“Shit’s fucked up!” Offspring guitarist Kevin ‘Noodles’ Wasserman says with a hearty chuckle, before adding wryly: “I wonder who said that?”
He’s currently sat next to his lifelong bandmate, and Offspring frontman Dexter Holland, beaming in from a studio in the US. The duo are deep in the throes of explaining themselves, and their new album ‘Let The Bad Times Roll’, to the waiting press – today, namely, Upset.
Since they started up in the late eighties, the world has revolved a fair few times, and it would seem that things aren’t any better than when The Offspring first penned their debut; an album rife with questions aimed at what was going on around them, albeit on a local level. Truthfully, nothing much has changed at all.
It’s been nearly ten years since their last album, 2012’s ‘Days Go By’, and even though time has indeed progressed forward, it often feels like we’re going backwards. When asked if they’re surprised that the world has continued to eat itself at an alarming rate, Noodles, smirking, reasons with a quote that only someone who’s been around the world on the back of a bus with too much time on their hands could. “[It’s] because of the second law of thermodynamics: within an enclosed system, chaos increases with the arrow of time.”
“When we wrote songs like ‘Shit Is Fucked Up’, that was 10 years ago,” Dexter says, referring to the single from 2008’s ‘Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace’. “We thought stuff was messed up back then, little did we know – oh my gosh – that was nothing.”
“Let me tell you about today!” Noodles adds with a sarcastic giggle. “We were writing songs about the turmoil in the Middle East on our first record – that was child’s play! Now, this is real.”
‘Let The Bad Times Roll’ lends itself to the time. It’s an all-consuming tirade against the state of things – both in the grander scheme and closer to home, with a song to fit every occasion, even one’s they didn’t see coming.
“I mean on this record there’s addiction, of course, you know the state of the world, social unrest… not having sex anymore,” Dexter says, as the echoes of the terrible puns the track is sure to induce such as ‘they don’t give it to me, baby’ come ringing out loud. “There was an article in The Guardian, it just came out like yesterday, that young people are having sex less, and we’re like… we’re onto something!”
Cue laughter at their telepathy skills. “We’ve got a great song about a cabal of gnomes ruling the world! We’re saving that for the next record, gotta be real careful with that one!”
Noodles’ cabal of gnomes refers to the internet, a subject that both he and Dexter quickly digress into a back and forth of quips, insight and general bemusement.
“A lot of the stuff we write about it’s not just what we see happening in the world writ large, but also just interpersonal relationships,” Noodles says, “although those are taking place in a different context now…everything happens over social media.
“Especially this last year, people are more alienated, but I think people were becoming more and more alienated in some respect due to the internet, [becoming] entrenched in their own virtual worlds.”
“The internet’s bad!” Dexter affirms, to which Noodles adds: “I mean it has its good and its bad, we can go into a whole thing just about…”
“I think you have to acknowledge that the internet is an ingredient fuelling, in part, what’s going on now definitely because,” the frontman jumps back in, “it provides so much misinformation or information and conflicting information, right?”
“Well, I mean, you can choose what you want to believe. If you want to believe that there’s this secret international cabal of elves that are stealing your laundry – which is absolutely true – you can find that. And then they’ll have evidence to show you that!”
Dexter adds: “Even more than that, it provides the shield behind which people are just freaking being awful to each other.”
“I call people an idiot all the time on Twitter; it’s one of my favourite things to do – but they deserve it!” Noodles smiles.
“Anyway, we digress a little bit,” Dexter says, reigning it all back in. “But it is a symptom of what we’re talking about, what’s going on in the world and let the bad times roll, that phrase sums it all up for us. You have all this stuff going on in the world, and then you throw a pandemic on top of that, and voila, here we are.”
Voila, indeed. Punks are indeed going to be punk, especially when the world they fought against all those years ago isn’t any better. “Punk rock taught us to question everything,” Noodles explains. “We add that into our music without trying to tell people what to think about it; we just observe what’s going on in the world, as you said and then question it: is this as good as it gets?”
“It’s the desire to question what’s happening in the world,” he continues, “and rebelling against when people tell you can’t. Well, then you gotta try! Or ‘Here, you have to have this’ like, why do I need that? I don’t want that, there’s better stuff out there.”
On where the energy on ‘Bad Times’ – a directly palpable one that’s twice the vigour of some of their younger peers, mind you – comes from Noodles exclaims: “All I gotta do is turn on the news for five minutes!”
“I see us as observers, first and foremost, and the material that inspires us are things that are going on around us,” Dexter explains. “It could be something local like our neighbourhood that was the inspiration for ‘The Kids Aren’t All Right’, or it could be more on a global scale, which I think we’re seeing now for sure.”
Having never really gone away – even during the pandemic, they hit the studio to record a couple of covers including Tiger King’s ‘Hey Kitty Kitty’ – The Offspring know there’s a crowd waiting for them, even after a near-ten year wait for a new record, and for whatever reason the faces seem to constantly get younger.
