DenverThread Interview – Flipper – Steve DePace
OK – Who remembers Flipper?
More appropriately: Who knows why they should remember – or at least be aware of – Flipper?
Get this: – It could be argued that without Flipper, there may have been no Nirvana, or much of the sloppier side of “Grunge,” or at least the whole scene would likely sound a little different (less sloppy, maybe?). Disagree? Let’s discuss (in comments).
In any case,regardless of what we all think, Flipper has left an indelible mark on music in its 33-years as a band on this accursed planet. A deep-cut-with-a-dull-blade, thick and juicy sludge trail, maybe – and one that may have laid the original tracks for sludge metal bands like Sunn-0))), Sleep, The Melvins and the like – but indelible nonetheless. And if that kind of connection can hold true, then we should all remember Flipper, and they should be held aloft in our music appreciation lists alongside heavy hitters like Black Flag and Black Sabbath, in reflection of their contributions.
I think that Flipper may indeed have been before its time in a sense. We were described as a Grunge Band in 1980, a full 10 years before it became a musical format. – Steve DePace
And – even if you disagree, or don’t even know whether or not you agree – you’re in luck, because Flipper is holding a two-day residence this Thursday and Friday – March 29th and 30th – at the venerated Lion’s Lair to kick off another long touring season (Europe – for about a million dates – is next). The seminal pre-post-hardcore-avant-sludge-proto-noise-punk band is celebrating two Punk Rock Art Show openings in Denver this week with the shows. First, on Thursday, March 29th, “Ruby Ray: Punk Passage” opens at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center (445 S. Saulsbury St., Lakewood), and celebrates the San Fransisco punk scene of the late ’70s. Then, on Friday, March 30th, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver will open up “Bruce Conner: The Primal Scene of Punk Rock,” which focuses on the San Fransisco punk scene in 1977, with flyers, photos and videos.
Both of these shows kick off a five-month “revival” of Punk Rock (capitalized appropriately) around Denver, gravitating around the MCA (called, appropriately, “Search & Destroy“), including an evening with Bauhaus/Love & Rockets heartthrob/guitarist David J on April 21.
But enough of anything not about Flipper. In sync with the two-show Lions Lair residence, DenverThread spoke with Flipper drummer Steve DePace about Flipper’s history, now and future, and a few other things. Check it out – and get to these shows:
DenverThread: Wow – 33 years (maybe minus the 10-year hiatus after Will Shatter’s untimely death)! And with the exception of the 2009 re-release of Generic, the band appears to have been pretty quiet, except for a few live shows, right? Have you all been doing anything together since then?
Steve DePace: Well actually, we got back together in 2005 after that 10 year hiatus. A call from CBGBs prompted us to get back into action. We participated in the effort to save CBGBs with a couple of benefit concerts in August of that year. From there we did some great events in San Francisco and LA and participated in the promotional events surrounding the film America Hardcore. We played Toronto Film Festival and New York premiere after party and had Moby jump on stage with us for Sex Bomb. Then we reissued our back catalog worldwide and had Krist Novolselic (Nirvana) join the band for a couple of years. We did a tour of UK/Ireland with Melvins and recorded a couple of albums with Krist. Played a number of amazing shows with him, before he exited the band, due to not being able to tour very much, which we were gearing up to do. We now have Rachel Thoele in the band and we are off and running. We toured Australia/New Zealand a few years ago and we are now preparing to go around the world promoting Flipper’s music and celebrating 33 years of doing what we do.
DT: So what led up to this – a pretty damned impressive tour? Any one or two specific reasons?
SD: Well our singer Bruce has been working very hard to get himself in shape for the road. He has had a history of back problems which called for a serious surgery and lots of different treatments and physical rehab and conditioning to get himself back into fighting shape for the road. He is really an inspiration having gone through all that he has gone through and to get himself from where he was in 2005 when we first go back together, to where he is now, is really impressive. So with that and with Rachel onboard and all of us in a position of being able to commit to the time it takes to do the band thing full time, we are ready to do this and the timing is right.
DT: I’m a bit confused, because I see in different places on the ‘net that “Generic” is going to be re-released again this year by 4 Man With Beards – but it was released by the same group in ’09, right? Is there a new collection coming out – and, dare I ask, is there any new material on the horizon?
SD: It is the 30 year anniversary of Generic Flipper, which has been hailed as our definitive album. We are planning to reissue an anniversary edition at least on vinyl. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since that album came out. And to think of all the people and bands this album has touched in a special way and influenced is truly amazing! The list is impressive to say the least.
DT: Flipper stands (still) as one of the most influential surviving bands to come from the West Coast Hardcore scene(s) of the late ’70s/’80s. To what do you all attribute that far-reaching and powerful influence (You could say, rightfully in my opinion, that if there were no Flipper, Grunge may not have happened as it did – no Nirvana, for instance) – was/is Flipper far ahead of its time? Or just so damned carefree and iconoclastic that the output remains an enigma?
