Continuing with the 1994 review theme, 20 years after Smash, The Offspring are returning to the record like never before, playing it from start to finish – and bringing along a handful of iconic bands of the era (and beyond) with them on tour.
Punknews interviewer Jason Epstein got a chance to meet with Dexter Holland before the sold out show in NYC and talk about trade secrets from the bandâs old "home videos," the members of Pennywise, AFI and T.S.O.L. who sang backup vocals on "Pretty Fly" and what Gringo Bandito isnât good on.
So I hear youâre shooting a video for a new single soon. Is this the start of a new way for the band to release songs or is it just something to tide fans over until the next album?
Yeah, well we're not really sure. We used to always do records where we'd go in and spend as long as it took -- and sometimes that takes like a year and a half to really do it -- and that seems like a long time to wait in between records. And no one really buys albums anymoreâ¦or maybe they do, I don't know. But the way people really digest music has just changed; it's not really the same way where you're gonna sit down with the record and really listen to it.
I think it kind of depends on the fan; you have so many more fans who are just going to buy that one song and then you have more hardcore fans who are going to do ten times that and buy a whole album.
It's not like I wouldnât ever do an album again. Albums are important âcuz it's a collection of work. But for the time being it's like, you know what, let's not get too crazy and overwhelmed with doing a whole album. Let's just do a couple of songs here and there and that way we can go out and tour and still see the people and not just have to go away for a couple of years.
Yeah. The Offspring home videos from almost 15 years ago -- they're skate vids with skits, live performances, guest appearances, plenty of other randomness -- can you tell me what it was like to make each of them and why it was only two albums that had the accompanying home videos?
That's right. I thought the home videos were kind of a cool thing to do. I forget where I'd seen it before but I knew a guy who worked for a clothing company and he was doing these things almost as promo videos for the company. So it's kind of loosely related. It's more about just the surrounding culture than the band specifically. So we talked about doing a video where it would be just back then what they called extreme sports (I don't know what you call it now). But itâs the things we were into, more of the skating and the surfing and stuff and so a lot of them were random skits -- that was kind of the idea, short attention span theater. And we figured out how to incorporate the band and it was usually the band doing something and then getting killedâ¦that whole "South Park" approach. But the thing I'm really proud of about that that's cool is they weren't super professionally made. They were very much home jobs and stuff, but because we had access to the athlete (the director was really good friends with them) we got people doing stuff that you couldnât find anywhere. I donât know if you saw -- thereâs a scene where a BASE jumper goes off a tower in Nebraska. It was a thousand-foot tower and completely illegal…I mean it took him six hours…five hours to climb it? I mean there's no way you could ever get a shot like that legally. You just couldn't do it. And even if you could the expense would be insane. But because this guy was a rad dude and weâre all friends he just decided to do it. So we got some really crazy stuff that people hadnât seen before.
And he was willing to sacrifice his life at the end of that scene too.
That's right, that's right! Who was the BASE jumperâ¦?
So, it wasn't Greg.
No, no, no, that was the joke is that it was supposed to be us but they were really professionals.
Alright. That was something that I wondered over the years is, you know, Noodles in the snowmobile doing that amazing backflip into the pool and I'm like….ok maybe there's a little camera trickery there? But I appreciated it.
Yeah no that was…I forget his name. Jason something. But yeah, a real guy.
And you only did it for two albums. Was there a reason for that? Did you get tired of putting other people's lives in danger?
Why didn't we do it anymore after that? We put out Americana with mostly Ixnay music in it [which] I know it was a little confusing at the time and we liked the title and then we liked it so much we decided to do an album called Americana. And for Conspiracy of One we decided that was a little later and we thought we could maybe actually spend a little more time and we sort of did it more professionally on that. And after that I just I forget what happened -- we got busy and I think the director (his name is Paul) he started doing other stuff. So no real reason.
Ok. You've done a handful of backup vocals for other bands during your career like The Dwarves and AFI and I think a song from the Aquabats as well. So can you just tell me what was your favorite experience or favorite song doing that?
