By Jacob Sprecher
Flipper is one of those bands that most people will immediately hate upon first listen. But way back when in 1979, at a time when San Francisco was a musical hotbed busting with one of the country’s most notorious underground hardcore scenes, the group carved out a legacy by playing an amalgamation of punk rock that was altogether dissonant, raunchy and flamboyantly absurd. Flipper found ways to be anything but the norm by utilizing the shrill and hideous guitar work of Steve DePace atop the jive-like, wild cynicism of frontman Bruce Loose, both held together by a legitimate mid-tempo backbone of bass and drums. Fast-forward three decades from inceptionâ€”we find Flipper at long last back at the game, this time with a new album, Love (their first proper release in 16 years), that also happens to enlist former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic in-studio on the four-string. With a wild card stint on the Vans Warped Tour looming, Bruce Loose caught up with Synthesis just before shooting off for an Australian tour.
Flipper is officially back in the water.
Yeah, we have been for a little bit. We were splashing around for a bit before we were swimming [laughs]. We’ve got this tour coming up for Australia, and there’s quite a buzz going about it; exciting enough that I haven’t really slept for the past three days, I’ve just been [screams!].
How did it come about that you guys would get back together and record a new album?
Well we were originally getting back together to tidy up our back catalogue, and get that re-released. And then CBGB’s had that need for having everybody to come out and do benefits and kind of promote the situation, and that kind of just got the ball rolling. I hit that stage and got back up there and it was like, â€œOh yeah, this is what my life’s about.â€ It was just a natural progression. We would have made a new album regardless of who it was with, eventually. Sure it would have been great to just go out and do the revival thing, but that would have been over a year and a half ago. That’s what I noticed happened with that little revival movement for two seconds [chuckles].
How was it that you tapped Krist Novoselic on the shoulder to play bass on Love?
Well, I only met him just recently when he joined up with us. But the guy we were working with wasn’t able to [play] anymore, and we were just sitting around scratching our heads and Steve was talking to a friend of his up in Seattle and he had contacts with Krist, and for some reason they thought it’d be a good idea to try it out. Krist was into it, so we did it.
So at the Warped Tour, you’ll be swinging with a bunch of kids that probably weren’t even born when Flipper was doing their thing.
I really have no idea what to expect, whether there’s gonna be pop influences, or hardcore influences or punk, or proper combinations of all of the above with a little funk. To me, punk was more than one idea, one style, buy your shit at Hot Topic, everybody looks the same, you know? The thing was diversity.
Does the late â€˜70s/early â€˜80s San Francisco scene still resonate with you? When you get up on stage, are you still feeding off similar emotions?
Ah, it’s a little hard to do. I’m not 19, 20, 22, 25; [I don't have] the angst I had then [laughs]. You can definitely get some of that stuff, but shit, I’m 50 years old this year. I’ve got different experiences to draw on and more of them. It really depends. I’m still doing what I was doing on stage in the beginning; picking up on the energy of the audience and cycling that through. The music feeds the audience, the audience feeds the band, the band feeds the music, and it just becomes a big circle of energy.
Can you still get off on the older material?
Yeah, there’s some of it that’s like â€œeeh,â€ but we just dive into it. And also, we’ve brought up some stuff that we haven’t done in a really long time; â€œLiving Through the Depression,â€ â€œSurvivors of the Plague,â€ â€œTalk’s Cheap,â€ and it’s fun to orchestrate them in a slightly different manner.
When you go back and listen to the Not So Quiet on the Western Front comp, there was something different about Flipper; the mid-tempo swagger of say â€œLowrider,â€ for example. What were you guys shooting for that made you sound the way you did?
To try and not sound like what everybody else was trying to do, which was slowly starting to conform in at that time â€˜cause we did start in â€˜79. As far as I’m concerned the original punks died-out in â€˜80. Our focus was just to be completely off-the-wall different, and any way we could accomplish that we did it. I would say the first five years of our existence was honing our sound, messing around with some really dissident, weird sounding things, to fast, to really sloppyâ€”not so tightly cohesive that it was just this thing that got locked into a position. No matter what song you’re gonna hear, it’s always gonna vary live, just a little bit. That’s part of the beauty and the magic of it. It has the ability to undulate, rather than stay just one stiff form.
It seems to me that with the role the Internet plays in music, it might be difficult to ever experience as genuine a makeover that the punk/alternative scene went through 30 years ago. Do you like the way things have progressed?
Okay, basically when punk rock started, you can look at it as an early history of human beings. New York was a city-state unto itself with its punk rock scene. San Francisco was a city-state unto itself with its punk rock scene. So with the Internet, now you’ve got globalizationâ€¦ [But] that’s a hard one to answer, it really is. I mean, humanity moves forward, technology moves forward and things happen. Yeah, there might be some convolution, yeah it’s hard to look at a video, yeah it’s hard to hear a recording and understand, but Flipper’s much different than that. It’s very much a live experience. If you go there expecting something, in any manner, that expectation is going to get broken, which is a given with Flipper [laughs]. But if you go there open-minded, you’re probably going to have a good time.
Flipper will do what they do best at the Vans Warped Tour at Pier 30/32 on Saturday, June 27th.