Interview: A Year’s Supply of Jello Biafra

I was curious if you were a FairTax believer. The 23 or 24 percent sales tax that would replace the income tax system.

I think that’s more right-wing Libertarian bullshit because it’s going to penalize poor people when we should be penalizing rich people. Rich people sock their money away and thus they keep pushing for less and less capital gains tax. Far better than a sales tax or a VAT, which they call it in places like Britain, what about a one percent or even half percent tax on every single transaction on the stock exchange? Ralph Nader says that would balance the budget in a year.

There probably is one but it doesn’t go to the government.

No, there isn’t one and it doesn’t go to the government. I don’t think government is automatically bad when it’s run right. Sure, rah rah, anarchy, circle a flag, but I concluded years ago after a discussion with Timmy O’Hanan from Maximum Rock N Roll who was an ardent socialist that yes, there does need to be some kind of government entity to transfer the wealth from people who have too much to the people who have too little.


I’m pretty hardline on that side of the fence.

Colin Powell got crucified by his own party by saying that taxes—they were talking about the redistribution of wealth—and he said taxes are the redistribution of wealth.

(laughs). That’s awesome. If you find that again send that over to me. I may not be doing spoken word shows for the foreseeable future because I want to concentrate on the band, but I’m always piling up stuff like that. I collect little items like that the same way I collect weird vinyl, or weird little pictures thinking maybe I’ll put this in a collage some day. Because in some ways, especially since 9/11, the spoken word shows have been kind of a giant audio collage of many, many notes and slivers of paper moved around until I like the flow and it hits some nails on the head and hopefully gets people to laugh at the same time it gets them to think. I’m always looking for stuff like that.

It was good. I was pretty happy about that one.

No wonder that one didn’t turn up on the news.

It was on the BBC, I think. I don’t know if it was on the regular news. [Incorrect, it was during his endorsement of Obama and it ran on most of the major networks.—Ed.]

You got to give the BBC this: yes, it’s run by a government, but they’re more likely to broadcast something like that than the latest misadventures of Tiger Woods’ penis over and over again. We have another celebrity drug death, and my only reaction to that is ‘Thank you for dying, get off the air, goodbye.’

I was expecting more Corey Haim jokes to be honest. I just think everyone thought it was too sad.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so mean in that last comment if I had the faintest idea who he was. But I figure spoiled entertainment stars who do things like that, how much sympathy can you have for them after a while?

You can’t.

There are times when people close to me have suffered drug related deaths, for even years after the fact I’m more angry than I am sad because it was such a dumb thing to do.

Well, let’s talk about music for a little bit, shall we?

(laughs). But I thought Tiger Woods’ penis was more important. What happens when you mix the ashes of Corey Haim and Brittany Murphy and snort it live on Fox News? Or on CNN or on MSNBC and see if the audience can even tell the difference anymore.

What took you so long to start a solo band?

I always wanted to. I just had good adventures, bad adventures, and you get a chance to make noise with people like Al Jourgensen or Nomeansno or Mojo Nixon or the Melvins, me, the fan, can’t resist. Plus I was putting a lot of energy into spoken word and related activism. Realizing that if I discovered I had another gift I didn’t know about that might impact people’s thinking at a deeper level, I kind of had an obligation to use it. All these songs that piled up over the years, some of the songs on the album I had for a while and some of them are brand new.

Were you not able to convince Buzzo and Dale that you should just front the Melvins indefinitely?

You try convincing them that. That’s never what it was supposed to be. I think we all wanted to do more stuff, but at the same time, for obvious reasons, their priority is the Melvins. They get to do what they want without me in the room mucking up with works (laughs). And Buzz has Fantomas, Dale has Altamont and now Shrinebuilder, so it’s tough. The cards may have reversed on Lard at this point too because now I’m the one who’s got the schedule filled up with my main music project.

Fuck, I was going to ask about that too. I read something to the effect that around this time last year you were working with Al on a possible new Lard record.

