East Bay Ray - 2004

Share:   Facebook  Have you seen Mark Prindle's drunken interview with Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay RayTwitter   Email to friend               

Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray is a true standup guy. I don't mean a hilarious "standup" comedian, though he may very well be that too. What I mean is that (a) due to some email failures, I didn't receive an interview confirmation and phone number until two hours after he was expecting my call, yet he graciously conducted the interview anyway, and (b) being half-tipsy (I didn't KNOW I was going to be interviewing East Bay Ray, darn it!), I was a bit slow on the uptake and kept trying to prod him into saying bad things about estranged DK singer Jello Biafra - and he REFUSED. He stopped me in my tracks and made me feel ashamed of myself. Because he's a standup guy. And a kelen heller of a guitarist/songwriter!

Please let me explain something here that I should have explained a long time ago -- I also put this in my Klaus Flouride interview intro, so if you read it there, save yourself some time! Jello Biafra saw this interview, and I am so deeply ashamed of myself that I feel like burying my head in the ground. No other public figure has had a more powerful and positive influence on my character (from age 16 on) than Jello has. He helped me to develop my own identity away from the "crowd." He opened my eyes to political realities and musical possibilities. So what do I do? Grow up, get smug and tear him down. Like an ASSHOLE. I've never even met the guy. Sure, it's "hip" and "cool" to bring down the punk rock star, but he's still a human being and it was insensitive of me to believe all the negative things I've heard about him while discounting all the positive. So while reading this interview, even if you get a kick out of my "Jello bashing," please know that I shouldn't have done it and I'm not proud of it at all. It was childish and churlish - two things I never wanted to grow up to be. :7(

My words are in bold; his are in plain text.


Can I speak to Ray please?

This is he.

Hey Ray! How you doin'? This is uhh.. hang on a second. This is Mark Prindle calling from Citizine.

Oh. Hi!

Do you have time to do an interview tonight? He just got in touch with me - the guy from It's Alive.

Oh really? Yeah, okay. `Cause he had it for 4:15.

Oops! That was two hours ago!

I've been waiting by the phone.. Oooo...

Ha! Do you have time to -

Yeah, I can do it now.

Oh okay. Just to let you know, I've been a huge Dead Kennedys fan for about half my life. Granted, you had broken up by the time - because of my age, my young age - by the time I'd heard of you.


But aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh now you're back together, so.. And this new live CD - oh boy. I got it in the mail yesterday. I could not believe that you guys used to do "Have I The Right" and "Back In The USSR."


Were there other songs you would do as well? Because I was just like, "What the heck?"

Yes, there was! Well, it was early in our career - we didn't quite have a full set, so we did some wacky covers. Yeah! Pulling those tapes out and listening to the whole thing, it definitely brought a smile to my face. I had totally forgotten "Have I The Right."

That - I mean. that's not a punk song!

Ha! What?!

"Have I The Right"?

Well, if you take it in context, considering we were playing in the Deaf Club with the Germs, I think it was very punk!

That's true, that's true.

Who's more punk than Joe Meek?

Oh, he produced it. It's by the Honeycombs, right? Something like that?

Yeah, Honeycombs. Joe Meek is the guy who did "Telstar."

Oh yeah. He was the crazy guy. He killed his landlady, right?

I don't know that story.

Yeah, he went crazy at the end.

Yeah, there's other covers that we never recorded.

What kind of stuff? Can you remember any?

We used to do "The Last Time."

Oh, the Rolling Stones?

Yeah. We used to do "Pipeline."

Oh. Like "Police Truck." I can see that. It's got that "Police Truck" feel. JFA?

Oh right. The uhh.


Yeah, the minor third. Yes.

Hey, why did this second guitarist quit the band so early on?

He wanted to do more - he was into Captain Beefheart and stuff like that. So he wanted to go in that direction.

More stuff like "Ill In The Head"? Weird stuff like that?

Yeah, yeah. More like "Ill In The Head." More odd time signatures and stuff. Progressive rock, I guess.

"Ill In The Head" is a pretty great song! Was it just that he didn't like the fast normal punk rock song?

Yeah. He wanted to be more arty. More art, less fun, I guess. The rest of us believed we could do both. Sometimes the more arty stuff is the stuff you don't know is art. I mean like, for example, the Beatles. Their early records were - people just, when they first came out, they wrote `em off as a pop band. And then as they continued, they went back and listened to `em and said, "Oh, wait a minute. They're doing some complex stuff here!" It's one of the, as Cole Porter or somebody said, "Art is when you do things that make the unusual sound familiar and the familiar sound unusual." That's kind of what the Beatles did in the pop music field. Pop in the "small p" sense, you know. Everything else is classical, I guess. Ha! Serious music. But that's what all the really really good rock bands did.

Who would you say are your favorites of all time? Your favorite rock bands?

Rock bands of all time? (Pause) Well actually, I was kinda behind the times because I grew up in the `70s, but I was not in touch with `70s music. I was listening to Pink Floyd's first record with Syd Barrett playing guitar. Then he left the band after that. And I was into the Ohio Players and stuff.

Oh really? Didn't they do one that the Red Hot Chili Peppers covered? "Rollercoaster of Love"?

Yeah, "Love Rollercoaster." The Ohio Players.

I guess the Dead Kennedys never did that one?



I think one of the reason Dead Kennedys had a unique sound is everybody in the band really listened to diverse kinds of music and then kinda came in and added spice to the stew, so to speak.

I know a lot of people when they first start playing the guitar kinda have a certain band or certain sound in mind. Were you listening to somebody that you were trying to imitate at the time? Or did you just learn and develop your own - you know, when you brought in the echo and everything.

The echo was from Syd Barrett, I think.

Oh yeah?


Okay. And some people say that there's kind of a surfy sound.

I didn't play surf music, but I think because I was born and raised in California, my formative years I heard it on the radio. And the older kids in the neighborhood were into it. I even knew one little kid that was into skateboarding - long before it was popular.

