Jagged white text with a bold black shadow on a white background reads, "Circle Jerks".

Circle Jerks: August 1995


SLUG Magazine has hit the skids. We are so out of touch with the cutting edge that bands like the Circle Jerks are featured in these pages. Indie rock is dead and that is why the back cover is now owned by major record companies, not Raunch. I read in an interview with the Circle Jerks where Keith Morris was quoted as saying they’re back “mainly to cash in-shoot to Number 1 not with a bullet, but with a rocket ship.” Over the years, I’ve spoken to some “first wave” punk icons. The one thing I find common to all of them is their biting, sarcastic wit. (Keith Morris’ sarcasm should be evident by the time this is finished.) They pull interviewers’ chains just for the hell of it. If the Circle Jerks reformed to “cash in,” why did they release an album that everyone knows will never make it to the radio? If they are indeed “selling out” to reap financial rewards, wouldn’t they have made a more “commercial” album? 

I didn’t ask Keith Morris, Circle Jerks singer, the question. It wasn’t important to me. I’d listened to the CD. The matter did come up—in a way. Morris was late calling, and when the phone rang he blamed it on the Highway Patrol. 

SLUG: The first question is about the name Circle Jerks.


Morris: Isn’t it a beautiful name? It one of those classic unforgettable type names.


SLUG: Yeah, so why did you decide on the Circle Jerks?


Morris: Well, all the other really good names were taken by other bands. So that’s the one we decided on. What had happened was I was involved in an automobile accident and I was racked up pretty hard. So I was lying in the hospital, in my coma, and I kept seeing…inside my brain little lights that kept flashing. You know like little light bulbs that you would see in Las Vegas and it kept flashing “Circle Jerks, Circle Jerks, name your band Circle Jerks”. Of course, I’m just pulling your leg. We were hanging out with Raymond Pettibon, who is the artist who’s done a lot of work for Black Flag and some work for Circle Jerks in the beginning. He did the Goo album cover for Sonic Youth. The Mike Watt album cover I believe is a Pettibon design. We were working on some flyers with him and we hadn’t decided on a name at that time. He pulled out an American slang dictionary. We were flipping through the dictionary, the pages, various words, etc. etc. and we got to the C section and came across Circle Jerks, and Greg and I looked at each other and smiled and said, we didn’t even read the description, the definition and we just thought it was a real zany, goofy, wild, rock and roll type name. You know, you have the Rolling Stones and then you have the Circle Jerks.


SLUG: OK, thanks for that. What’s with all the hair? (Morris has waist length dread locks, the rest of the band have short cuts.)

If the Circle Jerks reformed to "cash in," why did they release an album that everyone knows will never make it to the radio?
If the Circle Jerks reformed to “cash in,” why did they release an album that everyone knows will never make it to the radio?


Morris: All the hair? Oh, you don’t like it?


SLUG: Oh no, I like it.


Morris: Oh no, you should see the rest of the guys and then the question would be what’s with the lack of hair?


SLUG: Yeah, I’ve seen the rest of them in the photo.


Morris: The problem I have is that there’s all this conformity. You know, in fashion and all these different trends,it tends to, like, right now… everybody seems to be leaning towards this short, greased-back, buzzed, military-type look. Which I think is totally fucking awful. I think it’s lame. I think it’s very conservative. Do you think we can become conservative? You know it’s like if Perry Farrell cuts his hair short every other lead singer in every other band in the world cuts his hair short. You know all I can basically say to that is, “fuck that.”


SLUG: There you go. I was wondering about the slicked back mohawk look. 

Morris: Slicked back mohawk?


SLUG: Where they have a mohawk, shaved on the sides, with the mohawk on top and then they just flatten their hair with mousse or hair spray.


Morris: Well, they’ve got to do that when they go to their work, you know. When they go to their office jobs.


SLUG: Oh, so that’s what it is.


Morris: Computer programmer, white collar, you know, lawyers and future politicians.


At this point, I asked Morris about Greg Hetson‘s involvement with Bad Religion.


