OFF!'s Dimitri Coats: "A lot of so-called punk has moved away from what made it exciting."
OFF! (due Saturday, April 19, at The Marquis Theatre) is a bit of a hardcore supergroup, founded by Keith Morris formerly of Black Flag and Circle Jerks and Dimitri Coats who was best known as a member of heavy rock band Burning Brides. The two became friends not long after Coats and the Brides made Los Angeles their home. Beyond their personal chemistry, there was an immediate musical bond the two men shared. Along with former Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald and ex-Clikatat Ikatowi, Rocket From The Crypt and Hot Snakes drummer Mario Rubalcaba, Morris and Coats wrote the kind of simple and direct music that made hardcore so compelling in its early days. The band just released its third album, Wasted Years.
Before OFF!'s show this Saturday at the Marquis Theater, we had a chance to chat with the amiable Coats about dropping out of Juilliard for rock and roll, how Los Angeles has opened up so many opportunities for him beyond just music and how the artwork of Raymond Pettibon has been the perfect imagery for OFF!
Westword: You with to Juilliard for acting but dropped out. Why?
Dimitri Coats: Because I saw that I was too much at the mercy of other people. That's not something you can just do on your own from the ground up, the way that I can if I pick up the guitar and create an entire world and not have to wait for the phone to ring and tell you to audition for this and go to the audition and say, "Hey, please take me, accept me." You have no control over who you're working with, for the most part. It's more like being a pawn in the chess game as opposed to being the puppeteer. I wanted to express myself in a more purely creative way. I guess at the time I was thinking I could go back to acting but that the window for being in a rock band was relatively small and that I should get going and get started.
Had you played music before you went to Juilliard? Many actors seem to have had some music experience along the way.
Yeah, I played the electric guitar as a serious hobbyist since I was thirteen years old. I'd learn to play an entire Zeppelin record. Maybe not the solos. A lot of classic rock stuff. It was something that was always important to me and a secret dream of mine. I just didn't know how to approach it at that time as a kid growing up in Concord, Massachusetts.
When you formed Burning Brides you lived in a number of places before settling down in Philadelphia. What was it about Philadelphia that was appealing to you at that time?
Well, it was really cheap. We could, at the time, rent a whole row home with a place to play in the basement for like seven fifty a month. It was close to New York, DC and Baltimore. It just seemed like a good location from which to do our thing. The music scene was pretty insular and diverse so we were accepted right away.
Did you ever play with Bardo Pond or anyone like that?
Yeah we did.
Why did you end up relocating to Los Angeles?
After the Brides toured pretty extensively for a few years we just started realizing that a lot of the new friends we were making from being on the road, people like Queens of the Stone Age and people working behind the scenes in the music industry, were living in L.A. and we made a record here and just kind of fell in love with it. We were looking for a change. Philadelphia was a great place to get started but there's just a lot more opportunity here. I never would have ended up in OFF! if I didn't live here. I would never have played with Chris Cornell if I didn't live here.
What do you like about L.A.?
It's what I just said. Being able to maximize whatever situation I'm in. This is where the heart of the music industry is. I used to be an actor as well and I think my story is still being written just because I live here. And the weather is great.
How did you come to be involved in working with Mark Lanegan on Bubblegum?
He just asked me. He was really into the Brides. We toured with Queens of the Stone Age and played Lollapalooza with them. It's kind of strange how I ended up on drums of all things but it worked out really well. He has a really interesting ability to see what can make a situation unique.
You worked as a producer on a Circle Jerks record, not that it ever came out.
No, that's what turned into OFF!
How did you become friends with Keith's previous bands?
Just from being his friend. When I met him, I didn't really know who he was. He was a big fan of the Brides and we became buddies. I didn't really grow up too much with punk and hardcore so our friendship wasn't based on me being star struck. It was just going record shopping and going to eat food and stuff like that. The producing thing just happened by accident. I sort of conned my way into it because I needed a job and then the next thing you know we were writing together and it was just extremely explosive. I touched on a nerve and it made a lot of people feel something. Now I guess what we do is important to a whole genre, which is kind of rare.
What do you find most compelling about that kind of punk music?
The culture that surrounds it with skateboarding is kind of a lifestyle that goes beyond music. There's a little bit of a swing to it and a little more of a party and it's something you can dance to. Like early on when Keith was in Black Flag.
Was the title of that boxed set, The First Four EPs, a nod to Black Flag?
You've played live a lot with this band up to now. What do you find most surprising about it so far?
What's surprising about it is that I don't come from that style of music yet I wrote the music. The way Keith and I work is that we write everything in front of each other. He writes the lyrics, I write the music. We help each other out. We kind of pull the best out of each other. For the most part that's the way it goes down. Not that I feel like some kind of imposter or something but it's incredible what good songwriting can accomplish. Nobody really gives a fuck where you come from if you can lay down the goods so I guess to be accepted in a world I don't come from is most surprising.
The artwork on a number of your releases features the work of Raymond Pettibon. What do you feel he captures well in what you wanted for those covers?
He has a certain kind of cynicism and dark humor that is the perfect visual backdrop to our sound and our music. And it's instantly recognizable and it evokes the early roots of Keith's life so it's kind of a full circle experience. We picked stuff he'd already done. We have collaborated with him but most of the artwork is stuff most people have seen from the '80s.
You've said that urgency and immediacy is what you're after in writing and recording these songs. Why do you feel those are important qualities to the music you make?
Well, we don't want to waste anyone's time. To achieve the results we're looking for, that's the way it has to be done. A lot of so-called punk has moved away from what made it exciting in the first place. There's too much time spent on making records and people being more concerned with fashion and things like that. We're kind of after the bare bones approach.
Is your recording essentially done live?
Yeah, yeah. Very quickly. We make our records in two days. Keith was in a booth, Mario [Rubalcaba] had his drums in the big room and Steven [McDonald] and I, for the most part, played in the control room side by side all kind of trying to look at each other as best we could.
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