Punk was originally about the freedom to take risks, but somewhere along the way, it morphed into laughable costumes and bumming change as a form of rebellion. It's a conundrum Greg Ginn has dealt with for nearly three decades.
The 53-year-old guitarist will forever be known as a punk rocker due to his role as the brains behind Black Flag and SST Records, two pivotal outfits that helped define underground music in the 1980s. But Ginn's work involves much more than that. Since the first down-strummed note of 1978's Nervous Breakdown EP, he has continued to challenge the notion that every post-Johnny Ramone six-stringer is shackled by genre limitations. In fact, the only genre in which Ginn has ever operated is his own. The Long Beach resident has recently issued three albums on SST that confirm his status as an artist unafraid of pushing boundaries. The three mainly vocal-free discs have about as much in common as they differ. Each features Ginn working overtime on guitar and bass, showcasing his penchant for setting a pace and letting it ride. "I like to do music that gets a groove going and sticks with that," Ginn says.
The first full-length is The Epic Trilogy by Gone, a group Ginn formed during Black Flag's final years. The double disc contains three 15-minute songs that shift from heavy riffs to blues breakdowns to industrial-influenced freakouts. One is an all-instrumental version and the second features vocals by Bad Brains singer HR. Next is a new release by Mojack, a free-jazz-inspired act with saxophonist Tony Atherton and drummer Mike Lopez. The 17-song record, Under the Willow Tree, finds Ginn and the saxman letting loose on tracks that would make avant-jazz legend Ornette Coleman proud. The final and perhaps most interesting of the bunch is Bent Edge by Greg Ginn and the Taylor Texas Corrugators. Named after a company near Ginn's soon-to-be residence in Texas, the 15-track album will shock those familiar with Ginn's spastic style, as the guitarist slows down his pace for a blend of piano- and guitar-driven cool and bop jazz, with hints of blues and swing.
These mark the first new SST albums in nearly a decade. Here, Ginn discusses each of his projects, and the possibility of touring.
OC Weekly: Explain Gone'sEpic Trilogy.
Greg Ginn: Originally, it was an instrumental recording, then HR did some vocals on it. I like both versions. They're very different, but we decided to put out a double CD that sells for the price of one. I had three reels of 2-inch tape and wanted to do some longer songs that had a lot of structure to them, where different sections come in and out. They're long songs that are good for a short attention span because there's always another turn in them.
How did HR become involved?
He's done a lot of vocals on some songs, and I thought those came out really good. We work similarly and in a way I can relate to. He's into a lot of improvising, and he's intuitive. He's really good at creating in a freestyle kind of way, which is unusual for a vocalist.
What about Mojack?
Mojack started out as a recording thing about a dozen years ago. We've been through various incarnations, but always with Tony and me. We've done things like play improv with bass and sax. For a long time, we were playing strictly bass and sax, so we take different approaches.
How did the Texas Corrugators come about?
I wanted to swing. Sometimes, I get into this thing where I'm playing these really fast notes. I like that kind of frenzy, but I wanted something where the notes aren't faster than I could sing them. It's hard to know what people will think about it, probably because this is a new band. Mojack and Gone have recorded before, so [people] have some idea.
What does the Corrugators name mean?
They're people who bend metal. They're right down the street from me, outside of Austin. The music wasn't created with an ironic intent, but some of the imagery—that's added.
Will any of these bands play live?
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It's not immediate with any of them. It depends on who has the time to tour. Maybe JamBang; that's a band I'm playing guitar with. We're just formulating right now, but that's probably the first to play live.
When was the last time you released something?
Probably about 10 years ago. Three of our main distributors went bankrupt. That was extremely frustrating, and I wasn't interested in being burnt so many times. That's why I want to start slow.