Oh gosh I don't know. That stuff's always fun because when some asks you to come and do backups thereâs no pressure -- you donât really have to worry about anything. Usually youâre just part of a gang. And I do it in the same way; our records I would have Jim from Pennywise and Jack [from T.S.O.L.] come in and Dave from AFI (kind of the three guys thatâd come in and do backup song stuff) so in a way that was some of my favorite experience was having those guys come in and do backups on my songs. Also I had them sing backups on Americana…so we did all this tough stuff, but I made them do backups on "Pretty Fly" also so they couldn't give me shit when the record came out.
Theyâre doing like the, "Hey, hey, do that brand new thing." But no, I'm kidding because hey I'm glad we did that song, you know? But at the time it was considered kind of controversial with the punk people or whatever. But yeah AFI was great. Their backups were a little more challenging cuz he's up there for sure and they wanted me to do some stuff that was a little more not part of a group, a little more out there on a couple songs and so that was a little different âcuz I felt like ooh I actually have to do a good job and stuff. So that was a little tougher.
You just covered Pennywise and Bad Religion to promote the Summer Nationals tour you're all doing together. If they were to cover The Offspring, which song or songs should each band cover?
Ah yeah. You know it was sort of an idea floating around when we put this tour together: wouldnât it be great if everyone covered each otherâs songs? And it was something that somebody told us and we said, great weâll talk to the other guys and they said great weâll talk to 'em. But we happened to be in the studio that day and it was like, why donât you just go ahead and do it? So we just sort of did it without talking to them and I'm not sure why they didnât do it. I did run into Greg Graffin a month ago in Europe and he said yeah you guys have great songs but it's just too high for me to sing. And yeah, well it's a different range for sure. But you know what I think they should do? I think, "We Are One" would be a good song for either of those bands to do 'cuz itâs off Ignition and itâs super punk and thereâs some high backups in there, but they could totally sing that stuff. So that'd be my vote.
I'd love to hear that. It seems pretty likely given the band's recent history of celebrating 20-year anniversaries that 2017 and 2018 will see some type of attention given to Ixnay and Americana. Are you thinking that far ahead?
Ohhh, that's a good idea! Well we did it kind of the other year just as a lark with Ignition going, whoa itâs been 20 years since we did Ignition -- letâs do a couple club shows. We were booking bigger places and I thought, nah this should just be a tiny club thing. And we're booked in a 3,000-seater and I go, I donât think kids are gonna want to come out to hear Ignition, like they donât know that stuffâ¦but they didâ¦and went off. I was pleasantly shocked. It was great and it kind of made me think, ok well Smash is probably gonna go over pretty good. But itâs also a good way to mix it up. I think you canât just go out and play the same set year after year; youâve gotta mix it up in ways that challenge your audience a little bit 'cuz theyâre gonna have to sit through some songs that maybe they donât know.
I love the deep cuts and there are going to be other fans out there who love the deep cuts too.
It's worked out that wayâ¦kind of surprisingly to me. I kind of thought this might be weird, they might just be standing around. But they're into it -- they're into the whole record.
You know, if I go and see a band that I've seen many times over the years that I'm really into and they play two songs that I've never heard them play before, it is a huge success to me. Like, wow that concert was awesome. I heard two brand new songs!
See, it's good to hear that viewpoint because as a guy in a band the idea is you want to connect with the most people possible. So thereâs always going to be 10 people who want to hear "Dirty Magic" every night from us (and weâve done it a few times and the rest of the audience sits around going, I donât know what this is). So youâve kinda gotta kind of make that trade off. Sometimes itâs good to throw it in there even if not everyoneâs gonna get it 'cuz youâre mixing it up a little bit and sometimes itâs good to just try and not do that too much. But this is one of those times where weâre going to play some songs that we donât play very often and arenât very well known. But people seem to be kind of into the idea that they're hearing this whole album.
Absolutely. Can you tell me a bit about your writing process with regards to the instruments you don't play onstage like bass, drums, Noodles' guitar parts and anything else?
