After years of drama, this Friday sees the long-awaited release of What We Do Is Secret, the biopic that tracks the rise and fall of notorious Los Angeles punk icons the Germs. Formed in 1977, Darby Crash, Pat Smear, Lorna Doom and Don Bolles became notorious for loud, fast songs about sex and destruction which they played with amateurish glee at their riot-inducing live shows. In recent years, the band has seen something of a renaissance, touring occasionally with What We Do Is Secret star Shane West in place of the late Crash. "I never thought so much fun being a Germ," West says. "But I always remember that Darby was booed off the stage a lot back in the day, too." Click above for an exclusive clip from What We Do Is Secret.
How did you end up in this role?
To be honest there's no great story. I just had an audition the meeting came through, and I jumped up and was like "really, they're doing what?" I'm thankful it's so independent, because otherwise I don't think I would have had the opportunity to do it. It was difficult, but that's what I feel when the best movies come because you're not trying to care about foreign rights or who is getting people into the seats. You're actually trying to make the movie good.
Were you a Germs fan before, or did your research of Darby come after you got the role?
The real research started to begin when I got the role. I had heard the regular set of punk bands out of the L.A. scene: Black Flag, the Germs, X. I had heard of Darby's legend, but that's it. I knew of "Lexicon Devil" and "Circle One." I might have heard those two songs.
Is it difficult playing somebody who actually lived? It seems it'd be hard to keep the balance between the actual facts and you're interpretation who Darby was.
I had never done it before. I think it's gonna be different for any actor or actress who has that chance. I'm not a method actor, but I feel it's good to be somewhat method when it has something to do with a character like that. I also feel that you always put a little of yourself in the roles that you do, otherwise they don't come off as believable. Darby is a dark role, but the Shane in me was so excited to do that role, to put on those clothes, to see people cast for all the other little roles. I also immersed myself in the music, which was great. I listened to the Germs Anthology every day.
You've gone on several tours with the Germs as their frontman. What's your musical background?
My parents were in their own version of punk bands or what not in '76, '77. I was born in '78. So I was towards the end of the original movement, but they liked that music, so consequently it's what I listened to as a child. I grew up listening to the Clash heavily, and the Jam, and Blondie, and Elvis Costello, and the Kinks. I always thought I would be doing music rather than acting. I started my own band for a while. A pop-punk type band, more Greenday-ish I guess, a little darker than that. I had that for a good seven or eight years. I sang and played rhythm guitar on that, and now I'm singing for the Germs.
How did the first of those shows come up?
People started talking about it as a rumor, and I even think a journalist brought it up with an interview we were doing four years ago. We did the wrap party, and I sang at it with the Germs, and people enjoyed it because it was fun and they hadn't done it in 25 years. Pat, Lorna and Don thought it was a good idea, so we gave it a shot. We played a secret show at the Echo with the Adolescents, and we played this huge show with Suicidal Tendencies at the Olympic Auditorium, with Flipper and Fear. That was way intimidating.
What was the general reaction?
When it started, everyone was leery. It's not a thing that normally anyone would think would have happened, so there was a lot of negativity. In the beginning, the crowds were 80% negative and I was pretty much fighting for my life. It's gone down to about 10% negative which is great. It will never be 100% positive, but now the fans have seen us doing the show and they know it's gonna be a good one. They know it's gonna be tight and sloppy in the essence of the Germs. I have a blast doing it.
This movie has admittedly been long in gestation, but at this point it seems like now is an appropriate time for its release, both because of the focus on the L.A. scene and because of the general sense of nihilism in America today. Right now feels like '77, doesn't it?
I'm glad that it's coming out during a time where it's a little bit more relevant. But I'll be honest with you, it wasn't on purpose. I've been trying to get this out for four years.
What went wrong?
We had a solid year of having shot half the movie but then we ran out of finance. We had a year before we started again. I went on tour with the band during that time to stay in the mindset.
What's your favorite Germs song to perform?
I love "No God." I've always loved the start of that song, and the barrage of the drums before things come together has always got me off. "Lion's Share" is a well constructed pop-punk song. "What We Do is Secret" and "The Slave," which are two minute songs, and its so much fun to know that if your someone watching the show, you could go to pee and come back and two songs have already played and you've missed 15% of the set.