The Offspring -now in their 29th year as a band- are currently on tour, supporting their 9th studio album Days Go By and playing both old and new songs all over the U.S. before they hit Japan and Australia later this year. Punknews writer Jason Epstein had a phone chat with Offspring guitarist Kevin "Noodles" Wasserman to talk about the new album, past members and the (recent) time they found themselves caught up in the wake of a politically-charged shooting.
The new album, Days Go By, has faster, more aggressive punk rock songs in general than Rise and Fall or Splinter did. What brought about that change?
Oh man, it's been so long since I've listened to those records. For me, this record is more diverse. It seems like there's more…you know, we've got "OC Guns," we've got "Cruising California," " All I Have Left is You" and "Dirty Magic" (which is a remake of an older song), so it seems like this is the most diverse record we've ever done.
Oh I definitely agree, but the punk songs specifically seem to be faster and more aggressive than the ones on the last couple of records even though there is that diversity.
Right, yeah, I don't know. Those songs are just easy for us in a way. We just spent our time to make them well…"Dividing By Zero," "Secrets From the Underground" and "Slim Pickens"…those songs, you know I think what it is is we're harder to please as music fans, so when we go in to write music we're a little bit harder to please now. I don't think we're maturing really, I just don't, but it's harder for us to please ourselves. Once we get to the studio we want to hear something a little bit different, a little bit newer, but at the same time Dexter kinda has that aggression and those kind of songs are what we love, we feed off that, you know?
Absolutely. Between the similarity in the lyrical content and the proximity between albums, there seems to be a connection between the songs "Gone Away" and "End of the Line," sort of like "End of the Line" is an angrier version or a "Gone Away" part two. Is "End of the Line" about the same person or situation that "Gone Away" was?
No. I know enough to tell you that it's absolutely not. "Gone Away" wasn't really…I don't want to go too much into that but it means so many different things to so many different people and I don't want to go into that too much. But I love that song, it means something to me just like it did to Dexter who wrote the lyrics and I think he was trying to broaden the scope of what he was singing about in that song and make it something that everyone can relate to, you know?
Right on. So, "Cruising California" has been very controversial. I have a theory: what I hear when I listen to it is that you see this trend in pop music and instead of making fun of it with lyrics you do the opposite, you're writing a totally solid piece of pop to show, "Hey, look, anyone can do this, even a punk rock band." So to me, it's a clever jab at pop music in general especially since you guys managed to write something that's good and catchy, even in a rock n' roll context. Still, you aren't playing it live which, again, says a lot about its real purpose. That said, the song seems to be extremely misunderstood, especially since it was released as a single. Can you comment on all of that?
You know what, I don't think I need to anymore. You really just…except for the fact that I want to fucking play it live. I really do. I think it would be funny, you know. All the tough guys that bring their girlfriends to the shows, their girlfriends are going to love it. It's fucking hilarious to me. It's fucking hilarious and I love that people have to ask those questions, you know? And I love what you just said, I really do.
I'm glad I unraveled the mystery.
Yeah, definitely! That was the best way of putting that question I've had ever, yeah. You know growing up, punk rock showed us the way. And we know we've strayed from what a lot of punkers feel is the punk rock kind of way of being but at the same time punk rock was all about breaking the rules anyway, so fuck it, have fun with that if you're not having fun, fuck it. And when it comes to a song like "Cruising California," we would have been the biggest pussies in the world if we didn't put it on the record.
Yeah, if you guys said, "Oh no, what are the punk rockers going to say?," then you'd be the pussies.
"Dirty Magic" was on Ignition 20 years ago and when we put that on there and I had friends telling me, "Why'd you put that on there? It's not punk." Okay, whatever it's a great fucking song. Fuck you. It was a little different [in terms of] circumstances, certainly, but you know.
Because it was the first controversial song you had, "Dirty Magic" was like your first "Cruising California."
Well I don't know if I'd go that far, I think "Pretty Fly" was certainly our first "Cruising California."
Yeah. Is there any chance fans will get to hear any of the remaining unreleased B-sides the Offspring have?
Yeah, eventually. I hope so. We've had a song that….we wrote it on [an] acoustic at Greg's house probably 15 years ago, I wanted the song to be out and we were slated to put it on [one of our] records, but I think it was too different for people. It's definitely an Offspring song; it's very tongue-in-cheek and then [goes along with] all the other stuff too that we've done. You know what happens is a lot of times when a song doesn't seem to be working, we just shelve it, we're done, just kind of over it. And we don't finish them. So all of the songs that we have finished, I hope those get out some day. You know, there's a lot of stuff out there that we've done in vaults somewherI.
