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A conversation with Felix Griffin (D.R.I, Bat) on joining M.O.D Classics (Ken Ballone & Tim McMurtrie

Posted by on May 29, 2019

Over the years, as bands fracture and reform, it’s not uncommon for musicians to squabble over who gets to keep the band’s original name. Most recently, we’ve seen Cro-Mags settle their lawsuit over the band’s name. We’ve also seen groups splitting into two including Entombed/Entombed A.D, Venom/Venom Inc., and so forth. Just two years ago we caught up with M.O.D vocalist Billy Milano shortly after they released their first album in a decade with 2017’s Busted, Broke & American. However, two years later, after a thirty year gap, original bassist Ken Ballone and guitarist Tim McMurtrie have reunited and formed M.O.D Classic. The two members have recruited legendary D.R.I drummer Felix Griffin as they are currently working on new music and searching for a vocalist. Due to this arrival, there has been a feud between the original members and Milano as we caught up with Griffin to clarify what’s happening.

Can you talk more about joining M.O.D.?

It’s M.O.D. Classic and this is how it all transpired. I played in this band called BAT with two of the guys from Municipal Waste and we were playing in Brooklyn. And Tim [McMurtrie] came to me and wanted to know if I would do a reunion with M.O.D. and I told him, “Sure.” Then I was going to play with Billy Milano. It’s his M.O.D. here in Austin. And that kind of fell through because I couldn’t do a bunch of tour dates, and I don’t even think they’ve toured since. That was about a year and a half ago.

So that kind of fell through and then Tim and Kenny [Ballone] asked if I still wanted to do something and I said, “Sure.” There was a disagreement between Billy and them. And I told them I’d still do it and it wasn’t a big issue, but they decided definitely not to call it Method of Destruction or M.O.D. and I agreed because it isn’t the original members, all of them. And the way copyright stuff works is, I guess if you start a band you’re entitled to that name. But a lot of times in the business, a lot of these bands, Slayer, et cetera. Like Sepultura, all these other bands, one person owns the name outright. They can basically do whatever they want and keep the name.

In this instance, it wasn’t ethical to call it M.O.D. or Method of Destruction because it wasn’t all the original founding members. So we just kind of added Classic to it and we’ll play like the first album and then we’re going to write some new stuff. And you know, there’s so much controversy. Like, the big controversy with Cro-Mags.

And that is huge what’s been going on with them for several years and it’s unfortunate. But as a fan of the Cro-Mags, the original lineup… And, even with D.R.I. there’s no reason to fight.There’s no reason to put your personal views on the street for the fans to experience it because it isn’t their fault. They didn’t create all this. It’s basically between the band members.And I’ve just seen it too many times to where it affects the image of the band. I mean, I know stuff that I would never tell anybody just because it would ruin their image to the fans.

So that’s basically how all this transpired and it’s still real controversial. But, the thing about it is, I just want to let everybody know it doesn’t have to be like that. These guys are entitled to call it M.O.D. and I’m glad that they’ve changed it a little bit because it isn’t the original lineup. It’s sort of like the Cro-Mags. Harley just got ownership of the Cro-Mags and John and Mackie have JM. But they were going as Cro-Mags for a long time. To each his own and I hope everything works out for those guys, but I’ve seen it with Black Flag. Greg Ginn owns the name Black Flag, so they came out with Flag.

But the thing about it is,I don’t like the music industry anyway, it isn’t my job. After having a lot of money stolen from me and a lot of bad stuff happen over the years. If a person owns the name, or a singer, they can replace just about everybody in that band and still keep the name and people still go and pay their $100 for a ticket and nothing’s ever said. But if a singer is replaced, it’s a big fucking issue. And the reason why is because it’s a signature sound. Years back… Well, just Dave Lombardo of Slayer. Slayer sounds different with Paul. But it isn’t drastic enough for people to even give a shit, but it’s different. It’s a lot different. So, basically, that’s how this all transpired.

 

Are they coming to a resolution or are they still feuding?

Well, what I think is going to happen… Literally, without any kind of legal problems, calling it M.O.D. Classic there’s not going to be an issue. There’s nothing that can… As long as you change it a little bit and not call it Method of Destruction, it’s all good. Now, if Billy wants to go out and use Method of Destruction, nobody’s going to say anything. Even though it’s only him and then he has a bunch of different guys over the years. But if he wants to go out and call it Method of Destruction, or whatever he wants to do, nobody is going to sue him. Nobody is going to send a letter going, “Hey, you can’t do this,” at all.

And I don’t know if that is on the other side. I kind of stay out of that a little bit. But I know there’s some kind of issue going on right now, but as far as what I do and what I’ve been through, I would never fucking do that to anybody. Because I know what it’s like to have to deal with that shit. I had everything stolen from me. All the albums I did, until Spike took over the money, I get little checks here and there and that’s fine as long as it’s split up equally. But, when D.R.I. was booming, hell, our managers stole fucking everything. And drummers didn’t get any publishing or anything because we weren’t considered musicians. So a $50,000 check would come in and I wouldn’t even get a fucking cheeseburger. So I know what it feels like and I would never do that to anybody because it was brutal. I’m glad I survived.

