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Nardwuar Vs. Jello Biafra|
New Introduction by Kristen K.: Originally ran in Razorcake #08, 2002
Thursday, December 27 2012
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Jello was still mired in litigation with members of the Dead Kennedys a year after this 2003 interview ran. To recap, Biafra along with his label Alternative Tentacles, were accused of withholding royalties and refusing to promote the band after he turned up his nose to an offer from denim giant Levi’s to use “Holiday in Cambodia” in a commercial. Biafra defended his position stating that Levi’s employed sweatshops to produce its garments. Jello was ultimately found guilty of fraud and malice and slapped with a $200,000 fine. He appealed but Lady Luck wasn’t on his side.
In 2004 Jello was rallying for presidential hopeful, Ralph Nader and the Green Party in an attempt to avoid being the nexus of the political spotlight. Between rallies, Biafra took time to lay down tracks with The Melvins. This symbiosis, Jello Biafra and The Melvins, would produce two albums—Never Breathe What You Can’t See (2004) and Sieg Howdy! (2005)—in which Jello blasted his former bandmates with “Those Dumb Punk Kids (Will Buy Anything).”
The following year brought an unexpected reunion between Jello and Michael Guarino, the lead prosecutor in the Dead Kennedys 1986 obscenity trial. Renowned radio program, This American Life, threw together a broadcast with the theme, Know Your Enemy, and managed to wrangle both Guarino and Biafra onto the airwaves. Surprisingly, the former district attorney admitted to getting swept up in making a name for himself and targeting DK as the perfect patsy. Jello took it in stride and the two wound up mending fences on the air. That same year also saw Jello cutting tracks with Napalm Death, Throw Rag, and Cage.
In 2006, Biafra tacked on a podcast to the Alternative Tentacles website. Batcast features material off the label, interviews, and various Jello-related media. Later that year, Jello’s ninth spoken word album, In the Grip of Official Treason was released, plus a handful of tracks with Al Jourgensen’s outfits, Ministry and Revolting Cocks.
Two years later, in 2008, Biafra took a cue from Iggy Pop and packed the GreatAmericanMusic Hall in San Francisco for Biafra Five-O, a Hawaii Five-O themed celebration of his fiftieth birthday and thirtieth anniversary of the Dead Kennedys. Having scratched that itch to helm his own band again, Jello debuted his latest and greatest ensemble, Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine. It featured members of Faith No More and Freak Accident and was aimed at shining a light on the U.S.-led torture in GuantanamoBay and related incidents in Abu Ghraib. Jello was found campaigning again for Ralph Nader’s presidential push later that year. Once Obama won the general election, Jello penned a meticulous letter of suggestions for the presidential term, proposing for starters to end the war on drugs, a need for media reform, and incentives for the creation of more green jobs. A copy of it is posted on the AT website.
In 2009, J Lo And The GitMo School Of Medicine released their full-length debut, The Audacity of Hype, with artwork by Shepard Fairey and engineered by hip-hop guru, Matt Kelley, of Tupac and Hieroglyphics fame, showcasing their space-punk, dual guitar assault. The onslaught of “What Would Jello Do?” videos began in 2010. Concise, ten minute blurbs from Jello’s soapbox began to pervade the internet, addressing everything from eBay CEO Meg Whitman, to the conflict in the Middle East. GitMo’s Enhanced Methods of Questioning was released in 2011 and Biafra reneged on playing a gig in Tel Aviv after coming under heavy fire due to an existing pro-Palestinian boycott. Not satisfied with mere stories of the conflict, he traveled to Israel and witnessed the barricades and armed checkpoints fans would have to out-maneuver in order to attend one of his shows. That was all she wrote; Jello announced that he would only perform in Israel if it was a “pro-human rights, anti-occupation event.” A zealous ally of the Occupy movement earlier this year, Jello cut a ska-infused track with DOA, “We Occupy,” in response.
Originally ran in Razorcake #08, 2002
Nardwuar: I go back stage and then there’s Jello! Who are you?
Jello: I wish I knew.
Nardwuar: You are J. Lo. Get it? J-ello Biafra.
Jello: What? Did my pink ruffle panties give me away? We all know what you like, Nardwuar.
Nardwuar: And I want say, Ba-boom! But the new CD you’re going to put out is called Ka-Boom!
Jello: Tentatively, yeah. But it’s not named after the cereal, it’s named after the WorldTradeCenter being reduced to cereal. It’s The Big Ka-Boom, Part I. There will be other parts in the series as this ill-advised war on terrorism continues to evolve or devolve. It’s not a triple album like the other spoken word. It’s just a single disc this time. It’s sort of a teaser for the longer one. I’m not too sure what I’m going to call that one yet. It might be called Machine Gun in the Clown’s Hand. It might be called Osama McDonald.