Well, I mean, I walk around with a recorder. Well actually, now I just use my phone. But if youâre getting an idea itâs usually just a quick melody or something, just a little thing. Not like youâre coming up with a whole songâ¦you just kind of hum into it and go back later and start working on it and start putting a song together. So Iâll normally write by humming a melody with maybe a guitar or that sort of thing. But as you write a song you can kind of picture how the drums are going to fit with it. So when we demo if I write the song usually I get the song mostly together myself. But Iâll go in with a drum machine and just kind of tap it out so thereâs sort of a drum pattern and you kind of just keep on going. Itâs kind of like filling in the blanks a little bit, I guess. And for me lyrics come last. So I have a full melody and everything but I don't know what the words are until the very end.
And I'd imagine that something like that comes more naturally with time and years as a songwriter. At first it was probably a little tougher to say, I want the bass or drums to sound like this if they were varying from what the guitar was doing.
For sure, for sure. There's some stuff that a long time ago, I don't know how I would put this, I know I want it sound like this, but I donât know how to make it sound like that. And you learn, I guess. Or you ask your producer.
Yeah! Is there any chance fans will get to hear any or all of the remaining unreleased B-sides the Offspring have? You know, there âs a lot of chatter on the forums, this rumor of this title that never made it out, or this other title. I asked Noodles about this a couple of years ago and he said yeah there were a couple of songs and how it would be cool to put them out. And you know is anything like that ever going to happen, or do they just sort of feel unfinished and like you donât really want to pursue them?
Yeah, I think most of the B-sides stuff has come out if there was anything. Sometimes a couple of records ago on Rise and Fall I think I had eight songs I was working on that I never finished, so theyâre not really songs. It might be a little bit; just a guitar just a drum machine or something. Iâm trying to think of the ones that people on the forums would really know about.
Thereâs one called "Pass Me By" from over 10 years ago.
Well, that's a real song.
There's a "Ring of Fire" cover which could have just been a rumor.
Yeah I demo'd that, I never finished that. Uh, yeah "Pass Me By" is a real song and I finished it and that was for Conspiracy of One right? No, Splinter, and liked it a lot. It was like a five-minute song, and frankly it was a little grungy and I ended up leaving it off because I thought it was gonna make the whole record feel not as punk in a way. Like I wanted to make sure that it still felt like an aggressive record. I didn't really think about it after that fact that people came up and were like, this album is only 33 minutes or whatever. Like, I should have just left it on. I donât know if it's our greatest song, but I like it and I'd consider putting it out or doing something with it. But that's a real song. I don't really know what elseâ¦There's a song, well I don't want to talk about it too much, but we've been working on it for a long time and it's one of those B-sides and we are finishing it, but no plans for it yet. But I think that one will come out.
Well you know if youâre ever releasing anything on a physical CD or record like this new song you guys are working on, the perfect place for that type of thingâ¦is on the B-side of that. The B-side of the record.
There you go, thatâs right.
Can you remember what one of your favorite tours of all time was and why?
Oh gosh. They're all different and they're great in different ways. I mean we did a tour with Rancid in '94 that was a very special tour because things were really blowing up and things were happening for Rancid at the same time, so that was great. We did a crazy tour in Australia just this last year where it was a festival tour, so you know you can imagine like there'll be a big [headliner], but this tour was insane it was like Metallica and Linkin Park and Anthrax and Blink and everybody you could imagine. I'd never been on a tour with a lineup that was that packed with bands, so that was pretty special too.
Whatâs a band youâd love to tour with that you havenât yet, or a band that's not even around anymore that you'd love to tour if you had gotten the chance? Double question.
Whoâs not around anymore that we'd love to tour with? That's a good question. Like it'd have to be one of the classic bands, right? Like the Clash or something like that.
Don't ask me, I'm asking you! For me, if I chose it I'd probably choose The Offspring but that's not really applicable in this situation.
Noâ¦well yeah we toured with T.S.O.L.. That's one of the lucky things about us, is that you know we've been very lucky and successful and all that, but we were able to meet our heroes and take them on tour and sign them to my label and stuff like that and it's been great. We did get to do a couple of shows with the Ramones. I wish we'd gotten to play with them more.
Often enough, your songwriting has featured a tinge of Middle Eastern flavor. How did that become part of your sound? Was it just something like T.S.O.L. influencing your writing, or was there some other part of your upbringing, music or non-music related that contributed to it?
