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INTERVIEW – Klaus Flouride, Dead Kennedys, August 2014

| 28 August 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Klaus Flouride, Dead Kennedys, August 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Dead Kennedys In Concert - Detroit, MI

Punk icons and satirical social commentators The Dead Kennedys are finally coming to Perth after a planned visit thirty years ago was cancelled due to police harassment. Playing Saturday 11 October at Capitol, bassist Klaus Flouride tells SHANE PINNEGAR he’s “dying” to finally make it to the West Coast.

First though, Flouride (real name Geoffrey Lyall) who turned 65 earlier this year, wants to make sure he’s being documented faithfully. We are. “Good, good: because misquotes either help me or hurt me sometimes.”

His caution is completely understandable. The Dead Kennedys broke up in 1986, sick of the violence in the American punk & hardcore scene, their messages falling on deaf ears, and a music industry and establishment who did its level best to ignore or even silence them. Several years later Flouride, guitarist East Bay Ray and drummer D H Peligro sued former singer Jello Biafra and his record label Alternative Tentacles for not paying them the correct royalty rate, a conflict which escalated nastily, eventually being resolved against the singer. Relations remain strained between the remaining Dead Kennedys and Biafra, despite their repeated invitations for him to rejoin the band and tour. Ron ‘Skip’ Greer has held the position since 2008, the band’s third vocalist since reforming in 2001.

“The first time we went out there [to Australia] we were scheduled to play Perth,” Flouride explains, “in ’83 or something, and apparently the story goes that the police were starting to hang out at the clubs a little bit – and not bust anybody or do anything,“ he begins, speaking slowly, as if making sure every word was in the right place, “but the club owners were complaining because the patrons were [leaving] their club and going to another club. And these were the clubs that we were going to be playing in… I’m not sure if there was one or two.

“But they said [to the police], ‘come on, we’re dyin’ here – everybody’s leaving,’ and the police [said], ‘you think they’re leaving NOW? We’re just hanging out – we have every right to here as anybody else, but if you think you’ve seen a lot of us now, wait till just before the Dead Kennedys turn up. We’re all excited to see that!’”

Dead Kennedys - 1980s style

It is the ridiculous truth that in the early eighties the police were busting bands and comedians for saying something as commonplace as ‘fuck’ on stage as though it were a capital offense. The ultra-conservative government of the day would undoubtedly have seen The Dead Kennedys as some kind of anarcho-terrorist outfit wanting to leave the city in ruins.

“Yeah,” says Flouride. “And the thing was that the bookers of the clubs knew that they were doomed to have the show shut down – [so] they cancelled out on us. They gave us a good lead time, I think they cancelled out on us a month or so before we came out because they were getting so much, nod, nod, wink, wink, [from the police], ‘you think we like your club now, just see how much we like it [when the Dead Kennedys get here]!’”

Fast forward thirty one years and the West Australian government are no longer so overtly jack-booted in their defence against political activism, and we will finally see The Dead Kennedys performing live, alongside the rest of Australia. In the 80s their shows were legendary, riotous even. Flouride says they still are.

“You’ll be surprised how intense it still is! I’d liken it to a train careening down a track, realizing that their brakes don’t quite work and just trying to keep on the track. They’re pretty fun, but they’re barely in control.”

Sounds fantastic!

“Controlled chaos is what we kind of like,” the bassist continues, “stuff like that. Our tours are shorter now because we’re not thirty anymore and we know how much we can deal with before we start rolling back the intensity. We wouldn’t ever want to do a show that we wouldn’t want to go to basically.”

From ’78 through to ’86 Biafra was incredibly outspoken, spitting satirical and political rhetoric and firing subversive, barbed lyrical bombs at the corruption and selfishness of the ‘greed is good’ generation. Just because he’s no longer involved with the band, doesn’t mean they have gone all soft, though.

“Yeah, it’s even more… I wouldn’t say ‘tempered’,” says Flouride, “but it’s more honed. For one thing, the internet since then has made it much more easy to get a hold of information that’s disturbing. Then, for that matter you have to take into account how much you believe that’s on the internet, but still you can be much more informed than we could be easily back then. You just had to read like crazy and you had to trust that you’re getting information from the news. My kid now – I have a kid that’s twenty years old and she and I have completely given up for the most part on the broadcast news in the states and CNN even. She’s got really politicized in the past three years just from realizing that what they tell you on the news here doesn’t even include ninety-nine percent of the world.

“American news: they tell you three hot spots maybe that are going on and that’s it. Even then, you have to you realise it’s a corporate station so it’s got to be slanted in some direction or another, be it Fox’s direction or even CNN which claims to be middle ground [but] is really to the right and middle. MSNBC is a station here. I don’t know if you get all these on your cable, but I imagine you do.

“They tend to be to the left of center and then you go to the BBC News [which] tells stories that you never hear on any of the other [stations]. If you really want to have fun, you go to Al Jazeera and watch their news because it’s not exactly as crazed as it’s made out to be by all the other main outlets!”

