Dead Kennedys – Live at the Deaf Club – Interview

deadkennedys200Dead Kennedys

An interview with bassist Klaus Flouride
by Ewan Wadharmi
live photos by Aaron Settipane

Dead Kennedys once had a singer called Jello. They were very controversial and influential, speaking out about the evil presidents and prime ministers. Step 3, Alternative Tentacles. Then the penis pictures. And they broke up and sued the hell out of each other. If you’d like to know more about legal squabbles, the Library of Congress recommends you look somewhere else, because I’m sick to death of it and want to move on. So does DK bass man Klaus Flouride.

I called late because I was shoveling snow.
I went through 29 years of snow before I had enough.

Where did you live?
I grew up in Detroit, then moved to Boston and New York, then I finally moved to California.

You can prepare for the snow all you want. But when it comes, you still have to deal with it.
Kind of like having kids. If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never have them. You interrupted a telemarketer, I thought it was you calling.

Glad I could help. So you’ve had a lot of interviews recently?
We’ve had a dearth because we changed publicists. I like interviews, actually.

You’re one of the few who do, but it’s a nice way to meet interesting people.
I have this guy working on my roof, and he’s working at this place called The Concord Pavilion. They do big shows like Journey or whatever. And this guy looks down and sees all the acts arrive and then leave in limos and he says, “I see how you guys are, you come and play your show and then just take off through the back.” But that’s not what we’re like. We make a point of sticking around and meeting people in the audience. They made the effort to come and see us.

deadkennedys1photoOne thing that I get from all of the recent legal stuff is that once you put music out for the public, it becomes theirs.
If they buy it, it’s theirs. It becomes part of a community. There are some artists out who want to make it a riddle. If you’re going to be enigmatic, like what was that band a while back? On the 45? Brim Full Of Asha? Brimful of Asha, what the hell is that? And did they ever explain it in an interview? No.

Maybe they want people to discuss it.
Or, like The Residents, they go back to like ’74 and had these strange ramblings. And it may be that they’re just publicity shy. But they created this enigmatic image.

How has the Internet changed things for you? It’s interesting that you can now put out information and it will be accessible for years.
It’s a mixed blessing. The idea was all this information at your fingertips. At least that’s how it was touted. But things are supposed to go ten times faster, but it’s ten times more stress. I don’t know how it is in your area, but people here come into work at what used to be a forty hour a week job, and it’s not unusual to now have a sixty hour week. It’s overwhelming for the culture. I went to Myspace recently, to look up a friend’s page. This friend runs a recording studio. He uses analog, at least until the final mix, which may go to digital. The quote on his page is “I was never bored until I had the Internet.”

It used to be that if you needed information, you had to make that trip down to the library or open the phonebook.
And at the library, there’s a certain amount of trust you have for that information. On the Internet, you have to get at least two backup sources.

Because information gets duplicated to other pages, so misinformation sticks around and becomes replicated.
On Youtube, a nerd with too much time, thinking entirely too much about DK, and wanting to believe Biafra, put together the Levi’s commercial. With old Levi’s footage and “Holiday In Cambodia.” (As part of their recent friction, a Levi’s representative proposed using the song in an ad. Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, and Levi’s all turned the idea down.) The closest we actually got to that was an ad agency sent out feelers. We had to have our lawyers call Youtube. They pulled it. But what’s sad is when you request to have something removed, there’s a form that you check off why it’s being removed. And the only choice that came close was “copyright infringement.” Which it’s really misinformation.

Or misrepresentation.
On Youtube, things do have a shelf-life of a few weeks that makes things more disposable.

What’s frightening and pointless is people lip-synching on Youtube. I get sucked into those stupid things.
I can see if someone has ONE up. But ten? The guy who did the Romanian song, he may have gotten a brief moment of fame in his country, and a little bit in the States. Eighty percent of Youtube is teen girls singing in their rooms. Or guys making bargain-basement America’s Funniest Home Videos. “Well, it wasn’t good enough for the TV show, but watch it anyway.” People who have no life or are eternally depressed make those clips.

deadkennedys-aaron1photoHave you seen the fan fiction phenomenon?
What is that?

I shouldn’t even tell you it’s so frightening. If you like a show or a movie, you write your own screenplay.
Oh, yeah. That’s been going on for some time.

It’s either really awful stuff, like people wanting to explore Jan Brady’s sex life, or really talented people wasting their skill on something that’ll never be seen. I figure they want to feel like a part of something successful.
They’re too insecure to write their own and shop it around. They’re afraid of rejection.

I want to ask about what happened to your previous singer. And I don’t mean Jello, I mean Brandon Cruz.
I was going to say, you mean Brandon, right? Brandon is in L.A. doing exactly what we were just talking about: Writing screenplays. He’s done that for quite awhile before he sang with us, being a Hollywood actor. He’s also still working with Dr. Know. They’re touring Hawaii, which he’s over-the-top happy about. He still does a lot of surfing, so he’ll be able to do that. He’s concentrating on his family, which, for him, means touring to generate money. We don’t tour constantly, that doesn’t work for us. I have a family also, and I want to watch my kids grow up. We pick and choose where and why we perform.

