When Good Riddance parted ways five years ago, many fans (including this interviewer) were surprised – shocked even – that this social and musical force would no longer continue to play the songs that had become so adored over the 10 years the band was together. A couple of months ago, Good Riddance shocked fans a second time when they announced that they were reuniting to play a few shows, but with no promises of extensive touring or new music.
Just before sitting down to watch the Dallas Stars-Pittsburg Penguins game in his Santa Cruz home, lead singer Russ Rankin spoke to Punknews interviewer Gen Handley about the reunion, the GR album he would love to reissue, and the team he thinks will win the Stanley Cup this year.
Can you explain how Good Riddance got back together?
We hadnât really thought about it in five years. We had tons of offers to play for pretty good amounts of money, some pretty good situations, but none of us were really just that interested in it and we had a lot of other stuff going on. Chuck and Luke wanted to meet for coffee to talk about it and I wasnât interested in playing again, but I thought Iâd meet up with them and hear them out. They made a lot of good points and I realized that we all really missed the songs - a lot. And we were all at places in our lives where we felt we could have a lot of fun, without too much pressure on us, and just get a chance to play those songs again.
What good points did they make at that time?
Just how a lot of the stuff that had driven us to the decision we made five years ago was either no longer relevant or was water under the bridge. When we stopped playing, it was because we werenât able to perform and to tour with the regularity that we were used to and we felt like we either wanted to be at the top of our game or not at all. And itâs so competitive when youâre a constantly touring band and youâre out there competing with all of these other bands, worrying about door counts and worried about record sales and lots of other pressures that come along with it.
At this point, we donât have any of that. We all feel like weâve left a bit of a legacy and weâre all at peace with it. So we just want to have some fun and it turns out that we all really miss the songs.
Along with really missing the songs, has anything else happened over the past five years?
Well, the other guys, like Chuck (Platt, bassist) and Luke (Pabich, guitarist) for instance, both have families - Chuck has two kids, Luke has three kids, both are married, both have careers and are a lot mellower now. I think all of us are.
But when you say "mellower," that doesnât necessarily mean there isnât any fire or passion anymore, right?
Yeah, I think weâre able to approach the music with a lot more purity now, without these other distractions. Itâs just us, our instruments and these songs we wrote. And weâre not really worried about our place on the musical landscape anymore - thatâs come and gone.
So the band was concerned about how it was viewed by the industry and other bands?
Yeah, things like Punknews, critics, other bands, the audience, peopleâs changing tastes, how music is constantly changing and what was cool at one point is not cool anymore - and I think thatâs natural and thatâs normal. What happened for us was that we got to a place where we were what we were, and music was changing, but we werenât changing along with it. What happens when that goes down is you get less people at your shows every time you go out and you sell less records. So five years ago, we had a couple of choices: we could be that band that kept kicking the dead horse, trying hard to make it work, changing our look, changing our style and changing our whole aesthetic; or we could just walk away with what weâve done. We decided on the latter.
You mentioned how it was an issue that you werenât changing with the times before you parted ways. Does that mean that this time the band will be changing now that youâre back together?
No, weâre exactly the same. Now itâs not even an afterthought because we donât worry about competing with our peers. We shouldnât have worried about it back then, but we did anyway - in hindsight, it seems kind of silly. But in the moment, you really worry how such-and-such band had 10 more people at their show than you did or how our last record sold more copies than this one did and the sky is falling, you know? In the moment, it seemed really important, but looking back, it was pretty silly.
So Good Riddance is finally at peace now with their musicâ¦
I would say thatâs a good way of summing it up, yeah.
Do you think that lyrics to an older song, like "Mother Superior" still hold up today?
You know, we were getting ready for a rehearsal recently and I was revisiting these songs - most of which I havenât listened to in five years - and one of the most depressing things was how true so many of these lyrics still are. Like, I could show somebody the lyric sheet and theyâd be like, "Oh, youâre talking about this thatâs happening right now." It was depressing because there was a split second when I felt like sort of a visionary, but then I realized I wrote these songs 16 years ago and nothingâs changed - in some cases, things have gotten worse.
This was another thing with the band that we were not affecting any change. My biggest goal in the band was to affect some kind of positive change in the world and Iâm sure at some point we did, but itâs hard sometimes to see that if anything, it was a drop in the bucket or it was like throwing pebbles at an elephant.
Is Good Riddance going to write or records any new music in the near future?
Thatâs definitely not in the plan right now - we donât anticipate doing that. I canât tell you for sure if it will ever happen, butâ¦
Would you ever consider reissuing any past albums, like how Lagwagon did recently?
Iâve always wanted to remix our second album Comprehensive Guide to Moderne)- I donât know if Iâll ever get around to it or if itâs even worth bothering with, but I think that if I would have known then what I know now about production and engineering, there are a lot of things we would have done differently. Although, I think the songs themselves are some of our strongest songs.
