What’s it like to be in White Flag in the summer of
PAT FEAR: Well we're playing our first Midwest shows ever, and
one show in Sierra Madre, because of the new records coming out,
so it is much busier than usual; July 1 the new lp comes out
"BENEFIT FOR CATS", one side of which is a reunion with our
original singer Al Bum. As you probably know, he left in 85
after a surfing accident, he's wheelchair bound but did an
amazing job considering his health condition. He won't be able
to tour, but the rest of us have been handling lead vocals on
the early songs for 20 years now, we still do the early hardcore
stuff. When there's the limited edition of 100 copies Russian
split 7" e.p. "Two Pack", which us a split with a GREAT Russian
band I discovered called Citramons. We do one of each other's
songs and one of our own songs on the e.p, and there is a
Russian split CD forthcoming on the Romuald Distribution label
in St. Petersburg called "Special Cure For A Splitting
Headache". That is all new studio recordings with the current
lineup of myself, Jello B. Afro, Mike Mess and Trace Element.
Then there's an entirely different split CD coming out in
Finland with our friends Amazing Tails called "Carload of Sonic
Effects". That is what is becoming known as the "European" White
Flag line up, Ken Stringfellow, who is from Seattle but lives in
Paris now, on bass, guitar, keys and vocals, myself, Trace
Element on drums, original founding member Doug Graves on bass
and guitar and vocals, and our Swedish member El Swe on guitar
and vocals. He and his band mate Kent Crimson in their "real
band" Sator, who are quite a big deal in Scandinavia, are part
of the Euro touring lineup as well, though Kent only sings
backing vocals on the record and isn't "in" the lineup yet. And
there's releases scheduled for the current lineup for Brazil and
China, we're trying to coordinate all these release so they
don't conflict with each other and confuse distributors too
JELLO B. AFRO: We put out a bulletin about giving vinyl labels
songs to release as White Flag records or split releases with
their artists, to help keep vinyl alive and it kinda came back
to bite us LOL!
TRACE ELEMENT: There's another different split record from
Luxembourg with our friends Versus YOU, you forgot that
one...and the Japanese 7" e.p. "Keepers Of The Purple Twilight"
that just came out, that's the "Euro Flag" lineup: myself, Pat,
Doug Grave, Kim Crimson and El Swe (not to be confused with
original founding member, guitarist El Fee!)
PAT FEAR: Oops! And then there’s going to be a very odd White
Flag release in Australia, nothing like we've ever done, called
"Music For Space Stations" which is kind of a mixed up version
of the current lineups plus guest appearances by Don Bolles and
Howie Pyro, Donnie Vie from Enuff'Z'Nuff, it is mostly long
Krautrock type psychedelic songs in the vein of early PiL, Can,
NEU! and Christian Death's first lp, and some long psychedelic
songs like "A SAUCER FULL OF SECRETS" type stuff. There's a
warning on it "this is not a normal White Flag record" LOL!
JELLO B. AFRO: Are ANY of them "normal"? I thought that was what
White Flag was about, no rules and no parameters?
PAT FEAR: True, but I don't want to have a bunch of people
expecting pop punk like our last 4 albums and getting...
TRACE ELEMENT: "Into The Unknown" LOL!
PAR FEAR: um...uh....I was really tempted to put "This Is An All
Talking Record" on it but there's no talking on it LOL!. Only a
few of the songs have vocals, it is kinda atmospheric, and to be
honest, a lot of it was scoring we did for a sci fi movie that's
still in production, but we decided to keep it for ourselves,
though we did do the theme song for the movie.
JELLO B. AFRO: July 2 at Cafe 322 in Sierra Madre Ca, July 15th
in Detroit at PJ's Lager House headlining with a special guest
on vocals for a part of the set perhaps, then Friday July 16th
in Cleveland at Now That's Class and Saturday in Chicago at The
Abbey Pub, both of those shows we're supporting Tesco Vee's Hate
Police, it is a book release party for Tesco's book as well as
us celebrating out record releases..