Looking back at your career - I know you probably had to listen to this stuff a lot when you were remixing and remastering and everything - are you still really happy with all the records? Or are there some that you don't feel you guys accomplished what you were going for? Speaking for myself, I really love all of them, but I know some people have complaints about Bedtime For Democracy. Other people complain about Frankenchrist, which I think is ridiculous. How do you complain about that album?

Well, Frankenchrist was kind of our - we had this kind of psycho-psychedelic sound.

Yeah! Exactly!

And Plastic Surgery kinda has both that - you know, it has the hardcore. Well, there was In God We Trust, which was really fast and hardcore. And then Plastic Surgery had both, and then Frankenchrist was kind of all the psycho stuff, and then Bedtime was kinda more of the thrashier stuff. But, well yeah, there's some things that I would remix. But I don't know about the playing. I wouldn't change the playing. Maybe some arrangements. I think maybe some of the later songs got a little long.

Oh, like "Chickenshit Conformist"? That kind of thing? That's like six and a half minutes.

"Stars And Stripes Of Corruption."

Oh okay.

Where it's not really a song - a piece of music anymore.

Oh. It's more like a speech?

Heh heh.

Yeah. Who is your singer now?

Jeff Penalty.

Who has he played with?

Well, if you went on deadkennedys.com, there's a little band members page.

Okay. I don't think I've been on it since you had the other guy singing - Brandon Cruz.

Right, yeah.

Do you think there's ever a chance that you guys will put out a new record either studio or live with the new line-up?

There's a chance!

I'd like to hear it! I'd definitely like to hear it. Are you playing any new either compositions or covers live?

No, we're not. Because, like yourself, the audience is interesting because it's probably about 2/3rds of people who've never seen us and a third that previously have. And there's people who thought they'd never see or hear the Dead Kennedys live, so at least the first time around, which is kinda what we're doing now, we have to do what they - you know, we have to play "Holiday In Cambodia"! But I look forward to it, because it's a great song. I enjoy it. It's a little bit different each time. But one thing, as a musician, I'm really honored that we're drawing two different generations, which I think is really pretty good. I mean, we've actually had a parent and their child both at the show. Someone that's 40 and someone that's 20. And that's pretty amazing, because most bands - I mean, when you think of a band that gets back together and does a reunion tour, I don't know, I kinda think of the Moody Blues. And everybody's the same age as the band. And we're not! We're drawing, like I say, over 2/3rds - 70% are young people, and I think that's really good because there's a lot of ageism in the rock and roll music field. That's kind of like the last prejudice. You can't make fun of girl bands anymore. You can't make fun of black hard rock bands - back in `60s and stuff, there was a lot of prejudice. Age is the last one. I went and saw the Dictators from New York - they're like from '73, '74? I saw them in a club here in San Francisco two years ago, and they just blew everybody away.

Is it the same four guys?

Yeah! And they all played good. Their hearts were into it. There are some bands that don't play good anymore. But nobody sounded like them, they were all into it and they were doing things that were original and creative. Because a lot of bands nowadays tend to listen to the Top 40 radio and end up kinda sounding homogenized, in my opinion.

Yeah, I agree.

But I like punk-pop. People forget back in the day we had the Ramones and the Buzzcocks. And the Undertones. The Undertones are one of my favorite all-time bands.

Yeah! I like them too. I hadn't heard them until very recently, when all the remasters came out.

Yeah, they're great! The Undertones played punk that was real pop, you know?

Yeah, and it doesn't all sound like that slick Epitaph recording that all the new pop- punk bands sound like.


You know that production sound?

Yep! I know it well.

Ha! I think you might have heard it somewhere. I also got the new DVD, which is just amazing. That thing is so great.- just to see you guys -

Oh! In God We Trust, Inc.?

Yeah! I've been listening to this album - I know it's not the same exact studio date, but listening to these songs for so many years, to see you guys actually - what it was like to be in there recording.


The studio chatter and - and then the live stuff was pretty amazing too, I thought. It looked like you guys really pulled out the most interesting footage you could find for each song. Like the one - there was, uhh, I think you had "Back In Rhodesia" on there, right?


And then you had one from the -

Oh no, that's not on there.

Oh no! It's umm."Kepone.." "Kepone Kids" or something?


That's it. "Kepone Kids."

Part of it was to show the evolution of the songs. We put them together live before we went in the studio.

And then that funny one from like '86 when Jello came out dressed like a shriner or something? That was really funny.

Ha! Well, Dead Kennedys have always had a sense of humor. I think you can communicate to more people and get ideas across if you have a sense of humor. But I think you have to have a sense of humor to survive, especially in the times nowadays.

Was there a lot of violence directed towards you guys back then?


No? Even after the "Nazi Punks" song and everything?

No, no. Those type of people didn't come to our shows that much. Why don't you say the WHOLE title of the song?

"Nazi Punks - Hey! How's It Goin'?"

Yeah! I mean, punk has a wide spectrum. On one end, like within the Sex Pistols you have the Sid Vicious type - the kind of idiot. And on the other end, you have the Johnny Rotten, Johnny Lydon - the intelligent one. Dead Kennedys were on the intelligent end of punk, and our audiences tended to be also.

I've heard various accounts here. Did Jello's. .I don't wanna say `ego' - his sort of self-image kinda take - did he get out of control? As the band went on, did he start to think that the Dead Kennedys were Jello Biafra? That's just something that -

Ummm. well, that's something that you can comment on if you want. It's not my place to comment on that.

Yeah, okay. Yeah. Alright, are you still getting any flack from people about playing without him? Or was that just at the beginning when you were playing?

Oh, we get some Taliban punk types. It's not very many. Because basically you don't have to come to the concert! It's so funny to hear people preaching that fans shouldn't go. It's like, "What!?" It's like the Taliban leaders of punk rock. But where's the punk rock rulebook? Those people were never Dead Kennedys fans; they're all into being puritans. Dead Kennedys have always said to think for yourself and judge for yourself. And if you judge us without seeing us play, that's called prejudice.

