Krist Novoselic was surprised when he was asked to join Flipper, a San Francisco–based avant-garde punk band he grew up on. But for Flipper drummer Steve DePace, the decision was obvious.
“At the top of our list,” DePace says, “was Krist’s name. Over the years, I read quotes where he stated that the album Generic Flipper was as important to him as Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. We had a great first talk, and he told me about what Flipper meant to him and his formidable days as a musician. It was fate.”
The original idea was to have the 42-year-old former Nirvana bassist play the 2006 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in England, but that turned into a mini European tour when everyone involved decided that flying across the globe for a single show didn’t make much sense. The jaunt gave Flipper — DePace, guitarist Ted Falconi and singer Bruce Loose — and Novoselic the opportunity to work with each other in a test run.
“I thought I’d just try things at first,” Novoselic says, “and one thing led to another. We played ‘Shine,’ and the other songs came together, so we played the festival. We got along well, and it seemed like it was a good fit. We all agreed we didn’t want to be a nostalgia band. It was like, ‘No, we should work on new material and be a band again and move forward.’ ”
For Novoselic, learning 15 Flipper songs wasn’t difficult, thanks to the tunes’ being firmly cemented in his head for most of his life. The hard part comes with the responsibility.
“I play as faithful as I can to the recording, because they are so seminal and important,” Novoselic says. “Those records are landmarks, especially Generic. It seemed like a privilege. I’m finding satisfaction in playing the old songs. I’m playing ‘Ha Ha Ha’ and it’s not a cover. That is fantastic.”
Novoselic’s entry into Flipper isn’t the first time he’s been part of resuscitating the band. During Nirvana’s heyday, the trio often praised Flipper as an important act, which led many critics to proclaim the group one of grunge’s forefathers. Nirvana singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain wore a homemade Flipper T-shirt on Saturday Night Live, which DePace says helped keep his band’s name in people’s minds at a time when his records weren’t available and the members weren’t speaking.
“Only one record is in print,” DePace says, “[but] Flipper has become a worldwide brand. The name and logo are recognizable. There are a lot of people who heard Flipper through the whole Nirvana thing.” The reason: Flipper’s slow-tempo, bass-driven songs challenged hardcore punk audiences addicted to speed. They slowed hardcore to a crawl.
For the first time in nearly three decades, the word “functional” finally applies to Flipper. Its first two bassists died of heroin overdoses (original member Will Shatter in 1987; his replacement, John Dougherty, a decade later).
Flipper’s original run ended with Shatter’s death, but Loose, DePace and Falconi — along with Dougherty — reconvened in 1990 and issued American Grafishy on Rick Rubin’s Def American label in 1993. With Shatter’s overdose, Flipper lost not only a bassist but a part-time singer, as he and Loose would switch between vocals and bass depending on what song they were playing. Somewhere in there, Loose was injured in a car accident that forced him to walk with a cane. There was a lengthy period of mudslinging between members, but that’s passed, and with Novoselic now on bass, Flipper is enjoying its most stable lineup yet.
Loose’s departure due to back pain forced the remaining members to toss Flipper aside until 2005, when the band was invited to perform at New York’s legendary CBGB, a date which snowballed into a year’s worth of consistent playing. What started as a one-off gig soon became a full-time commitment, one that their replacement bassist couldn’t maintain.
Between 1995 and 2005, Flipper lived on record but not onstage. DePace describes those years as a period with “a lot of negativity surrounding the band,” which he says is now gone.
“Flipper were famously disorganized,” Novoselic says. “They were supposed to come to Washington in the ’80s multiple times and never got it together. They never made it. Now it seems like it’s working. When we decided to work on new material, we caught the muse, and it was good. We were inspired, and the riffs were coming out.”
Flipper opens for Bad Religion at House of Blues, March 14–16.