Jello Biafra, Jello Biafra politics
Montecruz Foto from Berlin, Alemania, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, part one of this conversation with former Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra ran two months ago. There’s a good reason: We spoke for three hours. It was practically a monologue. The complete transcript is 15,413 words. It’s difficult to determine what highlights are germane to promoting Tea Party Revenge Porn, his recent album with current band Guantanamo School Of Medicine. Tea Party is the loudest, most intense record Biafra has made, filled with his trenchant social-political observations and the most turbo-blasted, steroid-drenched take on the musical style he perfected in Dead Kennedys. But along the way while discussing it, Biafra talked about the current events feeding his lyrics, as well his own history, and how to negotiate the toxic misinformation clogging news and social media.

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We need to talk about the new album. You told me you thought this was a real face-shredding record. Yeah, this is more intense than the previous releases by this band. And I’d dare say this shreds Dead Kennedys! This is vicious, man. It’s great.

If you like the vicious shredding, then this is likely the Guantanamo School Of Medicine album for you! I’ve always tried to get fat, heavy, wall-of-sound production out of everything, and I watched people like Geza X and Al Jourgensen like a hawk to see how they made what they made. I’m no better at working a studio board or miking the instruments than I am at playing a guitar. But if I translate my ideas or the melodies in my head and get through to somebody—be it one of the GSM guys or Klaus [Flouride] in Dead Kennedys or whatever, the MelvinsBuzz [Osborne] and Dale [Crover]—then we finally figure out the key, then put it all together, then presto! That’s one of the things I like most about this and get the deepest satisfaction out of: when something that’s been stuck in my head for years that I thought would be a really, really good actual song turns out to actually be a really good song. Or, at least one I really like. 

A lot of people have told me this one is a lot fiercer than the other GSM albums. It’s a good thing. I have been proud over the years that no two of my music albums have ever sounded alike. Not even the Lard albums sounded alike. When Dead Kennedys recorded Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, we had most of the In God We Trust songs and a good chunk of Plastic Surgery Disasters written. I made the decision at the time: “Hey! Hardly anybody gets to make an album. Let’s gamble that we’re going to be able to make a second one someday.” Therefore, instead of just throwing out the first songs and instead [of] going to the second one, then let’s document the first batch first, then the later “Holiday In Cambodia”-ish ones on the next one.

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Then in the middle, Reagan got in, and I saw the early Dischord bands in D.C. and totally got into both that sound, being a little displeased with the Reagan regime storming in and knowing what it meant. When Jerry Falwell was running around and claiming he had the right to make everybody pray to his God in school and censor the media because it was blasphemy and shit like that, I was livid. I knew what these people were really like, from a religious fanatic principal in my middle school who yelled at me that God wanted me to try harder in gym class, that it was against God that I didn’t give a shit about P.E. [Laughs.] The other one that really opened me up was those little religious comic book tracts by Chick Publications

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Me and my friend John Greenway, who I go back with clear back to first grade—one troublemaker shows up at school, and another troublemaker is born! [Laughs.] We weren’t really Beavis and Butt-Head. We were way smarter than that. But John did write the original lyrics to “California Uber Alles.” He did the sleeve to the “Halloween” single. He came up with the term “Frankenchrist” and turned me onto HR Giger, too. The minute he showed me the magazine spread on Giger and I saw that painting—which isn’t called Penis Landscape by Giger; it’s called Landscape XX—I thought, “This is Reagan America on parade!” By then, we were about five years into it. “Greed is good” and all decent things were getting torn to shreds.

The secretary of the interior wanted to drill, baby, drill/stripmine/clearcut everything—the guy who was the buddy of the Coors family, James Watt. And when people asked, “Well, what about our children?” He said, “Well, by then, we’ll see the Second Coming of the Lord!”

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I clicked on what he was really talking about, thanks to laughing my ass off at those Chick comics for so many years. People said, “Falwell isn’t serious.They don’t really mean it.” Oh yes, they do. And a lot more than that. Falwell was another one of those people who believed in Kingdom Of Dominion theory and the End Times and whatnot. He thought we needed a worldwide theocratic state—not a Taliban-type state, but a Christian Taliban where you can execute people for homosexuality, kill them for practicing witchcraft, and according to this Old Testament law they still cling to, you can execute unruly children. Although I guess they do that with psych meds now. 

I’d met Winston Smith by then. He sent me a postcard in the mail, with a still from the Zapruder film of President Kennedy’s head exploding. He wrote on the back, “If you want more, write me back.” So, I did. The next packet contained some of his collage artwork: fake credit cards, a Vice [Visa] card and a MasterScam [MasterCard] card; Three Mile Island detergent; a promo photo of him with a gas mask on, standing in one of the big military cemeteries in Colma. I thought, “Oh, I’d better get to know this guy better! This guy’s fun!” We just grew together from there. I had the chicken scratch DK logo, and he fleshed it out into the logo we all know today. We’ve been joined at the hip ever since.

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At some point around then, he had a gallery show in Berkeley. I went in, and found not only a parrot cage lined with cat litter, with all these hands taken off dolls coming out of the cat litter. There on the little parrot swing was a plastic Jesus. Then right near it, three dimensional, was an actual sculpture version of the cross made of dollar bills with a gold bowling trophy Jesus on it. I thought, “What an amazing thing! Somehow, that has to be an album cover, even if I have to conceive an album just as an excuse to put it on there!” And unfortunately in a way, Reagan and Falwell and crew just handed it to me not long after that. And that was in In God We Trust, Inc.

I’m the same way now. There’s songs on the new one, Tea Party Revenge Porn, like “Satan’s Combover” and “Tea Party Revenge Porn” itself. Those were written before the Trumpzis even stole the 2016 election. “Satan’s Combover” is not specifically about Trump. It’s about this modern digital-age version of fascists/fascism going on all over the world at the same time.