Nardwuar: Boucher (Jello’s last name.). Is that a French name? Do you have French roots in your family?
Jello: I think several hundred years back I do, but for all practical purposes, I’m generic.
Nardwuar: Now, there’s a rumor going around that you’re up for the lead in Vampire Hookers II.
Jello: Well, that’s the first I’ve heard of that one, but as long as I can play one of the hookers, I’ll be okay. I’ve been already thinking about the implants and all.
Nardwuar: Don’t you actually sing the theme song to Vampire Hookers II? Steve of the Neos told me that. You sung it to him.
Jello: I think I saw Vampire Hookers at his house or something. Maybe I sang it to him when I was at Cecil English’s place when I was doing those albums with DOA and Nomeansno. I can’t remember now, exactly. Maybe I had to do that to describe the song to him. Of course, since then, it’s been covered by The Show Business Giants and several other bands, but I don’t think it ever came out on record in its original version.
Nardwuar: Jello Biafra, the Neos, Steve, how come they were never on Alternative Tentacles? Steve, you said, helped get Nomeansno on Alternative Tentacles. How come the Neos never were? They could have been as big as DRI.
Jello: We didn’t have money to put out everything we wanted to put out. Kind of like now, in other words. If we’d had money then, like SST had later or Epitaph or Fat has now, that’s probably one of the bands we would have worked with.
Nardwuar: Do you have some sort of aversion to Vancouver Island at all? I heard you didn’t like Nanaimo because your parents honeymooned there.
Jello: No, all I knew about Nanaimo before I went there was that my parents spent a night there on a traveling honeymoon and said it was the thinnest walls of any motel they’d ever been in their lives and they didn’t get any sleep as a result.
Nardwuar: How did they pick Nanaimo?
Jello: I’m not sure they picked it. Maybe it was getting dark. That’s the way both they and I travel sometimes. Pick road at random and when it’s time to pull over you pull over and hope you can find a place to crash.
Nardwuar: And, Jello Biafra, you’re always hanging around Canadians. Tell me about your collaboration with I Am Spoonbender, featuring Robin Iwata from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Jello: I didn’t know she was from Vancouver.
Nardwuar: She used to be in Cub.
Jello: That explains the Mint (Records) connection, I suppose.
Nardwuar: Yes, who stayed at your house once.
Jello: When I wasn’t there.
Nardwuar: Right. On the DOA tour.
Jello: Apparently… It’s part of a tribute album for, maybe, the best band ever that never made a record, to my knowledge—namely The Screamers, an L.A. band who was a huge inspiration to me when I first moved to San Francisco when I was trying to get my own band going. They were the most original punk band then and maybe any other time. They didn’t even have guitars. They had fuzztone electric piano, a real creative drummer, a sound driven by an ARP Odyssey synthesizer stacked on milk crates and a trained mime named Tomata du Plenty, who had a lot of stage presence and all. I miss them dearly. And so, we’re doing a song called “Eva Brown.” I’ve heard—I guess it would be a rough mix—that Dustin of I Am Spoonbender wanted to use as the final mix but it needed some repairs.
Nardwuar: You’re involved with so many collaborations. Last time in Vancouver, didn’t you do “Taking Care of Business,” with Randy (“the Riff Scientist”) Bachman?
Jello: Not as far as I know. Is that Chris Houston’s latest tall tale?
Nardwuar: I’m not sure if it’s some sort of tall tale, but did you record with Chris Houston some sort of song. What was it? “American Woman”! That was it. I’m sorry.
Jello: It’s been recording. It was Chris’s recording, but I was just dubbed in after Chris and, yes, Randy Bachman and Brian Gobbel. Was the drummer John Cart or somebody else? Can’t remember. Anyway, they laid down the track and I’d heard Brian sing it before and he did a pretty good version. I did it a number of different ways and learned something from that session in that one way to do vocals—if you think you’re done and there’s one extra track—do the absolutely most obscenely bad version you can possibly come up with and some of it actually winds up being used.
Nardwuar: And that was like a super jam. Or, at least Randy Bachman was on that. Weren’t you in Sweden and did some sort of jam with Wayne Kramer? What sort of super jams have you been involved with, Jello Biafra?
Jello: Well, that was a super jam. It was the twentieth, maybe even the twenty-fifth anniversary of that Swedish garage band—I’m sureyou know…
Nardwuar: The Nomads.