PAT FEAR: Tesco Vee ran Touch & Go magazine for years, while
Corey from The Necros ran Touch & Go records. The book is a
collection of all the fanzine in a great nice book. Tesco is
doing shows all over the US this summer as book parties, we're
in the book so we jumped on these two shows as we'd never played
anywhere in The Midwest in our 28 years...
Punk Globe: What’s the most obvious difference to being in WF in
the early 80s then?
PAT: We're all a lot older LOL!
JELLO: I wasn't playing music from about 1986 to 2006 when I got
back into the band after a break, nobody ever quits, we just
rotate around. Mike Mess hadn't been in the lineup since 84 or
something, he was bass player then, took over for me when I took
a a break after playing bass and touring for the "Third Strike"
album, and I am on bass now. I've played guitar in the band but
I got more interested in playing bass over the years, and Mike
Mess was originally a guitar player in SIN 34 so he's back on
guitar in White Flag, it works out fine. I'm singing a lot more
lead vocals on the new record and live so that's a little
different for me.
Not much is different, we just have a lot more songs to
pick form, which is why we let fans make set list requests, this
interview should be out in time for people to get some requests
in for the Midwest shows, post them on our Facebook page.
Punk Globe: Didn't you sing lead in previous bands and on other
White Flag records?
PAT FEAR: I've shared lead vocals with other members on all the
albums since 1986
JELLO B. AFRO: I sang lead with Pat in our previous band Test
Pattern, which sort of morphed into White Flag by combining with
another local band Tyrant, for which Al Bum was the roadie. I
sang lead on one song on the "Third Strike" album, Mike Ness
form Social Distortion sang the harmonies on it, it's called
"Middle Class Hell". We've never done it live, people are asking
for it, not sure we can pull it of live though we are practicing
it. It's very "busy" guitar and bass song and almost impossible
to play the bass and sing lead on it but I'm trying.
Punk Globe: I believe the main motivation to form the band was
to react to the seriousness of the L.A. punk scene back then.
How was the initial response, did (at least some) people ‘get
it’ right away or was it a real struggle?
PAT FEAR: Well that was partially the motivation, the other was
to cause trouble in our little sleepy arm town that had barely
heard of DEVO in 1982. But yes, I was disappointed the way the
L.A. and Beach scenes had turned into the exact opposite of what
punk started out to be, with all the people that would drive by
in truck s and yell "faggot" and throw beer bottles at you now
shaving their heads and slam dancing in a pit and ignoring the
bands. Like the Adolescents' song "Rip It Up" "We're not the
background for your stupid fights" pretty much summed up my
JELLO B. AFRO: I was going to show early on with Pat, you can
see both of us and Test Pattern's drummer Thomas in the Black
Flag and Germs scenes in The Decline. Punk had already gotten
violent but those scenes were not at clubs they were private
gigs as neither band could get a real show in L.A. for them to
film, so it was invite only, at Cherrywood Rehearsal Studios,
all friends and old time scenesters. If you see anyone
"slamming" it is because the director, Penelope Spheeris, was
"directing", telling the few people there not "slam into each
other and push each other". It was FUNNY to us, as none of us
would have ever done that at a show, we were playing at being
PAT FEAR: You've just destroyed the illusion of thousands of
punks all over the world, congratulations!
TRACE ELEMENT: Pat's the one writing on Darby with a magic
Punk Globe: As you’ve said, you were also into causing plain old
PAT FEAR: Think about it, I grew up in this
scene hanging out with the Germs, how could we NOT? I mean, it
was good natured trouble, poking fun and or confronting ideals,
not breaking things or hurting anyone, more like making some
people think, maybe scratch their heads going "huh? Long haired
guys in platform boots and satin pants playing hardcore AND
Black Sabbath songs, opening for Black Flag?? Huh?