Thatâs got to be my favorite Good Riddance albumâ¦
Yeah, thatâs by far our most popular album. I love almost every song on there and when we recorded it, we were still really new in the studio, but we thought we knew a thing or two and I would love to remix that someday.
As a singer, as a songwriter, do you still have a lot that you need to get off your chest?
It seems that way. I just finished, last week, recording my solo album and thereâs a lot of political songs on that too. Iâm still writing a column every month and thatâs about politics. So yeah, I still have something to say.
Something that Iâve always liked about Good Riddance songs is there is that blend of political lyrics with romantic ones. Does that bring some kind of balance to your music as a lyricist?
I think people are drawn to writing what they know and those are the two yin and yang that I kind of had going on. Iâve always been inspired by bands that had really good relationship songs that somehow managed to resonate without being cheesy or trite. Iâve always sort of strived to emulate that because I know how cool it feels when you hear a song that exactly mirrors or represents the way you feel inside that no one else understands. So I endeavor to pull that off - whether or not I do that with those or the political ones, I donât know.
Who are some of your favorite lyricists or writers that you admire?
Definitely Shane MacGowan would be number one. Probably Richard Butler from the Psychedelic Furs as number two. Rhet Miller from the Old 97âs and Iâve always loved how Jello Biafra wrote lyrics - they always got me really fired up. That was my first introduction to political punk music -that was the first time I recognized the power that music had to be more than just entertainment.
When I first heard the Dead Kennedys, up until then, I was listening to like, A-ha, the Thompson Twins, and Wang Chung on the radio and they werenât really telling me anything - other than about dancing. And when I heard the Dead Kennedys, I heard them talking about Cambodia and politics and the president and Watergate and what our tax money was funding through the CIA. I was like, "Wow. I didnât know you could do this through music and how powerful it can be." It really grabbed me.
And do you feel like you have done the same through Good Riddance and Only Crime? That youâve written powerful lyrics that inspire change?
I donât know. Sometimes I do and sometimes I donât. Itâs hard.
Becausea Good Riddance song can be pretty movingâ¦
Iâve had a lot of people contact me over the years to say how our music positively affected them. Whether it was to get them involved with politics, to start a Food Not Bombs chapter in their town. A lot of people have gone vegetarian because of our music or our lyrics or because of organizations we supported. Thatâs really consequential and humbling to know that, but at the same time, we still live in a world thatâs beyond fucked up. As an American, itâs really tough to swallow sometimes and I always feel like I could have done more - itâs a constant battle in my head.
Can that drive you a bit crazy sometimes? Or have you come to terms with it?
Well Iâm one of those people who, if 10 people say, "That was really cool what you did" and one person says, "That really sucked," I tend to dwell on the one person who said I sucked. So, itâs tough to live that way (laughs).
And thatâs why I donât go on Punknews. I canât read 1,500 comments about people saying how bad we suck. I donât have a thick enough skin.
On top of the few Good Riddance shows planned right now, are there any plans for a tour at all?
Weâre not planning any long tours. Weâre just doing short little trips wherever we can. I donât anticipate with our schedules and family obligations being able to do a lot of touring - itâs just not feasible.
How about Only Crime? Is that continuing as well?
Yeah, weâre almost finished with our third album.
Whenâs that coming out?
I have no idea right now.
Are you still working with the Kootenay Ice? Howâs that going?
Itâs going good. We won the Western Hockey League last year and got to go to the Memorial Cup and that was pretty cool - I didnât actually go but was really happy for the team.
I remember talking to Thomas (Barnett, Strike Anywhere) a couple of years ago about good advice he has received from fellow singers. He told me that you told him to chew on raw ginger to preserve his voice before shows?Have you ever received any wise words from your peers for singing or your music?
Iâve collected a bunch of things like that over the years, but I canât pinpoint a specific quote or phrase. I learned a lot about being prepared to play and putting on a show from touring with Sick Of It All and watching those guys every night. That was a big thing for our band - we really learned a lot about how to be professional and how to get ourselves to play from Sick Of It All. Thatâs something that really sticks out for me.
I also learned a lot about taking care of my voice and warming up my voice from Chad (Price), the singer from ALL (and Drag the River). The vocal warm-ups I do are things he taught me five or six years ago. So I always try to pick up little things along the way and see what works for other people and I always am looking to improve and learn.
How is your voice doing?
Well Good Riddance just had its first practice and I pulled it off and I just finished the solo album, but thatâs a lot mellower and I wasnât really pushing that hard - and Iâm going to get out and finish up the vocals for the Only Crime record pretty soon too.
My last question isnât about music. Who do you think is going to take home the Stanley Cup this year?
Iâm obligated to say New Jersey, but I donât know. I think Boston is looking good to repeat and the Rangers are having a good year. In the West, I wouldnât sleep on Chicago or Detroit. San Joseâs always in the mix, but they seem to have the ability to close the deal - I always like to say that nobody knows how to do less with more than the San Jose Sharks (laughs).
(long pause) I donât know. Anybody but the Flyers or the Rangers and Iâll be okay with it.