We spoke to Keith Morris, Bill Stevenson, Chuck Dukowski, and Stephen Egerton of Flag to find out what it's like being one of the two Black Flags currently touring, and bringing new life to legendary songs.
Photo by Shahab Zargari
Black Flag broke up in 1986, the year I was born, leaving me and almost everyone else of a certain age with no more than a few chances to see the band live. As luck would have it, in one bungle of cosmic timing, two musical entities called Black Flag and Flag—both containing original members of the band—are now touring simultaneously, playing Black Flag songs. Recently, I had an opportunity to see Flag at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas. Before they played, I sat down with Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson, and Stephen Egerton of Flag to find out exactly where things are for the band and what it's like bringing new life to a legendary catalogue.
Noisey: What prompted the split from Black Flag into Flag? Or, rather, the split from the name?
Keith Morris: Well, there was never really any split, we were all members with the exception of Stephen, and everybody at certain points in the history of the band took off to do other things, or they were doing other things prior to being in the band, and then decided to continue and go off and continue doing what they were doing. We're basically just all the guys that wouldn't play with Greg Ginn.
Chuck Dukowski: It wasn't a split off, we just all started getting together and doing stuff, and it was fun, and now we're all here. It snowballed.
KM: Now do you want to know the history of how we got here? Briefly: Chuck and I were invited to perform with some guys in a band called No Age, they're the new young noise-making Sub-Pop guys, we jumped up on stage, we rehearsed some songs, the place went apeshit, the cops took a few steps back, and said we're not getting involved, and it was a massive party. Then Chuck was asked by Gary Tobar, who you might want to talk to, who's sitting in the dining area, who is the main guy from Goldenvoice. Goldenvoice are the musical promoters in LA that would do the Exploited, and the Discharge, and the GBH bands, and all the bands that none of the other promoters would go near.
Photo by Ren Potts
What is your direction going to be with touring with Flag? It almost feels like a resurgence.
Bill Stevenson: We've been having a good time doing this. It came about very organically without us really thinking about it. We did the four songs the one time, and then Keith and Chuck were like, "We should do some more shows," so we're doing some more shows, they were fun, we played a secret show at the Moose Lodge in Redondo, that was fun. Then we went to Europe and did a few shows… It's been fun along the way. This is a group of people, if we average it out, these are people that have been friends for thirty-five years basically. I've known Keith since I was nine, I've known Chuck since I was fourteen. I've been in a band with Stephen for twenty-eight years.
KM: How old are you?
BS: I'm forty-nine.
KM: That's forty years too long.
BS: So it all came about very naturally, and organically, and it's been fun for us. We've played enough shows to know that it's fun and it's cool, and we'll just continue to play shows while it's fun, and if it ever becomes unfun, we won't do it anymore.
Stephen Egerton: You know, it's like we have a window right now; everybody's got another band, all those schedules will start getting busy again.
Are you guys going to have any crossover with any of your tours? Are you going to have OFF! and Flag play, or are you going to cross over any of the other bands on the tours?
BS: Honestly, even if the conceptual thing was in line for that to happen, I think that might actually be a little physically prohibitive. I can't see Keith doing two rip-roaring sets in one night. Or like, if Descendents did it with them, I don't want to play 70 songs in one day. My knee would fucking break.
KM: Well, I could do it with the Vitamin B shot and a handful of Viagra. And a day off between the two sets.
BS: I think there is something to be said, having other bands play on the bill that are completely unrelated. It's just a more diversified thing. There are some times when people tour, and it's like every band in the package almost, is somehow incestuously related to the other band. It's like they're just going back and putting on different hats. I can't think of one off the top of my head, but maybe you guys can, and I don't know how genuine that is.
SE: The other thing is that the way we prepare to do these shows is pretty intensified. We all sort of have a practice regiment that we do largely on our own. The preparation to do these shows, to do them at the level that I think the audience wants to see them at, and that we want ourselves to present, requires a lot of effort. So to try to blend that in to the same attitude towards our regular projects like Descendents or OFF! Or C.D. Sextet, would be a lot. It's nice to focus really hard on these songs, get them really, really nailed down the way we think that they should go, and then do it; and let it be what it is from there.
