These days, it seems like punk is a marketing gimmick, a buzzword used to sell more records and a lifestyle to kids who buy into it because they think it's cool, not because it's the only place they have left to go. I suspect it's a good thing that punk has become an option rather than a last resort, but the meaning behind punk gets lost in the hype. Rancid, like no other band this decade, including Nirvana, has the potential to change the world with their music. For my part, I just remember the way I felt, dancing with my now ex-girlfriend to the strains of "Olympia," holding each other close on a Sunday morning. I interviewed Matt Freeman over the phone. He was somewhere on the road, in some city, waiting to do a show. We didn't talk long, but during that time, he dropped some hella serious science. Oh yeah, one more thing. Even if Rancid had signed to Maverick, "... And Out Come the Wolves" still would have been a great album.
How's the tour been going?
Matt: Well, we've been doing really good at our shows and that's about it. That's the best you can hope for, I guess.
Well, that, and not having drunk rednecks throw beer bottles at you.
M: That hasn't happened yet, no. We've been doing pretty well.
That's a good thing.
M: That's a very good thing.
So how's life been treating you besides being on the road and things?
M: That is my life, dude. That's my whole fucking life. I don't know. I'm on tour, I'm in my band, that's what I do, you know what I'm saying?
What else is there?
M: Nothing really. Not for me. It's sad, isn't it, when you think about it? My car's in storage and my cat went to live with my ex-girlfriend and that's about it.
But the cool thing about it, and I hesitate to put it this way because it sounds like a cliche, is that's punk.
M: Yeah, I guess so.
It sounds like, over the three albums from "Rancid" to now, there's been a progression from a really hard-edged punk sound on the first album to a lighter punk sound on the second and on this one it sounds almost like you've gone back to the Op Ivy roots.
M: Yeah, I guess you could say that. That's a pretty good analogy. I mean, there's nothing conscious about it. I think we're just growing as a band. The first record was the first record, you know what I mean? Me and Tim were pretty pissed off. We're still pretty pissed off, but it was our first record since Operation Ivy. We were mad and we did our best. The second record, we got Lars and that was a little different, but I think the third record is the quintessential Rancid record in a lot of ways, just because us four really gelled as a band. We've grown up, we play better now and I think that's what came out. Who knows what the next record will be though? It could be back to the first record. I don't fucking know. We'll see what happens.
On "Let's Go," some of the songs didn't seem to have much to do with other songs on the album. They were cool, but it didn't seem to cohere totally, while on this one, each one of the 19 songs seems to fit and have its own place on the record and seems to lead to the next song and extend from the previous song.
M: That's great. I'm happy about that. That's good. I don't know. Like I said, I guess it just happened. We recorded 40 songs for this record. We came up with 19, you know what I mean? It just happened that way. We just did our best and it sounded right to us and we put it out, so maybe it's some weird thing going on there, you know what I mean?
I was happy when I heard it because of the rumors flying around. I thought it was better than the previous two.
I'm not trying to blow smoke up your ass or anything like that.
M: That's okay.
A lot of the songs on this album seem to deal with more personal topics. Rancid has always dealt with political issues through personal stories, but on this album, how did you go about doing that?
M: I don't know. I think we always write personal stuff, you know what I mean? That's how we deal with things. I think it's the way we are. A lot of bands will come out with these big statements and I think we're more of the kind of band that writes about our own, personal experiences to try to communicate that to other people, you know what I mean? It just came out that way. I'm just not the kind of person that goes, "You must do this, you must do that, that is wrong, this is bad." It's like, "This is what happens to us, this is how we see it, so make your own conclusion." You know what I mean? I've always been really into bands that do that. X is really good at that too. I think you can take it as it comes, you know what I mean? That's just the way we write, that's just the way we are. We're basically regular people. We're not trying to save the fucking world, you know what I mean? We're just trying to put out good music.
These songs seem to have a positive edge, like in "The War's End," "Now it's time for you to leave home." I was talking to a friend about the Clash once, and I said the Clash were about soul survival, and it seems like Rancid is as well. Would you agree with that?
M: Yeah, I'd agree with that. I mean, that's what it's all about. Music, to us, being in a punk band or whatever, has always been about something to do other than your real fucking life almost. You know, you work all day and then you're in a band, I mean, it's what you do. It's the way you have fun, it's something great, it's something that's your own. I mean, it helped me stop being alienated. I don't know what the hell I'd be if I didn't have music. I'd probably be one of these post office guys who just wakes up one day and kills his whole fucking office because he's so pissed off. It's always been a release for me. I think it's been that way with all of us and I think that's why we get along so well is because we're like that. I mean, I didn't really have any friends when I was a kid except Tim. We didn't have any friends since we had each other and that was about it, you know? We got into music and that's what we started doing, you know what I mean? So yeah, you're right. I'd say that's a good comparison.