We’re older guys. We’re limited to short hops. Regional hops of three to ten gigs and we come back. We get tired quicker. The first time back in the UK went from three weeks to six weeks, and we were at each other’s necks. But touring these short, regional legs is not a profitable way to tour. We do it this way to keep fresh, to keep the energy high. The reason we do shows is there are a whole slew of people who never got to see us the first time around. We’ll keep doing it as long as it’s fun. The Rolling Stones have been doing it for how long? And Keith Richards still looks cool. He’s always cool with the pirate thing, Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s dad. But Jagger, come on. He’s become a caricature.

Anyway, Brandon needed to tour more than us. He really put himself into the crosshairs, and he did it as Brandon. He wasn’t mimicking Biafra. Brandon brought a street attitude, where Jeff (Penalty) brings an intellectual side of it. We thought this was going to be just a one-off, and we had several people in mind, well known singers. Some of them came and auditioned and did Biafra to a T. We didn’t want an imitator. We did extend the invitation three or four times to Jello, and he chose not to be involved. It’s not that he was excluded. I would like to see us all back together at some point.

Speaking of Mick Jagger, I saw a band on a talk show and I thought it was Jagger. I finally realized it was David Johansson.
I saw The New York Dolls back in ’74 in Boston, and it struck me that it was like Jagger’s wet dream. They were in drag. What was that Stones 45 where they were in drag like old ladies?

deadkennedys-aaron2photoLike Monty Python ladies?
One of them was in a wheelchair, it was a classically funny picture. You should Google it. In 1969, I was in Magic Terry and The Universe. This guy looked sort of like Rob Tyner from The MC5. He didn’t really sing, but he read poetry over hard rock music. And he did all these characters. This was before Ziggy Stardust. And we had rehearsals from midnight until six in the morning, and people would show up. Jim Morrison showed up with these bigwigs from Elektra. Morrison ripped off one of Terry’s pieces for “An American Prayer.” That was Terry’s. But we were young… We were getting attention from RCA, and there was a bidding war. We played a show opening for Ten Years After, and Terry mooned the audience. It was supposed to be four dates, but we got kicked off. We should have been playing with The Velvet Underground. They were still playing then. But we were all like “Fuck this business.” It wasn’t until ten years later that I got with Dead Kennedys. I was like “Music isn’t going to take me anywhere career-wise, so I may as well have fun with it.” It’s probably a blessing, because if we had made it with Terry, I’d probably be an acid casualty.

In the ’70s and ’80s, punk was concerned with Reagan and Thatcher. Looking back, it seems a bit naïve. It’s like, it wasn’t that bad.
Maybe not in comparison, but he was bad. Reagan and Caspar Weinberger and Schultz. Reagan did huge damage as Governor of California. Shutting down the mental hospitals and putting patients on the streets. I think the quote was “Some of them want to live on the streets.” Like W., he gave the impression that he was clueless and had evil advisors. And when he died, he was made out to be this patriotic hero. How are they going to make a bright spot for W. when he dies? One of the worst presidents in history. The greedy corporate media encourages people to be dumber. Reality TV…

That’s exactly what came to my mind!
You know what inspired Reality TV, right? The writer’s strike. They could put out a bunch of shows without the writers.

And appeal to the lowest common denominator.
In art, the top 10% is really inventive. The 20-30% beneath that strata is a copy, and becomes popular. 60% is just dreck. America loves that, the dreck percentage. It’s pathetic.

That explains how Bush got re-elected.
I thought he would. People voted for Kerry because they hated Bush, not because they loved Kerry. The Simpsons had this for the ’92 election: The Democratic convention had a banner reading “We Have No Leaders.” And the Republicans had one that said “We’re Just Plain Evil.” It’s such a slow learning curve in America. They didn’t get that Bush ripped off the election. They went for what they were comfortable with. This Democrat who had a stroke, my mind went to the Russians poisoning spies. What’s with the Russians and the poisoning, like a long, drawn out Russian novel? Immediately, I thought, “Who gave this guy a stroke?” Democrats are challenging America. This election, it’s either going to be a black person or a woman. I don’t know if America is prepared for that. The Republicans are going to push McCain.

He’s going to be tempting. He seems like a straight-shooter.
He gives the impression he shoots straight, but he’s an opportunist. “I’m only going to put this 3/4 of an inch under your skin, not the full inch.” I think Hillary is as smart as her husband. She’s got a chance. What made me mad was at Lollapalooza in ’92, this guy gets on stage and encouraged them not to vote because they’re all the same. That’s such a white, privileged point of view. I got so mad, I hollered at him. It’s not about the four years, it’s about the Supreme Court appointees in the future. That decision is going to have a lengthy impact.