Do you think they would do that if Jello tried to tour with..

He has played the songs with other bands! D.O.A...

No, I mean if he tried to take a band out and call it the Dead Kennedys.

It wouldn't sound like it though.

Yeah, I know. I'm saying that you guys are -

Plus we have three of the four original members. I mean, other bands replace their lead singers.

Yeah, it's really more I guess because he's such a.. uhh.. loudmouth, I guess? I don't know. It must be weird to see the Dead Kennedys play and not have ten minutes of preaching between each song.

Well, it wasn't always like that.

Oh, okay. It was just at the - the only example I have is that one from the On Broadway, where he just keeps talking and talking and talking and talking. "I'm the hope dope pusher!"

Well, that was like '85?

Yeah, that was near the end. Yeah, exactly. Was it hard when you got back together - did you have to relearn the songs?

Actually, I thought it was gonna be hard, but it turned out it wasn't. Have you seen us play?

No, I haven't!

Oh, you haven't?

I need to. I'm in New York. Are you coming back here any time soon?

There's been discussions.

I was aware when you were coming, and it was a time when I was going to be out of town.

Oh. Well, we're definitely gonna slow down our schedule a bit. We kinda hit every place, and that was kind of our goal. What was the question?

I think I was asking whether it was hard to relearn the songs.

Oh yeah. Not really. Back in the day - I of course objected - but back in the day, we would rock - we would hit maybe 50-60% of the time. And now it's 100% of the time.


Yeah. Better staying power.

Why is that?

I don't know!

Are you getting better because the clubs sound better?

Yeah, there are better P.A.s and we're playing better clubs. But also I think people have learned some things. That it's more about the music, and not a bunch of peripheral stuff. I mean, ultimately Dead Kennedys is a band that plays music with humorous or political lyrics.

The thing that people who say, "Oh, you're not the Dead Kennedys without Jello" don't seem to recognize is that the songs would not be classic songs if it was just Jello with any band. It's the melodies you sing to yourself. You don't sit there - I mean, you do shout the lyrics of course, but it's because of the melodies that you remember them.

Well, part of the problem is that certain aspects of the band weren't as heavily promoted as others. I mean, the contributions that Klaus made to the band have not been recognized, or the drummers. But it's there. We were all there; we all know what really happened. So if somebody's gonna read an Internet site and decide they know the truth - don't they call that virtual reality? People wanna believe what they wanna believe, but it's not the truth. People that believe in fantasies like that are in trouble in the long run. But all the music that Biafra did after the band was co-written with somebody else, and. well, I don't know what your opinion is..

I buy everything he puts out, but I don't listen to any of it nearly as much as I listen to the Dead Kennedys. I enjoy his work, but I think most people would agree that it doesn't touch the Dead Kennedys' music.

Yeah, so that tells you something there. You can just listen to it and go, "Oh, he collaborated with these people and it sounds like this. He collaborated with these people and it sounds like this." How could someone who actually listens to the music go, "Oh, he did all of it."?

It's a pity that the three of you without him didn't continue doing something, whether it be under a different name or whatever, because you did have a pretty great sound. Especially the psycho-type stuff on Frankenchrist. It's such a weird sound, like a foreboding scary - like "This Could Be Anywhere" and "Chicken Farm." Just a really creepy sound that not a whole lot of bands have done.

Have you heard Mutiny On The Bay?


There's a version of "This Could Be Anywhere" on there that I really love, because there's like this weird.. The instruments are taking off by themselves in the middle - that kind of breakdown in the middle.

Where did you pull "At My Job" from? That's another one that's just like "Mmmm-ohhh."

Oh, ha!

That's a great one.

That was all done on a sequencer.

So after the Dead Kennedys, now I don't remember what it sounds like, but I do know you were - I remember Skrapyard. I remember when that came out. And then weren't you in kind of a cabaret-type band or something?

Oh, I was in Frenchy for a while. Frenchy, yeah.

And what else did you do after that?

Well, I mostly do producing and mixing of bands. Nobody famous so far. Currently I've been doing - oh yeah, I did another band called Killer Smiles.

Did you get recorded?

Yeah, there's like demo tapes and stuff. Nothing that sounds really good. And I've been doing a lot of mastering. I have kind of a digital audio workstation on my computer at home. With the current situation in technology, I get to combine my math abilities with my music abilities. But I do mastering for bands. I've done records for the Oozzies and Strychnine and a few others. Nothing above a certain level, but I enjoy working with the people and I enjoy the music, so I do it.

Cool. When you're relistening to things - like the live things you're putting out and things like that - Oh wait! Did you say Candyass?

Oh no, I didn't say Candyass, but that was one of the bands I was in.

Because I got this - I never knew if this was actually from you or not, but on my web site, I got a response from you or somebody who said they were you several years ago, updating your biographical information. Saying you were in Candyass, you played guitar on a CD by Cheika Rimitti? I don't know how you pronounce that. Sidi Mansour?

Oh! Yeah! The Arabian stuff. That was a good one.

With Robert Fripp and Flea?

Yep. That's right.

Wow! That's pretty cool. Is it still available?

I have no idea actually! I should call somebody. I know it came out in France because it was put together by a French label. And I know he was looking for an outlet here in the States, but I don't know if he found one. Yeah, that was great actually.

Did you play on a lot of it?

No, I didn't. Just a couple tracks. I can't remember. I did at least two. But they were long instrumental tracks - there was like six tracks on the whole thing.

Was it a different sort of playing for you? More improv type?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, what it was is she - she's like, well back then she was like 70 years old - it's called Rai music, which is pop music. And it was looked very down upon in Algeria because their music was supposed to be religious. Kinda like the Taliban punks! She was singing about secular things. And she was living in France, and there was a composer that recorded her with a traditional rhythm section - a kind of Arabian music type sounding rhythm section. And then they brought the tapes to Los Angeles and overdubbed horns and me and Robert Fripp doing his stuff. As the French guy said, "Eastern folk music meets Western folk music."