JELLO B. AFRO: Keith Morris, some of the Black Flag guys, Redd
Kross all wore our shirts on stage, it really puzzled people as
we originally had this faux anti-punk Christian vibe that some
people thought was REAL, and then they'd see The Bangles playing
on TV wearing our t-shirts or Gerg Hetson on stage in one and be
PAT FEAR: Funny thing was, as I am sure many people reading this
from L.A. who are our age will recall, after Darby died, a lot
of the old timers just stopped going to shows, kind of let the
skinhead kids take over, as most people from the early days
didn't find the generic hardcore interesting. Some bands were
GREAT like Circle Jerks, Suicidal, Adolescents, but a lot of
them were kind of third generation hardcore, not inspired just
imitators, so they lost interest in going out. When we started
playing regularly, it was interesting that people I hadn't seen
since sitting in the balcony at The Starwood watching the last
Germs show started turning up at our gigs.
Punk Globe: I guess in the first incarnation of the band you put
the guy who was destined to be the front man behind the drums
just for kicks? And the roadie from his band became your lead
singer? Is that were the now typical WF humor got established?
PAT: Pretty much, Pick Z. Stix was originally the local teen
heartthrob lead singer in a local cover band, Tryant, he had
never played drums before, so he knew it would be crazy for him
to be the drummer. Al Bum was the most obnoxious person we knew,
and was Tyrant's roadie: hair down to his butt, and a dead
ringer for 70's Ozzy Osbourne, who better than to front a
hardcore punk band in 1982!
TRACE ELEMENT: He also had a habit of getting naked on stage,
always a plus.
Punk Globe: Even though the title of your new album is poking
fun at Black Flag, they were the band you supported at your
PAT FEAR: Yeah, our first two shows were backyard
"kegger" parities while parents were away,with locals stoners
and some Hell's Angels, you can hear how that went over on out
"R IS FOR ROCKET" reissue, the first show is on that album/CD,
and then on the 25th Anniversary 2 LP set reissue of our real
first album "S IS FOR SPACE" the second LP is show # 2 at
another backyard "kegger" party where 300 Hell's Angels tried to
KILL Al Bum, literally chasing him around with chains in the
open area into the field where the back yard ended, and the
other side is show # 3, a week later, opening for Black Flag to
a bunch of Skinheads who wanted to KILL all of us, and beat up
Al Bum. You can hear the promoter get on stage and scream at the
audience" Fuck you people, punks beating up punks, that is
fucking stupid, show some respect" or something like that,
really telling that in a week’s time we pissed off two
diametrically opposed subculture. Black Flag posed with us at
the show, cringing in fear from us, it is the picture on the
back of the original album.
TRACE ELEMENT: A resounding success!
PAT FEAR: Show # 4 was month later in Palm Springs, again with
Black Flag. Both shows with them we borrowed all their
equipment, Chuck Biscuits was their drummer then, and Pick Z.
Stix had a hard time playing his huge drum set, his hands were
bleeding halfway through that show. He quit for a while as he
was also a guitar player and he was messing up his hands trying
to play drums. He came back 5 years later as a singer and guitar
player on the "Wild Kingdom" album, which many people regard as
our best album.
TRACE: Funny thing about the two show with Black Flag, though I
wasn't in the band at the time I know this story: both time
Henry didn't show up for sound check, so Greg Ginn asked Al to
sing for Black Flag at their sound check. Al said "okay" and
Greg said "okay which of our songs do you know" …
PAT FEAR: … and Al replied "none of them" ha ha! The look on
Greg's face was priceless. SO they played some songs and Al just
made up lyrics, I remember him singing something about a fat
lady Librarian. BEST news is someone I just contacted via the
internet has that sound check and out set on tape! So at the
very least, our 4th gig can eventually be released, the last
show with the original lineup.
Punk Globe: You’re pretty famous for your rotating line-up. As
you just said, the original quintet only lasted a handful of
shows, did you really embrace the idea of a revolving line-up
early on or only when it became a bare necessity?