Morris: You know,  none of the reasons why we broke up four years ago was due to the fact that the guys in the band all had other things that they were doing and all of a sudden it seemed that all these other things were more important than being in a band. So I said, “I’ve had enough of this. I’ll start another band.” Hired a bunch of musical mercenaries. Everybody wanted the big cash and where’s the record deal? Where’s all the big lights and balloon-breasted blondes and limousines and all the other trimmings that go along with it? So what happens now is that I try not to think about all those other things. That’s the reason why I’m here talking with you right now, because none of the other guys would be able to be here to do it because they’re busy doing other things. So I figure, rather than sitting around dwelling upon how good or how well one of these other projects is going I have a tendency to, like I said earlier, just fuck that. I’ve got stuff that I’ve got to do and I’ve got business to take care of on my own. Even though it is Circle Jerks business and maybe some of the other guys should be doing it.


SLUG: Your new album is the best punk record I’ve heard in a while.


Morris: You know, I went and saw an amazing punk rock band last night. One of the oldest punk rock bands from Los Angeles. A band called X. The last few times that I’d seen them I just thought that they were kind of pathetic and weak and old and tired. Last night was one of the most amazing shows that I’ve seen. They were better than the Bad Brains. I saw the Bad Brains with the Beastie Boys and I thought the Bad Brains were pretty fucking rocking. This made all of us look like fucking kindergarten. (X will be in Salt Lake City on August 9, the day after the Circle Jerks. How lucky can we be?)


SLUG: Who’s in X now? (Royce did the interview and got the free CD, so fuck you.)


Morris: It’s John Doe, Exene, DJ Bonebrake, who is so hot and amazing and probably the greatest drummer going right now and Tony Gilkyson. They did their little bit of country here and there. But when they got into like “Nausea” and “Devil Doll” and “Blue Spark” and “Los Angeles,” it was amazing. I was just in awe. I was almost in tears. It was like, this is the way I remember this band when I first saw them play.


SLUG: How many times have you played in Salt Lake City?


Morris: We played the Speedway. We played the… it was like a youth center that served food. We played there with Scream. The last time I visited Salt Lake City, I was with a friend who was recovering from alcohol and heroin, so it was really boring. I mean, Salt Lake City’s a pretty boring place, so I’m really sure that whenever the Mormons get together to do their, you know when the Mormon Tabernacle gets together to do their stage presentation of “Oh! Calcutta,” (which was a famous nude play from the ‘60s or ‘70s) that it’s probably, like, a welcome thing that everybody goes to. Maybe what we can do is, we can do the Circle Jerks backed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Maybe do a version of “I Want To Destroy You” or “Wild In The Streets.” Don’t they wear, like, gold gowns or capes?


SLUG: They wear garments and they have little insignias over the nipples.


Morris: Right. Like kick here. I’m a loser. Pay later. (Let’s edit out the Winter Olympics discussion and continue.)


SLUG: So are you living in the suburbs with a wife and kids?


Morris: Oh, I’m not married. I’m a nomad. I haven’t had time to get married. I’m looking at the Russ Meyer interview in your magazine. Damn. And Helen Wolf? Yeah!


SLUG: Helen Wolf is the most cynical, sarcastic person in the world. What if Helen Wolf is actually a man?


Morris: Yeah? Is she married?


SLUG: Yeah.


Morris: She is?


SLUG: Yeah.


Morris: Oh, that’s too bad because she’d want to marry a punk rock star guy.


SLUG: Helen Wolf is a punk rock star.


At this point we got into Debbie Gibson‘s appearance on Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities. The story is pretty interesting. It seems that Debbie was dating Niko Bolas, who produced the Circle Jerks album and Gibson’s as well. She was present when the band were recording “I Wanna Destroy You.” She was dancing around and as Morris describes it, “the light bulb clicked over my head that said, ‘Hey we got a song that needs some backing vocals and rather than have all the idiots in the band sing the backing vocals or whoever was just standing around why don’t you have Debbie Gibson sing on it?’, because that’s punk rock. That’s anarchy. That’s even more hardcore than say, Sonic Youth doing an entire album of Madonna covers.”


(I’ll insert some editing here because I am running long and this isn’t Diesel.)


SLUG: How about getting signed to Mercury?