How did you get involved? Had you heard of her before? Did someone bring her to your attention?

It was brought to my attention by Geza X, who has worked on some of our records. He was the producer of the L.A. portion of it. Actually, it helped that I had both a music and a math background. They were having a problem with the horn charts, and that style of music is done in a kind of modal form. Do you know that term?

Yeah, that's where you stay in the same key, right? And work around -

Well, not exactly. You start on a different note than you would in our usual "Do Re Mi Fa So La Te Do"; you start on a different note but keep the intervals the same. The horn parts were in a funny key, and the people in the studio were like, "Oh, this looks wrong!" But then I said, "No, just play it exactly as it's written. Because what he's doing is he's shifting them into making them play more Arabic scales." So they could have just played it straight, but I had to get a piece of paper out and count the notes and show them.

What was your music background? I mean in terms of, obviously you know a lot about reading music and things, and a lot of the punker music -

Not really. I just meant from my math background.

Oh, from your math background?

Yeah, because basically the scales - you start on a different note. It's one way of looking at it. It's not technically the right way, but it's one way of looking at it. And that's how the guy in France had written the horn chart, so it was kind of funny to go, "Oh!" when I finally figured it out. And the other thing - the horn charts were also written in a different key than they play in. Like you know, there's E flat or B flat horns and stuff. So if you're playing in the key of C, their music would be in like D flat or B flat. It goes back to when they didn't use to have vowels on the charts. Anyway, so besides being transposed for the horns, it was also transposed to make them play in an Arabian scale.

So what is your math background? This is something I didn't know about until you mentioned it on this call. Are you a mathematician by trade?

NO!!! Ha hahahaa!

One of the guys from the Angry Samoans is a math professor now.

Oh! Right, right.

Gregg Turner.

Oh yeah.

Did you just study it in school?

Yeah. I went to the University for it, but I just got an undergraduate degree, so you can't really do anything with that now. By the time I graduated, I was a professional musician.

What is this - in this email from eight years ago, you mentioned a rare 7" single called "Trouble In Town"?


Is that under your name?

East Bay Ray? Yeah.

Oh wow! I didn't know you - that's pretty cool. So that's pretty much impossible to find now, I guess?

Well, I think so!


There's 2000 vinyl copies floating around somewhere. Try eBay.

It's kind of a spaghetti western tribute?

Yeah, it's a spaghetti western style.

And what was Skrapyard? I heard it years and years ago, and it seemed kinda like funky, funky sorta music.

Yeah. Well, like I said, Dead Kennedys listened to all kinds of music, including the Ohio Players. And that's the kind of music this singer wanted to do. I wanted to do more straight funk, but he wanted it like half-funky, half-rock. But I didn't want to be, you know, Dead Kennedys was a punk rock band. I wanted to experiment and try out - I mean, the more commercial thing would have been to just do punk rock all over again. But that's what I'd been typecast as, so I deliberately played in like Frenchy, which was a lounge act. Oh, there was an art band too - The Cage.

The Caves?

The Cage, which was kind of an art rock thing.

Just demos available for that?

Yeah, yeah. Nobody wanted to hear it but us!

Hey! There are those of us who like your stuff. Oh! I read - I think it was. Where would I have read this? Well, probably in the liner notes or something -

Oh! Are you..? Prindle. Do you do a record review page?



So was that you that wrote like eight years ago?

Well, I don't know if it was, because I don't think I would have said "spaghetti western." I would have let the music speak for itself. So it's obviously someone I knew or something.

It said, "My friend Red showed me your page." Maybe it was your friend Red that sent it.


Red. R-E-D.

Yeah? Red who?

I don't know him!

Oh, okay! I know two Reds.

Oh okay.

I mean, I haven't kept in touch with them.

So Live At The Deaf Club was originally going to be released years ago?

Oh yeah! Yeah.

And why wasn't it?

I don't know! But I know Biafra worked on it, because when I pulled out the tapes, there was stuff that he'd done on them. So I know he wanted it out. I think the record label got sidetracked.

I haven't heard the remasters, so I can't speak for those, but -

Oh, I feel sorry for you.

Really? Do they actually sound better than the albums?

Oh God, yeah.

Really? Oooh!

Well, you have vinyl, right?

Yeah. The only one I've always had a complaint about is Plastic Surgery Disasters - it's always sounded really messy. I don't know what about it - the drums were too cymbally or something, or I don't know. But the others I always thought sounded good, so I'm curious to hear what sort of elements you brought out in the remasters.

Well, it's mostly because when CDs came out and the stuff was transferred in the late `80s, they did just a horrible job. Especially Give Me Convenience. I haven't listened to the vinyl in a long time. I'm no longer a vinyl snob. Some of it - because I work in digital music and mastering, if it doesn't sound as good as a record, it's because it's not mastered right. The other thing is actually with vinyl, you can't put as much high end on it as a digital thing. But what happened is a lot of people took the EQ they used for vinyl and just transferred it over to CD, and that's a mistake. You have to go back and do it over.

What happens when you do it like that?

Well, a vinyl record actually rolls off the high end, so what happens is when you're mastering, you tend to boost it and turn up the treble because the vinyl cuts it back down to normal. So if you transfer that over to digital, the digital doesn't cut the treble. So you get all this kinda squeaky treble, and that's why in the late `80s and early `90s, CDs were kinda squeaky sounding. You have to roll off the high end. And another thing is that people who listened to records a lot got used to that sound, and actually if you listened to the original tapes in the studio, the tapes sound way better than the vinyl does. And nowadays, I think the technology - you have to look at digital tech - I mean like 15-20 years ago, videogames were like Pong, and nowadays they've got these 3D things. It's the same thing with music. Now when you do a digital transfer, you can make it sound a lot better. But I digress. But like Give Me Convenience - the CD had this huge midrange peak that made it sound like a telephone. It was horrible. The new one doesn't have that. You can hear the bass. Anybody who plays them side by side, you immediately know which one sounds like the band and which one sounds like crap. I never really listened to the CD until I was remastering the stuff -- I mean, I listened to it when it came out, but I didn't listen to it for ten years - and to me it was a crime against Dead Kennedys and it was a crime against music. Shame, shame on our record label for putting that out. But I haven't really compared it to the vinyl, but I just know that about two years ago, I started realizing that somebody who knows how to master a CD can make it sound better than the vinyl - and without all the pops.

