Selections from The Punk Vault – White Flag

The first place that I ever heard of White Flag was in one of two places: the We Got Power compilation or Flipside Vinyl Fanzine Volume One. A much younger me would have been able to tell you which of the two it was but the current me isn’t as sharp as he once was. At least I narrowed it down to two records that I’m quite certain I acquired in the same year. I mentioned this before but back then compilations were awesome and a great way to discover new and exciting punk rock bands. I bought up nearly every compilation I ever saw back then with the only requirement being I had heard of the name at least of one or more of the bands on the record. It was a good strategy that turned me on to tons of great bands and made sure that I never had money for longer than the time it took to get to a record store.

Early on in their career, White Flag were a  hardcore band that had a big sense of humor and seemed to parody everything/everyone big in the early hardcore scene. A couple of the band members “gimmick names” were parodies of well-known members of the big bands of the time (Jello B. Afro and Pat Fear) and others were just downright comical (Pick Z Stix, Al Bum, Trace Element). Their logo was the Black Flag bars logo turned sideways and even some of their songs were parodies (White Flag’s, “Shattered Badge” is perhaps the polar opposite of Black Flag’s, “Police Story”). I’m sure they pissed off a lot of punkers back then who lacked a necessary sense of humor. Personally I found them to be really entertaining and their whole shtick made them stand out among the hardcore masses of the time. They even had the “White Flag Army” where they stole the Kiss Army logo and altered it for their own purposes.

As the years progressed in the 1980s, White Flag had an ever rotating cast of characters that would come and go in the band (often times repeatedly) and like most bands of their generation, they didn’t stick to only playing hardcore and their sound evolved. But instead of evolving to metal like many of the hardcore bands of the time, they went the other way at the fork in the road and became a more musical band. It was then that the band got even better. Their Wild Kingdom album (and it’s many foreign variations) stands as the most solid album of the band’s long career and was easily one of the best albums of the later half of the 1980s where bands like 7 Seconds and Government Issue started changing their sounds (the former to their detriment and the latter to their benefit as they became even better). White Flag pulled off this newer style with great success and they sort of became the often-overlooked Beatles of punk rock. White Flag can write really good powerful pop-punk songs, but not the kind of pop-punk that bands like NOFX made popular. White Flag’s style was better.

The band garnered a nice cult following all over the world and they have played in more places around the globe than any other band I can think of, which makes it all the more ironic that the band played such places like Spain, Japan, Germany, and even Greenland before they ever played a show here in Chicago which didn’t happen until last summer!

Before delving into some of the White Flag discography, I hit up founding member and band leader, Pat Fear, to provide some White Flag history.

White Flag has released 23 albums, singles and CD’s, in countries as varied as South Africa, Japan and the Faroe Islands.
The band has the honor of being the ONLY American group ever to play the remote  Faroe Islands, two of them in fact. White Flag is also the only band from The United States of America to ever play Greenland, where White Flag headlined the annual Asiaat Nipia Rock Festival, north of the Arctic Circle in 2004.  They played their first gigs in 1982, supporting Black Flag, and have continued to record and perform ever since.

With their well-known rotating roster of band members, the line up for the new album features: Pat Fear and Trace Element (who founded the band in 1982), 26 year veteran Jello B. Afro, and  24 year veteran Mike Mess (a/k/a/ Mike Geek of SIN 34) and 28 year veteran, drummer Trace Element.

Other members of the “White Flag Army” who have recorded or toured as a member of the band in th e past 28 years have included: original vocalist Al Bum, Pick Z Stix, El Fee, Hole’s Eric Erlandson and Courtney Love, Pat Smear, Bruce Duff of the Jeff Dahl Group, 45 Grave and The Adz, Victor M. Surrounded, drummer of the final Rozz Williams lead Christian Death, and Amen, Javier Escovedo of legendary Los Angeles punk band The Zeros, Kim Shattuck and Ronnie Barnett of The Muffs,  Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, The Meatmen’s Tesco Vee, Adolescents lead vocalist Tony Reflex, Thurston Moore, Bag religion/Circle Jerks guitarist Greg Hetson, and brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald of Redd Cross, and Sergio Dias of Brazilian legends Os Mutantes.

Sonic Youth mention guitarist Pat Fear in their song “Screaming Skull”, from their album “International Jet Set, Trash and No Star”, and Pat Fear and Thurston Moore joined forces with Hole’s Eric Erlandson, SIN 34′s Dave Markey, Blondie’s Clem Burke and The Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine to back legendary DJ Rodney Bingenheimer on several records under the moniker Rodney And The Tube Tops.

