Good Riddance
Contributed by shogun, Posted by Fat Wreck Chords Interviews

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 hadn’t 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 wasn’t interested in playing again, but I thought I’d 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 weren’t 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 it’s so competitive when you’re a constantly touring band and you’re 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 don’t have any of that. We all feel like we’ve left a bit of a legacy and we’re 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 doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t any fire or passion anymore, right?
Yeah, I think we’re able to approach the music with a lot more purity now, without these other distractions. It’s just us, our instruments and these songs we wrote. And we’re not really worried about our place on the musical landscape anymore - that’s 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, people’s changing tastes, how music is constantly changing and what was cool at one point is not cool anymore - and I think that’s natural and that’s normal. What happened for us was that we got to a place where we were what we were, and music was changing, but we weren’t 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 we’ve done. We decided on the latter.

You mentioned how it was an issue that you weren’t changing with the times before you parted ways. Does that mean that this time the band will be changing now that you’re back together?
No, we’re exactly the same. Now it’s not even an afterthought because we don’t worry about competing with our peers. We shouldn’t 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 music…
I would say that’s 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 haven’t 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 they’d be like, "Oh, you’re talking about this that’s 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 nothing’s 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 I’m sure at some point we did, but it’s 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?
That’s definitely not in the plan right now - we don’t anticipate doing that. I can’t tell you for sure if it will ever happen, but…

Would you ever consider reissuing any past albums, like how Lagwagon did recently?
I’ve always wanted to remix our second album Comprehensive Guide to Moderne)- I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to it or if it’s 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.

That’s got to be my favorite Good Riddance album…
Yeah, that’s 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 there’s a lot of political songs on that too. I’m still writing a column every month and that’s about politics. So yeah, I still have something to say.

Something that I’ve 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. I’ve always been inspired by bands that had really good relationship songs that somehow managed to resonate without being cheesy or trite. I’ve 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 don’t 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 97’s and I’ve 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 weren’t 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 didn’t 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 you’ve written powerful lyrics that inspire change?
I don’t know. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. It’s hard.

Becausea Good Riddance song can be pretty moving…
I’ve 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. That’s really consequential and humbling to know that, but at the same time, we still live in a world that’s beyond fucked up. As an American, it’s really tough to swallow sometimes and I always feel like I could have done more - it’s a constant battle in my head.

Can that drive you a bit crazy sometimes? Or have you come to terms with it?
Well I’m 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, it’s tough to live that way (laughs).

And that’s why I don’t go on Punknews. I can’t read 1,500 comments about people saying how bad we suck. I don’t 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?
We’re not planning any long tours. We’re just doing short little trips wherever we can. I don’t anticipate with our schedules and family obligations being able to do a lot of touring - it’s just not feasible.

How about Only Crime? Is that continuing as well?
Yeah, we’re almost finished with our third album.

When’s that coming out?
I have no idea right now.

Are you still working with the Kootenay Ice? How’s that going?
It’s going good. We won the Western Hockey League last year and got to go to the Memorial Cup and that was pretty cool - I didn’t 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?
I’ve collected a bunch of things like that over the years, but I can’t 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. That’s 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 that’s a lot mellower and I wasn’t really pushing that hard - and I’m going to get out and finish up the vocals for the Only Crime record pretty soon too.

My last question isn’t about music. Who do you think is going to take home the Stanley Cup this year?
I’m obligated to say New Jersey, but I don’t know. I think Boston is looking good to repeat and the Rangers are having a good year. In the West, I wouldn’t sleep on Chicago or Detroit. San Jose’s 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 don’t know. Anybody but the Flyers or the Rangers and I’ll be okay with it.