Morris: Well, one of the things that we decided upon was that we had to get out of the record deal we had-that we had before with Important Relativity, who were just absolutely nowhere (Hope they have an ad in this issue.) And I’ve developed friendships with a lot of people over the years that were at one time in bands or worked at clubs who are now working at record companies. So we said, “Look let’s find out… you know make a demo. Let’s send out some tapes and see what happens.” So we started to get our feedback. You know, we got feedback from Capitol Records, we got feedback from Geffin, we got feedback from Madonna’s new label Maverick and I gave a tape to one of my friends at Mercury and the next day he called and said that he wanted to sign the band. He sat down with the president of the company in New York and the conversation basically went, the president asking our A&R guy, “Do you want me to sign this band?” Our A&R guy said, “Yeah.” And the president of the company said, “No, you are going to sign this band.”


SLUG: (obviously awed) The president of Mercury Records?


Morris: Yes, so when we played at CBGB‘s we did a little thing for the record company on the East Coast. He was in the slam pit for like the first four or five songs.


SLUG: Really?


Morris: Yes, that’s a really great sign for a band like us. See ’cause all of our label mates consist of bands like the Scorpions and John Mellencamp, Def Leppard and Tears For Fears.


SLUG: Do you know where you’ll be playing when you come to Salt Lake? Is it DV8?


Morris: It could be DV8, but I really think since we’re such a large, ultra-mega-corp band now and we’ll be traveling by Lear Jet and limo that we’ll probably be playing in the same place that the Jazz play.


SLUG: Oh, you’re at the Delta Center.


Morris: Oh yeah. The tickets are what, $49.95?


SLUG: Yeah, same as the Eagles.


Morris: We’re going to play a half hour set, but the light show is amazing. We have an 80 million dollar light show with us this time.




Morris: And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.


SLUG: Naked.


Morris: And they’re really expensive.


SLUG: Yes, they are expensive.


Morris: See what will happen is… the second half of the show, after the first half hour, for the next six hours the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing all your favorite hymns.


SLUG: No Osmonds?


Morris: Little Jimmy’s going to show up and sing in the nude, fully erect. They’re going to prop him up on a box.


Enough of that for God’s sake. They made a video for “I Wanna Destroy You” which, to my knowledge, has not aired on MTV—go figure—it’s a hit single. It’s time to enter the world of a SLUG Writer now and discover what our lives are like.


Morris: You sound like you’re bored.


SLUG: Nah, I’m hungover.


Morris: Got a little bit of a headache?


SLUG: Yeah.


Morris: OK, here’s what you do.




Morris: Are you sitting at a table?


SLUG: Yeah.


Morris: OK, lay your head down on the table sideways. So you’re, like, looking off one of the sides.




Morris: Take the telephone receiver. Which is your strongest hand? Your left or your right hand?


SLUG: My hands are crippled.


Morris: Your hands are crippled?


SLUG: Yeah.


Morris: Oh, that’s too bad. What I was going to say is take the receiver in your strongest hand and…


SLUG: Bang it on my head?


Morris: There you go.




Morris: What you could do is you could get up and ram your head into a wall.


Major editing required here, but let’s get the last few words from this guy.


SLUG: Thanks for talking to me and answering a few questions.


Morris: That’s OK. Like the man said, if you’ve got a question to ask, ask it. It doesn’t matter if it’s intelligent or not. That’s kind of a drag that Helen Wolf is married though. Damn. That’s too bad.


SLUG: Actually, you know Helen has a different picture of herself every month. The magazine gets thrown away a lot because of Helen Wolf’s picture. This is Salt Lake.


Morris: Right.


SLUG: They don’t like naked girls here even if they’re censored.


Morris: Take care.


SLUG: You take care, too and thanks again for talking to me.


Morris: We’ll just see you when we’re in beautiful Salt Lake City.


SLUG: OK, good luck on your tour.


Morris: Tell your parents to come on down, too.


SLUG: My parents are 80 years old.


Morris: That’s good.


SLUG: I’ll tell them to come on down.


Morris: Yeah, they can hang out on stage and jump and dance and scream and yell.


SLUG: And show off their garments.


Sell-out? Reformed to “cash-in” on the current punk rock trendiness? Fuck that. 

Read More From the SLUG Archvies:
A Shot Of Blues: August 1995