Dead Kennedys 2014 01

The message in the music is still massively important to this musician.

“I think they share equal footing,” Flouride declares. “I think our music is what’s carried us this far maybe more than the message, just because when we started out we didn’t want to do a Ramones group or a Sex Pistols group like ninety percent of the groups do or did at that point. Then, eventually, when we got back together there was like five thrash groups that would sound the same.

“We’ve always been interested in musical interplay and stuff like that. I’m not saying we’re [reknowned US jam band] Phish or anything like that, but what I’m saying is we like to keep it interesting musically and keep going that way, but at the same time the words, unfortunately, they’re still all fairly applicable – unfortunately. The thing that we get stuck with all the time is that we’re a political band and unless you consider social insight-political, which it is, we’re not a band that ever just sang about Brezhnev or whatever back in the eighties.

“We did Holiday In Cambodia – even though Pol Pot [leader of the Cambodian revolutionary group Khmer Rouge, and dictator for 4 years in the 70s. Directly or indirectly his rein caused the death of 25% of the country’s population – up to three million people], most people don’t even know nowadays who the hell he was – [but] that wasn’t about the situation in Cambodia as much as it was about college students that thought, ‘that would be fun. Let’s go to Cambodia. It’s just like Thailand. It must be, it’s right around there.’

“I Kill Children – technically it got us in a lot of trouble, because the people that got all hot and bothered about it, were people who didn’t read the lyrics. In the middle eight of the thing, the bridge, there’s the whole explanation of what’s going on in the guy’s mind. That’s a lot of what our stuff is about – what makes people tick and what makes things happen the way they happen and why the world is generally fucked up. We don’t come up with a whole lot of answers and we don’t say, ‘this is what you have to do.’ We don’t tell people what to think and we never used to mean to. It’s mostly putting our feet in there and going ‘this is what we’ve noticed. Think about this. Go and do your own study if this has got your attention.’ Think for yourselves though and find out, instead of telling people what to think.”

Dead Kennedys - Bedtime For Democracy cover

You might think someone with such a subversive nature would have issue with what passes for ‘punk’ nowadays – Green Day and their ilk are far from the dangerous instigators of Dead Kennedy’s heyday – but Flouride is quick to counter that.

“I keep getting that same question. You know what? I’m just speaking for myself now, but I look at it like when Nirvana went from Sub Pop to Geffen and Green Day went from Lookout!, when they were considered punk, to Warners… but the fact is that neither of those groups changed what they were saying. They got a much wider spread: Green Day, if anything, got more political. They’re both pop bands, for Christ sake, anyhow and they’re not ashamed to admit it. They’re pop-punk and so were the Buzzcocks.

“The Ramones wanted to be a pop band – they wanted to be the biggest pop band ever. Sticky Little Fingers, The Saints – The Saints wanted to have hits, and they wanted to do it in the best way possible and reach as many people as possible and there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to be political to be punk, I don’t think or it doesn’t have to be your main diet. It’s like, for instance, if you happen to be gay and that’s part of your lifestyle, that’s fine, but if being gay IS your lifestyle, than something’s unbalanced.

“I think that new music in general is what I’m more interested in than just punk,” Flouride continues. “For me, I like melody, but I also like experimentation, but I put a premium on melody and humour. If somebody takes themselves too seriously, come on… you’re not going to get the best political advice that you can get in the world off of a punk rock singer. You have to go to other places also.

“I’m saying, I’m not one of those guys who go ‘you guys aren’t punk.’ They may not be what the original punk was; punk’s a wide thing – it evolved. There are still hundreds of bands constantly coming up that are very much abrasive, cause you to pay attention to them, [and are] at the same time creative musically. In The States you don’t hear them on radio, and as radio is… in Australia radio’s much more college station-sounding than the radio is here. Being that I’m in San Francisco there’s three major college stations, I’m really lucky because I get exposed constantly to new music that’s coming up and decide if I like it or not. I don’t like it just because it’s punk, for instance, or I don’t dislike it because it’s pop.”

Since reforming in 2001 there’s been no new music from the band, but will there be in the future?

“Ah, that’s a good question,” sighs Flouride. “For one thing, we’ve all had the problem of Fresh Fruit [For Rotting Vegetables, released in 1980 and went Gold], which was the gold standard next to which everything else the Dead Kennedys put out, I think, was measured by most people. Not by us, but by most people and most critics and stuff. If you listen to that, it’s a very melodic album and stuff like that. We have to use that as a standard.

Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables cover

“Plus putting out new music right now has become a whole different thing in that if you put something out, you’re certainly not expected to get paid for it. Stuff could be downloaded by [online] – it goes to Megaupload which is what it used to be called, it’s just called Mega now, I believe. He’s still got two million hits a day and he’s got people running it as the advertisers know that with so many hits a day they can charge a premium for the advertising. He goes, ‘I buy it all legally. I buy everything that’s uploaded in any sort of wave form.’ And they own it legally, but to sell it, or to just give it away which is what they do. Then they say, ‘hey we’re just basically a blog,’ or, ‘It’s a Tumblr,’ it’s a whatever, ‘… that people happen to [use to] download our stuff.’ It’s such a lie and everybody knows it and nobody can do anything about it except for putting out vinyl which is… we put out a box set, just to protect ourselves, of the 45s, because a) the collectors like it and b) we want to see some feedback from our music.