I know this album has drawn a lot of Clash comparisons so I want to stay away from that even though it does sound similar, but it's different because there's that ska edge.
M: I think Rancid, as a band, doesn't sound that much like the Clash. I mean, look at "Let's Go." They never played anything that fast. I think the thing you came up with about the whole soul survival, I think that's where the comparison would be, just in the feeling and the energy of the music. You seem pretty smart, but a lot of these fucking idiots are like "Oh, you sound like the Clash." They hear it from somebody. They don't know. You know, I almost want to test these people, like "Okay, what's the first song on 'London Calling'?", you know what I mean? Or "What's the first song on fucking 'Give 'Em Enough Rope'," you know what I'm saying? To be honest, the Clash comparisons don't bother me. I've heard it so much, it almost just doesn't mean anything anymore.
Well, you worked ska and reggae into it, and Jim Carroll's poem which seems to be where the album title came from.
M: Yeah, exactly.
There's all these other diverse influences that aren't really seen as punk. How did you work that stuff in?
M: I don't think we consciously worked it in. I mean, I think we can play a lot of stuff. I think we're all decent musicians and we've been influenced by those things and it just came out, you know what I mean? Me and Tim have been playing ska for a long time, it just didn't come out on "Let's Go" or the first record. If it was purposeful any time, it was the first record, just because of the whole Operation Ivy thing, you know what I'm saying? But the band really didn't steal it. When you write songs and when you do an album, you gotta have the whole band in there, working together, you know what I'm saying? You can't shove anything down anyone's throat, so it just came out this way and that's what we felt about doing it. We just got influences. We did a certain record the first time, a certain record the second time and then a certain record the third time. But I also think it's a gel. I think we're just better musicians than we were a year or two ago. You know, we had more time to fuck around, I'll admit that. I mean, we did "Let's Go" in six days, we did this one in about five weeks, you know what I'm saying? So we had more time to experiment, but not that much. I mean, we went in with 40 songs, it was pretty much hectic, so we did pretty well.
You recorded it with Andy Wallace?
M: He mixed it. We recorded with Jerry Finn who mixed the Green Day record and then Andy Wallace mixed it.
What was it like working with him? I mean, did that throw you off at all, because I think he did Slayer and the Rollins Band among others.
M: He did Nirvana too. I mean, he's this guy who fucking knows how to mix records, you know, and he has a certain talent for it. He has a big talent for it. It was really cool because when you go in to mix a record, you've got all this stuff all over the place and it's almost good to have a critical eye go in and go, "Okay, well what do you think of this?" And he did that. They were there for the whole mixing thing. He'd mix a song and we'd listen to it and we'd say, "Oh, that sounds pretty cool." Maybe have a suggestion or two, sometimes not, and that's the way it would go. He's got a feel to bring that sound out, you know what I'm saying? It's like when you want to build something. You have an idea for it but you don't have all the skills. So he's just a craftsman. He's a nice guy too. I mean, believe me, if he wasn't, we probably would have cut the thing off, but he was a really good guy and we really respect him.
So what was recording at Electric Lady like? That was Hendrix's studio, right?
M: Yeah. I really wasn't there for that part. They did a lot of the vocals there and I wasn't there for that, but those guys had a lot of fun there, I know that much.
Isn't Fantasy a studio where a lot of hippie bands recorded?
M: Creedence recorded there. A lot of jazz records were recorded there, a lot of people recorded there actually. Green Day, Jawbreaker, us. A lot of old bands. Aerosmith, big fucking deal. Actually, I shouldn't say that. I met one of those guys there once and he was actually really nice. I didn't even know who he was. Some guy comes in and he's like, "Hey, I'm in the studio down the hall. What are you doing?" We're like, "We're watching TV. You want to watch TV with us?" "Okay." And then, "Oh yeah, you're that guy!" We were watching a football game or something. I don't know, it was nice. It's a nice studio, it's laid back. It's nice. And once in a while you think, "Wow, that's really cool, John Fogerty stood here and sang 'Down on the Corner," so it was pretty cool.
Another thing I liked about the album were the references and places, like calling a song "Olympia," and the places that were written about, like Cleveland in "Old Friend." This album seems to be all over the map, literally.