 

You’ve had literally everything bad happen to you. Do you cope through it all by music, despite your distaste with the industry?

Well, a lot of it, after losing my daughter, and several friends and family members and stuff, I do yoga. I work a lot. And I don’t know why I’m still here. I think a lot of the reasons why I’m still alive is because I have three other children that I have to fucking be strong for. I’m very skeptical of the music industry. A lot of this shit brings up some really hard fucking memories that happened to me years ago. And when it happened, we didn’t have the internet and I would go to these attorneys and go, ‘Hey, man, they fucking stole all my fucking money,’ on my skateboard going to a big office and they’d look at me like I was fucking crazy. And after that, going to prison right after they took up… I never quit D.R.I. I never was fired. I told the manager I needed a break and they just kept going and just left me.

So, to get through that shit now, it’s kind of bittersweet because now I get the recognition for participating on those albums. It wasn’t that way when I was doing it. It makes it a lot easier because that money is gone and I can’t bring back the past. There’s a lot of factors and, like I said, I don’t know how I keep going, but I’m still healthy enough to play on the same level I did when I’m dealing with it. And, so, I’m just very fortunate. I came out ahead because I have a trade. I’m a plumber. And a lot of these guys that have stayed in this business, they don’t know anything but to tour.

And there’s no money in CDs anymore, so they have to constantly tour. And if they don’t have that, they don’t have any kind of background where they can fall back on. So, basically, that’s how I keep going. I’ve got a great job. I can play every now and then. I don’t play my drums as much as I should, but I’m just fucking lucky, very lucky. And I can’t hold resentments over shit that’s already done. But that’s basically how I get through it.

 

It’s interesting that you don’t play drums as much anymore because I read in an interview from a few years ago how you said you have no intention to stop playing drums, how has that changed within the last three years?

I mean, I went off and on. In the 90’s after all this shit happened, I literally quit playing for about eight years and didn’t look at any kind of fan zines or anything. And all this shit resurfaced when the internet came back. It was like post-traumatic stress syndrome and I fucking went… I wanted the original deal. I didn’t get back together. And they got two of their other guys, kind of hired musicians, and I fucking flipped the fuck out.

So, 2013, all the original members… Well, not original. The 80’s lineup got back together and we did five shows and we couldn’t afford to do more because the money was split up pretty much equally. And the other guys couldn’t afford it at the time to pay me and Josh the equal amount. So that’s why that never came to a head to where we played more shows.

We played like five shows. We were going to play New York, San Francisco, and London, and a few other places with that lineup. But the finances weren’t there for them to make it worthwhile. And that’s their business. You know what I mean. I can’t get pissed off over that. I understand. Spike had cancer and his medical bills. His insurance is probably fucking $20,000 a year. So I get it. And they don’t have anything to fall back on. They don’t have retirement. They don’t have anything.

But as far as playing goes, like I was in BAT with Ryan and Nick from Municipal Waste and I had to quit doing that because I couldn’t afford it. We’d be playing on the west coast and they were like, “Well, we’re going on tour in Europe for a month and a half with Municipal Waste,” and they’d make all their money. And then I would be like, “I got to find a fucking job.” So I was like, I can’t do this anymore, but I’m probably going to do this and I’m going to jam with this band called the Krum Bums here in Austin. It’s a punk band. And, you know, just play locally. I play with friends and chill out.

But as far as business goes. I don’t want any fucking part of it. I did another interview, I’d rather play squats and small clubs because a lot of people I don’t think are going to want to touch this shit. You know, M.O.D. Classic without Billy Milano. And I get it. But the thing about it, these other two guys have a right to do it too, and I’m willing to go out there and play some shows with them. And that’s the bottom line. These people that think they can just own the name outright and then there’s all this fucking controversy on Facebook and all this negative shit.

You know, there’s enough negative shit in this fucking world. And then it’s brought into music. It’s fucking weird because when I started playing in punk it was never about money, and then all of a sudden big business got involved during the late 80’s or mid 80’s when they started recognizing that there was a movement made. Those big record companies made Combat Records from Megaforce and Death Records from Metal Blade and started signing all these punk bands. And then they started getting ripped off. And then egos came in and resentments and all these bands broke up and now you see all these people fighting over fucking names and shit. Fucking crazy.

 

There are quite a list of disputes on the namesake.

It is. You know, like another one, Sepultura. I know why, and I’m sure you do too, why the singer and the drummer aren’t in the band. And, what happened to them was fucking pretty bad because they didn’t own the name. One guy owned the name. And when it gets down like that, everybody else is replaceable. And the thing with Dave Lombardo, they tried to replace him. I mean, they called me up in the 80’s. When they first got their manager, he’s a real fucking piece of work, they fucked him over. The guy called me. I told him, “I can’t do it.”