Jello: The Nomads. And they flew over special Guests of Dishonor, I guess you’d call it. Handsome Dick and Ross the Boss from the Dictators, Nick Royale from the Hellacopters came out. The main guy from Sator played. Chris Bailey from The Saints did “(I’m) Stranded” and they brought me out to do “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” and “Five Years Ahead of My Time,” that old The Third Bardo ‘60s garage song that they re-did and when I learned the lyrics, I realized they were just clear off-the-scale egocentric. They had to have been written either by a fundamentalist Christian evangelist or Charles Manson or maybe both at the same time. So I did it maybe in the style of the singer of the God Bullies might have done it or something. And then at the end, they brought out all of the guitarists and Wayne Kramer to do “Kick Out the Jams,” which I got to do one of the verses of, and that was pretty cool. It was five guitars at once and the sound guy was able to handle it so the other instruments didn’t get buried. So it felt like Ministry covering “Kick Out the Jams”; the whole stage taking off like a jet plane and all of these emotions running through my head about how much my twenty-five cent copy of Kick Out the Jams meant to me in high school at a time when most of my friends were abandoning rock’n’roll for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer or Yes or something and all these years later, I’m on stage with Wayne. I couldn’t believe it. Many things have gone wrong in my life, but every once in a while, something goes right.
Nardwuar: Let’s skip over to South America for a moment. What was it like, “Holiday in Cambodia” with Sepultura in front of 70,000 people and when was that?
Jello: That never happened.
Nardwuar: Didn’t you sing “Holiday in Cambodia” with Sepultura in Brazil or something like that?
Jello: It was one or two people from Sepultura and then one or two from Ratos De Porao, the Brazilian hardcore band we put out on Alternative Tentacles, and it wasn’t 70,000 people. It might have been, oh, three or four hundred in Sao Paolo and double that or more in Rio de Janeiro.
Nardwuar: How come Brazilian hardcore is so cool? Like, that Ratos band is amazing. How come they’re not huger? What’s so great about Brazilian hardcore, Jello Biafra?
Jello: Um, with them, they came from a time when just being able to buy instruments and play was a real struggle. So a lot of the bands rehearsed playing the same equipment at different times and the recordings were in real crude studios, which actually enhanced them—in my opinion—because the guitars sounded like an electric razor or something and they just went on and grew and have a following and whatnot, but have not lost their intensity or extreme nature. There’s all sort of wimpy, poppy ways to do punk and the generic side of hardcore, but when any type of punk is done well, or is as extreme as it’s ever been, or breaks the mold, I’m as into it as I ever was and Ratos de Porao do it to the extreme.
Nardwuar: Now, speaking of cover bands, guess who’s playing tomorrow night in Tucson, Arizona, Jello Biafra.
Jello: Um, are you hinting at the fake Dead Kennedys that they advertised as a reunion and put my picture on the flyer and in the ads to bilk people paying twenty dollars American to get in?
Nardwuar: Yes I am. What the hell is going on there? Brandon Cruz—who does have some hardcore cred; he was in Dr. Know—he’s replaced you, Jello Biafra, right?
Jello: I don’t know whether you’d call it replaced or just fronting a really cynical, inept karaoke or cover band who happens to have the same members of Dead Kennedys, but have none of the consciousness or the soul anymore and their motivation is sheer greed. Apparently, they were asked in Denver a few nights ago, “What’s this with Brandon not even bothering to learn the words?” And they just laughed.
Nardwuar: And lyric sheets are falling out of his pocket in Brazil?
Nardwuar: He didn’t know the lyrics to “Viva Las Vegas.”
Jello: Maybe he didn’t care.
Nardwuar: Now, I was curious, Jello, regarding the court battle, I read in Exclaim! magazine, a Canadian publication. They all talk about how you didn’t make the jury laugh enough.
Jello: I didn’t isolate that statement.
Nardwuar: Vale said that.
Jello: When there’s people on the other side of the room trying to wipe out your life and things are stacked against you, you can get nervous.
Nardwuar: Jello, there’s a book out called American Hardcore and it says that you were the first guy to crowd surf.
Jello: I don’t know whether if I was or not. I definitely did a lot of stage diving before I even had a band, although I wouldn’t call it diving because MabuhayGarden stage is only about a foot and a half off the ground. I don’t know. I mean…
Nardwuar: Iggy went into the crowd.
Jello: There’s Iggy. There was Darby Crash. Stiff Bators. Apparently Steven Leckie or Nazi Dog, whichever name he was using at the time, did that, too.
Nardwuar: Of the Viletones. But, did you float around the crowd?
Jello: Could be.
Nardwuar: Rather than just getting held there.
Jello: Could be.
