Offspring: “We are back to punk rock”
«Oh Rolling Stone! Finally! It took 30 years, but we did it! ». In front of me, in the Zoom window open on the monitor, are Noodles and Dexter Holland – guitar and vocals, respectively, from Offspring. For them it is morning and this is probably the first interview of a long line during the day: despite the commitments that await them and the time, they are jovial and ready to joke, also thanks to a flask-thermos presumably full of hot coffee.
They speak from the control room of their recording studio, as close-knit as only a couple of friends who have known each other for decades can be. It’s been nine years since the band’s last long-distance rehearsal, but finally on April 16th – on Concord Records – a new album is released: it’s called Let the Bad Times Roll and the title track has already been released as a single. We let them tell us some background and the long path that led to the record.
Several years have passed since the last studio album: what have you done in the meantime? I know Dexter got his doctorate …
Dexter: In fact, it’s been a long time since the last album. And I did my part in all of that, as I went back to my studies … and I always had a lot of homework (ride). Actually, the thing is, we just didn’t let it out earlier because it just didn’t feel like the right time.
Noodles: Anyway we played a lot live, every three, four months we did some dates or a tour. And in the meantime we have worked hard in our studio. A new record could have been ready four or five years ago, but listening to what we recorded there was always something that didn’t seem to work. It only happened two, three years ago that, suddenly, things started to turn in the right direction: we had a very creative moment and at least five or six songs were born which then ended up on this new record. And from there we started to work seriously. Then, last year, the pandemic came and it was a disappointment because we had practically finished the album and were starting to think about playing live to promote it. But seeing the situation we thought: hey, maybe it’s wiser to stop for a moment, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to release a record in these conditions, if then it will be impossible to travel, tour and play live.
So you kept it in the drawer even though it was ready?
Noodles: Actually not really. We started working on it again, other ideas came up, we did some finishing touches. And in the end we said to ourselves: ok, the record is really finished. And we can’t keep it hidden there, we have to feed it to the fans, who have to listen to it.
Dexter: The pandemic really put us on the ground at first… everything was ready, we had plans for a wonderful year playing around and it all went away in a few days. But, in hindsight, I have to say that it was good, in a way, to have the chance to stop and listen to the album one last time, realizing that we could still do something. And in fact it has improved even more, with a little more work.
I sensed a return to your early 90s sound, very direct and punk, in this new record …
Dexter: This is our 10th album and we asked ourselves: what can we do now? As if it were a challenge: what can we propose?
Noodles: A rock opera? We could have done a rock opera (ride)!
Dexter: In the past, especially on the two previous albums, we pushed our musical boundaries a little bit, we went further. But then there comes a time when you realize that maybe it’s time to go back a bit. And so we wanted to make a record… not typical, I would say, but definitely classic, really Offpsring style.
The pieces of Let the Bad Times Roll they are definitely upbeat, punk, sunny and fun in terms of sound. But the lyrics are often dark or quite serious. It’s an interesting contrast …
Dexter: I think it is an element, this contrast between music and lyrics, that we have always carried with us. It often happened that they said to us: “your songs sound cheerful, but then I read the words and there is really serious stuff inside”. I believe that we are very careful observers of what surrounds us, so we talk about what we see. We are not a political band, but we describe what we have around us. And what we have seen in the last couple of years is not good: social unrest, opiate addiction … these are all things we wanted to talk about.
The piece Breaking the Bones it has a nice Devo feeling in the main riff, it brings to mind the hymn Mongoloid: is it a wanted tribute?
Noodles: Wow, this is a compliment! We are huge Devo fans!
Dexter: This song in my opinion is very much in the style of old punk rock, the one I listened to as a kid and recorded on the radio on the houses …
Noodles: It also reminds me a lot of TSOL, but the comparison with Devo flatters me. After all, when you listen to a lot of music for so many years, you never know when something will resurface in the pieces you write … it is a natural process and influences continually emerge in what we write …
Photo: Daveed Benito
The words of We Never Have Sex Anymore they intrigued me: how was the piece born and what is the meaning you attribute to it?
Dexter: You see, they usually write songs about picking up and sleeping with someone for sex. I, on the other hand, wanted to make a song that talked about … all the others, in short, all of us (ride). No, really, it sounds like a joke, but it is. When I started writing it I immediately thought it was a text that was easy to identify with and it seemed strange to me that no one had thought of it before… it is that sometimes the simplest things are also those that escape. This in my opinion is a universal theme and it’s also pretty depressing – that’s why we paired it with some fun, swinging music, to make it easier to even have a laugh on it.
Noodles: Everyone knows what it feels like to be entangled in a story that doesn’t go well, one you just want to escape from …
Dexter: Yes, the text is about a man who knows he is in a relationship where he is not respected and counts for nothing, so he complains about it. I would say it could be the protagonist of Self Esteem, but 27 years later.
Noodles: That’s right: it’s him! And he’s been with the girl from the third verse for years and years Self Esteem!
You worked with Bob Rock again for this new album: what is it like to be in the studio with a giant like him?
Noodles: Great, he’s great. Dexter met him first to test the waters. Then when he arrived in the studio to start working it was as if we had broken up the day before, even if we hadn’t seen each other for a long time. In a quarter of an hour we were already there working on a new piece, all with extreme naturalness. He has a gift: he always knows how to get the best out of your sound and how to make it the most in the studio. He is an excellent guitarist and always has new technological games to experiment, for the guitar, but above all he has a special intuition: he always identifies the best pieces, the ideas that work. And then he tells you: this stuff is going to be great! At the same time he also knows when a piece just isn’t right… he’s very encouraging and gives you all his support, but he doesn’t accept compromises: things have to be done at the top or nothing. And if a song doesn’t work, it tells you in no uncertain terms.
With the disaster that the pandemic has brought to the concert arena, do you have any idea how you will promote the new album in the coming months? Do you have any plans already defined?
Dexter: We hope we can. Unfortunately it is something that does not depend on us, of course. But as soon as it is decided that it is safe to let many people gather together for a concert, we will be on stage. We already have some dates set for the summer …
Noodles: Yes, but unfortunately the first cancellations are already on the way. We hope that the virus slows down or disappears so that we can go back to touring. But we also started talking about doing something online, via zoom or something. Because it is important to keep in touch with the fans… of course, playing remotely, in streaming, is not like doing it live, but we are talking about it, if only waiting to get back to normal.