Bruce Conner and Ruby Ray are both amazing photographers that were out documenting the bands in the late 70’s and 80’s…. We are so fortunate for the video makers like Target 77 and photographers like Ruby and Bruce, so that now we can see how it was back in the day, and these amazing gallery and museum shows. – Steve DePace
SD: I don’t know exactly to what you could attribute the far reaching influence we have had on bands and individuals. It’s a magical thing that just happens, and all I can say is that Flipper is, and always has been unique and original. We make art, noise, and music that seems to strike a chord with people.
It is possible that if there had not been a Flipper, there may not have been a Melvins or Nirvana, or perhaps they may have been very different sounding. We are all influenced by something or someone, and if those influences are not there, then your output will be different. What ever your influences are, that is what is going to shape what you do. I think that Flipper may indeed have been before its time in a sense. We were described as a Grunge Band in 1980, a full 10 years before it became a musical format. We have been around for so long, we have gone through Punk, Hardcore, Grunge, Alternative, and now back to Punk. What’s next?
DT: Your Denver shows at the Lion’s Lair next Thursday & Friday are actually after parties for the opening of two photography/flyers shows opening in Denver on both days. What’s Flipper’s connection to the shows, and the artists involved?
SD: Bruce Conner and Ruby Ray are both amazing photographers that were out documenting the bands in the late 70’s and 80’s. Fortunately the punk movement was made up of artists of all kinds, musicians, photographers, video and film makers, and even more extreme artists like Survival Research Labs who were making crazy and dangerous machines, and performance artists of all kinds. We are so fortunate for the video makers like Target 77 and photographers like Ruby and Bruce, so that now we can see how it was back in the day, and these amazing gallery and museum shows.
DT: Flipper may be the first “post-hardcore” band, alongside Black Flag’s “My War” period, and so many people (Rollins included) attribute the fascination to Flipper’s heavy, sludgy sound. Others call that sound an annoying, simplistic, immature mess – but one that’s somehow intensely fascinating, even transfixing. WHat are the origins of the Flipper bulldozer? Obviously you all were more musicians than many on the punk circuit then – was it purposeful “art”? Or truly a lackj of care, coupled with a deep desire to piss off the audience?
SD: Quite simply, our musical style or heavy sludgy sound is a result of us just playing together. There was no plan or discussion on what kind of sound we would have. It is just what came out when we plugged in, cranked up the volume and played. I think that is the way it happens naturally, when you get together with other people to play. Someone plays something first, then everyone joins in and you have something, what ever that is… What we ended up with was a pretty grungy, heavy, melodic, sound. We did seem to piss off a lot of people, who may have expected traditional hardcore but in the end we created plenty of chaos to go around. And the people who complained, always came back for more.
DT: After the hardcore scene(s) died down in the mid ’80s – or after the sound seemed to get “legitimized” or annexed by the general public – Flipper kept going, sound largely unchanged. But – time seems to have shown (with the grunge thing, and the persistence of bands that seem more based in the beauty of noise than in traditional song structure) that the power behind the kind of nose Flipper is known for actually has longevity. Do you think that’s accurate, and why do you think that is?
SD: I know that we have spawned a lot of bands that do their own thing, but with a heavy dose of Flipper influence. There are also bands doing the heavy noise rock that aren’t necessarily influence by Flipper. I think we have a lot in common with some of the industrial bands or noise bands. Whether they were influenced by us or not, it’s cool to hear other bands doing that kind of stuff and doing it well. There are still bands covering our songs and doing a great job it. Melvins have covered a number of our songs, most notably “Sacrifice” and have done it with great integrity. Unsane just covered another song, “Ha Ha Ha.” It is on their latest album and sounds awesome. Unsane is out on tour with Melvins this summer. How cool is that, both bands cover Flipper songs and are out on tour together. Pretty damn cool…
DT: Back in those days – when bands like Flipper, Black Flag, Minutemen, Dead Kennedys and more were literally speeding across the States, constantly touring the most unlikely shitholes, basements and dives, the general consensus was always that these bands were “suffering for their art,” and getting paid barely enough to make gas money to the next town, where they’d (hopefully) find a friend’s couch or floor to crash on. Was that the case with Flipper – and, I guess, with all of those bands? Were any of those bands – was Flipper – making any real money in the long run?
SD: We were certainly one of those bands that survived from gig to gig. We weren’t selling merchandise back then. We got by on what we were paid from the clubs. I think we were lucky, because we always did ok. We never went broke on the road but we did sleep on a lot of floors and couches. We had great friends who would let us camp out for as long as we needed to, in New York for instance. There was definitely a network of people across the country that would put us up and help us out. We would also put the word out that we needed a place to stay, if we did a radio interview before a show. That always got us interesting results. Our tour truck was set up with a bunk for sleeping as well. We got by pretty well, I would say, for back in the day…
DT: What’s your take on the neo-hardcore, nu-metal, sludge and melodic punk genres? Many groups see the new punk rock (Warped Tour, X-Games shows, etc.) as a watered down, vapid shell of the real punk rock, full of songs with not much more heroic value or drive than typical pop songs. How do you guys feel about that? Are the younger generations now swarming behind the new stuff missing the whole passion behind it? Are they angry enough to get the connection, and do they actually have anything, in your opinions, to really be angry about, even?
