Oh what mixed nuts happened to be at The House of Blues when The Dead Kennedys dropped by. From the hoytie toytie rich folks to the “punk” kids who got dropped off by mom and the folks who’ve stayed punk over the years and had a good time beating up everyone else. But what about the band? Lead singers seem to come through a revolving door with DK. Ron “Skip” Greer (Wynona Ryders) has taken vocals for the band’s current tour. Unfortunately, Skip caught himself a cold on the U.K. leg of the tour, but you couldn’t tell by the way he handled himself on stage in L.A. Smashed Chair picked his brain for a bit – on the Los Angeles punk scene, solo projects and what the hell is going to happen to the music industry.
Smashed Chair: Just got to get this out of the way – you have any rituals before a show? Get drunk or something like that?
Skip: Oh no, I pretty much try to eat light and try to get ready for the show. I’m kind of at the tail end of a cold, so I’m just trying simple things to get over that.
Smashed Chair: Such a shame. Were you somewhere cold where you caught this bug?
Skip: It was actually at the end of the U.K. leg. Klaus (bass) had something and I caught it.
Smashed Chair: What a bummer. You brought yourself back a souvenir from the U.K. What is the difference between Wynona Riders’ fans and Dead Kennedy fans?
Skip: Wynona Riders is a band that I wrote stuff for and I had played for, so I could lay claim to the songs. Where with the Dead Kennedys what I’m trying to do is pay honor and be a good support to the vocals. So, when fans come to me they’re is more admiration for the legacy of it and they do appreciate what I’ve done on stage, with some respect. Obviously the fans of DK respect it more of like an entity. It’s something that I’m outside of…
Smashed Chair: You’re sort of outside that box?
Skip: Yeah, I’m not part of the legacy of the Dead Kennedys.
Smashed Chair: You’re part of it right now. You know, you’re writing it as you go along.
Skip: Yeah, we wrote about three songs. Certainly they seem to appreciate my performance on stage.
Smashed Chair: Have you heard about vinyl sales going up recently?
Skip: Nope, I haven’t heard about that.
Smashed Chair: Kind of a boring subject, but in short people are giving up on CDs and sort of getting into vinyl again. Do you think people are rediscovering vinyl?
Skip: Well it is cool that people are rediscovering it. I’m from Cleveland and there are a lot of stores around where you can get vinyl. Granted it’s old vinyl, especially you can pick up something for a dollar – it might be weird stuff like Village People or Around the World in 80 Days. But it’s an exposure to a larger group of music. I don’t know if it’s a younger group of people buying vinyl, but you know there is a kind of warmness to that whole idea of dropping the needle and that few seconds of popping and crackling before the music goes on. And vinyl does have, I don’t want to make it sound cliché, but it has that warmness that even CDs don’t really capture.
Smashed Chair: Music seems flattened when it comes to CDs.
Skip: It depends. I’m not the biggest expert on digital, but it’s an approximation of [the music.] Although records may wear down, slowly, you get that organic peaks and valleys sound to it.
Smashed Chair: Would you stitch the DK logo on stuff you wore when you were younger?
Skip: I would draw it occasionally. It’s funny about DK – I got into Seven Seconds and Minor Threat and then built that up to the Dead Kennedys. They were something much more sophisticated, you know worlds different from Seven Seconds, which I still listened to.
Smashed Chair: How has Los Angeles changed since you first saw it?
Skip: It’s definitely much more younger; it seems more vibrant. And it seems that more people walk. There’s that joke that says that nobody walks in L.A. It looks like more people are doing that. I don’t know if it’s gas prices, but people seem to be exploring their neighborhoods more. It’s funny the first time I was in Los Angeles was all the way back in 1986, when I got a contestant role on The Gong Show. So, that was pretty crazy. I drove down here by myself. I just went from the CBS studio, to the farmer’s market to my hotel room. I think I did do the Warner Bros. movie tour. It’s funny, with Rancid and stuff like that, you can tell that Bay Area people have trickled down here. It’s funny to me, because it’s gotten a lot friendlier.
Skip asks a passing friend, “Would you say that L.A. has gotten friendlier?”
Woman: Compared to what? Definitely more friendly than where I’m from, the O.C.
Smashed Chair: What do you think of the whole labeling of hardcore, queer core, punk, etc?
Skip: Well I guess it always has [existed.] I remember in the late 80s San Francisco was having a very retro scene, much like The Strokes. So it surprised me, twelve years later when The Strokes came out and everyone was like, “Oh, retro.” I had already seen it in the 80s at places like The Purple Onion and bands like The Mummies - Maybe a little more psycho 60s punk. It’s hard to say, you can sometimes complain about all those musical divisions. But if it helps someone focus them self in writing a song, than I guess in that respect more power to it. I think the only problem with it is the division. It’s like I don’t label everything I listen to – I listen to a whole bunch of stuff, from hardcore, retro to downright World music.
Smashed Chair: The music industry is going through a big change right now. Record sales are bad and everyone is pirating music. What do see the future of that?
Skip: I think subscribing to bands might be the future, especially for artist’ loyalty to a band. Especially when [fans] see that the livelihood of the band needs an influx. If things go on like they are, recorded songs become a promotional item. For either live shows or radio. There’s been talk of either t-shirt premiums and physical premium that would make people buy the music. So, I think that the future is going to start going there. I think there’s going to be a point where people not buying Britney Spears is going to start affecting people who can’t buy the Arctic Monkeys, because they’re not being subsidized by the label. I think labels, advanced labels, seem to be more on the business level which is why people can’t seem to get what they want. The future is going to be weird, where bands end up having to do less, because they’re not getting out more products. Especially with big labels - bands don’t even get 5%. So that would be the preferred future – a subscription future, where people can support a band. I don’t think music downloads are going away. It might allow things to move, where we might see 70-minute sides, where other art might come out.
Smashed Chair: Are you doing any solo work?
Skip: I’ve written some stuff on my own. So I just have to find out what I’m going to do with it. I’m a big fan of Garage Band. We’re actually going to be trading those off, because we’re bi-coastal. And so I’m probably going to be doing more stuff with Garage Band. And I’m going to be looking at how you communicate with music and how you financially see something back.
Smashed Chair: Sort of like Trent Reznor giving away music and getting something back.
Skip: Right. The tricky thing, well me personally, I don’t think I’ve bought music in three to four years, that’s where I stand. And I’m talking about just getting myself used records after they’ve gone through that one cycle.
By Nathan Solis