Flipper should need no introduction. Their slow’n’sludgy take on punk was absolutely crushing, and paved the way for bands like Nirvana and the Melvins. M3 was thrilled to hear from drummer Steve DePace that Flipper is back in action, with a new record, reissues of vintage recordings and a European tour in the works!
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Steve – I am the drummer and manager of Flipper. I have worked in the music and entertainment business for 33 years. Mostly as a musician and music business person.
What inspired you to form Flipper? What is your own musical background?
I began playing the drums as a teenager, and played with friends and later looked for more dedicated musicians to play with, but ultimately when the Sex Pistols and the American punk scene came into my world, I knew that is what I wanted to do. I went to the Sex Pistols show in San Francisco on January 14th, 1978, then I found the Mabuhay Gardens, aka The Fab Mab, which was the only Punk club in San Francisco. It was a great scene and lots of great bands that were all very unique and eclectic. It was also a lot like a clubhouse with a lot of kids that were members. It was easy to find people like you, that wanted to get into a band. So it was in this environment that I found my first band, Negative Trend. We toured a bit and made a very influential EP before disbanding later in “78”. Then in 1979, Will Shatter, who had been in Negative Trend with me, started a new band, and asked me to join. This new band was to be called Flipper!
Flipper are undisputed punk veterans, how would you say the internet has affected the original D.I.Y. punk ethos?
It has given the DIY punks a global tool to promote themselves. Start a website, get on social media, and promote your band as hard as you can. But you still have to hit the streets and pound the pavement. Get out and go to the clubs and pass out flyers and put up posters and talk up your band to people face to face. Nothing can replace getting out among your peers. The internet is a great added tool, and allows you to promote yourself worldwide, and find other bands you want to play with and find the clubs you want to play at…
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
In the big picture this is true for the big commercial bands. But for punk DIY bands, it doesn’t matter because there was never a lot of money in selling records at the retail level in shops. But if you are out touring and playing shows, you can always sell your CDs and Vinyl Records along with your Tshirts at your merchandise table. If people like your band, they will buy your stuff.
Recently, there seem to be a large number of bands offering their releases for free via sites like Bandcamp. What do you think of this distribution method, do you think it is a realistic solution to the problem of illegal downloading?
I don’t think you can ever get rid of illegal downloading, but use it to your advantage. In the beginning of your career, you should give away your music to let people check you out. Even bigger veteran bands are doing free giveaways with a song here and there. Or give a bonus of a free download of your album along with the purchase of your CD or Vinyl Record. Lots of people have different mediums for listening to music. I met a 23 year old girl recently that only listens to vinyl. That is unusual, but still people have turntables and iPods and CD players, so your music should be available on all mediums.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
What ever is convenient for listening at the moment. I’m not an audio snob.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Yes, for sure. A lot of space for art and information has been lost to the digital age. When CDs first hit the market they were packaged in something called a Long Box which was half the size of a 12″ vinyl album. The Jewel box inside the long box was half the size if that. Then the long box packaging was deemed to be wasteful and was ditched for the jewel box that we still have today. There is still the CD booklet of foldout of some kind that you get sometimes with your CD, but the cover art has suffered for only being 25% of what it used to be in size. As for digital downloads, there is no artwork or liner notes or credits at all. So the kids that download exclusively, rarely see the artwork contained in the packaging.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
Well, the big chains were hit hard and Virgin hung in there for a while, selling everything under the sun to make up for the loss of record sales. The chains drove most of the independent stores out of operation before that. But thankfully I have seen a number of small or larger independent stores finding a way to stay in business. The best example of an independent store that has found the right formula for staying alive is a small chain of 3 stores called Amoeba Records, with one in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, and one in Hollywood. I believe the Hollywood store hails as the largest independent store in the world. Here is the trick. They have created an atmosphere in all the stores that makes you want to be there. It’s something you have to see to understand. They really have it down. It’s a hang out kind of place. Also, there are live performances at all the stores. Bands with records coming out, will play at one of the stores on the day the record is released and then sign copies after the performance. You have to create an environment that music fans want to go to and hang out in, for your business to survive these days.
What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
The internet must be kept free and independent of any corporate controls, no matter what. We as free citizens of the world, must stand up and fight for the internet to remain a place of free thinking and sharing of ideas and art and information. Piracy is already against the law and what the corporations really want is to shut down our choices and ability to be informed by sources outside of mainstream media. Remember it’s not just movies they are concerned about. All the entertainment companies are owned by massive huge mega corporations that own the television stations and cable companies and newspapers and magazines. The mainstream media taylors the news to what they want us to see and hear, and what they want us to think is going on. Nothing is more important to a free world than free exchange of ideas and information. The internet allows us to know what is going on a half a world away, and react to it in support of or against what ever is going on. It makes us a lot more powerful as a people and citizens of the world. And don’t kid yourself, the mega corporations that own our government officials, want to shut that down and they will package it anyway they can to try to sell it to us.
Finally, what does the future hold for Flipper?
Well, this year we are planning several record releases, to include a 30 year anniversary edition of Album – Generic Flipper, as well as the last remaining studio recordings with our original founding member, now deceased Will Shatter. This material has never been released in any form. It’s vintage material left over from the Gone Fishin’ recording sessions in 1983. Also we have a live recording from CBGBs we want to put out, and we are talking about writing and recording a new album with new songs. In addition to more record releases, we are touring as much as we can. We are doing a UK/Europe tour in April and will be touring other parts of the world and the US as well, so look out for Flipper!
Flipper’s classic debut Album – Generic Flipper is due to be reissued this year on 4 Men With Beards in the US and Domino in the UK/Europe. For more information on Flipper, you can check out their website, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and catch them on their upcoming European tour –