Flipper: "We had people reporting that they'd seen our graffiti on the Great Wall of China"

Flipper (due tonight and tomorrow night at the Lion's Lair) got its start in 1979 in the creatively fertile arts and music scene in San Francisco. Formed after the break-up of Negative Trend and including two former members of that band, Will Shatter and Stephen DePace, Flipper didn't set out to be the godfathers of grunge or to write music that was pretty much the antithesis of the hardcore movement that crystallized after the turn of the decade. Rather, Flipper charted its own trajectory with dark, sometimes brooding, electrifying songs sometimes reflecting an exuberant desperation and a worldview cynical in so much as cynicism meant a skepticism of the rhetoric perpetrated by the Ronald Reagan administration and his notion of "morning in America."

Flipper released a handful of records in its first run of activity until Will Shatter tragically died in 1987. The group pulled it together in time for the 1993 album American Grafishy. Two years after that album, Flipper effectively went on hiatus for ten years, before returning and ultimately writing and recording a new album with one of its longtime supporters and fans, Krist Novoselic of Nirvana fame. The result was the 2008 album Love, which sounded like the band was back to form.

Chris Ritter of the band Crash, a former resident of the Bay Area and in bands at the time of the heyday of the punk scene, facilitated interviews with Flipper, and we were able to speak in depth with Stephen DePace, Rachel Thoele and Bruce Loose. What follows now is our conversation with DePace, the band's original drummer and continuous member. The friendly and gregarious DePace discussed the formation of the band, its pranks and the unexpected covers he's heard. Check back tomorrow for our interviews with Thoele and Loose.

Westword: What brought you guys together to form the band in the beginning?

Stephen DePace: One of the original, founding members, Will Shatter, and I were in Negative Trend together. That band was happening in 1978. That was my very first band. Pretty cool experience for me. That band went through several different personnel changes, and I was in the middle version of the band. I departed along with the singer and then a couple of other guys that joined. Eventually the band [broke up] permanently.

A little time went by and Will Shatter basically started putting together this other band, Flipper, and asked me to join. I guess Ricky Williams had left the Sleepers or whatever. Somehow, magically, we all came together: Will Shatter, myself, Ted Falconi and Ricky Sleeper. Ricky didn't last too long in the band, probably less than six months or so. We may have played one or two gigs with him, but we never did any recording with him. He was kind of a real mess, so we let him go, and we picked up with Bruce Loose. That particular line-up really clicked, and we started recording and playing gigs very shortly after we initially got together.

What caused us to get together...There was an amazing scene that was developing and brewing in San Francisco in the mid-to-late '70s. I came on the scene around '77, '78, and there were a whole lot of people around. Everyone was an artist of some kind or another, a musician, a photographer or doing films or all kinds of different mediums people were working in. There were people hanging out in the scene from the San Francisco Art Institute and so on.

Everything kind of revolved around this club called The Mabuhay Gardens, also known as the Fab Mab. It was kind of a clubhouse. It functioned as not only as clubhouse for everybody to kind of hang out at but a venue and stage for everybody to play on as well. It was a really great mix and collection of people that were there every night of the week, basically. It was the place to go.

With that pool of musicians and other artists and stuff like that, it was fairly easy to network and connect up with people. If you wanted to join a band or start a band or somebody dropped out and you needed a new person or whatever, it was fairly easy to find somebody. You could throw a rock and find somebody to put a band together with, you know what I mean? We were lucky in that. If you wanted to do that kind of thing, if you wanted to be in the scene, if you wanted to be in a band, you could just show up and do it.

You mentioned the Mabuhay. What do you remember about Dirk Dirksen?

He was hilarious. You know what his schtick was, right? He would berate everyone and belittle everyone and put you down and talk shit about you right to your face, call you names and all kinds of stuff. I remember one time in particular: Flipper was well known for playing until they literally pulled the plug on us. We used to play these ridiculous two or three hour shows. One time, it got to be two a.m. and Dirksen told us to get off or stop or "Your set's up," or whatever he said to us, and we continued to play. He pulled the plug on us, shut down the power on stage, and that left me on the drums with no power for guitars and no P.A. for the vocals.

I continued to play, and the crowd was digging it. He carried a sack or a sock with a bunch of coins in it for if he ever needed to whack somebody. He very casually walked around behind my drum kit. I see him doing this, and I'm like, "What's he going to do?" He walked around behind me and came around to my right side and whacked me on the knee with that sack of coins or whatever it was. That was it, I stopped. He was fun. He used to always called Ted "Lawrence" or "Larry" or something like that. He goes by Ted, that's his name, but he was always like that, and he was a funny guy.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

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