Aside from their frequent record releases, White Flag is known for tours in somewhat unusual countries: China is next for November 2010. following their first full length Chinese CD release.  December will feature an acoustic performance at the International Antarctic Research Station is in the works for New Year’s Eve, after an electric performance on a “Rock The South Pole New Year’s Eve 2011″ cruise from Argentina takes them within helicopter range of the isolated science center.

Aside from performing in White Flag, the band members have a varied and colorful musical history.

Pat Fear has worked as a songwriter and producer for such artists as Courtney Love’s band Hole, NOFX (Pat Fear is the only person not in NOFX to co write a song recorded by the band, “Spaghetti Motel” ( which can be found on the Fat Wreck Chords 30 Year “Wrecktrospective” 3 CD  set)), ,Pat Smear (of Nirvana/Foo Fighters and The Germs fame), The Go-Go’s, Bangles, Redd Kross, Sean Lennon, Ace Frehley, and Swedish garage punk legends The Nomads.
Pat Fear was also a technical advisor on The Germs biography film “What We Do is Secret,” (starring two long time White Flag fans: “E.R.” actor Shane West, and Bijou Phillips), as well as being a rodeo bull riding champion, vegetarian, and a member of PeTA.

Kim Crimson, (under his real name of Ken Stringfellow) is a sought after producer, when not busy fronting his full-time band The Posies, and The Disciplines, or touring Malta and Singapore with his solo performances. Ken was also one forth of the revamped line up of the legendary band Big Star, and spent years as touring keyboardist for R.E.M.

Pat Fear started his own label in the early 1980s called Gasatanka Records (the name and logo a parody of Kiss’ long-time home of Casablanca Records) in order to release White Flag records. The label soon branched out to put out some now-classic records by other bands including Red Kross, The F.U.’s and the Flipside Vinyl Fanzine series of compilations (which were among the finest compilations of that decade). The label even promised a release of  a Germs album which sadly never saw the light of day (but whose planned contents have likely appeared on a half-dozen posthumous Germs releases).

S is for Space was the first White Flag release. It was a full-length album which was outside the norm for a band to do as their first release as most opted to do a 7″ EP or single back then as their first release. The record opened up with their take on The Germs’, “Not Alright” which was very good. Pat Fear was a huge Germs fan so the choice to do a Germs cover on their record was pretty obvious. The rest of the album is mostly pretty speedy hardcore but it wasn’t thrash. Al Bum’s vocals were a bit snotty and abrasive and he had a classic voice for the time period. The band is all over the place too with some more experimental noisy numbers, TV show samples, and at times oozed sarcasm and parody. I’m especially fond of their demented cover of “Black Sabbath”. The record will go down in history as being one of the two biggest pains in the ass to listen to (the other, not surprisingly, is another White Flag record) as both sides feature locked grooves that force you to get up and move the needle ahead to find the “bonus tracks” located after the locked grooves. It was a case once again of the band’s unique sense of humor. The album features the same songs on both sides except for near the end after the locked grooves where each side’s material after that is unique. The band recently released a special 25th anniversary edition of this LP in a deluxe edition that includes a bonus live album, colored vinyl, and reproduction inserts and a poster. It is really a nicely done package that is hand numbered. My copy is number one and if you get one yours will be too as they are all number one!

Listen to “Not All Right”  (right-click it and save)

Third Strike was their next album. In the two years between this release and S is for Space the band really hit their stride and became a solid unit. This one was a more consistent effort from start to finish and this was a really good album especially in the year that it was released. They started to show a very slightly more melodic edge to their songwriting which really took the band to a higher level of quality. The first pressing of the record had the inside of the LP jacket fully printed as well and came with a sticker and a lyric sheet. It had a red back cover. The second pressing removed the inside printing and had a blue back cover. This album had a lot of great songs on it, my favorite being “Pieces of Chris Trent” which also appeared on the Desperate Teenage Lovedolls album. There was a promo-only split 7″ with White Flag and Redd Kross done by Mystic Records to promote the Desperate Teenage Lovedolls soundtrack that they made only 100 of and is probably the rarest White Flag related release.

