Greg Ginn is complicated — and misunderstood. The 53-year-old guitarist is best known for his visceral playing in South Bay punk band Black Flag, but those who followed Ginn’s output after his group’s 1986 breakup know he’s not one to bask in the memories of the good ol’ days. Depending on who’s listening, his refusal to conform to musical boundaries makes him either an ever-changing artist or a stubborn musician who won’t simply play the hits. Ginn’s tight-lipped persona has created more questions than answers regarding his dormant status for the past 10 years, but the guitarist has emerged from his decade-long disappearance by releasing six new records in as many months.
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Greg Ginn (second from left) and Jambang
“I’ve been recording a lot,” Ginn says, “but most people don’t understand that. I’ve been evolving. I hadn’t released anything in quite a while, so I’m just getting caught up on recordings I wanted to put out.”
The six-stringer’s evolution from hardcore wailer to unclassified genres is heard throughout each new disc. With Gone’s The Epic Trilogy, Ginn stomps through every style, from electronic and blues to head-bobbing numbers reminiscent of the slow material featured on side two of Black Flag’s 1984 album, My War. The record features three 15-minute songs and comes with an instrumental and a vocal version with Bad Brains singer HR, while Mojack’s Under the Willow Tree and The Metal Years exemplify Ginn’s unique musical voice, as he lays down steady bass and guitar riffs for saxophonist Tony Atherton to blow like a modern-day Ornette Coleman.
Gone and Mojack are monikers Ginn has used in the past, but the guitarist is also part of two new acts: Jambang, and Greg Ginn and the Taylor Texas Corrugators. On the latter’s Bent Edge and Goof Off Experts, the guitarist scales back his spastic playing in favor of groove-based instrumentals that serve as his version of Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool,” while Jambang’s Connecting is an atmospheric journey through multiple melodic layers that deviate from everything Ginn has released in his career. Although the sounds differ, a tour currently crisscrossing its way across the country features both bands and includes Ginn, drummer Steve DeLollis, bassist Cliff Samuels and mandolin player Bobby Bancalari. To those who think two sets performed by the same musicians under different names will cause confusion and sonic overlapping, Ginn says, Jambang’s incorporation of live video elements separates the show into distinct entities.
“We’re working with this visual artist, Joey Keeton,” Ginn says, “and he’s doing a program, so our music is going to be synched up to video and a projection. Although it’s the same people playing, Jambang is an audiovisual concept. It’s very structured in certain ways, because we’re synched with the video, whereas the Corrugators are much different. It’s all instrumental — both bands — but the Corrugators have more improvisation going on.”
Ginn’s profile hasn’t been this high since 2003, when fans witnessed the first and only legitimate Black Flag reunion featuring the guitarist. Ginn says he’s been propositioned for a Black Flag gig every year since 1986 but gave it a go when he decided to donate all profits to cat-rescue organizations, an issue close to his heart. “It was really good to play with people I hadn’t played with in a long time,” Ginn says, “and I was able to encourage people to adopt cats. We raised about $95,000 for six organizations. That goes a long way.”
Ginn got puzzled looks when he revealed to people the reason behind the three-show reunion; he believes most thought the event would be used as a springboard for a full tour. It’s an issue, Ginn says, he understands. “I think people should scrutinize,” he notes, “but I don’t need to justify it. I don’t like hanging around cynical people. They’re not very interesting, and nothing’s any good. They’d never do something for a cat, so they can’t understand that.”
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More surprising than Ginn’s leap back into the spotlight is his soon-to-be-complete move to Texas. For months, the business side of SST has been operational from Taylor, a town 40 minutes outside of Austin, with a population of 15,000, but the guitarist cited some personal issues that have kept him traveling between the two states. Ginn chose Taylor because he liked the idea of living in a small town within a short distance of a major city. He likens his new residence to the years he spent in Long Beach, a city close to Hollywood.
“I’ve always tried to stay 20 to 30 miles from the action,” Ginn says. “Like Long Beach is. There are a few really cool country dance halls that have local musicians. It’s a scene I wouldn’t be exposed to if I wasn’t here. I’m starting to get into that, but I don’t think I’ll start wearing cowboy hats and Wranglers, just like I never got a Mohawk.”