Punk-Poet Jello Biafra Talks Stealing Elections, Batman and Pussy Riot

By Bryan Bierman
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I don’t think it’s any accident that the Occupy camps were raided simultaneously, all over the country, to shut them down—pretty much on the same day, no less. That wasn’t the local cops all deciding they’d had enough; that was the dark side of Homeland Security at work. Keep in mind, the “Barackstar” has been quite the Trojan horse for ramming through laws, legalizing all kinds of arrests without trial, surveillance and torture. He actively helped legalize the exact kind of illegal spying that got Nixon thrown out of office during Watergate.

I know that some of your lyrics on the new album talk about the Occupy movement, but were there any other specific events that set the gears in motion to start writing?

I would say it helped set off what particular topics and songs I selected. The music came out a little bit fiercer and punkier than the last recordings did, but we’ll get back to the surf and psych eventually; it’s not completely gone from this album anyway. The way things work with me is I have such a backlog, even ideas I wrote down in the Dead Kennedys days that are still sitting there waiting to be used if they’re worthwhile. And I just keep piling up the words, piling up the riffs and specific tapes for ones I want to turn into songs, and eventually, the light bulb goes off in my head that this subject fits with this music, and hopefully someday I have time to finish the song, teach it to the band, record it and play it.

I noticed you re-recorded “Burgers of Wrath,” which you first did on Prairie Home Invasion with Mojo Nixon in ‘94. Did you think the song was still relatable?

Well, I’ve always liked the song, and I realized that it works both as a country-ish Americana song and as a punk song, but people had only heard it one way. So I’ve been wanting to play it live with the band for a while, and we’d been talking about it. Then, after I played it acoustically at a protest with Vic Bondi—yes, the debut of Simon & Jellofunkel, it may happen again; it may not—I realized that I’m never gonna write a better set of lyrics about homelessness and unemployment than this song, so this really needs to come back and be part of this new album. It’s kind of an album for the new Depression, in a way.

There’s still no release date?

I’m pushing for January. I still got a lot of work to do. I thought it would be done by now, but it just hasn’t happened.

Have you heard a lot of feedback from the “SHOCK-YOU-PY!” song you guys put out for free recently?

Not huge, but there have been some notes from Occupiers still out there in the trenches, saying that they really were happy that I came out with a song, even now, and it kind of helped pick up their spirits. Two different people singled out the line in the spoken word part before the third verse, where I talk about the need for even hardcore agitators to take a break from time to time and recharge their batteries—“Tag-team like wrestling, recharge/Flush the burn-out, come back strong.” And people were writing in saying, “Yeah, I was burned out, I am burned out, but now I feel stronger. Thank you.” It took forever to get that song mixed, and I probably blew more money on trying to get the mix right than some Occupiers make in a year. But in the end, when I get feedback like that, it really touches my heart and makes the whole thing worthwhile.

I called it “SHOCK-YOU-PY!” because I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for pranks, “creative crime” and the side of causing trouble that uses humor as a means to an end. It’s amazing the things you can do without resorting to any violence whatsoever.

Last year, Hans Zimmer used parts of “Forkboy” by Lard in his score for Rango. Was that a complete surprise to you?

That happens every once in a while. The cool thing is when somebody wants something like Lard for Rango, or when “Forkboy” was in Natural Born Killers. And of course, the dark side is when somebody like Levi’s wants “Holiday For Cambodia” for their yuppie khaki commercial, and people who I thought knew better used that as an excuse to sue me to get revenge for my sticking to the principles of Dead Kennedys.

Was that one of the weirdest covers of your music? I don’t think anybody expected a kids’ movie about a lizard having one of your songs in it.

Well, that movie wasn’t just for kids. I suspect it was watched by far more adults.

Hans Zimmer also did the music for the latest Batman, and I know you’re a big Batman fan. Have you seen any of the newer movies?

I watched The Dark Knight again a couple nights ago. It was only the second time I’d seen it, and I had the same disappointment as the first time I saw it. I loved Batman Begins. I think that’s the best of all the Batman movies, in spite of no Jack Nicholson as The Joker. But to me, The Dark Knight was one big action sequence and set of explosions after another, and the movie hardly had any time to breathe or have much of a plot. I’ve heard the same complaint about the last James Bond movie, but I haven’t seen that one yet; I liked Casino Royale, though. I’ll see The Dark Knight Rises at some point, but I’m probably not gonna run down to the IMAX like I did with The Dark Knight. It just kind of left me cold afterwards. It was made for an audience who grew up on video games, but the only way to get people off the couch and into the theater is to make it like a theme park thrill ride, to the point where they have to sell earplugs at the popcorn counter.

The Dark Knight Rises is even bigger, so I think you’ll have the same complaints.

I mean, The Dark Knight had the same kind of delirium vibe going, where you just kind of cascade from one thing into the next, like Oliver Stone’s movie about the Doors. But Stone used that approach for a very different reason—you’re actually supposed to be on the drugs as you’re watching people on drugs, and it was very effective in a weird way.

There’s sort of a subtext in this one about the Occupy movement—a little bit.

Yeah, that disturbs me, too. I’ve read the replies from the filmmakers that this was all put together and started shooting before Occupy even happened, but other uprisings about the rich had happened. If anything, Batman should be fighting the Koch brothers, not the Occupiers. Instead, we have people like Mitt Romney or Gavin Newsom in California, and in my mind, what they are is Bruce Wayne if he never bothered to become Batman.

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1. Joseph said... on Sep 7, 2012 at 01:52PM

“The man speaks truth about the Green Party and the electoral system in general.”


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