Not really working. We would talk about it on and off for years. I think Al announced its imminent release around the time of a Houses Of The Mole tour, and I thought, you know it would help if it existed first (laughs). But Al’s a field of dreams kind of guy. Build it and they will come. Build it and it will be excreted.

I guess now he has time to think about such things cause he’s not touring anymore.

I don’t know what the status of the studio he was building at his place in El Paso [is]. He wanted to get into a lot of soundtrack work and producing other people and as far as I know that is going on, and there is some more RevCo in the can too, but I could be wrong.

He moved, didn’t he? To New Mexico I thought.

I think the place he settled on is actually in Texas itself, but he’s right on the Texas-New Mexico border. Little bit out of site of El Paso.

The sound of Guantanamo School Of Medicine, it’s certainly much more in line with Dead Kennedys material.

People keep saying that but I didn’t plan it that way. People said that about the stuff that the stuff I did with the Melvins too, but I guess the bottom line is I wrote most of the Dead Kennedys music too and I guess they just come out the way they come out.

It probably has something to do with the voice too.

I’d get rid of it if I could but even in high school I got cracks like ‘Ooo, it’s weird voice!’ But I also realized from listening to people like Sparks and Peter Ivers and others that weird voices can be a very powerful weapon if you just accept what you got and take into account that the best thing the singer can have is a voice that’s unmistakably theirs.

Sure. And you’ve got it. I wanted to ask about that for a minute. How do you keep your voice in good shape? Do you even think about it? You’ve been doing this a long time and you use it an awful lot.

I think if I toured as hard as some of my peers did in their second bands after our punk bands broke up and the grunge era started—Henry Rollins, for example, toured his ass off and still does, mostly spoken word—I don’t know how much of my singing voice would be left. But because I did so much spoken word and got my stage voice back that I had used in the plays I was in when I was involved in theatre before Dead Kennedys, I think that helped rescue it, and I have had a vocal couch since 1985. Some of my friends in the Mutants, the old San Francisco punk bands, pointed me to her, and I’ve checked in with her periodically ever since. I did it initially because my voice blew out so easily on tour, and then I went to her, and the last and longest Dead Kennedys tour was about seven weeks with a five day break in the middle, and I didn’t blow out until the second to last show.

I got some of my original voice back but I think I burned up my Robert Plant voice smoking too much pot right after high school. Is music better off? You decide. I can’t do some of them things Chris Cornell does, but then again, do they fit my songs or not?

No, they don’t. And I can’t listen to Led Zeppelin anymore, and it’s mostly due to Robert Plant. I just can’t stand the voice anymore.

He’s awfully good at what he does though. You ever try to do that shit he does you realize why that band was in a class by themselves. There’s a very different soul in Robert Plant than there is in Rob Halford or Ian Gillan or even Ozzy Osbourne, let alone the Axl Roses that came later. He’s coming from a much bluesier, deeper place.

I would never compare. Ozzy isn’t half of the singer that Halford or Plant is.

But look how Ozzy shot his voice up the scale after the first album, and I think a major reason for this was the sales of the first couple of Led Zeppelin albums. Plus, he can probably belt more in that range. I dunno. I can sing a lot lower than I usually do on stage, but I just can’t project it really well. I can also do falsetto, but I figure if I belt it in a live situation, I’d tear the shit out of my throat and you’d get cookie monster voice from that point onward.

I’m assuming you’re not doing any old material, Dead Kennedys covers, on the tour.

Well, we’re doing some. This is a new band, and we’re here to play new songs and for me, punk was always about something new. I’ve never let myself be limited to all these genres that it got sliced and diced into later. Pop-punk, horror-punk, street-punk, hardcore, grindcore, you know.

I pull my influences in from all over the map. You have a better chance of figuring out what created me by going one of those WFMU record fairs than you would by going down to the store and buying a bunch of old school punk records. Part of the beauty of it, and the reason maybe some of those bands still stand out now, because at the time there was no old school. We were blowing up the school. Or in the case of the Dead Kennedys, we were gleefully burning down the Hotel California. One of my proudest achievements (laughs).