Mike Vallely discusses new role with Black Flag
Ed's note: New Jersey's Mike Vallely has held many roles in his 43 years: professional street and vert skateboarder, entrepreneur, front man for numerous bands, pro hockey player, film and television actor, video game character, father ... the list goes on. Last week, Vallely took on one of his biggest roles yet, as lead singer for punk band Black Flag. Here is his firsthand account of how he went from fan to manager to front man of the iconic group.
After much speculation, it was reported by Rolling Stone on Thursday that I would be the new vocalist for Black Flag. Since then, I've had many requests to expand upon topics I touched on in that interview. Instead of doing numerous interviews, I decided to put pen to paper and share further thoughts about how this came to be and what really went down in Australia. As such things go, this will probably lead to even more questions, but I felt Black Flag fans deserved to hear it directly from me.
I first saw Black Flag play at City Gardens in Trenton, N.J., in 1984. I was 14 years old. It was, besides discovering skateboarding, the most significant moment of my teenage years.
I was going through a punk rock phase at the time, but Black Flag was something else -- something more. The music, spirit and intensity of the band and all that it represented stuck with me well beyond anything that was "punk rock." As my musical tastes evolved, shifted and expanded through the years, Black Flag remained a constant. That night in Trenton had cut so deep it had become part of my DNA.
As a fan, I've always spoken highly of Black Flag, mentioning its influence at any opportunity. As a pro skateboarder, I've turned many other people on to the band. Everywhere I've been over the past 25 years, all over the world, people have told me so. They would shake my hand and say, "Thanks to you, I discovered Black Flag." I could never have imagined one day I would befriend Greg Ginn and have a working relationship with him. I was just a fan. I still am.
To be the vocalist for Black Flag today is not some overnight fairy tale come true. It's the result of a friendship and working relationship developed over many, many years. Even over the past year, as the band's manager, I was not pining for the job. I was truly glad to support the band in a management role every step of the way. But watching singer Ron Reyes [the band's second singer, who reformed Black Flag with Ginn in 2013] throw away the opportunity was hard to swallow, and I felt the band deserved better than that. Ginn didn't have to ask me twice.
Reyes quit the band in November in Australia. He had informed Ginn and I several times that the Australian shows would be his last as vocalist for Black Flag. The day of the last show in Perth, he reiterated this to us in no uncertain terms. He texted me several times while we were in Australia, threatening to not play the shows at all and to just fly home. He had been so temperamental the entire time we had been on the road that we were ready for anything at that point. Him flying home wasn't just a threat but a real possibility. Earlier in the summer in Hanover, Germany, he had actually quit the band on stage in a fit of rage. He threw his microphone down and stormed off the stage, screaming "That's it. I'm done," only to return moments later when he realized the band would just keep going without him.
Reyes didn't show up for the final show in Perth until moments before the band was set to take the stage. He walked up to me and handed me the set lists with an air of cockiness that made me concerned for what he might be planning to do or say. This being his last show, he looked determined to use the stage as a platform to air his grievances. I decided from a management perspective that we could not allow him to do that.
During the breakdown of the song "Down in the Dirt," Reyes would typically launch into a condescending rant, asking the audience questions like, "Do you even have a clue what it's like to be down in the dirt?" As the band leaned into that breakdown in Perth, Reyes puffed up and began his rant. It was obvious this would be the start of his public attack on the band he was standing on stage with, and I decided he did not deserve to use that platform for a grandiose final act as the vocalist for Black Flag. Ginn stopped playing, and the band followed suit. Without the band backing him up, his rant would have no substance, but he should have figured that out long ago. Reyes looked like the air had been taken out of him. I walked on stage, unplugged his microphone and asked him to leave. His out-of-shape, ill-rehearsed and noncommittal time in Black Flag was over. For the final few songs of the set, members from touring bands Snuff and Jughead's Revenge joined us to play, sing and jam along. It was a lot of fun. I ended up singing a few songs, but I was not up there as the new singer of Black Flag. That decision would come later.
The New Guy
I have been friends and have had a working relationship with Ginn since 2003. We've written, recorded and released some 40 songs together. In 2003, my band Mike V and the Rats opened for Ginn a dozen times as he prepared for the Black Flag benefit shows at the Hollywood Palladium (where I joined Ginn and Black Flag's third singer Dez Cadena on stage as a guest vocalist for the "My War" set). In 2013, Ginn and I toured together as Good For You, playing 85 shows on three continents.
For the past year, besides playing in Good For You, I was also the manager, tour manager and stage manager for Black Flag. I worked closely with Ginn and Reyes on all aspects of the music, touring and marketing of the band. No matter how you slice it, I'm hardly the new guy. Really, I have been moving in this direction since 2003. Through all the years that I've known Ginn, we have discussed the possibility of me singing for a reformed Black Flag several times. Now that we are here, I embrace the opportunity with open arms and the highest level of commitment and dedication to the music possible -- while still having fun, expressing the songs with the energy and passion they deserve and giving the fans the best show I can.
We have been in the studio working on new tracks and are planning a tour that will begin in May. We understand that over the past year, though the band played great shows to happy audiences everywhere we went, it could have been better. There was too much dysfunction within the band and too many distractions getting in the way of the music. Instead of focusing on making the band and music better, the singer would take to Facebook to whine about this or that, pandering to an Internet audience he valued more than his own bandmates. It was an unfortunate time, but it's behind us now.
Adding these vocal duties to an already busy life with my skateboarding, my brands Elephant Skateboards and Street Plant Clothing, my family life and other obligations is not a stretch for me. In 1984, I chose to live life full-out and full-on after seeing Black Flag play for the first time, and at the age of 43, I'm still undaunted. This is going to be fun!
Black Flag is coming to your town as a more cohesive, unyielding and tenacious band than ever before. We'll see you up the road. Thanks for your support.