They flew my friend out there. I got to meet Slayer and all that. And they got somebody else. Well then they had Paul and he went through the same shit. And then they got Dave back and then they fucking went crazy. His attorney fired Dave. They didn’t even come to him and go, “Hey, this isn’t working out.” The thing about when I’m… It’s like if the singer’s involved, everybody is like, “Oh, it’s all cool.” Everybody else can be replaced that had such a big part of that band and creating the sound. They can all be replaced. And a lot of that has to do with management. They know that they can still sell that shit and people are still going to buy it.

And things are so fast that they forget. They don’t do any kind of research or what the fuck happened. They don’t give a fuck. As long as they’re going to a rock concert and they’ll spend $40 on a shirt. It’s real fucking shallow, the whole big business, rock and roll stuff.

 

Sometimes it is easier to just be a fan unaware to what’s happening behind closed doors.

Yeah. Exactly. And it’s a vicious, vicious business. I’m surprised that a lot of guys die. A lot of guys that were super famous are digging ditches and stuff. And one person will be flying on a private jet. It’s like legalized crime, pretty much. It’s sort of like a contractor works on your house or something, they rip you off. You got to go through so much shit to try and get your money back it ain’t even fucking worth it.

It’s brutal, but that’s why the punk scene in San Francisco, it was never about money. And when D.R.I. was getting big, I’d come back to the city and hang out with the same guys. And if I tried to act like I was a fucking rockstar, they would have kicked my ass. So I was very grateful to have that scene keep me centered. But I was still enraged because I was getting ripped off behind my back. And the rest is history. But as far as this goes, the M.O.D. Classic thing, we’re going to do it. It’s not a big deal. There’s not going to be any shit talking or any of that crap. It’s just two of the guys that have rights to that name wanted to use it and have closure and have a good time and play some shows. And Billy didn’t want to do it with us. And what they did was call it Classic, which is the proper thing to do because it is not the original lineup. Like I said, Billy wants to call his deal M.O.D., all the power to him. Those guys are not going to try and cease and desist stuff or anything like that. So I just want to make that clear.

 

Does M.O.D. Classic have any touring plans for this year?

Maybe later part of this year. We still got a lot of logistics to do, but our first shows are going to be in New York and New Jersey. And we’ll do small shows. We might play Europe a little bit, but no super big, extravagant tour. We can’t afford it. It’s basically, we aren’t doing it for money. If I can pay some bills or something, that’s fine. Or I’ll just take some leave off work and just do it cheaply. We’re definitely playing New York, for sure. And that will be probably the later part of this year.

 

When did you start feeling this hostility towards the music industry?

Probably in 1985, after we got signed to Metal Blade Records. We didn’t know what publishing was and we were about to break up and we moved to Texas and moved in with my mom. And we recorded Dealing With ItI got a double bass pedal and added a bunch of the metal stuff to the old songs. Mike worked real hard and we wrote Nursing Home Blues. I wrote the drums and he did the rhythms and then we went and recorded it. Well, we went back to L.A. and we were sleeping in our van in front of the old record company because they owed us money. So we lived in a van and then we got picked up by Metal Blade. Well, they were talking about publishing. Nobody knew what the fuck publishing was. And I was like, I don’t care about… but then we had this manager and they’re like, “Felix, you don’t have to worry about it.” Blah, blah, blah.

Well, I didn’t know. They got a $36,000 check and I didn’t even get a fucking cheeseburger. Yeah, and that’s when it started. And then, the rest is history. I was told I had to write lyrics or learn how to play guitar to write a rhythm so I could get publishing. I never got it. I never learned. And then, even my mechanical royalties were stolen, for just playing on the album. I mean, everything was stolen. So I had a resentment, but I didn’t know anything else. I was young and I didn’t know anything else. So I did the crossover in 4 of a Kind and then Josh said, “Fuck this,” and left.

I should have left at 4 of a Kind, but I did Thrash Zone and then I left. I left because I basically told the manager I needed help because I was drinking so much and he just told the other guys I quit, so they just kept going. It happened in ’85, as soon as we got signed to a major label. That’s when my resentments happened, but I’ve always hated big business for fucking people over. You know? That’s been since I can remember.


You had everything literally taken from you and you still survived. That is a very powerful message of itself.

Well, I tell you what. You can overcome a lot. I mean, there’s people in this world… We’re so blinded with media and everything is so fast, but you think of other people in this world that have to go through fucking brutal hardships and they survive. I’m grateful. Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself I think about, I’m still fucking alive. And a lot of our friends aren’t, a lot of them. And I do this for my daughter that was killed because she always told me she was my manager. Like, I have a fan page that she created and wouldn’t give me the password. So, when she got killed it’s like I have no access to this fan page and I’m just going to leave it the fuck alone. Like, I’m not going to alter it or anything. That was her last deal.

Anybody can overcome anything with meditation, prayer, healthy lifestyle. And, I tell you what, I didn’t get this way by therapy. I got it through extreme fucking pain because you start figuring out how to live and make shit work. And I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to this place. And hopefully I can help other people. It gives me a certain empathy towards just about everybody. It is what it is.


You’ve said it very well. Is there anything else that you wanted to say or add?

I just want to say thank you for all the fans of D.R.I. that stood by me and I didn’t know that I was even significant through the music scene of helping start this crossover stuff. And I just want to say thank you.

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