If you listen to our podcast, you've heard us reference Stevie Chick's amazing book Spray Paint the Walls, which was published by Omnibus Press in 2009, many times. It's a great read, with tons of insight into the band and its members. We'll soon be getting into the Sonic Youth era of SST, and we'll undoubtedly be referencing his earlier book Psychic Confusion: The Sonic Youth Story when we do. Thank you to Stevie for answering a few of our questions.
Stevie on Twitter: @stevie_chick
|Stevie Chick DJing at the London Short Film Festival American Hardcore party, 2008.|
How did your book Spray Paint the Walls get started? Did you decide to write a book on Flag, or did it start as a smaller piece and then snowball?
I'd just finished a biography of Sonic Youth - Psychic Confusion - The Sonic Youth Story - and was discussing with my publisher what might make for a good second book. He suggested Black Flag, and as a fan of the band since my teens, and someone who'd read Get in the Van cover-to-cover several times over, I was instantly sold. Great music, a tale of fierce independence in the face of establishment oppression, and the beginning of a movement that still thrives today - who wouldn't want to tell that story?
|Spray Paint The Walls: The Black Flag Story|
and Psychic Confusion: The Sonic Youth Story available from Omnibus now
Were you able to interview most members of the band?
I was able to interview a number of them, though the omissions were unavoidable but still glaring. I had no real inkling that the fallout from their break-up was so acrid and long-lasting; I contacted Rollins' management but they demurred, explaining that every time Henry talks about Black Flag (and always in respectful terms, pointing out it was Greg's band and he was only their fourth singer - an overly modest reading of his contribution, but there you go), it just seems to provoke Ginn to respond negatively, so he wouldn't be contributing. I also spent the duration of my work on the book - 18 months - trying to get to talk to Ginn, but I never got past his assistant, who always said he'd get in touch with Ginn, but I never heard back. There were a couple of other key members who said they'd talk to me, but then went silent, which happens. People have stuff that goes on in their lives that's more important than some book, and you have to understand that sometimes.
But I was able to speak to numerous other members of the group, whose energy and enthusiasm and contribution to the book were immeasurable. Keith Morris is a force of nature, and we spent many hours talking about Flag and his exit and later reunion, and he was always hilarious, always insightful, and took me to his favourite Lebanese restaurant in LA and didn't mock me as I attempted to park my gargantuan American rental car in a tiny spot. Kira Roessler spoke late in the night to me about her era of the band, and was thoroughly enlightening. Chuck Dukowski was the hardest to track down, but his interview was absolutely key to the book, very unflinching and self-effacing, and he schooled me on the band's ethos and focus, and how the wheels came off. And Ron Reyes surfaced after years of silence to talk to me, and was a great interview; again, he had to rake over some very painful memories for the book - a common theme, and one I didn't take lightly for any of the interviewees - but delivered a very revealing take on Black Flag. I also spoke to many key peripheral characters, from the godlike Mike Watt, to characters like Mugger (whose recall of his time as a roadie and 'HB' was unforgiving and priceless), Redd Kross's Steven MacDonald, SST domo Joe Carducci, photographer Glen E Friedman, filmmaker Dave Markey, and the late and unbelievably great Brendan Mullen, whose enthusiasm for the project was an ongoing elixir, along with numerous other voices I'm going to regret not mentioning when this interview surfaces.
|The late great Brendan Mullen.|
How did your personal interest in the band start? What was the first BF album you heard?
I'm of the age where Nirvana's "Nevermind" opened up the American underground scene to me, and I soon progressed from the grunge-era stuff to the roots of that scene. I think Damaged was my first, I found a vinyl copy for £5 (about $10) in my local record shop, and that was the beginning for me. It was pre-internet, so tracking these albums down was no easy feat, but infinitely rewarding, obviously.
Your book is great because it also gives a lot of insight into SST, any favorite bands or albums on the label besides Flag?
Definitely. The label really was on fire for much of the 80s, and some of my very favourite albums of all time bear the SST imprint: Dinosaur's “You're Living All Over Me,” Meat Puppets II, Sonic Youth's “Sister,” Screaming Trees' “Even If & Especially When,” Minutemen's “What Makes A Man Start Fires” (indeed, all the Minutemen's stuff), Zen Arcade and all of Hüskers' output (and that first Grant Hart LP), The Stains... So much great stuff. Bad Brains' “I Against I!” I could go on...
Do you keep in touch with anyone from the band/scene that you met while working on the book?
A few, via social media, but I'm based in the UK, so that's the only way I can really keep in touch. But I'm always pleased whenever Keith Morris "likes" a photo of my absolutely punk-rock kid on Instagram.
Any plans for another book?
I have plans on the go, but can't really talk about them yet. Soon, I hope!
Stevie Chick is a music journalist based in London, contributing to MOJO, The Guardian, The Quietus and other titles. He is the author of Psychic Confusion: The Sonic Youth Story, Spray Paint The Walls: The Black Flag Story, and Ninja Tune; 20 Years Of Beats & Pieces.
Stevie on Twitter: @stevie_chick