Listen to “Pieces Of Chris Trent” (right-click it and save)

It would be two years later before any more White Flag records would surface. In 1986 the band became more prolific and released two records. The first record was Feeding Frenzy that was released by Bootleg Records (an imprint of Mystic Records). This was a special 3-sided record that featured three sides on a single 12″ record. This was accomplished by having one side have parallel grooves that ran the entirety of that side so depending on where you placed the needle initially at the beginning, you’d get one of two sides. One of the two sides had multiple tracks and the other had just one track. I’m still in awe of how they went about getting a record cut like this and I have never seen anything like it since. As cool as the gimmick was it was also a pain in the ass to get the side you wanted correct, though I got quite good at it after repeated attempts. This record sort of closed the book on the hardcore era of White Flag and featured live tracks and a couple of compilation appearances. It featured “Shattered Badge” which also appeared on the Mystic Records Copulation compilation and is one of the best White Flag songs ever. This record was reissued a few years later as Skate Across America on Mystic Records (after they dropped the Bootleg Records imprint) and contained a bonus 7″ and new cover art. This would also be the last record to feature Al Bum for more than 20 years.

Listen to “Shattered Badge” (right-click it and save)

The other White Flag record of 1986 was a split 12″ EP with the Necros titled Jail Jello (Jello Biafra was going through an indecency trial for the poster included with the Dead Kennedys, Frankenchrist album at this time). This record came out at a time that would mark dramatic changes in both bands’ sounds. White Flag lost their main vocalist and Pat Fear and Pick Z. Stix took over vocal duties and took the band to greater heights, resulting in a better band than ever. The Necros on the other hand, started going metal and it didn’t really work that well. White Flag’s side sort of served as a teaser for what the band would release the following year and it was very good. They started getting more musical and were more of a melodic punk rock band now with a punch. The record came on both red vinyl and black vinyl and each band had three songs on their side of the record.

1987 saw the release of the band’s finest album and one that forever changed the music of White Flag. Wild Kingdom was released by Positive Force Records (the label run by Kevin Seconds) and it was an underrated masterpiece. White Flag proved themselves as great songwriters who could craft really catchy songs with great hooks and melodies while still retaining a punchy edge that still felt punk rock without being hardcore. Not that many bands outside of Government Issue at this time really pulled this off with any great success but White Flag was probably the only other band to have gotten better when they did this. The album was preceded by a teaser 7″ of “Suicide King” which was easily one of the best songs of 1987 and another one of the best songs the band ever recorded. The song, “Jungle” is also well worth seeking this album out for. This is one of those albums that should have been a massive hit of the late 1980s and it is really a crime that it was often overlooked. The album came on both black vinyl and a much rarer blue vinyl. A Different variation of this LP was released with altered track lists overseas as Sgt. Pepper.

Listen to “Suicide King” (right-click it and save)

The above records represent what I like to think of as the “golden age” of White Flag. Sadly the band seemed to slow down at this point. They did a handful of compilation appearances (most notably their appearance on Four Bands that Could Change the World on Positive Force/Gasatanka) and overseas collections of existing material but the band never followed up with a proper LP again for years. They would occasionally release 7″ singles that sometimes featured guest vocals such as Tony of the Adolescents or someone from The Muffs. The band also would play random shows around the world and seemed to build up a good cult following in places like Europe and Spain. The band still plays shows and their current lineup features Pat Fear, Jello B. Afro, Trace Element, and Mike Mess. They are still putting out records on a variety of labels including a really great live album that came out last year (that featured a return from Al Bum and was semi-titled Benefit For Cats as a rib on that horrible Black Flag reunion a few years ago) and a couple of singles. The band has consistently put out quality music their entire career and it is great that they are still active and closing in on their 30th birthday.

For more information about White Flag check out these links:

www.myspace.com/whiteflagofficialmyspacesite

http://www.facebook.com/whiteflagofficial

http://www.reverbnation.com/whiteflag

If you want to see an insanely huge White Flag family tree go here.

You can write to White Flag at: whiteflagmail [at] aol [dot] com


2 Responses to “Selections from The Punk Vault – White Flag”

  1. Jesse Luscious says:

    I love WHITE FLAG! Early on I began collecting every weird, innovative release that they put out. The grooves going from the inside-out, the 3-sided record, the cover printed on the inside of the jacket, etc etc etc.

    It really helped that their music kicks ass too! I agree that “Wild Kingdom” is a highlight of their discography. I’m also partial to their tracks on “Four Bands That Could Change The World”/”Five Bands That Could Change The World”!

  2. Lars says:

    Another record with two concentric grooves was Monty Python’s “Matching Tie & Handkerchief” from the early ’70s