Related Articles: Music, All

Jello Biafra

The Audacity of Hype

Alternative Tentacles, the Bay Area record label that helped launch influential punk band the Dead Kennedys, celebrates its 30th anniversary starting November 5th with Incest-a-Thon, a three-night stand at the Great American Music Hall. The shows will feature label owner and former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, along with several of the labels acts from over the years. After primarily focusing on his spoken word career for many years, Biafra released The Audacity of Hype with his new band in October. He spoke with SF Station during a phone interview.

SF Station (SFS): The new album is not much different from what you were doing 30 years ago. How does it feel to be creating the same kind music with the same energy so many years later?

Jello Biafra (JB): Is it the same kind of music or is it not? Its hard for me to tell; I just write the stuff. I havent forgotten how to write the songs, and there are certain kinds of songs I like. I like a lot of fire and energy.

I worry whenever a recording artist says, This new album will show how much I have matured. I always worry that is the same moment when an artist is starting to suck. Ive made a point of not maturing.

SFS: You launched the label with California Uber Alles, which was sung from the perspective of then-governor Jerry Brown. If he runs for governor in the upcoming election, it looks like he has a pretty good shot at winning. What are your thoughts on him now?

JB[: Well, he would make a better governor than Newsom, thats for sure. I keep trying to warn people in Southern California that the last thing they want in a governor is an unhappy combination of Diane Feinstein, Gray Davis and Tom Cruise. Newsom is like Bruce Wayne if he never had bothered to become Batman, and that is about all he is.

I was a little off base in the original theory about Jerry Brown in the original California Uber Alles. Thats why I wrote it a little later, when we had a bigger problem on our hands, and put Reagan in instead. With the Melvins, I did a version with Schwarzenegger, which I will perform at the Incest-A-Thon.

SFS: What are you most proud of with the label?

JB: If you go back and see all of the cool things that we have put out, Im not sure I would trade our back catalog for any other labels catalog in the world.

SFS: What are some of your personal favorites?

JB: Its hard to pick favorites when you still know everybody involved and anybody who gets left out is going to be a little bit bummed. The one that is safe to single out is unfortunately the one who is no longer with us, Wesley Willis.

SFS: Judging by the cover of your album, it seems obvious that you are not completely happy with Obama.

JB: I didnt vote for him; I voted for Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party -- a narrow choice over Ralph Nader. Im really kind of frightened that the Obama administration hasnt gone after the Bush administration for war crimes, and the so-called improvement on healthcare is really a huge gift to the insurance companies. Im also not sure sending more troops to Afghanistan is a great idea. Does he want to be FDR or LBJ? What else does he want to be besides an advertising campaign for hope and change?

I guess the first shot across the bow is the last song on the new album, I Wont Give Up". The point is -- it is not up to messiahs or rock star presidents to get these things done. Its up to us. We have to force the Obama administration to do a better job and do the right thing, instead of just putting a new face on business as usual.

SFS: One of the more pointed lines in that song is The audacity to exploit hope for cash.

JB: Thats not aimed specifically at Obama. There are lots of ways to do that. Although, it is interesting that the Obama campaign got the advertising campaign of the year award from whatever organization awards those. They beat out Coke and Pepsi and everybody else.

SFSb: With all of the reunions that are going on with old bands -- and I know it is a contentious topic -- has it ever caused you to think twice about doing a Dead Kennedys reunion if you could all sit down at a table and work it out together?

JB: Given the circumstances -- and you appear to know how ugly the situation is -- that is kind of an insulting question.

Sure, it wasnt lost on me when I saw the Stooges how much it would mean to people to see the Dead Kennedys play again. But, the other three guys might as well be Republicans. They completely disrespect and despise everything we ever stood for. They are not even people I really even want to know at this point. Weve gone in completely different directions.

The Alternative Tentacles 30th Anniversary Incest-A-Thon kicks off on November 5th and continues through November 7th at the Great American Music Hall. Visit www.gamh.com for the lineup and ticket prices.