Nardwuar: And in that book, also, there’s an interview with Winston Smith, Jello, and he mentions how Dead Kennedys graffiti is actually in a Moscow jail. Where have you seen a Dead Kennedys graffiti.
Jello: All kinds of places, including parts of people’s bodies that probably shouldn’t have graffiti tattooed on them. I think my favorite was the people in Live Skull sent me a postcard from some little town in Minnesota and all they could put on the postcard to show how wonderful their little town was was a photo of an old tank in the city park and guess what was spray painted on the tank.
Jello: K. And on top of that, I also collect newspaper clippings of local articles of mysterious satanic cults where it shows a cop or somebody shining a flashlight on satanic graffiti, and, again, it’s the DK logo.
Nardwuar: And in that book as well, Jello Biafra, and this is kind of a personal thing, but I think you’ve addressed it before, maybe—it mentions that you got a Mercedes or a BMW for a wedding gift. That’s a cool gift.
Jello: That’s not even true.
Nardwuar: What did you get as a gift?
Jello: I don’t remember now. My former wife took them all.
Nardwuar: And speaking of tooking and taking, do you know that Frank Discussion of The Feederz still brags about stealing your ex-wife?
Jello: Well, as far as I’m concerned, at this point, they deserve each other.
Nardwuar: Speaking of San Francisco and marriages and stuff, what were The Vats like, Jello Biafra? The Vats.
Jello: I wasn’t in them much. It was the stomping grounds at one point of MDC, DRI, and many others. A lot of tweakers there, too. In some places, there were rehearsal spaces.
Nardwuar: It was a squat, right?
Jello: I think you rented there. I don’t think it was strictly a squat, but people did live in old beer vats. They put floors in. No windows, no nothing, and everybody from MDC to Helios Creed had a rehearsal space there. There was almost an entire Vat rat compilation at one point. The darker side was that it was also a magnet for a lot of teenage runaways who turned into speed freaks and things. It had a pretty seedy side, too, and some people didn’t do what they could have done to discourage that.
Nardwuar: Jello, I was searching the internet. I’m sure you love questions that are preambled by that, and I found some website that had some story about how Henry Rollins melted a rat on you.
Jello: Again, this is what happens when you exaggerate things on the net. I was crashing in his apartment one night when I went back to DC with DOA after a Dead Kennedys East Coast tour in ‘81 and he was still Henry Garfield then. And when I finally fell asleep as the sun was coming up, a roommate took Henry’s late pet rat—who was in a little milk carton coffin in the freezer, who was still being mourned—and held the rat over me and the water started to melt, so this rat was sort of dripping and drooling on me when I woke.
Nardwuar: Yuck. That was the story. Jello Biafra, who is behind the September 11 terrorist attacks? Who really is behind it?
Jello: Paul from The Diamond Center.
Nardwuar: What can you tell me about the Carlyle Corporation?
Jello: It’s a shadowy little group that buys up failing defense contractors and turns the companies around and sells them at a big profit and the people on their so-called board of advisors includes King George Bush I, one of his old friends and old Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, Fidel Ramos, the old President of the Philippines, James Baker—Bush’s campaign dirty trickster who he made Secretary of State. For a long time, there was also a substantial investment by the Bin Laden family.
Nardwuar: Do you lend any credence to stories, such as that kid who crashed that Cessna into that building in Florida—that he crashed it to draw attention to his dad, who was a member of the CIA?
Jello: I suspect he was a troubled kid, mainly. There’s other ways to do that.
Nardwuar: How about war? Is force justified in any means at all, Jello Biafra?
Jello: That’s a tough one. It depends on the situation. I mean, on one hand there’s the argument that people should be left alone and on the other hand, there’s the argument to wade in and stop slaughters in places like Bosnia and Kosovo and what we probably should have done in Rwanda. Respecting other people’s cultures is well and good, but I draw the line at where some branches of Islam, what they do to women. It’s indefensible.
Nardwuar: Jello Biafra, do you lend credence to the story that this is all for oil again? The invasion and that Colin Powell knew before—and you discussed a bit of this tonight about the invasion of Afghanistan and set up this war—for an oil pipeline.
Jello: I don’t know about that. They’ve said that there’s enough oil under Kazakhstan that it’s bigger than the Saudi Arabian oil field, but looking at a map—all you have to do is look at a map and the pipeline theory kind of falls apart because you’d have to put the pipeline through hostile territory like Afghanistan, Pakistan, etcetera, to run it to the gulf and the Indian Ocean. And you’d have to build it up and over all those Himalayan peaks and if you build it going west instead of south, you have the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea and hostile people there, too, but probably not on the same scale. I don’t think it’s strictly about that.
