Q&A: Keith Morris on the CIRCLE JERKS Reunion

Photo: Raymond Ahner

When Decibel last caught up with hardcore OG and Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris more than five years ago he’d just finished work on his critically acclaimed memoir My Damage. As it turns out, there were still many chapters to be written in the book of Morris. Like many of us, Morris scrambled to pay bills and keep a roof over his head during the pandemic. But with COVID at its lowest rates since the summer after vaccines first became available Morris is back on the road. The Circle Jerks reunion tour, with rotating support from Decibel favorites Municipal Waste, 7 Seconds, and others, has been wildly successful and continues through mid-May before heading to Europe (complete itinerary here). Morris talked to us from his hotel room in Minneapolis about what it’s like to be back out with Circle Jerks after nearly two decades and what’s next.

I was surprised to do a Google search for “Keith Morris” and learn you are worth $18 million.

KEITH MORRIS: (laughs). I’m actually worth $18 billion. So they made a mistake.  They made a few billion-dollar mistake.

Where did they even get that figure from? 

MORRIS: I think what they did is called a few of my friends and they said he’s equal to the U.S. Mint and can print money out of his ass. He sneezes or coughs and there is a stack of thousand-dollar bills in front of him. I think I’ve read a few of these things. They did one for Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins.

I don’t think you’d be freezing in Minneapolis right now if you had that $18 million.

MORRIS: I’d be freezing my ass off in the Bahamas. I’d be freezing my ass off looking at the pyramids in Egypt.

It’s been 15 years since you’ve been on the road with Circle Jerks. You were supposed to go on the road pre-pandemic for the 40th anniversary of Group Sex.

MORRIS: We had a conversation about getting out there a year before the pandemic. When we were placed in lockdown we had about seven months of dates lined up. I can only do three shows in a row so things need to be planned well. Otherwise, my voice gets completely thrashed – what an ex-girlfriend calls “the garbage can.” The idea was to do a string of dates over seven months and go pretty much anywhere that would have us. 

We’ve since had two years off since the Group Sex anniversary. At the beginning of Covid, we all wondered how we would pay our bills. We lucked out because there was government aid and we got checks every so often. It was just enough to pay rent so it really helped. During the pandemic, we signed a deal with Trust Records, and that helped pay some bills. They are doing an amazing job. They really pulled our asses out of the fire. So this tour was first booked in 2019 and we hit a wall. We were running around struggling to make it. 

Like the majority of Americans who don’t own e-commerce companies.

MORRIS: Or any big business. All of the little guys and gals got stepped on and left behind. So, remember, any time you can support independent businesses and the moms and pops.  We’re finally out here now and having a great time. Everyone is saying great things about what is happening. On this leg, we have 7 Seconds and Negative Approach opening all the shows. Negative Approach has been fucking shredding every night. At the end of this, we’ll have played about 80 to 85 shows.

With Covid, there are lots of new precautions. Do you need to be extra mindful because of your diabetes? Did you worry about that before you hit the road?

MORRIS: I don’t want to jinx myself but everyone around me has had Covid. Greg (Hetson, guitar) and Zander (Schloss, bass) both had Covid. We did an East Coast/Southeast run and we played four shows in Florida. I recommend to everyone going into Florida to wear a mask everywhere you go because the people down there don’t give a fuck. On that leg of this tour, we played like eight shows. The first guy to get sick was Negative Approach’s drummer. We had two shows left on the leg. They loaded up and drove back to Detroit which is a very stand-up thing. When the drummer tested positive they called us immediately. After that, there were 17 of us left for the last two shows. All of us got rapid tested and everyone was negative. We played the last two shows and got back to L.A.

The second night we were back Zander had shortness of breath. He goes to the ER and tests positive. They were going to make him spend the night in a tent in a parking lot. He said fuck this and decided to go home where he could at least lay in bed. Their instruction to him was to get up every hour and walk around for ten minutes. He was quarantined for ten days. Then Joey (Castillo, drummer, formerly of Queens Of The Stone Age) got Delta in the middle of the Omicron surge. Hetson got Covid at a Dickies concert at the Whisky. Our merch dealer and her boyfriend also got it. 

At the very least we’ve had a pocket of good news and low numbers with all the shows you’ve been playing. This is good because many of your shows are selling out. 

MORRIS: They are already talking about another wave coming though. Here’s the thing: it’s not going away. It will always be here. The pharmaceutical companies are throwing an orgy the size of Rome about this. 

Granted, you can fit a lot of Circle Jerks songs into a set but how did you pick the songs that had to be in there?

MORRIS: Well, there are a lot of songs I don’t think equate to a live setting. We were also told to get in, do our thing, celebrate and then finish. We picked a lot of songs from past setlists. It wasn’t that difficult. We added another five or six songs to the list. Joey also weighed in and had a big role in creating the set list. Before he was our drummer he was a huge Circle Jerks fan.

After being cooped up for so long it has to be cathartic to get out and play. 

MORRIS: Three of us are in our 60s. I should be collecting social security. But as long as I can eat and have a roof over my head I’m fine with doing this. I’ll collect social security in a few years. We are having a blast. It is more difficult to play some of these songs now because they are very athletic and aggressive and in your face. We throw ourselves into all of the songs so it’s very physical. It takes a lot of stamina to do this. The messages of these songs are still incredibly important. I think anyone with any intelligence realizes that our political system is a hot, steaming pile of excrement. Everyone is on the take. You don’t get to run for office unless someone is putting money in your pocket. A lot of people are wondering when the revolution will happen.

Some of our population thought the revolution happened when a bunch of hicks stormed the U.S. Capitol in 2021. 

MORRIS: Well, the real people of the revolution understand we can’t take people out and behead them. We’re good people.

Has there been any talk about writing new songs? 

MORRIS: When we are through with this we all have other things. Off! is still one of the most important things in my life. But there are now possibilities (for Circle Jerks) like going to Europe or playing a bunch of festivals. As for the creative process, I can’t say yes or no. I can say if it happens it happens. Off! is still my priority.

Can we at least say it’s not going to be another 15 years before Circle Jerks tour again?

MORRIS: I can’t say yes or no. It’s about everyone’s schedule. If I’m busy with the other things I’m working on it would need to be something outstanding like Roadburn or Lollapalooza or any of those big festivals. 

The Circle Jerks’ music has stuck with the people who heard it when it first came out and continues to found new generations. Why? 

MORRIS: People realize and understand that the music is real. It’s not like the fake bullshit on television or on the radio or on someone’s playlist. People can discern what’s real and what’s fake. The other night we were in Lawrence, Kansas and this mom was at the front of the stage to the right. Her two sons were with her – the youngest looked about six. They were having the time of their lives and the little one was in complete awe. It was pretty brave of her to bring her kids to a concert with 900 people going to apeshit. The shows that don’t sell out are only about 25 tickets from selling out. I appreciate everyone so much for all this support.