SD: When punk became a musical format for the record industry, it instantly became worthless and irrelevant. It became pop music. The word punk became meaningless, and was used to sell a product that no longer had any value as a socially and politically rebellious art form. Every band had to fit the mold and sound the same. I will say this though. Fortunately, things are turning around and the smart kids are recognizing that what they are being fed is fake bullshit. Punk is not a format for radio, or even a specific style of music. Punk Rock was original and a movement and a rebellion. The Occupy movement is the closest thing we’ve had to real punk rock for a while. Punk shows used to be raided by riot police routinely in Los Angeles. Occupy groups all over the nation have been attacked and beaten down and pepper sprayed by the police for acting like Americans. Practicing our right to free speech and protest. Take a look at what is going on in America and around the world and you will see that the world is in need of another punk rock movement.
DT: To continue in the vein of the last question: Recent events – the OWC, “American Spring,” etc. – seem to offer the younger generations a set of reasons upon which to maybe develop a type of anger similar to that we felt when constantly rocking against Reagan. Do you thing their anger is legitimate, and if so, are you hearing any significant music that reminds you of that same revolutionary (rather than overwhelmingly under-informed and jaded) feel coming from anywhere in these movements?
SD: There is a punk band from Greece called Barb Wire Dolls. They moved to LA a couple of years ago and they are talking a lot about the occupy movement and the corporate greed on Wall Street and the destruction of our freedoms and liberties. Greece is in a really bad situation so they are speaking from the heart and the singer, Isis Queen has a lot to say on the subject. As I said before, I think the people taking part in the occupy movements around the world are the real punk rockers standing up for our rights as free citizens of the world. We have a right not to be stomped on by our governments and corporations that should exist to serve the people, but that has been grossly perverted and warped by greed to the maximum degree. It must be stopped.
DT: Steering away from the political – How do you all feel that Flipper’s sound has evolved over the years, especially in terms of the popularity of super-heavy sludge? Is Flipper’s sound still trying to piss off the audience, or is there more method to the madness in our old age?
SD: The evolution of our sound has had more to do with the different bass players we’ve had than anything else. We have had 5 different bass players over the years and when you bring in a new person it changes the chemistry of the band and the music. I feel like I have enjoyed playing with everyone and we have always managed to hang on to some element of our sound and has always been Flipper both in attitude and musical style.
DT: What’s next for Flipper, after this tour (one is tempted to think that the band will turn out some legitimate inventory now that you’re undertaking such a long tour)?
What we now call the 99% used to be referred to as the silent majority, but we cannot afford to be silent anymore. It’s gotten way out of control and we are all being enslaved by the powers that be and the Wall St madness that manipulates every aspect of our lives, from price of gas to housing crisis, to our food supply, and the destruction of our resources without any regard for the future. It’s all about making the profits now, and who cares about tomorrow.
SD: We are planning to continue on the live show front. More tours and interesting events are in the works. We want to do more things like we are doing in Denver, with incorporating all forms of art and music that come from the early punk scene. Multi media events with video, photographs, posters, original art, and music. It gives people a chance to get a feel of what the early scene was like with lots of people creating lots of different kinds of art, and documenting the scene with all those different mediums. Also we are planning some very cool record releases over the next year or two. In addition to the anniversary edition of Generic Flipper, we have an album of never before released studio material from 1983 and a live album recorded at CBGBs in the same year. We are also planning to write and record a new album at some point this year.
DT: Last one – and, of course, it’s optional: Who are you watching for President? Any statements about the state of these States?
When punk became a musical format for the record industry, it instantly became worthless and irrelevant. It became pop music. The word punk became meaningless, and was used to sell a product that no longer had any value as a socially and politically rebellious art form. Every band had to fit the mold and sound the same. – Steve DePace
SD: Well, Obama is really the only choice right? Who else… And that is not to say that he is perfect by any stretch. I think he came into office with a lot of idealism and then got hit with a heavy dose of reality. That is, who is really running things and who has the real power. The multi billion dollar corporations who own our political system and our elected officials. We need serious reform in our elections and in so many areas of our political, social and financial systems that are broken badly. Money controls everything and I think that people are just waking up to that reality. What we now call the 99% used to be referred to as the silent majority, but we cannot afford to be silent anymore. It’s gotten way out of control and we are all being enslaved by the powers that be and the Wall St madness that manipulates every aspect of our lives, from price of gas to housing crisis, to our food supply, and the destruction of our resources without any regard for the future. It’s all about making the profits now, and who cares about tomorrow. We are being lied to and brainwashed into believing that if we just do what we are told and never question anything we will all be just fine. They are training us with billy clubs and pepper spray into forgetting that as Americans it is our duty to speak up and fight against tyranny and when the government that we have put in place to serve us, no longer does, it is our duty to tear it down and replace it with something that serves the people. A system for accomplishing that was put in place, and it’s called elections. That is why it is so important for the power brokers to own that system. They put laws in place that make corporations (who have all the money), the same as a person, and therefore able to purchase our government representatives at the highest price, that only they can afford. They have all been purchased and are under contract to corporate America. It is time for revolution for sure, so the people have takentaked to the streets and are under attack by the police state for acting like Americans.