Outside of legendary founding guitarist Greg Ginn, Black Flag has been the metaphorical axe of hardcore punk over the last five decades.
The various blades and handles have come and gone — you'd definitely describe Henry Rollins as a hard-chopping example of the former — but the message has remained the same: that of unapologetic, beer-stained, never-say-die, in-the-trenches punk beloved by surfers, skateboarders, and more, the world over.
Joining a group with such an enduring back catalogue and dedicated fan base would be intimidating for any musician, regardless of their chops. Count drummer Isaias Gil, who joined Black Flag last April, as one of that number.
- Rob Wallace | ReelNegative.com
- Black Flag
"To enter this mix is kind of surreal," the 35-year-old Houstonian tells the Flyer, ahead of Black Flag's gig at Growlers this Saturday.
"[Growing up], I was familiar with bits of the music and had heard of it, but I wasn't super familiar with the entire catalogue. As I started diving into it, it was cool to see all the musicality in it and the different routes it takes, the different eras. I'm just learning the whole history. I've come to appreciate it way more now than I could have then."
Gil's path to Black Flag has been an interesting one. Born in Acapulco, Mexico, Gil moved to Texas as a child and didn't pick up drumming until he was 15. The late start hasn't hurt him professionally though, with his résumé including studio work with pop-soul icon Macy Gray and Van Halen's David Lee Roth, as well as stretches touring with Americana staples Charlie and the Regrets, Grand Old Grizzly, and desert rockers Thunderado.
Yet it was Gil's link with lead singer Mike Vallely, whom he had collaborated with on a solo project, which saw him brought into the Black Flag fold. Gil says his positive working dynamic with Vallely, a legendary pro skateboarder who joined Black Flag full-time in 2013, has spilled over into the group itself.
- Rob Wallace | ReelNegative.com
"That same heart and mentality transferred over to the band, right now," he says. "When I first met Greg, it was just him and me in a rehearsal space. He was on bass. I had learned a few songs, [but] I was really nervous because I didn't know the entire catalogue.
"He said, 'Hey, man, let's just jam and see how this feels.' That's what we did. Everything was really organic — they really wanted to know who I was as a person rather than the chops I could play or anything like that."
Bassist Joseph Noval joined Black Flag at the same time as Gil, before the group embarked on a 52-date U.S. tour last year. Memphis is the ninth stop on a 30-date, two-month tour this winter, while a tour of Latin America looms in March.
Exhaustive stuff, though Gil reckons the band's dynamic of being loose but staying tight definitely gets the most out of its members. "I worked with other people where it's very business [oriented] and you check your personal stuff and your feelings at the door," he says. "With Black Flag, it's the opposite, and I've had the good fortune of playing with some people who are like that. So, coming into this, it was a real nice welcoming thing, knowing what I was walking into. Especially with it being Black Flag. I mean, it's iconic. Everyone sees the bars, and they recognise it. To know the history of the band — and here I am, bright-eyed and green to everything. It's very welcoming. I'm like, 'Come on, let's do this.'"
With only one new album (2013's What The...) since Rollins left the band in 1986, expect Black Flag to dive into the classics in Memphis. Well-known for their support of the punk community and fostering talented bands rising from within it, the group will be supported by Phoenix ska/punk three-piece The Linecutters at Growlers.
Black Flag, with special guests The Linecutters, play Growlers on Saturday, January 18th. Doors open at 7 p.m. $25.