*Interview by: Carsten Wohlfeld*
Punk Globe: What’s it like to be in White Flag in the summer of 2010?
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 much.
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..
Punk Globe: What book?
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.
TRACE: 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 frustration.
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 "hardcore".
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 marker...
Punk Globe: As you’ve said, you were also into causing plain old trouble, right?
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 really puzzled.
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 first shows…
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 share?
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 off stage.
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 in.
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 band.
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 adventure, right?
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 their reaction.
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- up…
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 no exception?
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 country.
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 we did…
Punk Globe would like to thank White Flag and Carsten Wohlfeld for the great Interview...