Greg Ginn Talks Texas, Improvisation and the Legacies of Black Flag and SST Records
If only known for his work with the seminal punk band Black Flag, guitarist Greg Ginn would still occupy a revered spot in the annuls of alternative music. His fractured, feedback-laced style immediately stuck out within the hardcore punk movement of the early '80s.
But Ginn also established SST Records in 1978. The label went on to release heralded albums by the likes of Hüsker Dü, Bad Brains and the Minutemen. And even after Black Flag came to an end, Ginn continued to explore new areas of composition and improvisation.
After having lived in California for a quarter of a century, Ginn decided to move to the quieter locale of Taylor, Texas, in 2006. With the label and his studio now located in Taylor, Ginn records and tours frequently, always playing with an intriguing set of instrumentalists.
This current tour features a New York duo called Cinema Cinema that backs Ginn's ruptured wailing with a surprising electronica bent. Speaking from his home studio, and in anticipation of both tonight's show at the Wild Rooster in Fort Worth and tomorrow night's performance at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton, Ginn talked to DC9 about life after punk rock.
Check out our complete Q&A with him after the jump.
How did you end up living in Taylor, Texas?
There's a lot of reasons, but, basically, I've lived in California for most of my life. I spent 25 years there. I came to Taylor about five or six years ago. There were a lot of factors that went into the move: the cost of living; me just looking for a change; Taylor being only about 45 minutes from Austin. Taylor is a quiet town and I moved my studio and record label here. It's a great place to work and I like that aspect of it.
Did you know anyone there?
I didn't know anyone here. I just found a building that worked for us in Taylor. I was looking around in this area for awhile. It's quiet out here and that allows me to work.
Back in 2003, you were No. 99 on Rolling Stone's list of Top 100 Guitar Players. Were you surprised to be included?
I don't pay any attention to that type of thing. I guess I would be more honored if I were higher on the list. Everybody has their own list. I don't worry about being on any list. I don't take that kind of stuff seriously.
Well, Allmusic.com praised you as "the most influential guitarist to emerge from the American hardcore scene." Do you see yourself as influential?
That's a pretty small subset to choose from. I don't look at myself as influential. I just play music. I just like to write songs and record music. I don't look at my playing as this type or that type.
Why do you still like to perform as often as six times a week?
When I am on tour, I like to play as many nights as possible. I can play every night if it's possible. I try to get out on tour and play 150 shows a year. I have been touring more and more the last few years. If you play often, you can actually end up having more time to write and record. This tour, I am playing with some friends from New York who call themselves Cinema Cinema. I picked them up at the airport in Austin today. They are at my studio going over some drum stuff right now. I've played with them before and we're bonding quite a bit.
When you first started SST Records back in 1978, could you have envisioned it being thought of as one of the most iconic independent labels?
At the risk of sounding arrogant, yes, I did. I wouldn't have bothered starting a label unless I thought it would be something special. The first band I played in was Black Flag, and we needed a label. It wasn't just people flailing around trying to put out a record. We set out to find bands that made interesting music and we succeeded.
Is the music for this tour going to be totally improvisational?
No, it's all instrumental, but it's actually songs. It's a little more electronic oriented. It's just me, a drummer and another guitarist. There's a lot of improvising in it, but there's also structure. We have videos that go along with the music as well.
Financially, would it be viable for you to put together a box set of Black Flag material?
I am sure it would. Maybe that is a good idea. I have focused on stuff from that time. I tend not to want to do that. I don't like to repackage something at a higher price. If people expressed a sincere interest in hearing that material again, I would look into it. That's a lot of work, putting a project like that together.
People are always asking me about reunions. Usually, for bands today, there is a financial reason for it. I like playing new songs. I don't mind playing old songs. Black Flag broke up in 1986, and that was a long time ago. I thought we ended things on a high note. I liked the last couple of albums we did. But it was time to stop at that point, and I've never second-guessed myself on that point. Anytime I've thought about it, I knew that 1986 was a good time to end the band. It wasn't a great musical climate.
Do you still talk to the various members that played in Black Flag?
Yes, of course, but people live in different areas of the country. There's about 20 to 25 people who played in the band. People are spread out all over.
One of your newer videos is of a song that features HR from the Bad Brains. What brought about that collaboration?
We've done a lot of recording together. He is a great singer. Unlike most singers, he can improvise. That is a trick to do. That's really where we intersect. I really enjoy working with him.
Greg Ginn performs tonight, August 5, at the WIld Rooster in Fort Worth and tomorrow night at Rubber Gloves in Denton.