And did you have access to the original tapes?

Yes. They've always been in my basement.


Well, I was the one that produced and mixed most of our big singles. "California Uber Alles," "Holiday In Cambodia".. Geza worked on it, but I actually did the final mix.

Years and years ago, a guy sent me a CD bootleg of demos from you guys. I guess early demos?

Oh yeah?

And I just wanted to make sure you have those, because those would be good to release some day. There are some songs that are otherwise unavailable - something about "Cold Fish" or something?

Oh yeah! I don't have that!

Awww! I need to send you a copy of that then. Can I send you a copy?

What format did you get it in?


Oh, CDR, oh. Could you rip me a copy?

Of course! Yeah. It's something that would be worth - now I don't know if the sound quality is good enough, it being a bootleg, but it's got that and "Dreadlocks Of The Suburbs."

Oh yeah! I've heard about that record, and I never figured out where it came from. The only theory we have is that there was a rehearsal studio that we used to rehearse at that had a recording studio next door, and that someone taped us one day and that's what that tape is.



So you actually never had a demo with those songs on it?

I'd have to hear it, but without hearing it, that's - I know we played that stuff, but those weren't final versions if I recall. I'd have to listen to them to see if they were more like sketches of songs. Oh, that'd be great! You have a CD version. You probably got it from someone that might have an original tape.

I have no idea who, it was so long ago. It had the early "Kepone Factory," a couple of punk songs, there was one of those - another one of those creepy guitar interplay- type songs, like a slower one. I'm blanking on the name of it, but another really good one.

I thought you had like a cassette of a cassette of a cassette of a cassette, but you have a CDR.

Well, it may be a CDR of a cassette of a cassette. But it sounds good to me! It's just these songs are like - after listening to the Dead Kennedys for 15 years, to suddenly to have songs I'd never heard. Same with this new one you put out, with "Gaslight."

Yeah, "Gaslight!"

Where did that song come from? That was one of the other guitarist's songs?

Yeah, I think he came in with the original idea. But I don't know why we never recorded it for some reason. That was the same thing; I listened to the tape and I was like, "'Gaslight'! Oh, we used to play that."

Should I go get that demo CDR and tell you what's on there? It's right across the room there.

If you see it, yeah. I'm kinda curious.

One second.

(*goes, gets the CD*)

Ah, here we go. Alright. Let's see what's on this thing. This thing has two or three different versions of "Nazi Punks Fuck Off."

Oh really?

An early version of "Kepone Factory," "Forward To Death," "California Uber Alles," "Your Emotions," "Kill The Poor," "Holiday In Cambodia," something called "Poison."

"Poison"? Wow. That doesn't even ring a bell. "Cold Fish" I remember, and "Dreadlocks Of The Suburbs."

Oh, here's the other one I really liked, the slower one I mentioned: "Mutations Of Today."


That ring a bell?


Well, the person might be wrong about the -

Are you sure it's us playing?

Oh yeah. You can tell that one, yeah.

And also, it sounds like from the song titles that it's a compilation of different time frames, of different tapes - practice tapes.

Yeah, at the end there's some stuff that isn't all the Dead Kennedys, like Jello on somebody's version of "Folsom Prison Blues" or something, but most of it yeah! The person who made this may be wrong about the song titles, but "Mutations Of Today," whatever it's actually called is a really cool slow creepy psycho-type song, and it's clearly the Dead Kennedys.

It's actually a song? It's not like a jam?

No, it's a song.

Oh, you know, I wonder if some of that is the Witch Trials stuff.

No. Well -

Are you familiar with that?

Yeah. Well, I know the four songs.

Well yeah, alright. I wonder..

While I've got you on the phone, why don't I put the CD in here and see if it rings any kind of bell to you?


Oh, you don't want me to?

I need to - since I thought you were calling at 4:15, I kind of arranged to do stuff.

Oh, that's right. Oops! Okay, I'll just make you a copy then.

And I don't really like listening to music over the phone.

That's not a bad idea.

And you're gonna send me a CDR.

That's true. Okay!

But if I recognize them, I'll shoot you an email and let you know what they are. I think as soon as I hear them, I'll go, "Oh! Okay." I'd like to hear the whole thing so I can see who's playing. Like who's playing drums, are there two guitars or one guitar, all that kinda stuff. What you have is from different eras, and I'm not sure I want to try to decipher it over the phone. It sounds fun though!

Yeah, it is. Can I ask one more question for you?

Yeah! I was gonna say - is five or ten minutes okay with you?

Oh yeah. Yeah. Apparently the guy's emails he was sending me today were bouncing back to him so I didn't hear about it until tonight. But anyway, when you were going through all this stuff to release some new stuff and everything, is it difficult for you to listen to that stuff considering how Jello is treating you guys now? The fact that he's all over this stuff? Or are you not the kind of person that that would bother? I mean, he definitely complained about you guys on his last --- not his last one, but the one before it - his spoken-word thing. Because you wanted to give "Holiday In Cambodia" to a Gap commercial or something.

Oh, that's one of the biggest lies that's been floating around. The Dead Kennedys have never done a commercial. We won the court case like three years ago, and there has not been a commercial.

Not to mention the fact that he just keeps losing these cases, right? Obviously it's not that you have really expensive lawyers!

