With a fistful of quirky pop punk anthems, a sly sense of humour and a knack for knocking out great phat tunes – The Offspring are sitting pretty.
The last ten years has seen them rise from being also rans on the already busy So- Cal punk rock underground supporting the likes of NOFX and other emerging punk rock heroes, to becoming a stadium staple the world over.
This month their seventh album, ‘Splinter’, was released – yet another set of catch, daft, yet brilliantly produced, powerful, contemporary blasts of punk rock power – it’s almost a return to the band’s roots with frontmam Dexter Holland re-listening to the band’s earlier albums to realign the band’s muse. The album kicks off with 30,000 fans singing along with The Offspring at Reading Festival and it seems the band remain in their pomp and booking themselves in for another couple of years of big time success.
In 2003 it all seems very casual, but at one time The Offspring were very much runts of the litter, a part time band of students and a guitar player, Noodles, who was a school janitor!
Surrounded by the emerging pop punk heroes of the day like Green Day, Operation Ivy, etc. their first two albums sold sod all. No-one could predict that when the band were signed to the newly set up the Californian crew who kick started the whole melodic punk rock scene, Bad Religion label, Epitaph – that they were about to release the best selling independent album of all time, ‘Smash’.
The mass market success shocked the label, caught the music biz on the hop and surprised the band themselves.
“We were a band for 10 years before ‘Smash’ came out. We played all the little places – it was the furthest thing from our minds. We were opening for NOFX – that was as big as it got, so the success was a nice added bonus…I’m ok with it!
“The current state of the country I covered on ‘Americana’. This album is called ‘Splinter’ because the lyrical topics are about strange personalities, people cracking-up…”
It wasn’t our driving factor when we started. The big thing was Guns n Roses and metal bands. I knew all these guys and they used to be punks, and they decided to grow their hair and wear leather trousers – they would move to Hollywood and live in a loft, thinking they were going to make it. It seemed so dumb to me and I thought for one pal ‘you are not going to make it as there are a million people doing the same thing as you’. I thought, no way are we going to make it as well! I’m going to stay in school and play at weekends.”
Offspring’s affable frontman Dexter Holland is in a chipper mood. It’s alright for him, he’s got the knack for knocking out songs that turn dull old concrete stadiums into punk rock party zones. The Offspring may have been ignored or sneered at by critics and the world over but they easily out sell the likes of The White Stripes and The Strokes combined. In the real world the band’s deceptively simple anthems have become a staple for a generation. And yet, despite all the success and the carping from sour faced anarchos, the band remain very much attached to the punk idiom that spawned them.
“That was our roots. I was listening to punk bands and that’s where I still identify myself. I mean we throw different stuff in and some of the stuff is more rock, more quirky – what we sing about in lyrics and the type of songs we do is not out of character for a punk band.”
And it’s that keenness to fuse other styles into their patented big rush of guitar action that keeps The Offspring sounding fresh. Not trapped by any punk rock orthodoxy, they may still keep the guitar rush and snappy choruses of the trad punk style, but they are also willing to cross it with other contemporary sounds.”
“‘On ‘Splinter’ we have songs with a hip hop verse and a punk chorus…we used the keyboard player who worked with Tupac and that brings that ghetto sound to it for sure…the album produced by Brendan O’Brian who did our last record, he’s a great producer. It’s our second record together. We know each other inside out, it’s like going to work with your friend instead of trying to work it out.”
When The Offspring cheered up the rock community in the post Curt comedown, they, along with fellow Californian crew Green Day, opened up a whole new scene. Punk rock had become resilient as an underground music since its late seventies inception, punk’s tantalising influence had been mainly to flavour the mainstream – even now useless teen pop stars and dull TV presenters will stick on a Ramones T shirt if their gormless stylist tells them to, in the hope that some of the music’s fierceness will perhaps ‘sex’ them up, or give them some kind of roots-rock- rhythm; and as for dopey footballer uber square David Beckham waltzing around in a Crass T shirt, well how hilarious was that? Post 1995 punk rock has become very mainstream and the charts these days will always have some gang of grinning chipmunks dealing out some kind of cheap thrills teen anthem with spiky guitars…from Pink being called the Princess of Punk, to Busted jumping up and down like a bunch of choreographed clowns.The very fabric of punk has become a mainstream marketing tool, all the anger and the danger has soaked away and been replaced by slick marketing…
Hey Dexter this is all your damn fault!
