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
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
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
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,
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