Even though a musical generation apart, Keith Morris and Dimitri Coats bond over the same influences; Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, and Blue Oyster Cult were among the artists both Morris and Coats mentioned in separate interviews about their joint venture, Off!
Off!, however, plays right to Morris’s strength, which is to reduce rock’s rebellion and defiance to a potent extract. He began his mission in the mid-1970s with LA hardcore architects Black Flag and carried on with the Circle Jerks.
It was during a botched attempt to make a new Circle Jerks album that Off! came together. Morris liked what Coats had done in the heavy, outlying Burning Brides and thought he’d make a good producer for a Circle Jerks album.
Coats formed Burning Brides in 1999 and admits that his knowledge of early punk was a jumble of Misfits, Ramones, and Stooges. Morris eventually schooled Coats on the finer, frenzied points of Southern Californian punk.
“I met him when my band signed to V2. He was helping out at the label, and he’d go to the clubs pushing gear and talking up the band. We became friends that way. I didn’t come from his world, but we had this similar taste in music,” recalls Coats, who grew up in Concord and broke into rock ’n’ roll by answering the listener line at WBCN.
Off! plays Friday night at the House of Blues with the recently reunited Refused.
These days, Morris won’t even mention Circle Jerks by name, referring instead to “another band I was in.”
“I get a call one night and was told ‘You’re not going to like it, but we no longer want to work with Dimitri,’ ” Morris says. “I’m 56 years old. I have no time for that sort of destructive decision. I don’t have time to wait around.”
So at the end of 2009, Morris and Coats teamed with drummer Mario Rubalcaba of Rocket From the Crypt and bassist Steven Shane McDonald from Redd Kross.
“At the first rehearsal, I didn’t know if I liked it,” Morris says.
Coats was more confident.
“I feel like I helped build a time machine. I made him listen to his early stuff. I got him to talk about it,” Coats says. “He’s a punk-rock superhero who left his costume in the closet. It’s time to take it out, put on the cape and fly again. We’re going to conquer crappy music together.”
Off!’s songs have that slash-and-burn aesthetic Morris brought to Black Flag’s 1978 debut “Nervous Breakdown,” a four-song EP that runs a little longer than five minutes, just enough time to invoke an angry, caged animal.
Morris formed Black Flag with Greg Ginn two years earlier in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Compared to the punk rock made by the Ramones and the Clash, the music that Black Flag and other bands around Los Angeles such as the Germs, the Bags (not Boston’s Bags), and the Controllers made was more blunt. LA punk was an explosive, violent sounding reaction to feelings of alienation and boredom. Morris abruptly left Black Flag for Circle Jerks and began weaving a sardonic humor into the mix.
When Morris and Coats began jamming together, the first riff that caught on turned into the song “Darkness,” a 52-second diatribe about those who are the problem instead of the solution.
“Keith said, ‘You’re heading to my real roots in Black Flag,’ ” Coats says, adding that Morris instructed him to only downstroke on the guitar.
Morris is pleased that his brand of punk is again a galvanizing point for music fans looking for something a bit volatile.
“It’s the right time for an aggressive band. I mean, I like TV on the Radio, but they’re not energetic. They’re like Brian Eno playing Motown, and I’m not dissing them by saying that,” Morris says.
He lumps together Arcade Fire, Beach House, and Fleet Foxes into a pleasant brand of vanilla championed by tastemakers from Pitchfork on down; Morris has made Off! his mission to inject a little chocolate and strawberry into the mix.
The longest song in the Off! catalog is the 1:36 “King Kong Brigade.” That comes off of the band’s self-titled album — 16 songs done in 15 minutes covering the personal and the political.
Coats says the brevity is not a gimmick.
“Someone might think these songs are not developed, and that’s not true. They’re just played really fast. But they still have verses, choruses, and bridges,” Coats says. “The same amount of work goes into the songs, but the approach is less safe.”
Like he did in Black Flag, Morris seemingly pulls his lyrics from observational snippets and contemplations you’d jot down on the fly. The biggest difference this time is a sense of history, which Morris taps when singing about escapades with the Germs’ Darby Crash or eulogizing Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce.
Morris, who was sidelined in the early 2000s with the onset of diabetes, can still sound cranky at times but seems genuinely pleased to be back lobbing sonic bombs into the party.
“I was in bands for 30 years that couldn’t tie their shoes. We’d get offers to play big festivals like Reading or Leeds, and we’d just never get around to returning the call,” Morris says. “Now I’m getting ready to go back to Australia with this band. A lot of people want us.”