Interview: Dimitri Coates of OFF!

Originally published through Tone Deaf

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Do you remember hearing a weird noise some time around the end of 2009?

That was the sound of hardcore fans all over the world collectively changing their underwear, as news of a mind-blowing new supergroup, going by the name of OFF!, broke in musically-minded circles everywhere.

Titled after a brand of bug repellent, OFF! is made up of members past and present from Black Flag, Burning Brides, Hot Snakes, and Red Kross. They are (as fans such as Anthony Kiedis and Jack Black agree), brutality personified.

Guitarist/producer/co-songwriter Dimitri Coats is more than familiar with being in a band typified by raw, demanding head-bangers.

He is best known as the frontman of critically acclaimed rock outfit Burning Brides, and has brought the same sense of chaos driving his past albums to the blisteringly short tracks put out by OFF!, most recently in their self-titled debut.

So how exactly, in a landscape where thoughtful indie rock and soulless pop dominates the mainstream, does one go about producing a record that wouldn’t sound out of place in an eighties-era LA dive bar? Coats says it’s all in the speed.

“It was very quick, you know, a couple of days,” he recalls. “We recorded live, all of us in the room staring at one another and not overthinking anything. We only did three or four takes of each song, and listening back, picking whole takes.”

“There wasn’t a whole lot of punching in or over-dubbing going on,” he continues. “We wanted to be true to the methods of the past.”

It definitely isn’t common these days to stumble across a record of 16 tracks in 16 minutes – but while they may be brief, the explosive energy of any OFF! song is always more than satisfying.

As Coats jokes, “it may be that the songs are just like any other songs, except that we play them so fast.” It’s not like the time frame is indicative of the quality of the material – OFF! is just musical genius condensed into a punch-packing format.

The four members are each known for playing a style that, at the time of its conception, saw fans frequently clash with police at gigs – so it’s easy to imagine the atmosphere between them could get a little tense.

But instead of diffusing any potentially volatile situations, Coats instead attempts to get interesting reactions out of his bandmates – in particular vocalist Keith Morris, who he describes as a “sleeping giant.”

“He has a rich history, a lot of crazy stories and adventures,” Coats says of the ex-Blag Flag/Circle Jerks frontman.

“He has a lot of unfinished business with people, he’s still a very angry person so I’m constantly pressing his buttons and pulling levers, trying to get a reaction out of him; and that usually dictates where we go as far as the lyrics are concerned.”

“Just hanging out with Keith is a huge influence on me,” he further explains. “He’s like a cartoon character breathing and walking around.”

Together, the two of them do the bulk of the songwriting for OFF! This, like the recording process itself, is completed in a shockingly brief time period – and short of demanding expensive tools or a manager to coddle them, according to Coats all that is needed is a guitar, a magic marker, and some newspaper for Morris to scribble on.

“It’s a collaboration that I cherish and also dread,” he says, “because we’re really hard on each other. We’re trying to arrive at something that’s undeniably classic, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far.”

“This music has to have a certain kind of grit,” he declares. “There’s intelligence to it but at the end of the day it’s a party. We have to remember that.”

Fans will most likely see the party continue with their next album, which Coats thrillingly describes as “more brutal” than their first. It’s also going to be even more DIY, with Coats pondering, “we might even record it in our rehearsal space, on an old tape machine.”

“I’m hoping it can be really raw, and maybe a little bit heavier than what we’ve done in the past,” he says.

It’s clear the band has a real love for what they do, which in turn drives them to do it well. As the group begins receiving more and more attention from the mainstream however, Coats is determined to remain true to the roots of hardcore.

“We take our role seriously as a group, that is important to an entire genre of… whatever you want to call it. Punk rock, hardcore…”

“We’re not young guys, and as long as there’s a demand for what we’re doing we’re going to forge ahead, and try to push the limits of what we can or can’t do,” he says.

It’s an ethic that has won OFF! some big name fans, including, most noticeably, Jack Black, who brought his comic acting skills to the film clip for the song ‘Wrong.’

In what is definitely a contender for 2012’s most badass video, Black plays a greasy, old-school gangster complete with white cowboy hat and wing-tipped shoes, who pulls the heart out of his moustachioed enemy ‘Jalisco.’ It’s bloody, tongue-in-cheek, and awesome.

What was the Kung Fu Panda like in person? “Exactly what you would imagine him to be like,” according to Coats; “and very, very generous. Very creative, and funny, and just loves attention. Loves to make people laugh. And it was incredibly cool for him to do that. He certainly didn’t have to.”

OFF! will be bringing their renowned live show to Australia come January, with a spot on the Big Day Out bill along with sideshows in each of the East Coast capitals.

Coats sounds enthused for this year’s impressive lineup, proclaiming his anticipation to see everyone from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Death Grips, along with – of course – the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the singer of which has been wearing their merchandise pretty much constantly since they formed.

As for Crystal Castles, he’d love to, “see if I can make that singer smile, she’s always got a frown on her face. Maybe I can get her to laugh.”

Good luck with that one Dimitri.

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