Nardwuar: Now, winding up here with Jello Biafra, Jello, what do you think should happen to your countrymen, John Walker?
Jello: Oh, I think he should be on Hollywood Squares.
Jello: How am I supposed to respond to that?
Jello: I though you had a different sign off.
Nardwuar: No, we’re not quite finished yet. We’re not that wound up yet. I was curious, what was the longest you’ve spoken for your spoken word?
Jello: Five hours plus, maybe. I haven’t caught up with Fidel Castro yet. I’m not sure I should.
Nardwuar: I just want to ask you quickly. Your finding records stories. I love that story about finding a record in Amoeba. That’s amazing. In the washroom of Amoeba. Could you tell the people about that at all, Jello Biafra?
Jello: Ohh, I was just taking a leak in the Berkeley Amoeba store and stapled to the wall was an original Ike and Tina Turner—really heavy R & B album on Sue Records from a long time ago. Never seen it before, never saw it again. And I thought, could it be? And I pushed on it and noticed there was a disc inside so I thought, I wonder. I don’t mind beat-up records if it’s the only way I can hear the thing. I have two needles for that purpose, plus I clean them off pretty good. So I thought, I wonder if I can talk them out of this. So, I went up to the counter with the staples still sticking in there: “Would you sell this to me?” I think they sold it to me for six bucks or something, cleaned it up, and it plays pretty good.
Nardwuar: I loved the way you found that record when you were at a flea market in Vancouver and you had that guy Ty rip down that record. What record was that? Some sort of prog record. Do you remember that one at all?
Nardwuar: It was some record that you said, “I want that.” And, sure enough, the record was inside of that.
Jello: Usually, the records are inside. That is helpful.
Nardwuar: I meant, for decorations, when people put stuff on a wall. It’s unusual that they put the record up as well.
Jello: Oh, that one. It turned out to be a disco album.
Nardwuar: Aww, damn. Jello Biafra, what’s the most you’ve ever paid for a record?
Jello: Oh, that’s classified information, but it’s not all that high. I’m a bottom feeder.
Nardwuar: And how about exotica? Have you thought of singing any exotica? You’ve done hardcore, you’ve done punk. Have you sung any exotica?
Jello: Not really. There’s sort of an open offer to work with a guy in Los Angeles who does big band and orchestra arrangements who was at least an acquaintance to Les Baxter before he passed away. But, I haven’t really come up with that kind of material or the time to really pursue that.
Nardwuar: In that book, American Hardcore, they hint that The Middle Class’s record was possibly the first hardcore record ever. What do you think was the first hardcore punk record?
Jello: Either The Middle Class or Sound Of Imker Train of Doomsday single in the late ‘60s in Holland. The only true ‘60s hardcore record I know.
Nardwuar: Just curious, that picture of you and Tammy Faye Baker. Have you joined an enemy? You are kissing Tammy Faye Baker there.
Jello: Uh, I think she’s kissing me.
Nardwuar: And did the guys from Agnostic Front ever threaten you?
Jello: I got that impression from their interviews.
Nardwuar: Do you know where Nicki Sicki of Sick Pleasure is?
Jello: I hope he’s not in jail because at one time he was up on a three strikes offense, but I hope he got out of that.
Nardwuar: And what was that guy you were referring to tonight? You said it was a Northern California anarchist band who had a BMW and a cushy computer job.
Jello: That, I’m keeping quiet on. It’s not anybody you would have known.
Nardwuar: Well thanks a lot, Jello Biafra. Really appreciate your time. Anything else you’d like to add to the people out there?
Jello: Oh, boy.
Nardwuar: Why should people care about Jello Biafra? Why should people care?
Jello: That’s for them to answer. I’m not sure I care sometimes.
Nardwuar: And lastly, lastly, lastly Jello Biafra, in retrospect, was Governor Jerry Brown all that bad?
Jello: Well, the ones that came after him certainly made him look good. He did do some good things. He also made statements at the time like, “I’ll move left and right at the same time. You watch me”—which he’s done as mayor of Oakland now, too. The statement that really bothered me at the time was that people were looking for a leader on a white horse and the strong hint seemed to be that he was that person. I was fresh out of a town that was filled with what now would be called new-age yuppies and stuff who were all getting a little too comfortable and looking for gurus to tell them what to do. I thought that if a politician ever grabbed on to that, we were in trouble. Thus, the “California Uber Alles” song. When Reagan got in, I realized that was much bigger trouble. So, “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now” was written.
Nardwuar: Thanks very much Jello Biafra. Really appreciate the time. Keep on rockin’ in the free world and doot doola doot doo…
This Razorcake ebook is made possible in part by grants from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs and is supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles Arts Commission.
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