Q&A: Dead Kennedys on Gigging in 2015 and Being Open to a Jello Biafra Reunion
To this day, you can still find giant Dead Kennedys patches slapped upon a punk rockers studded jacket as he bashes through a circle a pit. Despite not having released an album since 1986’s Bedtime for Democracy, the legendary San Francisco collective remain a touchstone for old school punk fans and a younger generation discovering and admiring the fury.
After a lengthy hiatus, Dead Kennedys reunited in 2001 without original vocalist Jello Biafra, who over the years has spoken out against the band, its business practices and decision to exist with other vocalists.
Currently featuring Klaus Flouride (bass), East Bay Ray (guitar), D.H. Peligro (drums) and Ron “Skip” Greer (vocals), Dead Kennedys recently completed a successful run of European shows and are gearing up for a headlining slot at the Hi-Fi Rock Fest in Long Beach, California on September 26.
Riffyou.com caught up with Klaus Flouride to discuss what Dead Kennedys shows are like nowadays, giving audiences something to think about, potential new music and a willingness to welcome Biafra back into the fold.
RY: When you play shows these days and look into the crowd, how many generations are you seeing out there?
Klaus: “Some people actually bring their toddlers…which is ludicrous, because I think [our shows] are a little overwhelming for them and maybe not too good for their ears. But, there are kids who are 12 that have heard about us and come to a show, all the way up to people in their 60s and [maybe] 70s…people who were into the whole punk thing [from the start]…if you can actually pinpoint when it began. It’s great that people still come out and the songs hold up. Unfortunately, a lot of [the issues] we’ve written have gotten worse, not better, since the late 1970s, early ‘80s.”
RY: Does it feel strange to you that so much of what you initially sang about decades ago is still relatable to people today? And that people come to your shows still looking for a voice like yours…and even some hope?
Klaus: “That’s exactly what it’s about. For one thing, not everything we do is political. Everybody puts us in the political pigeonhole, but if you listen to our records, a percentage of them are directly political, but most of them are social commentary. It is frustrating that some of the issues are the same or worse, politically…and as far as people being crazy and unstable and [other] people falling through the cracks in America.”
RY: With that said, is there a level of disappointment you feel, as an artist, for your social and political messages not gaining more traction?
Klaus: “Making a difference and doing some good is not why we go out and play. If we open up the heads of 10% of the audience – and have them think about something they hadn’t considered before – that’s okay. A lot of people [in the audience] are there to party, or whatever, and that’s okay too. We are not trying to tell you what to think and ram ideas down your throat, as much as inspire people to go out and look into things on their own…instead of taking the words of a punk rocker as the be all, end all truth.” [Laughs] “If we get a whole bunch of people from different walks of life to think [about issues], then that helps.”
RY: By this point, many Dead Kennedys fans know about the legal battles between the band and its former frontman Jello Biafra. Based on my experience, he continues to speak badly about Dead Kennedys. Is it frustrating for you to have to still battle that negativity?
Klaus: “I can’t talk to Biafra because our manager has to speak with his lawyer…that sort of thing. But, he lives in the area [I do] and we have [mutual] friends. He seems to be in a better space now than back in 2000. I think he’s happy with what he’s doing. But, he holds a grudge. If he called me up and said, ‘Klaus, let’s get together, have a beer and discuss the old times and what went wrong,’ I’d be there. I don’t have time to hold a grudge for him…plus it’s too unhealthy. I wish him the best and if he wanted to come back and sing with us, we would certainly try and work it out so that could happen. There’s a lot of water under the bridge that we should let go…and there seems to be some stuff that he can’t let go of. It is what it is…I hate that expression. The only expression I hate more is ‘It’s all good.’ I want to hit people when they say ‘It’s all good.’”
RY: Do you still encounter people that have problems with Dead Kennedys existing without Biafra?
Klaus: “At the beginning, it was all ‘Where’s Jello?!’ and people picketing back in 2001 when we started playing again. We’ve gone through a few of singers, but Skip really has his own identity that we adjusted to. [Now] we don’t get so many people saying ‘Where’s Biafra?’ We still have a partnership [with him] where we have to make decisions on things like merchandising, t-shirts, or whether or not we should license our music to film or TV shows – we don’t do that cart blanche. We’ve turned down a ton of things. People who create films with gratuitous violence [think] punk rockers like Dead Kennedys are all about violence, so they ask [to use our music.] We say ‘Sorry, our music doesn’t fit in with that scene.’ [Biafra] has an equal vote, along with everybody else [in the band.] He’s gone from giving a ‘No’ vote to everything – because we was made about everything – now, he’ll actually consider stuff. We have many more agreements now than we used to.”
RY: Lastly, have you guys thought about putting out another Dead Kennedys album?
Klaus: “We’ve thought about it and written a couple of songs. We have lots of unfinished things. In the ‘90s, if you asked if we’d ever get together and play again, I would’ve said, ‘You’re out of your mind.’ Now, I’ve learned to never say ‘No’ or ‘Never.’”