PAT FEAR: Well nobody was doing this as a career, just for our
own amusement. Pick Z. quit as drumming hurt too much, and went
on to form a hard rock band singing and playing guitar again,
called Roxanne with other friends of ours, that ended up getting
signed and making a pretty good rock album. ALL of Roxanne have
played or sang in White Flag's world in some capacity at one
time or another, but never full time, whatever that means in
White Flag! Their bass player Joey Infante sang with Vox Pop
once, he looked like a dead ringer for 1967 Mick Jagger, and
they did "Sympathy For The Devil" it was nuts, he'd never been
in that kind of environment before and he just went for it and
right in....EVERYONE from our pool of friends from this hick
town of Sunnymead are a little unique relative to where we were
raised. If you've seen the film "Over The Edge", it was kind of
like that, but more rural... After Pick Z. left, Doug Graves
started playing drums and Jello joined on bass, then El Fee
moved to Ohio for a work related thing, and we got Trace on
drums, Doug went back to bass and Jello went to second guitar.
Others left for a while, people from other bands I knew played
on records, like Greg Hetson and Steven McDonald, or asked to
join, like Kim and Ronnie from The Muffs. We had half of the
Muffs in White Flag at one point, and we played a gig WITH The
Muffs and they had to do double duty LOL! We did two singles on
Sympathy with that lineup.
Punk Globe: How did you recruit all these people? Some clearly
were fans, some friends and some just got sucked into playing
with you it seems? Any outrageous ‘audition’ stories you can
JELLO B. AFRO: Audition? It''s more like " here's the
set list, see you at the show".
TRACE ELEMENT: Strangest one for me is when we were offered a
headlining spot one night of a three day festival in Spain. Doug
Grave was on bass but for some reason he couldn't make it.
Arthur Lee and Love was headlining one night and The Posies were
headlining the last night. Original guitarist El Fee was in Ohio
but he wanted to go, so he went, but none of the bass players at
the time could go, so Ken Stringfellow from The Posies said he'd
play bass and sing Doug's songs. I had never even met him, only
Pat knew him, though I like the band we'd never met.
PAT FEAR: He was just supposed to fill in that one show, we
played together for the first time at sound check, and the gig
was great, like 5 encores until we were too exhausted to play
any more. Spain is like that, they love you they won't let you
TRACE ELEMENT: Ken enjoyed himself so much he joined as a full
member, his name in White Flag is "Kim Crimson", not to be
confused with the Swedish member KENT Crimson. He's on the 1999
album "Eternally Undone" and on the new Japanese e.p. and
there's a ton of stuff recorded with him that isn't out yet.
JELLO B. AFRO: There's a lesson in here somewhere about not
offering to "fill in" for a White Flag member!
Punk Globe:. I seem to recall that you played a show in
California where more semi-retired WF members were in the
audience than on stage?
TRACE ELEMENT: Yeah we were going to
Iceland and The Faroe Island and we played a little secret warm
up gig the night before in L.A. to warm up for the tour, and
while I was on stage i noticed there was an entire line up of
White Flag in the audience that could have easily gotten up and
played our instruments and do our songs without any of us who
were currently on stage, THAT was funny.
PAT FEAR: There were even EXTRA members in the crowd. Crazy.
Punk Globe: How do you get the band together for any given gig
these days? Do you send out a mass mail to all potential members
and whoever responds first is in the line-up?
PAT: Pretty much, but a lot depends on what country we are
playing and member's other bands, Ken is REALLY busy with The
Posies, his new band The Disciplines, he was in R.E.M's touring
line up for years, and in Big Star, which unfortunately, he
isn't any longer. Tragedy.
TRACE: When White Flag played with Big Star in Seattle, Ken AND
Jon Auer from The Posies played in White Flag, then they played
in Big Star, kind of like that Muffs gig. Very odd world we live
PAT FEAR: When we were offered to headline the Nipia Rock
Festval festival in GREENLAND, the emails kept coming back "Yes
Yes Yes Yes"' but we went with the people who responded first.
Punk Globe: And on the new LP, even Al Bum is making his return…
PAT FEAR: Al's been in a wheelchair and not too healthy but we
were offered to play the Sandy West Memorial show in 2006, and
the band we put together was myself, Trace, Jello and Mike, who
hadn't played with us for a long time. It was just an idea since
we were doing a short set with Cherie Currie doing a Runaways
set, The Bangles, Adolescents, The Donnas and a bunch of bands.
