Every story that could be written about Black Flag's rocky 2013 reformation has already been written.
Here's what we know: Founding guitarist, primary songwriter and only consistent member of the seminal punk group, Greg Ginn, announced in January that he was reuniting with former vocalist Ron Reyes to release a new album. It was one of two reunions that year for Black Flag; co-founder Keith Morris and crew also toured under the name Flag, playing a rundown of the band's greatest hits.
The Ginn camp released a new album, What the..., to middling reviews and ended its 2013 tour with the onstage firing of Reyes in Australia. Mike Vallely—the tour manager and singer for a 2003 reunion—took over vocals mid-set to sing a brutal and apt version of "Rise Above." After a good amount of mudslinging in the press, a lawsuit filed by former members over trademarking and logos, the reintroduction of Black Flag hasn't been a smooth one for the band, press or fans.
But for Vallely, a professional skateboarder, the new touring vocalist and a lifetime fan of the band, that is all in the past. He chatted with the Source about the long and influential life of the band, the lawsuit, the last year and the brutal and candid honesty that Black Flag represents to thousands of punk and hard-core fans.
Source Weekly: What has it been like to go from a fan, to navigating your own career, to being a part of this huge cultural force that is Black Flag? How do you think the impact of the band has changed with lineup changes?
Mike Vallely: Black Flag is about the music first. Greg Ginn's songwriting always has been the paramount force in the band. The band has had numerous members through the years; it is what it is. I do think I bring something very real to the table as a vocalist. I can capture the essence of the music, make it my own and do it with respect, but more so continue to add to the story moving forward.
SW: How do you feel about being chosen to front Black Flag, considering its best known singers are still around and performing in one way or another?
MV: I think I'm the best guy for the job. I mean, Ron Reyes could still be doing it. Of the previous singers he was the only one that I felt could really deliver the goods, but as we saw last year, he lost focus and came up short—too bad. Keith Morris is clearly not in any real way physically able to really take on the grind of extensive touring, long shows and playing the entire catalog at 100 percent intensity. Rollins? Didn't he retire from music? Well, I guess that is unless he could have successfully stolen the Black Flag trademark, then we'd probably see him out there giving it one last go. Really, these guys are all previous singers for a reason. Their only desire is to be some retro act and they don't see or realize that Black Flag is a living, breathing, forward moving organism. Not that we won't be playing all the classic songs and delivering the material that the audience wants to hear, but we will be doing it all the way alive in the moment and breathing life into the material. As a vocalist, I bring that to the table. I believe that's why I got the job. I'm still a fan. I would pay to see those other guys with Ginn, but I also know, I can front this band now at the highest level.
SW: You've talked about Black Flag's music going beyond most people's "punk rock phase." What is it that makes the band a bigger force?
MV: The songs. They are not trapped in time. They are not trapped in some genre. Not in energy, lyrical content or sound. The music is completely relatable and relevant now.
SW: How did the lawsuit shake out? Are you sick of explaining it yet?
MV: The lawsuit has been settled and as we expected, Greg and SST (Ginn's record label) have retained all rights to the name and the logo. In fact, it was never really in question. Keith Morris and Henry Rollins filed a fraudulent trademark application, basically trying to steal the logo from Greg for their own uses. I'm not sick of explaining it because so many people have been misinformed about all of this. There never was an issue with Flag performing Black Flag songs...no one cares. But when they start using trademarks that aren't theirs and then they actually attempt to hijack that very mark, it's a real issue. Really, they should be ashamed of themselves. They could have come in the front door and accomplished a lot more for themselves instead of going behind Greg's back and slandering him in the process. Those guys made it hard on themselves. They didn't have to do that. Greg has proven many times before to be very generous with granting rights to previous band members. The Rise Above project for the West Memphis 3 that Rollins' did is one example that comes to mind.
SW: What's next for the band? What's next for you in your solo career?
MV: Right now my only focus is Black Flag. What comes next? We play Bend, Ore. I'm not really thinking of much beyond that.
with openers Cinema Cinema and High Desert Hooligans
Thu., May 29
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.
$25 at bendticket.com