(East Bay Ray)
For anyone over the age of 30, The Dead Kennedys need no introduction. For anyone younger they may simply be a band that you have seem name dropped in other interviews. Whatever your age all you simply need to know is that the band were one of the finest punk exports from the USA. Over the next couple of months we will see the band re-release their back catalogue after a lengthy legal dispute. Read on about the court case, the punk generation and the future.
Q: Could you give us a quick overview of the court case?
A: Basically in 1997 an employee of Alternative Tentacle records discovered that the Dead Kennedys had been underpaid certain royalties. They informed Biafra about it and he didn't inform the other band members immediately. Eventually that person who was working at the label told us and we didn't believe her so we asked for documentation - she documented it and we were kind of in shock. We confronted Biafra and he refused to pay it without a court order. What he did do is put it into a trust fund, but we couldn't touch it for over a year and a half without his permission or a court order. So we got a court order because it was our income by rights.
The legal system is slow so it was only last may that we had the jury trial and the jury trial found that Biafra had defrauded his partners and done it with malice. The definition of malice that the jury had was "conduct which is intended to cause injury or despicable conduct which is carried with a willful and conscious disregard for the rights of others. Despicable conduct is conduct which is so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched, or loathsome that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary decent people."
We voted to terminate his right to put out the records and he denied that vote - the trial also supported that. DK Music majority vote does govern the partnership, will still in a partnership and he still votes on things. For us three it was a very difficult experience Wouldn't recommend it. But now its over, its time to move on and get on with the positive stuff. Biafra's kind of lost it and is not taking it too well - he has some legal strategies he could do like appeal, but its all up to him if he wants to keep it in court.
Q: Doesn't the whole court case contradicts against everything you stood for?
A: The Sex Pistols sued one another, the Beatles sued one another, the Smiths sued one another - it comes down to the music and the music really has a life of its own which is beyond us mere mortals. Yes, it does contradict everything we stood for though. "Talk minus Action = Zero" is graffiti popular around here in the West Coast.
Just because somebody talks a lot doesn't mean they do it and my personal opinion is actions speak louder than words. I used to be a waiter in college and there were these marxists sitting around coffee tables talking about the workers of the world and how they were being exploited - of course, they didn't tip very well!!! On another table there would be your ordinary engineering students who would say "Hi" to you and tip decently. I formed my opinion at who was more politically correct in that situation.
I'm sure there are plenty of people that you know who don't practice what they preach. We are all human.
Q: When the punk generation tried to change the world, it could be argued that the generation that followed (in England - the New Romantics and the Thatcher Generation) was even more apathetic. Would you agree?
A: Well, like I say, I really don't think music is going to change the world - but it can change individuals. And if I can get somebody, through listening to our music, to give that £5 back to the clerk (the one who gave you too much change) then we have accomplished our job. I know that's happened because even last week someone came up to me, shook my hand and told me that our music inspired him.
What's important is that people listen to our music and live their lives more ethically or more responsibly. They stop destroying the environment, they treat people a little more decently - I think we were a success on that part.
Q: Do you think there are any bands around at the moment saying anything?
A: Not to name any names, but I think some bands do some political stuff - big, big major names that are on CBS records. They do some political talks and:-
1) Their solutions are totally unrealistic, they sound like Republicans. Republicans say free enterprise / free market. This band was saying give guns to the homeless. Wait a minute!!! You're on CBS Records, you've got a million dollars - why don't you go out buy the guns and give them to the homeless.
All of the Dead Kennedy were anti-violence. I'm a great Martin Luther King / Gandhi fan, they did a great more change than any of these punk bands did. His thing was speaking to the unconverted - he was trying to trigger the conscious of the white people to treat the black people decently and I think he changed some white peoples minds. When you preach to the converted you're not really doing much.
Running round smashing store windows is probably a lot of fun up in Seattle, but the question is what is your political goal? Is that going to help convert the middle of the road people to see that corporations are bad or is it just a selfish adrenaline rush. There's a lot of "radical chic" but its kind of a fashion thing rather than a reality thing.
Q: So what can we expect release wise from you guys?
A: In the UK and Europe were re-releasing the old albums because they haven't been available since 1997 when Alternative Tentacles UK went under. Were also releasing a live record and getting on with our musical lives. Biafra's kind of lost it and is not taking it too well - he has some legal strategies he could do like appeal, but its all up to him if he wants to keep it in court.
The live record is a collection of a couple of shows from round the San Francisco Bay area. They were all recorded on 8 track so they're pretty good quality - its better than any bootlegs i've heard out there.
We have 60 hours of video, but that's going to take about a year to wade through. We don't want to put out stuff indiscriminately.
The Back Catalogue / Live Album will be in Stores in UK / Europe within 2 Months (April / May)