Former Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra has had a prolific career ever since the legendary punk band dissolved in 1986 (the group has since reformed without Biafra). After the original Dead Kennedys split up, Biafra immediately started making solo records and collaborating with a wide range of artists. A spokesperson of sorts for the far left, Biafra is currently touring with a punk band he put together called the Guantanamo School of Medicine. They just released the single "SHOCK-U-PY!" from their forthcoming album White People and the Damage Done.
It must be great to be touring during an election year.
There's a difference before touring and traveling. Travelers get to sightsee. When you're on tour, it's like this: get up, van, freeway, wolf down food, soundcheck, show. Then you get up and do it again and again. You have to focus on the job. I've never even been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, though I'm not sure how much I'd really dig the place.
There's a big Grateful Dead exhibit on display. Would you be into that?
Definitely not, though I respect what they did with the Rex Foundation to raise all that money for other organizations and charities and students who needed a music scholarship and victim school districts who had no instruments for their bands. But that doesn't mean I need to be immersed in their music or their fan base. More to the point about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that I think rock & roll is what I blast out of my stereo again and again and again. It gets the adrenaline going and makes you want to work out and makes me want to create shit, and ideas pop into my head. To see things like that under glass like some precious, defanged museum piece is not what rock & roll is to me.
You wrote an open letter to Barack Obama when he was first elected and, among other things, asked him to not forget the millions of American living in poverty. I guess he never read your letter, because he's hasn't lived up to your expectations.
Yeah, even I caught a little bit of the buzz from the hope dope dealer. I didn't vote for Obama. I looked at his voting record in the Senate, and whenever there was anything to legalize spying or holding people without trial and a variety of other Bush/Cheney wet dreams, he always voted the way Bush told him to. I voted Green with no regrets. As soon as [Obama] picked people like [Larry] Summers and [Tim] Geithner to deal with the economic collapse, I knew we were fucked. I've since been told by the woman who runs the blog Firedog Lake, who's an old punk rocker, that after [Obama] wowed them at the 2004 convention, he was going up and down K Street in Washington and knocking on the doors of Wall Street lobbyists and telling them, "I'm your man. I'm your guy." I have a song about him called "Barackstar O'Bummer."
You put together a big concert and celebration when you turned 50. Have you started to make plans for Biafra Six-O?
That's a long ways away. I never thought I would live to be 25 or 30, let alone 50. I take things as they come. I have other songs and albums to learn, record, and release before then, and then I'll take stock of things. We'll see what happens.
Does it irk you to have only one Top 40 hit in your 30-year career?
Yeah, I hate that. Of course, I wanted lots of hit records. What I found was that you don't just make records and put them out there. You have to go be in showbiz and you have to conquer territories. I didn't have the stomach for that. I remember when "Someday, Someway" was in the charts, Warner Bros. ran an ad saying "his first hit record." I just loved that. It was like there was going to be more. But there was just the one, and it was crushing.