Al did a great job but it was kind of hard on him and I don't
want to put him through that again, unless it is an easy show
like that one was. People loved the show though, some flew from
New York and Europe to see it, and unlike that other band's
particularly deceptive "reunion" shows at the Palladium a few
years back, we didn't have the bass tracks on tape, and didn't
have some stranger singing...
Punk Globe: Some time after Al Bum was forced to leave the band
and after you’ve conquered Europe for the first time things
started to slow down a bit. Was it just life in general that was
getting in the way or was there any other particular reason?
TRACE: We just took a break, we never broke up. We played one
show in the US, with G.B.H., after 30 days in Europe, and were
kind of tired of it. You probably can't appreciate it if you
didn't live through it, but punk rock touring in Europe in those
days was NOTHING like what it is today, it was sleeping in cars
soaking wet with sweat from playing to a smoke filled packed
crowd in a room with no ventilation for two hours and no place
to shower, or sleeping on the stage you just played on, no
laundry for weeks at a time, getting lost in towns where nobody
spoke English. We had done an album, and El Fee went to Ohio
again, and we took a little break from playing live, wrote some
songs, Pick Z. came back, we did the Wild Kingdom album session,
there wasn't much of a break. Kevin Seconds released the album
on his Positive Force Records, and suddenly we had all these
Straightedge fans. Funny.
Punk Globe: Apart from WF you also had your label Gasatanka to
keep you busy…
PAT FEAR: Yeah, Redd Kross, Marginal Man, The
Flipside Vinyl Fanzine albums, The FU's, the Desperate Teenage
Lovedolls soundtrack, with Black Flag and White Flag on the same
album for the second time (the first time was the "Copulation"
album on Mystic Records)
Then our distributor went bankrupt and NOT because of lack of
sales, they were crooks and never paid us for anything, or
anyone else they dealt with for that matter, and the IRS shut
them down, literally padlocks on the buildings.
So the label was at a standstill for a while. Around this time I
got a funny press kit and cassette tape from this crazy three
piece band from Seattle in our P.O. Box. I didn't have any way
to press records but they were really good, but I couldn't put
out their record. If you look in the "Journals" book you can see
Gasatanka listed in the list of labels they were sending tapes
to. They ended up going with a local label, and it worked out
okay for everyone involved but ME LOL! Necros, Shonen Knife's
three albums, Melvins, Michael Quercio''s post Three O'Clock
band Permanent Green Light, some good records came out on our
label, we even released a Cowsills single, one of my and Trace's
favorite bands of all time. I even gave Dale Crover a subsidiary
label to release some of his favorite bands on, Dale Crover
Records. Pretty clever name Ha ha!
Punk Globe: Was it around this time – late 80s, early 90s – that
you’ve fully realized how many guys in other bands you had
inspired with your early records?
JELLO B. AFRO: Who knows, we have been called the originators of
melodic pop punk n some publications, I don't claim any credit
for anything, we just do what we do.
PAT FEAR: They call us The Beatles of Punk" in Europe because we
have harmonies, which is kind of embarrassing. Some people in
bands tell us we influenced them, which is nice, but if they got
popular, which many of them are, it is due to their tenacity and
talent, not us. Some big bands used to open for us, but we never
"tried", this has always been a hobby, an adventure for us,
whereas those "successful bands tried HARD and worked 24/7 on
their bands, Black Flag toured for 6 months straight before ANY
punk band did that sort of thing. We just do what we do any
anyone who wants to come along for the ride, that's great.