“I consider it very fortunate that we’ve had fans that have grown up with us, and stayed with us,” Dexter ruminates. “And yet, every time we go out on tour, we see young kids in the very front, and I know they weren’t there last time we came around to play a show. I think it’s cool, and I’m really glad that, for whatever reason, it’s happening with us.”
“Thank god, knock on wood,” Noodles adds, laughing, frantically looking for something to rap upon. “When you’re up on stage every night, jumping up and down, you do feed off the energy of the young people upfront. They give it back to us, and we’re giving it back to them. [We’re] just blessed every day that we get that.”
On what they think the magic formula is that gives them a pull to a new generation when there’s simply so much that can be consumed, Dexter posits that it all draws back to where The Offspring came from.
“We’re creating the kind of music that inspired us when we were kids. I loved that it was energetic, and I loved it was rebellious. The things they were speaking and singing about were things that I could identify with – they didn’t seem sugar-coated the way a lot of popular music did at the time.”
He continues. “We didn’t invent the wheel necessarily, but we’re doing something that inspired us that still has that. I hate to use the word relevance, but it still has that attraction for young people.”
The pesky old internet is what keeps things relevant, and culture itself, in its cyclical nature, has stopped looking to future promise – after all, given the state of today, who knows what tomorrow will hold. So, it’s finding the new generations breaking through, reaching backwards, and grabbing at bits and pieces of yesterday, including The Offspring’s heyday – the 90s.
“My daughter, my 16-year-old, she’s walking around the house, I’m like, ‘Why are you singing [Semisonic smash hit] ‘Closing Time’?!’” Dexter chuckles.
“I’m gonna have to bust out my wallet chain again,” Noodles beams, “I still have that stuff.”
“My son plays in a band; he plays bass in this band, and they sounded like New Order, Bauhaus, Christian Death. I was listening to that stuff 35 years ago!” He adds, “I think it’s rad, but, yeah, it’s kind of like ‘I’ve heard this band before’. And what does that say about the influences?”
Knowing that the key to relevance in a world that chews up the metaphorical tarmac lies in not limiting yourself or your references – few Offspring tracks, bar their cultural significance, lend themselves to details or a specific moment in time. While that’s changed slightly now, especially on the leading titular track where they directly reference Trump quotes, it’s all still about a grander application.
“We wrote a song about Napster, you know, 20 years ago. Now, people hardly know who Napster is,” Noodles says. “Although my son did find my Napster t-shirt in my mom’s stuff of all things. He stole my Napster t-shirt! He’s all stoked about that.”
Another anecdote that pulls back to the idea of the past being far more alluring than whatever waits around the corner, it’s something that’s played on Dexter’s mind.
“I’ve thought about this a lot. I can drive down the street, and I’ll see a kid wearing a Misfits t-shirt, right?” Dexter starts. “And I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, that’s cool’, and I think about the fact that that’s like 40 years old – if I was a kid in the 80s would I see someone walking down the street wearing a Benny Goodman [acclaimed US ‘King of Swing’ in the 1930s] t-shirt?
“There are several lifetimes that occurred from the 50s, 60s and the 70s, and the fact that some things are so steadfast in this day and age is really interesting,” he adds. “I don’t know if it means that music’s not evolving or there isn’t anything good to offer? I’m not sure, but I think it’s fascinating.”
An argument could be made for the above, but more than anything, maybe it just means everything that’s come before already evokes enough. Instead, it’s now about looking at what’s happening, and to question, as Noodles previously mused.
Undeniably, punk is now more of a feeling than angry, snarling guitars, but no matter how many lifetimes are lived, some things never change. That emotion or energy comes out in different ways, and given The Offspring have seen a few things in their time, it only seemed right to pick their brains as to some of the most ‘punk’ things they’ve witnessed.
“The time that kid lit himself on fire to do a stage dive.” Noodles recalls, “We were playing somewhere in the mountains, it was this makeshift stage, a flatbed trailer was the stage, and some kid jumped up on stage, lit himself on fire and did a stage dive.”
“That was in like Oregon somewhere?” Dexter adds. “I remember at Brixton Academy a kid jumped off the balcony. I think he was just excited; it was like the ultimate stage dive.”
“A crazy crowd that night – they also stole my glasses and ripped my underwear,” Noodles says, baffled. “I think they grabbed my wallet chain, [and] stole my wallet. So; stole my wallet, ripped my underwear underneath my pants, and stole my glasses at Brixton Academy.”
“It’s not all glamour!” Dexter exclaims as the pair break into more hearty laughter. Maybe things aren’t getting better, but sometimes you do just have to let the bad times roll.
Taken from the May issue of Upset. The Offspring’s album ‘Let The Bad Times Roll’ is out 16th April.