Interview: Five Questions with Guitarist Dimitri Coats of OFF!
Hardcore punk supergroup OFF! released their self-titled sophomore album May 8 through Vice Records (Buy it at Amazon.com).
The band, which features Dimitri Coats (guitar), Keith Morris (vocals), Steven McDonald (bass) and Mario Rubalcaba (drums), is preparing to hit the road this month with a string of shows kicking off September 14 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
We recently hit Coats with five questions about everything from gear to acting to the inner-workings of OFF!
1. You’ve been the Burning Brides' frontman and toured with several major acts. How are things going now with OFF!?
It’s pretty intense. Everybody else in the band is a veteran and has been doing this a lot longer than me, and all the personalities are really unique, to say the least. Which is interesting because I actually mange those guys. I manage the band and write the music, produce the record — so I wear a lot of different hats, but it really feels like family. We lucked out.
The shows are way more intense than I’ve ever experienced. It’s a real physical experience. In terms of playing, I had to change my style to down-stroking all the time. And it’s sort of like if the Brides were a Dodge Charger, this is like getting on a motorcycle with no helmet and going as fast as you can.
2. Does anyone else in OFF! wear many hats like you?
Well, Keith writes the lyrics, so we write the songs together. It’s an interesting process; we pretty much do everything right in front of each other. We hang out, play records, drink lots of coffee, get fired up, and then I’ll pick up a guitar and just start hammering away at it. If we both like what we hear, he starts scribbling on paper. It’s a really interesting collaboration, and it works so nobody fucks with it. Definitely the other guys in the band played in various other projects. Steven toured with Beck for a while and Redd Kross, of course. Mario, he plays with Hot Snakes and Rocket from the Crypt, and he was also a professional skateboarder. He skated for Team Alva back in the day. And Keith was frontman for the Circle Jerks.
3. How did OFF! come together?
I was hired to produce a Circle Jerks record that fell apart. We tried to make a record, and those guys have quite a history together; it was difficult for them to see eye to eye. I tried to get them to do stuff like they did back in the day, which was all get in a room and just sort of hash it out right in front of each other. I liked the idea of recording everything live, not overthinking things. I approached it like a film director trying to build a time machine asking a lot of the questions, how did they things back in the day.
So one day they were trying to write songs, and Keith put the guitar in my hand and said, "What would you do?" and I had never played that kind of music before and I was making him listen to the stuff he’s famous for, and he was playing me a lot of classic rock that influenced that music back in the day. So we started drifting away from anything that resembled the Circle Jerks, and that was when he was like, "Let’s form a band," and I was like, "OK, who should we form a band with?" And it all happened very quickly after that. It was crazy. We had 1,500 people at our first show in LA.
4. You’ve also had some acting experience and were in the 2009 film Suck. What was that like?
I am the lead villain vampire in the film. Alice Cooper is in it, Iggy Pop, Dave Foley and bunch of people. And it’s a rock and roll vampire comedy destined to become a cult classic. It’s a silly B movie, and it’s made that way on purpose. It was cool because the director was a big fan and he put two of our songs in the film. I sing both of them in the film as a vampire. So that was pretty cool. I got paid to do Halloween for two weeks! I had custom-made teeth, a custom-made leather cape and contacts that made me look insane.
I really got into it, it was fun. I would do it again if the right situation came about, but I have no aspirations to be an actor. I went to Julliard back in the day. That’s where I met my wife, Melanie, who was the bass player in the Burning Brides. She was there for modern dance; she was a professional ballet dancer before that, and we both kind of got sick of that stuffy high-art world and just had this crazy dream of being in a band together. We were really into the Pixies and Sonic Youth, cool bands that wrote amazing songs and who had female base players. We just kind of followed the model and it really worked out.
The odds were against us in the same way the odds are against OFF! now. I didn’t play my first show until I was 29. I’m 42 now, I have a 56-year-old diabetic frontman, and according to Facebook, our largest demographic of fans is 18 to 24. Isn’t that incredible? It just goes to show you never have to give up, and anything is possible.
Also there is something to be said for the power of song writing. If you have great songs and you know a thing or two about performing and you’re not full of shit, the music will take on a life of its own, and people will put any kind of preconception they have aside. So, as Aerosmith said, "Let the music do the talking."
5. What gear are you using these days?
I’ve never been much of pedal guy. In the Brides I played a Green Soviet Big Muff and a Vox Wah-Wah pedal, and that was it. In OFF! I use a Hotcake pedal and that’s it. It’s always on, and it’s pretty much always maxed out. I still use one of the same amps I used in the Brides, a Hiwatt Custom 50 from the early '80s, and I play Marshall cabinets.
I’ve been playing the same guitar I've always played, which is — and I have several of them — a Univox Hi-Flier with humbucker pickups. Also toward the end of the Brides, a friend of mine, Mark Fuqua, who has a company called MotorAve Guitars, makes incredible handmade custom guitars for people like Queens of the Stone Age and a few others.
He liked the Brides so much, he kind of made his version of the Univox Hi-Flier, or it was partly inspired by that guitar. But he made me a guitar. So I have my own guitar called the MotorAve LeMans. He put a cup of his blood in the paint of the black one that I have, and he called it "Vampire Black One of a Kind." And engraved on the inside of the bridge, it says, "This guitar was made for Dimitri Coats. ‘Til death do us part.” I don’t use it in OFF! 'cause it’s just too nice of a guitar for this band. I need something that’s a little bit more fucked up.
I use Clayton picks. It’s very important to me that I use Clayton because one day a friend of mine asked, "What pick do you use?" and I said, "Whatever’s laying around." And he’s like, "Play with the pick your using right now and strum on your acoustic guitar over there." So I was strumming away, and he goes, "Try this pick," and I started strumming and it was literally like I had changed to a different guitar. I never knew a pick made that much difference!
Also, I haven’t paid for guitar strings in years thanks to DR Strings. DR — that’s all I play. They’re fucking awesome!