TRACE ELEMENT: That isn't to say we're note "serious', we put a
lot of effort into making good records and doing good shows, we
just don't do it as the main purpose of our lives like some
bands do; it was never designed to be that sort of thing, it is
much more casual, hence all our different friends playing in the
Punk Globe: At some point you seemed to have abandoned the idea
of touring the traditional way, preferring places like Greenland
or The Faroe Islands to cities like Chicago, Detroit and
Cleveland, where you’re just about to play for the first time in
your three decade long career. That’s just your sense of
PAT FEAR: Yeah, and playing The Midwest for the first time is
pretty funny after 28 years, as we'd played up and down the East
and West Coast since 1985's tour, and Alaska and Hawaii, but
never the center of the country. In the South we played New
Orleans and Houston but never the upper middle of our own
country. America is SO big, when you have a limited time to tour
like we do because of our personal schedules. It sounds
extravagant to say "we're touring 12 countries in Eastern and
Western Europe" if you've never done it, but Europe has so many
smaller countries you can play five different ones in a week.
Getting to Finland is a LONG ferry ride but it is such a great
trip they have a movie theater, swimming pool and a casino on
the ship, it is like a vacation in the middle of the tour.
TRACE ELEMENT: Sardinia, the Italian island, that was great last
tour, those people get very few bands, and are so grateful when
someone goes there. Oh yeah, another split record, forgot about
this one, with a Sardinian band, The Gods of Gamble, coming soon
to a theater near you...
PAT FEAR: We played The Vatican, which is its own country inside
of Italy, we took acoustic guitars and percussion and played in
Str. Peter's Square until they threw us out. But it's on the
tour shirt, "July 12-Holy See” LOL! Greenland, Iceland, Canary
Islands, all those places rarely get to see bands, we are the
only band from the US to ever play Greenland or The Faroe
Islands, which is kind of an honor and it was incredible to see
Punk Globe: Apart from the “Benefit for Cats” album, you’re also
gearing up for the release of a new studio album, the curiously
titled “Definition Of Insanity” with the current US live line-
PAT FEAR: Yeah, Al did sing one or two new things that we might
release as a single (small vinyl labels out there listen up!)
but it won't be on the lp, I'd rather it was a single more
focused on Al as opposed to a "guest" appearance. Tony Reflex is
on "Benefit For Cars" singing one song, and he sang a few for
the new studio album and we're about 1/4 way through a "Tony
Reflex & White Flag" album, so we have sort of the same lineup
for two albums in a row, which is odd for us.*
Punk Globe: “Mayhem” is not only the right word to describe your
incendiary live shows, you’re also using just about every
opportunity to have the various members of the band record their
parts for new songs. I’m sure the recording of the new album was
TRACE ELEMENT: That depends on which "new" record you're
referring to. The European lineup lives in Sweden and France and
USA, so Ken's come here and done some vocals. El Swe did his
parts in Stockholm and Goteborg (where we recorded some of
1999's "Eternally Undone" album with El Swe producing and
singing backing vocals). Doug Graves lives here and is heavily
featured on the stuff that will be on the Finnish release and
the Luxembourg release are that lineup, the Brazilian, German
and US releases are the current live line up on the "Benefit For
Cat's" album, as will be the "Definition Of Insanity" album, and
the follow up "Better Than Most Silence".
PAT FEAR: The weird
Aussie release is a lot of members, I can't even remember who at
this point, except that one recording started out with Don
Bolles on drums and during the course of doing basic tracks Doug
ended up playing drums, I picked up his bass and Don played
guitar, this is MID song...without a break.
Punk Globe: Obligatory last question: What’s the plan for the
future? Having missed the chance to quit after 23 years, you
have to keep going until 42? 69? 666?
PAT FEAR: There's enough members to keep it going for a long
time. Our two Dutch roadies ended up playing bass and guitar at
two shows last tour because El Swe and Kent Crimson had to go
back to Sweden for a previously booked festival in their home
TRACE ELEMENT: I predict White Flag becoming a
franchise, with no original members, different lineups in
different countries and states.
JELLO B. AFRO: We're accepting auditions for regional franchises
now, send us your tapes, videos and photos. If KISS can do it,
(which they will, trust me), White Flag can.
PAT FEAR: But we won't make new members wear other member's
makeup, or mustaches! Wait, that might be much, much better if
Punk Globe would like to thank White Flag and Carsten Wohlfeld
for the great Interview...