It's always good to see bands that are still putting forth that full effort.
BS: We don't take this lightly at all, we take this with the utmost seriousness, so the preparation for it is really intense.
You do see some bands that will ride off of their former fame, and just jump up here and slag it out.
KM: And there's a place for that, I like to see shows like that sometimes; but this music, that's not what it means, certainly not to me and I don't think to any of us.
BS: So far for me, I'm gonna say mathematically the ratio of practice hours to show show hours, we're probably looking at about thirty to one so far. Meaning, for every show I've put in thirty hours of hours practicing that material, for one hour of performance. It's super important to me that it's proper. I've been watching bands cover Black Flag songs, or play different weird permutations of things, incorrectly for twenty-five years now.
Yeah, how weird is it to watch other people play your music? Whether it's Descendents or Black Flag?
SE: It's played out of love. People play it for good reasons, you can get behind it. That's flattering, that's cool that someone would do that, so it that circumstance you don't really analyze, oh wait you screwed up the snare roll, who cares.
KM: We're all happy people still give a shit about this music.
For something to survive 30 years, there has to be a reason. Black Flag is pretty quintessentially to punk. If you're a person that doesn't listen to punk music you'll know who Black Flag is hands down.
CD: I think what's interesting about this music is that it supersedes the genre in terms of the awareness. I have four kids, and all of those four kids, and all of their friends know what Black Flag is and who I am. It's a crazy thing, and it's an honor, it's cool that anybody cares. It's a statement of the power and effectiveness of what we set out to do 35 years ago.
KM: It wasn't a phase!
With some people I've talked to, after they hear "Flag" they tend to say, "You mean Black Flag?" And I'm like, "Well it's Flag now…" and I feel like there's been a slight amount of confusion with fans. Have you sensed any of that?
BS: We didn't consciously try to make confusion. Like, when we decided to start doing shows, and we were trying to figure out what to call ourselves, well, I think there's actually a lot of defiling of Black Flag's good name by some of its very own members, and so, I really didn't want to call it Black Flag because I almost wanted to be outside of that kind of easy target. So we'll call ourselves Flag, and people will know that it's us; they'll know that it's Keith, and Chuck , and Dez, and me, and Steph, they'll get it. Then lo-and-behold, we started seeing Greg is doing shows and he's calling it Black Flag. So I didn't, we didn't, know it was going to be confusing. We definitely didn't think there was going to be any sort of rival sort of thing. That was the last thing in the world we expected.
I think that was what was confusing for people, that it was a timing thing; it just so happened that these things sort of coincided, and that you have Flag and then Black Flag both out playing shows simultaneously, and obviously, former members here, former members there.
CD: It is what it is, we're forging ahead, and they are too, and there is it. We just enjoy doing it.
BS: I just think it'll be cool if everyone has fun watching it all. Watching us, or watching Greg, I just hope people love it. I love these songs, I think about what my all time favorite punk rock songs are, and I think about Police Story, and I think about Revenge, and I think about these cool songs, as a fan, as a little geeky kid, those are the things I think about, and it's fun to me, and it's really important.
KM: You don't think of anything out of the Good Charlotte catalog?
BS: I haven't done an interview actually with Keith by my side in eight hundred thousand years. It's funny, I forgot about what a smartass he is.
Obviously we've talked about there being Black Flag and Flag—are you guys covering any and all of the same material, and are you going to look at writing new stuff together?
BS: Fortunately there seems to be not that big of an overlap. To generalize, we are focusing more on the earlier side of stuff, and they actually have a new album. I think it'll be cool if people see both, they'll see a lot of different songs, they'll only see maybe 6 or 7 of the same songs.
Are you guys going to try writing any new material?
BS: We haven't gotten there yet, I think we are just gonna see how the shows go, and see how it feels. The chemistry with bands, it either grows tighter, or it grows further away, we'll just take it one step at a time, see how it goes.
KM: We're in no hurry.
Bill: It's not like any of us have had any real brushes with death in the past 10 years or anything.