Keith Morris Explains Why He Fired Steven McDonald From OFF!, Which Led Mario Rubalcaba To Quit

Jeff Forney

Keith Morris Explains Why He Fired Steven McDonald From OFF!, Which Led Mario Rubalcaba To Quit

Jeff Forney

OFF!, the veteran hardcore band led by Black Flag/Circle Jerks legend Keith Morris, will unveil their new album Free LSD, which doubles as the soundtrack to an ambitious feature film, this Friday. Morris promoted the release with a visit to the Kreative Kontrol podcast, where he told host Vish Khanna about some lineup shakeups in OFF! (Lineup shakeups?! In a hardcore band?!)

On the show, Morris explained why Steven McDonald of (Redd Kross, etc.) and Mario Rubalcaba (Hot Snakes, etc.) are no longer in the band. It sounds like there was a difference in commitment level between those guys and the core OFF! braintrust of Morris and guitarist Dimitri Coats, as well as some personality friction between Coats and McDonald. So Morris fired McDonald, and then Rubalcaba took the opportunity to quit. Now Justin Brown from Thundercat’s band and Autry Fulbright II from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead round out the lineup.

Here’s Morris on why McDonald and Rubalcaba had to go:

We purposefully took two years so that those guys could go out and earn money to feed their families. We were very, very, very well aware of what they needed to do to be able to survive. So for two years Dimitri and I, while we were writing the material, we got a band meal every day. We’d go in and have a bowl of soup and a salad or a sandwich. And that was our pay. We weren’t taking any money. It was — whatever royalties were coming in for either of us was what we were surviving on. They were out playing, and we, Dimitri and I, our thought process was, “They’re gonna come back, and we’re gonna ask them for two months of their time to create the new album. We would like to be in a room with them so that we could get creative with them. Because normally the situation is: We write the songs, they play the songs. They learn the songs, they play the songs. We wanted to, because we’re creating a soundtrack for our movie, wanted to create extra music. Incidental music. Musical bits and pieces that would play to scenes where there were no lyrics. It would just be whatever the guys were playing.

So we were hoping for two months. They got back. It was time for us to learn the songs and record the songs. And the way we worked, we had Mario for two days, and in two days we recorded 21 songs. And then he came back for another two days and we recorded, I think, another four songs. Now, granted, we had already recorded 23 songs with Dale Crover, who was going to be — he was going to be the drummer on the album. Because Mario said, “I’m not an actor. I’m not gonna be in the movie. I’m a drummer. I don’t have time for this.” We recorded with Dale. Mario heard the recordings and immediately stepped up and said, “I can do better than that. I’m going to play drums on this.” So Dimitri rewrote the script. This was about the third time he rewrote the script because we were going back and forth with drummers. He rewrote the script purposefully with Mario in mind, not saying any lines. Not having to step up and be able to say lines.

So we recorded with those guys, but it was really odd because we weren’t going to get two months of time from these guys. And Dimitri and I, we started to realize this. And then we started to get friction from Steven McDonald, who, while we’re recording our songs, he’s recording in the morning with the Melvins. Or he’s blowing us off for a couple of days out of the week so he can record a new Redd Kross album. And it was extremely frustrating, to the point where Steven actually made a few comments that were like beyond uncool. Like, “How could you say that?” “What are we supposed to do?”

And at one point Dimitri and I are on his couch at his house. And he said, “Keith, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to be in a band with guys that don’t want to play with us. I don’t want to be in a band with musical mercenaries. I don’t want to be in a band with guys who are just going to show up for the paycheck. And I said, “Dimitri, we’ve worked on this. We’ve taken two years out of our lives, and we’ve scraped by on scraps to create what we’re going to create. What’s the endgame here?” He said, “I can’t work with these guys. I don’t like Steven. Steven does not like me. He’s not liked me since the very beginning of the band, and it’s really becoming apparent.”

And it’s like, I’m looking at my creative partner and understanding that he’s more important than Steven McDonald to this band. I said, “I will fire Steven.” I didn’t want to. Because Steven and I, we had recreated our friendship. And I love Steven. But at the same time, he does stuff where it’s just all about him. Or he does stuff where it’s like anything else he’s doing besides OFF! is more important. And I’d been through that situation with Greg Hetson in the Circle Jerks when he became a full-time member of Bad Religion. And it was like the Circle Jerks were just around for him to have something to do when he wasn’t doing Bad Religion. And I was not going to go through that again.

So when I fired Steven, Mario quit because there was a convenience to what we were doing. We never rehearsed. If we were playing a show, we would get together in a hotel room and just bang around, bash around on guitars and little mini-amps and go through as much of the set as we could, and then we’d get to the venue and maybe we’d do the same thing in a dressing room. And then we would play. That was the way we worked. And it was very convenient for those guys: Just come on, play the show, and move on to their more important musical organizations in their lives. And Dimitri had had enough, and I was like, I gotta do something to save OFF! Because OFF! is firstly Dimitri and I, and then it’s the guys that play with us. And the guys that play with us, the new guys, are beyond enthusiastic about it. “When are we gonna play? When are we gonna play? When’s the record coming out? When are we gonna play? When are we gonna play? When’s the movie coming out?” It’s refreshing. It’s a kick in the ass. It’s a new jolt of energy.

If you want to hear it for yourself, this part of the interview begins around 42:15.

Free LSD is out 9/30 on

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