The really bad one early on was the Golden Dawn in Greece, who pissed all over the name of one of the great ’60s Texas psychedelic bands—contemporaries of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators. They would go into neighborhoods in Athens, which were a whole block of businesses owned mainly by immigrants, and trash the businesses and threaten the owners to either get out of their own homes or “We’re gonna kill you.” It turned out that a lot of police were members.

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A lot of military people were members—some of the ones who joined when the military junta was still running a dictatorship in Greece and it stayed. They were now the officers who were those generals back in the day, and they wanted that back. There were bikers involved, too. They got a big chunk of the Greek Parliament, never a majority, and no one would form a coalition with them. But their leader actually wore a little bit of Nazi memorabilia on him. Finally, the people running Greece decided to enforce the law and not just turn the page. Three of the top people in the Golden Dawn, including the leader, just went down for murder. 

When I describe the Golden Dawn, does it make you think of the Oath Keepers? Proud Boys? The Three Percenters, whose T-shirt Donald Trump Jr. has been photographed wearing? It fucking should. Especially the Oath Keepers because they mainly recruit current active military and police officers or ex-military and cops.They’re well-armed, and they know how to use what they got. So this talk about forming Antifa-minded militias and stuff, which people have done in Seattle and at least one other place? That is not the way to stop this. Not only is the violence gonna beget more violence, which none of us really want, but guess who’s better trained in how to win in a battle like that?

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That’s why I came out early against some of the tactics of Antifa, too. No. 1: If you really want to take those people on, fist to fist, you’re gonna lose big time. No. 2: The cops are on their side, and they may well even be connected. No. 3: What easier way for an undercover cop to slip into what is supposed to be an anarchist progressive insurrection than to pull the black mask on? How many of the black masks really were and are undercover cops? Disguise is easy as shit.

Years ago when Fox News first reared its ugly head, I just said to people, “Oh, my God, imagine The Onion, only people believe it.” 

At the end of the day, we all believe what we want to believe. We just have to be smart about it. And that means growing better bullshit detectors. Get those antennae good and strong and solid. I don’t think anybody should be allowed to graduate from high school without passing a class on media literacy. But since they deliberately don’t teach that, then we have to teach people ourselves where the whole “Don’t hate the media, become the media” thing comes from.

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A lot of people are doing that, but I still insist that the best way to really get through to people is not to blog to an echo chamber, where people already agree with you as a way of soothing people or soothing yourself at the end of all this. But at some point, you’re in the same room with somebody who’s an old friend, family, someone from work, whatever. They start spouting QAnon shit or even areas that are not that bad but still toxic. The best thing is to sit down and talk to them, eye to eye. Especially if it’s somebody you know well enough to know what’s in their heart and know what their big concerns are in their own life and take it from there.

It doesn’t always work right away, but somebody’s got to plant the seed. You never know when they wake up three days, three weeks, three months, three years later and suddenly the light bulb does go off on their head: “Oh, my God! Rush Limbaugh is wrong! All these people are wrong. I don’t want to be a lock-step bigot anymore. That just isn’t me.” 

I wanted to ask you about an episode of your video blog, What Would Jello Do. 

I call it a “rant-cast.” 

You did this one just after the election. It was 100 things you thought Biden should do on his first day in office. And it’s interesting to watch. Because judging by some of the executive orders he has signed? He may very well have watched that episode!

Well, I doubt that he would ever watch that episode. But a lot of those points were pretty obvious. I have to admit that some of those orders Biden did sign on his first day in office were a very pleasant surprise. It seems like he’s at least trying. The speech he did commemorating the half-million people who died of COVID was a very good speech. I was deeply moved. I thought you obviously couldn’t expect a speech like that, let alone any empathy, out of the fucking Trump mob. Or the Bushes, or the Clintons. Or even Obama, in this case. Biden gave the speech we needed to hear. And he communicated very well. 

I will give him that, and the fact that he K.O.’ed the Keystone XL pipeline. I wasn’t expecting that. It wasn’t that long ago that Hillary [Clinton] was all in on the pipeline until Bernie [Sanders] got so popular that she changed her position, which she’d have probably changed back the minute she got into office. After all, she told a private audience of stock executives that environmentalists should get a life. The Hillary Monster was not our friend, either. 

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But Biden has done some good things. I’m even hearing, but I couldn’t confirm it, was that one of his orders was to change the boundaries to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments back to where they were. Which is especially important with Bears Ears because all the strip mines were supposed to destroy what may possibly be thousands of archeological sites. And thus the descendents of those people, thus Bears Ears, mean a hell of a lot more to the descendents of those people than it possibly could mean to any fucking mining executive. If he really went that far, more power to him. 

There’s definitely more to be done, and the holes are starting to become visible. So I’m starting a new list, but I should check and see what my original one was. I think it was bullet points. I might not be able to figure it out if I look back at them! [Laughs.] One I haven’t noticed anything on yet, though, is even if he makes a tiny little stink about the crown prince of Saudi Arabia taking a Washington Post journalist, sawing off his limbs and disappearing him when he went to get a marriage license in Turkey, for crying out loud.

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He has to be stronger in standing up for the little guy—people in Hong Kong, people in Belarus. We gotta get stronger about that, Joe. You can’t get away with business as usual, even if you did put Antony Blinken in as secretary of state, who came from a consulting firm he started that worked with the military industrial complex. 

It means blowtorch up the ass, shining lights on places where lights aren’t shined. There should be more attention on things like the forced hysterectomies on our Southern border on refugee women. It should not take a bush-league punk-rock musician to point this shit out.