It seems like nowadays it would be easy to put something like that out and just say, "Hey, there's a new Offspring song, it's a b-side, it costs a buck on iTunes and here's a link for it."
I've always joked about doing a record and calling it The 'Sides, you know and it would be all the stuff we haven't released.
Yeah, that would be awesome. Will The Offspring ever put out a live video?
Ah, I don't know. We're down for anything, we really are, but I don't know if we would ever do that. The thing is that we're playing better than we ever have. We have a lot of confidence in our ability…we never had that really. We would look at bands like the Beastie Boys and go, "Man, those guys are a real band!," you know? "Bad Religion, that's a real band!" We never felt like we were a real band. But we're starting to be more confident in our ability as players. Certainly commercially we've done very well for ourselves, but we always still kind of…like we never did TV…and any of the late night TV until recently. We did Jimmy Kimmel and then we did The Late Show recently. We never felt like those were viable options for us because we just weren't a real band, you know? We weren't good enough to do 'em. We turned down Saturday Night Live in '94 or '95 and I love that show first of all, I love comedy and I would have loved to have done that, and we just didn't. We didn't feel right doing it so we turned it down, and Lorne Michaels literally was pissed off at us for saying no. We were up a couple years later [to do SNL] and it was down to us, Eagle-Eye Cherry and Brian Setzer Orchestra and it would have been cool if they chose Brian Setzer Orchestra, but they didn't, they went for Eagle-Eye Cherry …which you know, was good too and they didn't pick us so what're you gonna do?
Yeah, what're you gonna do? So, The Offspring have always been an interesting band in terms of some of the songs predicting major events, such as the rise of terrorism which was depicted in the artwork of Conspiracy of One's title track less than a year before 9/11 and the lyrics of "Tehran" (though it's referencing Iran rather than Iraq) back in the 80s which cam true during The Gulf War in the 90s. Can you shed some light on that?
You know, there's a couple of things we've seen - and that's Dexter that writes the lyrics - but I don't know how to explain that. But it's been weird the way it's happened. And we'll talk about that like, "Whoa dude, that's just weird." None of us know how to explain that. It's certainly not something we think about too much. And you know I don't think it's a coincidence, really, there's probably a little bit more to that…we all follow what's going on in the world, we really do, and we have different ideas, different opinions about it. But we all do follow what's going on in the world and Dexter just writes those lyrics that happen to be there.
Yeah, interesting. How do the contributions of H2O member Todd Morse on backup guitar and vocals differ from what your previous backup member Chris Higgins brought to the table?
Ah man, you know, Higgins was the best and we love him. He decided to move on. He wanted to stop touring and have a family and he does now. He married a beautiful woman, they have a stepdaughter and then three years ago they had a a baby. He got really involved in his church [too]. So, we're stoked for him. What we've done is I guess maybe dialed back a little with Todd. Todd's great, he's a great guitar player, but mainly he's just a great vocalist. Dexter was starting to writing songs that have a lot more backing vocals and intricate kind of things going on and Todd nails those, you know. But beyond that he's the coolest guy in the fucking world to hang out with. We went to a comedy club the other night and I love comedy. We were sitting in the comedy club, me, him and about 18 other people in this comedy club. And Todd is the first guy to laugh and the last guy still laughing, he just goes off. He's just a really nice guy and great to hang out with.
Do you, Greg K or Dexter still keep in touch with Ron Welty?
I have, it's been a while since I've talked to him but yeah I've talked to him since the split. Sometimes in depth, sometimes just, "How you doing?" Not as much as I would like to honestly. But you know, there was…it was kind of a buddy divorce, in a way.
Yeah, that's rough.
Yeah, that was the worst period for this band, not knowing what it meant for the future, for any of us. So, I see all these pictures on the internet and everything, [fans] tweeting photos and stuff and I see this picture [of us] and it's like man, I really miss that guy. I wouldn't change anything we have now, because Pete is so integral to what we're doing right now. As a drummer he's just great, and he's such a cool guy to hang out with and I wouldn't change a thing. But I look at that, and I mean we all do, we all look at that like, eh, I kinda miss that guy, you know. And you know what? Thank you, I need to give that guy a call.