“I always say don’t blame us, blame Green Day!” he laughs, adding “I always thought a lot of bands remind me what Green Day have done and I think that is great and I laud them for it. They are a very influential band. There have been tons of bands to me that sound like NOFX but I don’t hear bands that sound like us. I don’t hear people talk about Offspring bands so much, and I don’t know why that is! Maybe no-one wants to do that! Maybe Green Day are easier to copy!”
The latest Offspring missive ‘Splinter’ addresses current America through the eyes of cracked individuals, in the classic Offspring cartoon style it hints at the neuroses and fear in modern Americana without making the BIG STATEMENT, relying on sly humour to make it’s point. The band’s patented blend of rapid-fire musicianship, unforgettable hooks, youth culture angst, and droll penetrating wit, can be heard in songs like: ‘Worst Hangover Ever’, ‘Spare Me The Details’, ‘When You’re In Prison’, ‘Da Hui’, and the album’s first single ‘Hit That’.”
“The current state of the country I covered on ‘Americana’. This album is called ‘Splinter’ because the lyrical topics are about strange personalities, people cracking-up, that’s what we are covering on songs like, ‘When You’re In Prison’, ‘Worst Hangover’ . They are pretty self explanatory and I thought ‘Splinter’ made sense – there is some social commentary on there with ‘Da Hui’…that’s about a group of guys – Hawaiian surfers born and raised on Hawaii’s North Shore, where some of the best surfing in the world is, and because they live there and grew up there, they don’t want outsider’s like me – like white guys from the mainland getting on their surf…it can get very territorial! They are good guys but it’s all about respect – you approach people the right way…these guys are pretty tough…if you approach these guys the wrong way in the water, they could take you out and beat you up! And I thought it’s a good thing to write a song… about a dumb white guy surfer who’s intimidated by them!”
And while The Offspring are not out on the road, Dexter is putting his money where his mouth is. His own label Nitro has been quietly racking up the punk rock mileage with some crucial release of its own, from breaking the currently ‘entering into the mainstream neo gothic rush of AFI’, to bailing out British legends The Damned with last year’s fantastic ‘Grave Disorder’ comeback; as well as a host of smaller but no less kick ass acts – Nitro has been a crucial operation on its own.
“We did a record with The Damned and it was a great experience – I grew up with that band! It’s a really good record and I don’t think it got the attention it deserved – that’s the bottom line on that, and they have left. We are still friends – they are doing something else now and I look forward to hearing it…I was happy to have them, they are working on another record, Rufio are one of the new bands – they are just becoming known in the UK, they are the next up and coming thing; also got The Start and Don’t Look Down – keep an eye out for them…I sign the bands but it’s impossible to be there full time; I check in every day, and that’s my role. The label started as my ‘vision’. We sat down yesterday and listened to six new things and we ended deciding to pick up one of them…when it works it’s like a great feeling, very rewarding…like AFI…they were on my label for five albums – they kept on getting better and better. I wasn’t the cause of their success – that was down to them. I was proud to offer them a home for all that time; a major label would not have allowed them that kind of space.”
The DIY ethic of punk rock is not forgotten by the multi million dollar band who slogged it out on the gutter circuit for years.
“Punk rock is all about grafting up from bottom. It’s how we did it. Book your own tours and make your own shirts. I can tell kids can tell when it’s real and not real.”
And if this finally fucks up? Well Dexter could always go back to college and get his microbiology degree.
“I’ve been thinking about it too much recently. I got the masters and was half way to doctorate – up till then I could tour and then go back to school, but as soon as ‘Smash’ came out that changed. I’d like to finish it off one day…it would be something to fall back on, ha, ha, ha!”
Qualified with full honours from the Punk Rock University, Dr Dexter Holland professor of punk rock and microbiology.
Official site – www.offspring.com/