“Now putting out new music is a thing that we’ve tried at different times and in different formats.” Flouride’s hit his stride now and woe betide anyone who tries to interrupt him. As it is, my time with him is dwindling fast, but the man knows his stuff and is pretty fascinating to listen to. Luckily, being last on the interview schedule, he generously deigned to go overtime without any dramas. “We had some stuff that we did not put out, but that we had performed recently, and some of it clicks and some of it doesn’t. I think Skip and I during the next break after this group of tours, possibly are going to be doing some trading of ideas and then bringing it to Ray and see what he thinks. My answer to that is to ‘never say never’. I’m not going to promise anything I can’t deliver.”

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

If Dead Kennedys do release new material, some three decades later and with a different singer, it will be very interesting to see what they do come up with.

“Yeah,” agrees the bassist. “we’ve all done separate projects and of course, none of them – like any group that breaks up – with solo projects it’s only a very few like Peter Gabriel or Sting or somebody like that that actually gets some actual momentum on it. Or Morrissey or something like that. We’re talking old guys from the nineties and eighties and stuff, but the interest is always in the original people working together. We’d like to do that, but it’s just not looking very possible with the attitudes of some of the members of the group.”

As previously mentioned, relations between the band and their ex-lead singer are strained at best following years of acrimonious court proceedings. It sounds like things are pretty unresolvable on that front.

“Yeah and I have to look at it like that.” Flouride audibly shakes his head sadly. “To me, it seems absurd that it’s unresolvable. We’re getting [older]: if we’re going to do it, let’s do it. Right now, we keep our tours short, like I said earlier, because we don’t want to see a bunch of old gits on stage unless the old gits are really playing really well. We’ve been playing forever and we’re better at playing now, and so the music actually sounds better and more powerful and everything like that, but you can’t make a person get on stage and you can’t make a person get together with you and write stuff. If that person suddenly realized that, ‘gee, something really great could come out of this that none of us have been able to accomplish to the degree that the Kennedys did, that chemistry,’ then… But unless people are willing to bend a bit… I’m willing to bend. I’m not saying who’s not – it’s pretty obvious and we don’t need to talk about that that much here, but the thing is, if it could happen I’d be thrilled. I’d like to, I’d like to, but I’m not counting on it…

“At the same time,” he adds, crucially, “I’m not stopping making music.”

Flouride and his bandmates have, of course, every right to make a living from the music they pioneered and influenced many with – with or without Biafra on board. The flipside of the coin though, is, would they really want to be stuck on a tour bus for a couple of months with someone they just didn’t get along with?

“The answer to that,” he answers quickly, “is I wouldn’t want to be in a tour bus for a couple of months – but on any given night would I rather be sitting home watching TV, or on stage playing? I’d rather be on stage playing.”

Dead Kennedys - In God We Trust Inc cover

With our time well and truly finished and extended, I have one more question – having noted on Wikipedia that Flouride was in a band in the 60s with pop rock star Billy Squier, I suggest that the two couldn’t have gone in much more radically different directions after that!

“Yeah!” Flouride laughs. “It’s funny though and I like some of Billy’s stuff because of the pop thing. Billy Squier, his solo music ended up being sort of a cross between The Who, the Sweet and Queen and The Raspberries or something like that! If you listen to those three, four things thrown together you’ll get Who’s Your Boyfriend and Stroke Me and all that sort of crap. I have his records, for Christ sake – sure! It’s totally pop. He went totally in the pop direction. His nickname when we were in the band was ‘Dollar Bill’!

Here at 100% ROCK we love The Stroke too – it’s a fantastic song! It’s hard to erase the memory of him rolling around the bedroom floor in a pastel singlet from our minds though… [in the video clip for Rock Me Tonight]

“He made so many bad videos,” he laughs, “The one in the bedroom? Yeah – he’s the only person that MTV actually hurt his career!”
Tuesday 30th September Fowlers Adelaide (ALL AGES!) With special guests The Bennies
Wednesday 1st October 170 Russell Melbourne With special guests The Bennies
Friday 3rd October HiFi Brisbane With special guests The Bennies
Saturday 4th October Coolangatta Hotel Coolangatta With special guests The Bennies
Sunday 5th October HiFi Sydney *Public holiday eve* With special guests The Bennies
Wednesday 8th October Mona Vale Hotel Mona Vale
Thursday 9th October The Entrance Leagues Club Entrance
Friday 10th October The Small Ballroom Newcastle
Saturday 11th October Capitol Perth

This story was originally published in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 13 August 2014 issue


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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