Oh no problem man, glad I could facilitate some communication between you.
Dexter says, "Hi Punknews!"
Hey Dexter, what's up?
Punknews says, "Hey what's up"…he's with his family.
Alright, cool man. So, is there a possibility of doing an Ignition set at the upcoming New York City or Long Island shows?
You know, we have nothing planned for another Ignition set. I don't know if you know what happened in Montreal, but we played a show at…um, fuck what was the name of the club in Montreal…shit I can't believe I'm drawing a blank. I've been drinking beer so…
Something in French.
Yeah! No…no…the second place we played at was something in French…..The Metropolis, we were playing The Metropolis. We had Monday night on, Tuesday night off and Wednesday night on. And the reason we had Tuesday night off is because they had the elections in Quebec. And there was a shooting.
Yeah, I heard about that.
So, our shit was locked down at the crime scene the next day. So we had to rent gear and we couldn't play on any of our stuff. We had to rent all this gear and it was rough. So we did an Ignition set the next day at The Olympia and not all the fans were pleased. You know it's just like, again, old school dudes that brought their girlfriends, the girlfriends really just wanna hear "Get a Job," but the dudes were stoked…like yeah "Get it Right," that's awesome! It was weird, but you know, then we did some hits like "Kids" and "Self Esteem" and a bunch of [other] hits after. But yeah, they were a little bummed.
Ah man, that's rough.
We were just stoked that our crew and especially the local crew put on that show the next night for the fans. That was pretty incredible. They were great and worked their asses off. Not only did they have to rent gear and set up the show that night, but then they had to go back and load out our gear once they cleared the crime scene and make it to the next city. We've got the best crew in the world, we really do.
That's great to have that kind of back up there. Can you tell me a bit about your writing process with regards to what you contribute? I know that Dexter is the main songwriter and he even writes some of the drum parts and things like that, but tell me, what do you contribute to the writing process when it comes to the music or specific riffs or anything else?
Sure, yeah. It's primarily Dexter, it really is. The way we've been working on the last two records is we go in and we work with Bob [Rock] literally in front of the microphones and we'll try different things. We'll start out with a guitar riff, or sometimes with a vocal melody, then we'll try to work it out acoustically before we go in and record it. And sometimes it starts with a drum beat. I want to do something to this kind of beat, you know, what can I do? And I'm in there a lot with them and Greg's in there a lot with them. And you know, it changes too, once we get Pete in playing or we work with Josh that changes too. So it does change, who adds their influence on it. But it's primarily Dexter, he's the writer.
Okay, cool. What was your favorite music video to create? Which was the most grueling?
Ah, the most grueling one was…what's the one we did with Atom and we were up all night…
"Can't Get My Head Around You?" The one taken with like a hundred video cameras?
Yeah, it might have been "Can't Get My Head Around You." And another one too was "I Choose" in the airport. It was fun at least…we got to mess around. I got to come out of the frigginâ luggage chute.
Yeah, that's easily the best part. You bust out right in time to play the solo.
Yeah. The first one, "Come Out and Play," was done on a shoestring budget. I think $5,000 was the whole budget for the video. And at least some of it probably went into the BBQ that we were having. And Mylar. We go to this guy Darren's garage [which is covered] in Mylar you know. But that was fun, "Self Esteem" was also fun, it was so new back then.
Yeah that's right, your first and second videos ever. If you couldn't be in The Offspring anymore and you could pick your replacement, who would it be?
Oh man, I'd have to go with Todd, Todd Morse.
That's a hell of a compliment.
He's great, great guy and way better looking than me. I shouldn't pick somebody uglier than me.
What do you guys usually ask for in your rider?
Well, we have a shitload of beer, a couple of Clif bars or some other alternate protein bars 'cuz if you don't eat right on tour…Some water, Gatorade. Chips and salsa. Chips and salsa is a big thing and we check it out every night. How are the chips and salsa here? And you'd be surprised, sometimes you get the best chips and salsa (and I didn't get it out tonight so I don't know how it was in Poughkeepsie), but you know sometimes you're in the middle of nowhere and you get really good chips and salsa. Only in North America though, very rarely in Europe.
It doesn't count as salsa unless there's lime and cilantro in it.
Absolutely, pico de gallo is my favorite.