Greg Ginn is primarily known as the driving force and only constant member of Black Flag, which is unfortunate as he's done a lot since the Flag broke up 25 years ago. He's so tired of talking about it that he rarely grants interviews. But Ginn, who lives in Austin now, likes us for some reason. Ahead of his performances at Coachella on April 15 and April 22 with project The Royal We he talked to us.
Why did you decide to play Coachella?
Well, I guess first of all because I was asked. [Laughs] I'm not in the habit of turning down things. I like to play in all different environments. Also, I thought it would be great to hear the music there. What's not to like?
Are you excited to see anyone play at Coachella?
Whatever electronic bands are there. I like to go to festivals, but it's different if you're playing. Unfortunately I'll probably be focused a lot on doing my thing there, but I hope I can take in some bands when I'm not doing that. I'll probably be more oriented toward electronic things. I'm not excited about reunion stuff or alternative rock, but there's so much else going on.
What are you going to be playing there?
There's just a bunch of electronic stuff and me and a guitar and a computer. What I'm doing there with Greg Ginn and the Royal We doesn't have any appeal to old Black Flag fans. There will be plenty of reunion shows or whatever they can go to. I doubt they're going to get what they're looking for at my set. There's not much crossover between old Black Flag fans and what I'm doing now and that's fine. I'm really excited about it and looking forward to it and I'm honored to have been asked to play. Hopefully I can get across some kind of vibe and focus on giving the audience the best I can do.
Why do you think there's not much crossover?
There isn't any crossover. I know what I'm talking about. This is something I've known for a long time. I'd say 95 to 98 percent of my older fans rarely if ever listen to anything that's less than 30 years old or if it's newer it doesn't have newer influences than 30 years. It's not a cynical statement on my part, it's an accurate representation from a large sample. I'm not sure if it's people being into the music of their youth or whatever. But really there's a small number of music fans who are into different stuff. You like it, you're in the two percent, or the one percent if we want to use the 99 versus 1 model. You're in the 1 percent that sees a connection throughout my entire career. It's not my job to educate them about music and I'm not even sure they can be educated. But it's not my job. My job is to play music the best that I can do and to be inspired myself. 30 years ago is a long time ago and a lot has happened in music in that time. Get over it. Computers are culture. Big deal.
You've maintained a low profile for a while. What have you been doing?
I didn't do any touring for a while, but for the last three or four years I've been touring quite a bit. I think part of the reason is that I've been playing instrumental music for a while. That's a pretty low profile field. But I've been touring quite a lot, so I guess one person's low profile is another person's electric profile.
My music has been a constant evolutionary process for a long time. There's not really a “then and now” story to it. “Black Flag guy is now playing electronic music” isn't the story. I've been playing instrumental music since I started playing music and I've been releasing stuff for 30 years or so. I view it differently than the narrative of somebody coming back from something.
Is that frustrating to you as a musician that you have all these fans who are into stuff you haven't done for 25 years?
It doesn't frustrate me because it doesn't surprise me, I just look at it as boring. I'm not big on judging people. I don't say “why aren't you blah blah blah?” That's their business. I just do my thing. It's not terribly surprising. My peers would tell me that Black Flag sounded like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. They thought it was old music because they couldn't hear it. I learned very early on that you can't bring people into the future. A lot of people, their only reference to what I'm doing is Can or Kraftwerk. I'm inspired by stuff I heard last week.
Where do your the fans of your newer stuff come from if not Black Flag?
The Internet. There's a lot of free stuff on the Greg Ginn and the Royal We Facebook page. I just try and put the music out there. But really there's no connection to Black Flag. It makes a convenient narrative for writers, which is why I tend to avoid interviews. Why should I step into quicksand when I know it's quicksand? I'm not trying to convert whatever following to a new group. To me that does the music a disservice. If I put out a record that people perceive as heavy metal and people who perceive themselves as punks think they don't like heavy metal. I'm not out there to convert those people. You're better off looking for a new audience.
What do you think lies behind musical nostalgia?
I totally understand people looking to the past and asking “what the hell has happened?” There were people who would cite Jimi Hendrix as their biggest influence and would end up playing this really tepid and controlled music. In the '70s I wanted the hippie thing to be maintained, some of that wildness and craziness. But it wasn't. And you can't go back. People pretend like they're bringing back the spirit of something but they aren't. They aren't putting enough into it. They're just trying to tap into it in this cheap kind of way and that cheapens it further. My conclusion is: Move ahead. When people are trying to bring back something it just doesn't work. People can fool themselves into thinking that it does work but it doesn't and they cheapen things up in the process. You can't go back and recreate the time or the situation or the struggles of the past. You can listen to the old recordings and hear it but you can't go back and tap into that. You can be inspired by the past and what not, but you can't recreate it. It always comes up hollow.
Say people wanted a Jimi Hendrix reunion and they exhumed his body and he plays Madison Square Garden and headlines Coachella. That would probably draw a big audience. There might be a million people there, but I doubt I would be. I'd just say “I never got to see Jimi Hendrix and that's too bad.” But to go see an exhumed body on stage? Not really my thing, but lots of people would probably pay $40 to see an exhumed body on stage. If you had other members you might get $80.