The facts are the facts. There was a trial, and they have rules and procedures that make things fair. The problem is that people in the press don't take the time to find out the facts; they just report whatever the press release says.

Do you think he ripped you off on purpose? Or he just screwed up and won't admit it? Or do you just not have any idea what was in his head?

I don't know. I uhh. are you trying to talk to me off the record here?

What's that?

That question shouldn't be on the record.

Which one was it? Which question?

I'm not gonna repeat it.

Oh no, I wanna make sure I don't -

You're trying to get me to say bad things about Biafra, and I don't appreciate that. You know what I mean? It's kind of a - well, not YOU, but journalists like conflict and stuff. But we're over it.

Okay! I'll just throw that question out then.

Ultimately, it's what's in the music that counts. You can say whatever you want to say; I just, you know..

You try to avoid this because it has nothing to do with the music, you're right.

Yeah. Or with the politics either. There are some big problems going on in the world now. I mean, the times now are worse than they were in the `80s under Reagan.

Bush is worse than Reagan? I was just a kid when Reagan was around.

Yeah, Bush is way worse. And John Ashcroft, the Attorney General. There are things going on that are -

Worse than Iran-Contra?

Oh yeah. The whole Iraqi war thing is CREATING terrorists. Actually, somebody made an interesting point: you cannot have a `War on Terror,' which is what the media calls it and our government calls it. Terror is a tactic. It's a tactic used by people who don't have missiles and tanks. You can fight a group, like Al-Queda. But you can't fight a war on terror; that's like fighting a war on tanks. It's a tactic that people are gonna use that don't have a massive army like the United States. It's never gonna go away, and I think it's a big, big lie - it's kinda like the `War on Drugs.' It's gonna be the Hundred Years War! It's gonna go on forever, because that's more of a medical and economic problem than it is a criminal problem.

The big thing in the news today was that Bush is gonna support an amendment to ban gay marriages.

Well, that's called the "Weapons of Mass Distraction." He knows fully well that a constitutional amendment will - it takes 3/4s of the states to ratify it, and it takes like I think 2/3rds of Congress before he can get to it. He knows it's never gonna happen, but it's gonna look good on his resume. It's basic hate-mongering. People don't realize that what the Bill of Rights is about is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. If the majority decides that it's okay to gas Jews, would that make it right? The majority decided that racist intermarriage was illegal - blacks and whites or Asians and whites or Asians and blacks or whatever - that was illegal for a long, long time because the majority didn't like it. It's not a popularity contest! It's just this disguise. Another thing is that they're talking about civil relationships. I mean, if the Catholic Church doesn't want to marry gays, that's their right. But where's the government - like I said, it's the weapons of mass distractions. Good old Karl Rove. Do you know who Karl Rove is?

I know the name.

Karl Rove is George Bush's brain.

Oh alright. Yeah, that's why I know him.

This was his doing. It's called a "wedge issue." You know what a wedge issue is?


It's a meaningless issue which polarizes people, but it's really kinda meaningless.

That's what this is for him?

Yeah! Because I mean, the thing is - heterosexual marriage is not affected one way or the other. People will still have the right to have a heterosexual marriage any way they want to, with all the rights. But the problem from a legal viewpoint is that people who are actually gay - do you know gay couples?


Yeah, because of the definition, they don't get any kind of - there's a thousand federal benefits they don't get. There's a thousand federal benefits, and that's what the issue is about. Calling it something else means they can't get these thousands of benefits that everybody else gets. The other thing is that I don't see how it's gonna belittle marriage. Heterosexuals will still get married and still have kids. It doesn't really interfere with other people's freedom, and that's kind of an issue. But I understand how people are uncomfortable with it and all that, but they have to realize that forty years ago, they were uncomfortable with Asians marrying blacks.

Isn't it unconstitutional to deny them the right to do that?

No. I mean, look at the Supreme Court we have.

But the only reason you could possibly put forth for not letting them do it is a religious reason. And religion should be completely kept out of it.

Right, yeah.

The only other thing he's saying is something about "preserving the sanctity." Well, look at all the divorces; marriage isn't exactly a very sacred thing anymore. And gay guys who love each other and are getting married aren't making it any worse.

Well, the thing is, like I say, churches can still do it the way they wanna do it. unless you're a member of the Mormon Church. This is just talking about the civil - I mean, there's two parts of marriage. One part, from the state's viewpoint, is contract between two people with rights and obligations. But also, religions have their own spin on it, and there's whole theories about how that happened, but basically I think it's just that they know if they can control sex, they can control people. But nobody's gonna force the Roman Catholic Church to do what they want to do. The problem is that they're trying to force their viewpoint onto other people. It's a touchy issue, but in reality, it doesn't really affect normal people all that much. I mean, they let blacks and whites marry in the `60s, and look at all the problems it's caused.

Oh, it's horrible isn't it? Oof.

Yeah. It's like it's totally destroyed - marriage was already destroyed!


They let blacks and whites marry and that destroyed it then!

Oh boy.

That destroyed the sanctity right there.

That was the worst.

So there's nothing to save really.


It's a clever wedge issue. The same thing with the death penalty. Now the death penalty doesn't really affect 99.9% of the people in the country. Of the people who vote, how many actually know people on Death Row? But it's called a wedge issue because it gets people all excited and polarized.

Man, it works. Once they put it in the headlines, it makes me start going, "Wait a minute!" And it takes my attention away from the fact that Bush is doing a million other things.

