Klaus Flouride of the Dead Kennedys Riffs on the Recording of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables and the Early Years of Hardcore Punk

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Bay Area punk and longtime Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Fluoride sounds off on the remixing of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, the emergence of hardcore punk, and the neverending comparisons to the Sex Pistols.

By Andrew Daly

The recent passing of longtime Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro has justifiably taken up the bulk of Dead Kennedys-related media. As a reprieve for grieving fans, some positive news is also afoot: the long overdue remastering of one of hardcore punk’s most iconic records, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

From the beginning, the Bay Area punks knew they were on to something special. And while the press deemed them derivative to the Sex Pistols, there was no comparison. Sure, the Sex Pistons were integral to the late ’70s punk movement, but we’re talking about a different animal entirely when it comes to the Dead Kennedys.

With the release of 1980’s Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, the Dead Kennedys quite literally invented hardcore punk music, a sub-genre that didn’t exist prior. A hyperactive blend of poetic lyrism, unique stage presence, and whip-smart musician made the Dead Kennedys a quick draw. What’s more, it left their music undeniably essential to supercharged punks who seek swagger paired with socio-political statements made unabashedly.

And so, it’s no surprise that the record is receiving the complete treatment with this new version. Truthfully, the only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner. Regardless of timing, some 42 years later, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is still as piercing as it was the day that it was released. Here’s to hoping that this latest version exposes its greatness to generations and beyond.

The Dead Kennedys longtime bassist and founding member Klaus Fluoride recently settled in with me to speak about the reissue, the band’s history, the early days of the Bay Area punk rock scene, and more.

We were starting with the remix of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. What instigated the project?

Well, the idea has been percolating for years, but the final sparks were the then-upcoming 40th anniversary of the original release – thanks, COVID – and then the availability of Chris Lord-Alge. We pretty much thought the original mix was all too midrange and boxy. And with Chris, we considered others, but when he became interested, [East Bay] Ray and I were pretty excited. We had him do a rough of “Chemical Warfare,” and then it was a slam dunk.

What are the most tangible differences between this updated mix and the original? 

The new Chris Lord-Alge mix has more range in the high and low end and more dynamics. That being said, I wouldn’t say we were unhappy with the original mix unhappy as much as we thought it could be better. In the original, we were new to recording and mixing, and although Oliver DiCicco did a great job on the recording, he and Ray and [Jello] Biafra had never mixed a punk album as such before.

Paint a picture of the Bay Area punk scene as you were coming up.

It was still somewhat of an open field. Art punk, punkabilly, new wave, abrasive punk, and more all coexisted in a single show. There was no real “old school” punk as punk was too young for there to be an “old school.” To list some bands: The Mutants, The Avengers, The Dils, The Offs, Pink Section, The Readymades, Negative Trend, and on and on. All unique sounds and visuals.

All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons

Walk me through the origins of the Dead Kennedys.

When I contacted Ray via a classified ad in BAM Magazine, he had met up with Biafra already. Ray and I set up an “audition,” basically playing a few songs both of us knew in his garage. What drew us to each other was that as we were all interested in forming a punk band, we were also interested in other kinds of music. Odd or non-standard music was the commonality we all shared. We met, and within an hour, we were putting together new songs in Ray’s living room in his apartment. The next level was the garage and trying out drummers. Once we found Bruce – Ted, the only drummer who rushed the tempo vs. dragging it as other candidates had – we added 6025 on the other guitar, who Biafra had met at a show and who had previously posed as our drummer before we had one for a photo we needed to book a show at the Mabuhay. 

Can you recall the band’s first gig?

I remember it very well, and at the same time, it’s a blur. We were all so hyped up as the opening act that we played a set that, when rehearsed, was originally 20 minutes long but played in around 12 minutes. Biafra was knocking over tables and such to grab the attention of the people there to basically put up with the bottom-billed act. The songs took care of the rest. We got asked back.

How did the Dead Kennedys land with Cherry Red Records?

The California Über Alles 45 was released by us – the first Alternative Tentacles record – and was picked up by Fast Records in the U.K., which was run by Bob Last, if I remember correctly. Iain McNay heard it and got hold of us. Since we couldn’t tour on the strength of just a 45, he gave us some money to record Fresh Fruit. We came in under the budget and split the rest of the cash between us, thinking that that was all we were really going to see. Iain did promote the hell out of it. We also did separate singles, “Holiday in Cambodia,” for one, which is a different recording than the lp version done in a different studio and others.

What was the band’s collective mindset heading into the studio to record Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables?

We definitely had all the songs ready to record. We were totally set on making a record that sounded different than others and was challenging both musically and lyrically. That with a sense of humor and oddness applied to, again, both the lyrics and the music. One funny anecdote and not to let the proverbial cat out of the bag, the “producer” Norm was Oliver DiCicco’s cat. Biafra and Ray were basically the producers. [Laughs].

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“Kill the Poor” remains iconic. Can you break down its inception?

Biafra had the lyrics, and we all had the idea of making what was basically a dark song wrapped in an almost doo-wop chord progression, sort of “ice cream in D,” as it was called in the ’50s, sped up and turned up.

“Holiday in Cambodia” is perhaps the Dead Kennedy’s signature track. We know that Jello Biafra wrote the lyrics; how did his lyrics inform your decisions musically? 

We literally put that together first as an idea in Ray’s living room and later in the garage and practice studio with Ted drumming. On the bass part, I wanted to mix a Velvet Underground-inspired drone with sort of a Led Zeppelin catchable riff. Ray added his eerie echo-laden riff to set the scene, and we filled it out from there. Not at all a standard 1/4/5 type of chord progression but an earworm all the same.

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is often compared to the Sex Pistols’ self-titled record. Do you agree with that?

Only in that it was a 12″ 33 1/3 long playing record pressed on vinyl. [Laughs]. It’s not for us to state the legacy or influence. Others can attest to that, although not many records or bands sounded like that LP, for better or worse. I can say that it has certainly more than withstood the test of time. We didn’t yet have “hardcore” as part of a reference point when Fresh Fruit was made. We were well aware that we had a sound unlike others, and we were hoping to continue to push the envelope musically and lyrically.

Are there plans to record new music in the future? What’s next?

Who knows? To quote Number 2, “That would be telling.”

All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

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