Interview: Black Fag

Black Fag - Photo by Stewart Dean Ebersole

Black Fag - Photo by Stewart Dean Ebersole

In a time when cover bands run rampant, it’s not always easy for artists to set themselves apart. But then again, most cover bands are nothing like Black Fag.

The California-based sextet, consisting namely of singer Liberace Morris, guitarist Greg Streisand, bassist Cher Dykeowski and drummer Robo Simmons, has made a name for itself in the queercore scene as covering Black Flag songs with a twist.

The music itself is undeniably straight-ahead, but the presentation is anything but heteronormative. And some may criticize the angle the band uses, but what Black Fag does certainly opens up the discourse surrounding sexual preferences and the gender binary.

“When we started the band, part of the intent was to piss off homophobic people and expose them within the scene,” Morris said. “And it works! It doesn’t happen at every show, but maybe one show out of 10, someone will yell at us from the stage or throw something at us, or we’ll hear after the show that someone in the crowd called us fags and left the show. It’s important to expose homophobia in order to squash it, so we feel victorious whenever something like that happens.”

Although the political, anti-homophobic stance of the band is important, another defining aspect of the music is its blatant tribute to hardcore punk band Black Flag. While Black Fag has an agenda of spreading a message of acceptance, the band also strives to emulate and pay homage to the actual music of its namesake. So naturally, it’s the feedback and the praise pertaining to these things that the band appreciates.

“The most humbling comments have been from people who saw Black Flag back in the ’80s and who say that we play their songs just as well as the original members. We put a lot of work into our show and we take the music very seriously so it’s so nice when people notice,” Morris said. “In fact, Jack Grisham from TSOL and Adam Stern from Youth Brigade have each said that we play the songs better than the original Black Flag, so that kind of blows our minds.”

Additionally, past members of the band have shared their own opinions with Black Fag. In spite of none of the members having seen Black Fag live, there is an air of unofficial endorsement in the comments they’ve made.

“We’ve gotten a few very sweet compliments from Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, and Ron Reyes about our CD,” Morris shared. “Ron Reyes said that if Black Flag had as much fun with their songs as we have with them, he never would have left the band! The negative reactions are very rare.”

Yet even so, the negative reactions do exist. And just as there are two main purposes to Black Fag, there are two main camps who react to both of them.

“Some people say we’re disgracing the memory of Black Flag [and] some people say that we shouldn’t make fun of gay culture,” Morris explained. “What’s funny is that both groups hate us for the opposite reason of the other group. Part of the intent of the project is to open a dialogue about political correctness and the nature of humor and the existence of homophobia, so we knew people would have those reactions. But thankfully, most people – both gay and straight – get the joke and appreciate the band for what it is. And if you’re in a punk band and you’re not pissing somebody off, you’re doing it wrong!”

Although the band has 23 songs in its repertoire, only 10 of them exist in the recorded format, on a self-titled album released in 2006.

“We usually only play about half of them at our shows,” Morris said, referencing the entire Black Fag catalogue. “But for our European tour, we’ll be playing slightly longer because it’s so rare that we are able to play there. We will probably be changing our set slightly each night, so if you see us in one city you might see a totally different show in another city!”

Additionally, the band feels it’s about time for them to add some new songs to the mix, once it returns to the states. However, it’s not the goal of the band to eventually cover every single Black Flag song.

“Black Flag wrote a lot of great songs, but they also wrote quite a few terrible ones, so I don’t know if we’ll ever conquer their whole catalog,” Morris shared. “We have discovered, though, that when a song is too long and boring to play on its own, it helps to have backup dancers come out and do a little dance routine. I don’t know why Greg Ginn never employed this tactic during the later years!”

Currently, Black Fag is on its first European tour in five years, something which required a lot of the metaphorical blood, sweat and tears to make happen. Morris cited costs – both funding the tour and missing out on pay from work back home – as one of the main factors delaying the planning of the tour. The logistics of where and when was also important, in order for the band to map out a route that made the most sense and avoided all-day drives as much as possible.

“We’ve been trying to work out all the details since we returned from our last tour, so basically this tour has been five years in the making,” he said. “I hope people will come to the shows and bring their friends, because I don’t know if we will ever have the time, energy, or money to ever make it back.”

Yet even with the unavoidable stress of such an undertaking, Morris said that the moment he and the others take the stage, all the aforementioned problems melt away.

“The most rewarding part of our band has been the amazing shows and the amazing compliments and the amazing adventures,” he said. “It takes so much just to make a show happen, with practicing and figuring out how to transport the band and the gear and promoting and dealing with all of our costumes and props, but when we’re on stage in front of a great crowd and you see them laughing and slam dancing at the same time, it really is the best feeling in the world.”

Black Fag plays tonight at Monarch in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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