I think the big issues coming up, and I hope the people running against him know it, is that he made a speech three years ago saying, "These tax cuts will create seven million jobs. Let me put $200 in your pocket and I will create seven million jobs." That sounds like a good deal, doesn't it? Yeah, he put $200 in peoples' pockets, but he actually borrowed the money and we've lost two million jobs. Somebody needs to tell the American public, "These tax cuts - yeah, they put $200 in your pocket, but your children are not going to have a job." Another thing I saw on TV - some guy who worked at a plant was saying, "Yeah, for 10 years, 15, 20 years, they've been talking about retraining. But what do I retrain for? All the high-tech jobs are going overseas." This job drain thing is - I also had economics in college, and there's a phrase called "velocity of capital." Capital is money, and all this free trade stuff - this bullshit - what it's designed to do is protect the investors. So if you put your money in Malaysia, you'll be able to get your money back out. And velocity of capital - with electronic communication, you can wire money to Malaysia and take it out the next day. But a person who works can't do that. If your job leaves the United States, you can't move to Malaysia to find a job. And basically free trade is a big con job, because all it's designed to do is protect the capitalists. It does not protect jobs or the worker, and it does not protect the environment. Even though there's lip service in there, like the Healthy Forests Initiative and stuff. I just love it - it's like Bush has this Leave No Child Behind Act that provides for education, which requires all these mandates, all these programs, but then they didn't give any money for it.

Yeah, I read about that yesterday.

Yeah, yeah. It's the same thing with the Medicare overhaul. It's hot air. But anyway, I think the big issue is like people going to college - it's like the first time in thirty years that engineers aren't getting jobs out of college. When you go to college in engineering, you expect to get a job.

Now they're all overseas? All those jobs?

Yeah, they're shipping them all to India. It's getting worse and worse, and there's nothing stopping it. Like I said, the current agreements, all they care about is that if you wire your money overseas, you can get it back the next day. There's no regard for the people who are working. The bottom line is that wealth is not produced by ideas and investments - it's produced by somebody working and producing something. You know, making a light bulb. Making a Walkman. Making an F-14 Fighter Jet. Actual people who take raw materials and produce goods. That's how wealth is created. Anyway, nobody is, uh - Kerry and who's the other guy - Edwards - are finally making it an issue, but it's almost too late for certain people to get jobs. Another thing is that a year ago, Bush - there was some industry that wanted to go overseas - they had to get some kind of federal regulation to work that out, and he promised some other sector that he would protect them in their states if they would allow this one to go overseas. And I was thinking, "Oh, these people are fools! If they let that industry go overseas, then they're gonna be next!" That's the thing - they're gonna be next. There's no way you can compete with somebody from Malaysia who works for five dollars a month. There's no way you can compete. And they don't care about the environment. There's no international government that enforces environmental regulations. And we've been through this before in the teens and 1920s and stuff. Actually, I think it was FDR that wrote an article about it - when he was talking about child labor laws. He says, "People complain about government regulations. If you don't have child labor laws - say you have 100 companies - one guy is going to use children in a sweatshop situation, and the other 99 will have to stoop to his level in order to compete in the marketplace - in order to make their widget their same price. So those 99 that want to do good CAN'T, because the marketplace is too free. So if you put in the child labor law to stop that one guy, the other 99 thank you." But all that's been forgotten. The funny thing is like jobs are going from Mexico to China!


Yeah! They're pulling companies out of - because China's cheaper. Slave labor - I mean they don't even pretend to have a democracy over there. And Mexico thought they were gonna get a good deal from the United States, but nope! They're just another third world country. They'll pit China against Mexico and try to get the cheapest price.

What can we do at this point to stop that? I mean, even if we get a Democrat in the presidency, can we bring those jobs back? Will these companies make investors take a hit to bring jobs back?

I don't know. But basically, the United States is a country. We have to look at ourselves as a family, and protect the people that are our family. The funny thing is that the right- wing is all about family values and taking care of families, but they've totally taken away the way they can live. No, you can do it. You just say you can't ship jobs overseas. You just write a regulation. Hello? I mean, you may have to pay five dollars more for your Adidas shoes, but.. Back in the `30s, the head of the United Auto Workers actually had the National Guard out between Henry Ford and the workers that were trying to organize. They had a gun battle. And Henry Ford - this story may or may not be true - but real quick, they were walking down the assembly line, and you know Henry Ford invented the assembly line or made it practical. And they were getting automation to do stuff, and Henry Ford said, "You know, I'm not gonna need the union in a while. I'm gonna automate everything." And an auto worker said, "Well, yes. But who's gonna buy your car?"

Yeah, that's a good point. You're gonna need money to buy the product. What, are you gonna sell them to the people in China making five dollars a week?

That's why the trade deficit with China is humongous. China is making billions of dollars out of this country. Anyway, do you have one last question?

Nah, I'll let you go.

Oh, okay.

Thanks so much, and I do apologize - I really didn't mean to be an asshole and try to get you to say something bad about Biafra.

Oh, I didn't mean to imply that. I just..

It's the question - those are the questions that people would want me to ask, and you know, I'm interested too. But it's still - when I know what the answer is gonna be, there's no point in asking it.

Yeah. All that stuff is just bullshit. We're not on a major label. There is no commercial - there never has been, there isn't now. More music, less lawyers!

And I'll make you a copy of the CD and send it out.

Yeah, that would be great. Okay, thank you very much!

Thank you!


Reader Comments

jtfortin@yahoo.com (Jeff Fortin)
Great Interview Mark! I kind of figured he would get all hacked off about the Biafra thing. I think they should just hold a press conference and invite all the punk journalists and let all of them spill out the real facts (which should be verified by an independent party). I mean you hear Jello talking about the Gap commercial (I think Biafra once called it a Levis commercial too) and the rest of the band denying that was ever going to happen. All of us fans just want the facts and then we can decide. People tend to side with Jello on this issue because...well because he is Jello, but I have grown sick and tired of his ranting, which is usually filled with half-truths and outright lies. If he lies about all of these conspiracies and other crap on his Cds, why should anyone believe what he says about the "Fake" Dead Kennedy's (as he calls them)? Biafra has ranted about the stolen Florida election, so I assume he is all for democracy. Well then how can he whine and cry about the fact that 3-4 of the Band wants to carry on without him? That's democracy in action!! With that being said, I wouldn't spend a dime to see the re-formed Dead Kennedys. There are a lot of bands that can replace a singer successfully (Dropkick Murphys and Black Flag come to mind) but I don't believe that the Dead Kennedy's are one of these bands. Even though _ of the band is there it would still seem like a cover band.

