those were the days...

TC - Who first influenced you to form a band?

JB - A lot of things. Walter Mitty, if you know who he is?

TC - No.

JB - He's a fictitious character from America who spends all of his time dreaming about things he wishes he was. He's a fighter plane pilot, at another point he's a surgeon, things like that. Well, we've all got a Walter Mitty influence. Plus the Ramones. They played this Country and Western club in Denver, and the audience were scared shitless. I loved every minute of it. It was in Jan. '77. I loved all the energy they had and there weren't any guitar solos. It sort of hit me, I should do this, I could do this. I don't have to lock myself in a closet for 10 years and then come out and imitate Jimi Hendrix after all. I went to England that summer and saw some more bands, came back and I was in California and going to San Francisco at weekends to see punk bands. They were about 6 months behind the English bands. I could see bands picking up instruments for the first time and learning to play in public. I thought this would be a good place to form a band. So I quit school and went back to Balder where my parents lived, worked in a nursing home and washed very dirty linen, got some money and went back, slowly and surely help put the band together. It was actually Ray, the guitarist who put the band together. He put a little ad in a store "Guitarist wants to form punk band" so I rang him up, we got some songs together in the garage. Then we got this guy called Klaus to play bass and eventually, a week before our first gig we got a guitarist who called himself 6025 and he left about 6 months later.

TC - How do American audiences differ to British ones?

JB - Lets see...For the audiences I saw over here I think, at times the American ones are wilder. Which is good and bad because some- times they're into the bad side of violence instead of the good way, in that they're into kicking shit out of each other. They get bopped around like human pinballs. That's great fun. It's the difference between pogoing and fighting I guess.

TC - You've had some trouble with your name over here, is it worse in America?

JB - Quite a bit. Our album hasn't even come out over there. We played on the 15th anniversary of John F. Kennedys murder and the local paper turned up and had an outcry.

TC - How did you first get your records out over here?

JB - There was a few of the original 'California Uber Alles' that got shipped over here and somehow John Peel gotta hold of it and he played it a bit and Bob Last from Fast was staying at this guys house who he knew in New York and he just happened to put Dead Kennedys on the turntable and he liked it, so he called us up and wanted to put us out on Fast. That was really lucky. A fluke! It could have been 1 of 50 bands from America who were equally deserving. We're very grateful to Bob Last. We would have stayed with them but we wanted to do an album rather than keep releasing singles and E.P's. Cherry Red were the only label in the world willing to give us enough money even to put out a low budget album.

TC - Are there many punk bands starting up in America?

JB - There's lots of them. I would say since '77 there's been about 150 good punk singles or like good art singles as opposed to shitty ones Oh well, let's reel off some names...ones that are together, that are real good are...Flipper from S.F., who basically sound like Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music' album with vocals and a beat and they drive people to the same sort of mania as punk bands, but they call themselves pet rock instead of punk rock. There's 2 more pet rock bands called the Wounds and the Animal Things. The Wounds are really good but I've not seen the Animal Things which is embarrassing as I know every one in the band.

TC - Are there many places to play?

JB - A few. There's a lot of clubs that call themselves new wave skinny tie pop bands. I'll just mention a few more names of bands, Black Flag who have a single and a 12" ep, D.O.A. from Vancouver who are great. They have two 4 track ep's, 2 singles and an album out at this point. Subhumans also from Vancouver, the Government from Terado, the Misfits, the Mad and 8 Eyed Spy from New York. No Alternative from S.F., the Mutants, the Contractions, the Units are a really good electronic band. The Circle Jerks, you'd love them. They pay as much attention to commercial slickness as Discharge. There's a lot of bands that have a lot of trash appeal like Discharge. I like Discharge a lot. They reminded me of the Germs. The Plugs, The Go-Go's.

TC - They're a ska band, aren't they?

JB - No, they aren't ska. They're a type of 60's influenced pop rock but not like whimpo Elvis Costello type pop. They write real good songs.

TC - Do you get much trouble from the police at your gigs?

JB - Yes. It just happens to depend on the venue and who are playing when the police shut it down. Most venue's, especially rented halls have trouble staying open for more then 4 or 5 months because of the cops.

TC - Is it as hard over here?

JB - So I've heard.

TC - Have you had any of your gigs stopped? JB - Paris, they pulled the plug on us both nights at 10 because the cops came around. There's going to be more trouble because of Reagen. If our album hasn't even come out over there and if it don't come out before Reagen takes office, it never will.

TC - Would you rather live in England then America?

JB - It all depends. There's some things I like about America better and some things are worse than over here. America is less crowded, which is a good thing and there's more of an extreme change of scenery. If you ever run into mountains, they're gonna be big mountains. You never know, we might have to live over here if Reagen goes too far, but if he starts a war I guess you guys will get dragged into it, lucky you.

TC - Uuuuggg, run out of questions, do you want to rabbit on?

JB - What should I say...there is nowhere as near as many fanzines in America as there are in England, but there's this guy who lives just below me and he does this fanzine called Creep. It covers bands and deals with political scenes. It covers what's happening rather than the theory. It covered the riots at city hall, San Francisco, after this gay politician was let off with man slaughter even though he'd shot the S.F. mayor and a gay politician. He shot them dead. But he was an ex-cop, a hero. His defence was that he had eaten too many pinkies, which is an American pastry, therefore he was temporarily insane and the jury believed him, so that night the gay community and a lot of punks, went down to city hall, broke a load of windows and burnt a lot of cop cars, and our album cover is from the riots and shows the cars burning.

TC - What are your political views?

JB - Well, lets nummerize the B volume of the encyclopaedia in 2 sentences Well I guess I'm closest to an anarchist. I basically try to take the issues as they come. The Indians are real close to an anarchist society being able to make it work. It would be hard to make it work in an area as large as England. Let's see what else I can talk about...One of the nicest things about being in a band is that you can shout your mouth off and complain about things for a living. One of the reasons we're in the band is that we're mentally unfit for work.