Being from Southern California the surf music was part of the scene there. People call it Middle Eastern and surf music is kind of the same scale or whatever you want to call it I guess. You know, youâre growing up and youâre listening to all this stuff and youâve gotta figure out how to make it your own thing as youâre becoming a band and you have to figure out like not just who you are as a person but who you are as a band. It's kind of a weird process and I think it took us until probably Ignition to figure out what we were as a band. I think our first record sound was very different. It sounds much more obviously like a T.S.O.L. record and Ignition sounds much more like us. So itâs just part of that process and that sort of sound I just was kind of interested in and it sort of fit in.
Right. What's your favorite thing to put Gringo Bandito on that's not Mexican food?
It is great on pizza. Iâve never really put stuff on pizza before besides red pepper flakes. Iâm trying to think if thereâs something else that's kind of off the wall…it's good on burgers. Iâve found that itâs not good on Asian food. I donât know why, but…
No, youâre right. You know what? I have about 20 hot sauces right now and there are certain ones that go well with Asian food, there are certain ones that go on Caribbean food, and there are a few that go on a few different things. Gringo Bandito is probably one of my favorite sauces because you can probably put it on just about anything except for a couple of types of food.
Yeah, I didn't like it on Chinese. Sriracha is great.
Yeah, Sriracha has that covered.
I think itâs 'cuz Sriracha has the sugar and sweetness in it that somehow compliments it. I think that's the difference, I donât know. Iâm a hot sauce fan; itâs not like, oh Tabasco sucks and weâre great. I love all that stuff: I love Cholula and I love the Mexican hot sauces. When we make tacos Iâve got like six of them. I buy them on the Internet, like the yellow Caribbean ones and Walker's Wood I've been into lately. So I like all that kind of stuff.
Iâve got to say one of my favorites of all time is Chipotle Tabasco. Regular Tabasco is good, Chipotle Tabasco is amazing.
See most people that are into hot sauce hate Tabasco.
Well, you know Tabasco is very flatâ¦it adds vinegar and heat…it enhances the flavor of something if itâs already goodâ¦but if itâs not already good itâs not gonna fix it. Gringo Bandito is gonna fix a meal -- but not Asian food.
I mean thank you, I agree. Like, I think it tastes really good and I think that was the idea to make it not just hot but taste good. And itâs true if something is really bland just put some hot sauce on it and it fixes it. Have you tried the green yet?
Yeah, I've got it in my fridge. Itâs good. I like the red better, but the green is still good. I canât believe itâs hotter. You hardly ever see a green sauce thatâs hotter.
That was the idea. It's punk! You know? Make it hotter.
Yeah. You were in a Masterâs program for molecular biology, and obviously your work now doesnât relate to that on a one-to-one basis, but what lessons did you learn during your time in school that have kind of helped you along in your music career?
Yeah, like how'd they connect right? I'm trying to figure out well like, gosh you know can you use this in your writing? But I just can't figure out how to make something about biology interesting.
I'll tell you how: talk to Greg [Graffin]â¦he'll tell you.
Oh yeah right! And that works for them. It makes them unique. Itâs cool, I get a kick out of it. I get a kick out of saying big word in songs. Jurisprudence. Who says jurisprudence on a record? But that's great. You know, I left school when the band took off. They were nice enough to give me a leave of absence. I hit âem up three years ago to see if I could come back. And they let me. They said you can come back, you donât have to retake anything, just keep on going. So Iâm working on it. So my dissertation has to do with HIV (my boss is a retrovirologist) and how this thing called micro-RNA (itâs sort of a new thing) maybe influences the virus. But as far as they connect, I don't know. Youâve gotta really stick it out to get through grad school. Thatâs a good lesson in persistence, I guess. We were a band for 10 years before anything happened. We never really thought anything would happen but we stuck with it because we enjoyed it. Itâs kind of like that; you just have to be willing to be really bad for a while so you can get good at it. Iâm gonna use that in a commencement speech: if you want to be really good at something you have to be willing to suck at it for a long time!