Hister333@aol.com (Kenneth Hister)
I read your interview. I don't think you were so shitty to Jello. I dunno. That was a BIG scandal. You go to the AT website, and Jello talks a whole bunch of shit, and then you go to the DK website, and Ray says, "That's just not true. Look it up for yourself." Jello accused them of wiping his name off the re-mastered CDs, and ditching him because he wouldn't let them sell "Holiday" to a Levi's ad. Ray says it all goes back to hundreds of thousands of dollars he accidentally shit them out of, and then tried to hide it from them. I dig that, and I dig that they oughtta be making some of the money now that they shoulda made in the '80s, but I'm not interested in it being my money. As for Jello, I have NO respect (and I've seen him lecture) for a guy who makes his living running around talking about how the gov't's shitting us out of our money, and lying to us, and in his position of authority (AT), he's shitting on his artists, and lying to them.

It's also easier for me to be cold, 'cause I don't like their music much. Jello's voice kind of annoys me, the music (especially after the first couple records) comes off to me as banging on power chords, and outside of the early stuff, I just don't see the sense of humor. I got to hear the Circle Jerks the first time a few years ago, and I was like, "Holy Shit! This is DK done right! It's sarcastic and funny!"

I dunno what East Bay Ray's done outside of DK, so I can't comment on what kind of a guitarist he is, and I haven't seen them live recently, but on record, to me, they sound like a very limited band musically that rides on Jello's paranoia and proselytizing.

I'm done.

I disagree with your take on the DK situation. Obviously, you've been into them longer than I have, and not to mention that I got into them after they were broken up, but I don't think that should disqualify my opinion. Ask yourself one question: do you really think that four people with hard-line(even for punk rock) politics and a bizarre eccentric musical vision to match just happened to meet at random through a punk rock personal ad? It's bullshit when his bandmates remarked that(I'm paraphrasing here) none of the band's politics were particularly brave or in-depth. Jello got fucked in the ass, uhh.. figuratively, by the Franchenchrist trial. I've also wondered why, if the band members weren't integral, does Jello's solo music after the breakup never match DK's work? Well, don't forget that DK got shitty towards the end. Bedtime For Democracy is pretty weak, a lot of which is kinda due to Jello's quivery vocals mismatching the hard fast music. The recent Melvins records show how fucking great Jello sounds when he's really screaming and inspired. Still, I think he was in a slump, hence the uneven musical output starting with late DK. The original band members were all really good musicians, and I always got the impression that they were sort of hired dorks.. a backing band. Jello's ego is pretty big(understandably, considering his position and longevity in punk rock) and he's maintained a "Jello and..." title on all subsequent collaborations. Fuck, I sound like that guy in the overalls who makes commentary on the In God We Trust Inc. DVD. Anyway, this whole thing was his vision, obviously. While the new DKs are out touring on the X Games and posing with pigs for their website, Jello's taken the opposite route. Who cares that he's making money? He's still allowed to criticize these decisions when he's outvoted by the "democracy" of the band and acquiesces in good but kinda exploitative DK releases. He's definitely ambivalent about the exposure that arose when punk rock became the new mainstream back at the turn of the century. That was a weird time in general for music. The live record was great, I thought. He was being petty by criticizing it but I'm sure he realized it. It takes huge balls to keep being publicly perceived as an opinionated loudmouth. You forget how stressful that sorta position is. It's voluntary... he shouldn't be pitied.. I'm just stating a fact. When MRR ran articles debating whether or not Jello deserved the fucking BROKEN LEG at Gilman, something obviously was wrong. And as for his lyrics on that latest Melvins record.. the one about airport security... you hafta realize that some people aren't able to get to the point where they always remember that cops and politicians are just humans with positions of power. If we had lived in Nazi Germany during Hitler's rise to power, we would have known Nazis. People get sucked in by the propaganda. That doesn't make them inhuman. But you can't forget the situation we're in. Some people can't deal with that. It isn't hypocritical to be anti-cop and to use calling the cops as a threat. If I have confrontations with people, I can't resolve them physically because I'm too chickenshit to go to jail, basically. If that law wasn't in place, that'd mean that there were no universal consequences and I'd be more inclined to defend myself with mild force without worrying about rotting somewhere.

Look at the things East Bay Ray and Jello's other bandmates say. Think about it- they really do sound like the kinda things fucking square non-punk people would say about someone who really believed in punk rock as legitimate non-posing-with-pigs-in-pictures-at-the-x-games protest. Jello's musical vision is better suited to good musicians who can play the guitar lines he comes up with, which is probably why the Melvins collaborations are some of the greatest things he's ever done. Dawn of the Locusts is awesome. Remember that punk rockers can sound pretty silly to cynical non-punks or ex-punks like me, though I've tried to put my cynicism in check. Whether he's right or wrong, at least Jello's trying to do SOMETHING, unlike most assholes. His lounge fruit bandmates can go fuck off. Way to cash in. I guess the upside is that if DK hadn't been promoted in the mass media, lots of people wouldnt have gotten into DK, including my youngest brother, who's the most politically informed person I know, and not in a remotely annoying way.

I saw the DKs play at Harpos in Detroit five years ago when Brandon Cruz sang. The venue usually holds 1,000 people, yet when the DKs played, maybe there were 100 people there at most. The band was enthusiastic and did a fine job but it was a little sad, especially after reading how East Bay Ray and Klaus Flouride claim to be playing their best. I didn't like their intro to "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" because they introduced it as their "anti-racist" song when it's not so much about actual racism. For some reason, when the Misfits played at Harpos with their current lineups, the place gets sold nearly to capacity.

Add your thoughts?

Click here to buy Dead Kennedys CDs featuring former Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra on vocals.

Back to Prindle's Record Review Site - It's All About The Dead Presidents!