M: Well, we're all over the map. Like I said before, we write about personal things and what do we do? Fucking five to nine months out of the year we're in America, you know what I'm saying? I hate to sound like Willie Nelson or anything, but that's our environment, you know, our environment is shows. I'm at a show right now which starts soon. Actually, it's already started. You know what I'm saying? So it's like, that's the environment we're in now, especially on the record because we had been touring so much. So yeah, I'm glad you liked that. You really listened to the record. I really appreciate that. I don't think most of the people who interview me have listened to the record more than once.
I try to treat punk honestly and intelligently because I get sick of hearing that it's noise and doesn't mean anything. It does. This morning I put "Olympia" on repeat and me and my girlfriend were dancing around and grinning.
M: I agree with you. I think it's very important, it's very important in my life and think it's also good you're treating it that way. I don't want to blow smoke up your ass, but I really wish half the people I talked to were as intelligent as you. You really listened to the fucking record. I mean, most of these guys are like, "What do you think about the Clash comparisons? What did Madonna send that picture for? Why did you turn down the $1.5 million?" You know what I'm saying? Yeah, I agree with you.
All that stuff is irrelevant. What's at the heart of it are the songs; the things that went into the songs, the actual music, what's on the record, the things you can listen to.
M: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. I should take you on fucking tour with me. Jesus Christ, yeah, that's exactly what I try to fucking say. That's all that fucking matters is the goddamn songs and the experiences and the communication. I mean, that's what punk rock was always to me, is the communication, fucking something you grab on to. I mean, when I was a kid, I was an alienated little fat kid, you know what I'm saying? I got big in high school and people started fucking with me, but you know, it's like the same thing, you know what I mean? It's like it was my escape, it was my religion, it's what kept me from killing myself. You know what I'm saying? I totally agree with you and I think that can be in a lot of different kinds of music, even hard rock or metal or something. I think that same thought's there, people want to get away so I really don't trash it. I mean, some of the bands drive me nuts with the way they feel, but I mean, the emotion that kids get out of it, that people can get out of it, I think it's very important across the board, no matter what it is.
Yeah. Hüsker Dü's "Zen Arcade" and "Warehouse" got me through high school. I just think about how this album may do the same for a kid sitting in the back of a math class right now.
M: And I hope it does because that's what bands like fucking X and the Specials and the Clash did for me. It's the same thing. I've got an X tattoo on my fucking arm.
What do you think about the profound effect music can have on someone's life? We hear these stories about people listening to an album and it stopped them from going crazy or set them on a different path. How powerful do you think music is?
M: I think it's very powerful on an individual level. I think that's what is important because you can preach all you want about all this fucking crazy shit, but it really comes down to what you're listening to on your record player at home. Like X. X did the same thing for me. You know that "Under the Big, Black Sun"?
M: Yeah, you know that fucking record. I got the fucking cover tattooed on my fucking arm. I used to listen to that record, and I mean it's probably gotta be one of the most depressing records ever fucking made. I mean, fucking "Riding with Mary" and all that shit about her sister, but there's one fucking song, the last song on the fucking record, you know, it's like, "Dawn comes soon enough for the working class," na-na-na, that song? I can never remember the name of it, I'm really bad with names because I don't really read name titles, I just listen to the whole record. That song is fucking all about drinking real late at night and then going to work the next morning, and that fucking song, especially when I started working, I started working when I was 15, just fucking got me through so much shit. I go out, I'm a working class fucking joe and these people are too. You know what I'm saying? All that other stuff, it was just great.
A-ha. "The Have Nots."
M: Yeah, "The Have Nots." That's what it is. I'm really bad. I even fuck up our own titles all the time. I have my own titles for our songs. I get up there and say "We're gonna play 'Crucify'!" "'Disorder and Disarray' Matt." "Oh yeah, 'Disorder and Disarray'!" Or, "That one that starts with that chord!"
Well hell, I had to go check the vinyl for the song title.
M: Oh, you did? Okay. But I mean, I listened to that record. I mean, I still listen to that record. You know what I mean? But it made me feel great because these people are just like fucking me. I think it's very important. I'd love that. I hope that Rancid, I don't want to get all fucking self-prophesying, I hope that Rancid does that to some people and I know it does because I talk to people and they say it does. It makes me feel a little insecure because I don't think I'm very different, but, you know, you take what you can get. That's the whole thing about being honest and making good records. I mean, Rancid has always been, whatever you fucking say about us, "Oh, fuck those guys, they're on MTV. Oh, fuck those guys, they fucking danced with the devil with the major labels. Oh, fuck those guys, they go on a tour bus now. Oh, fuck those guys, they don't play my fucking punk rock club anymore," we've always been fucking honest and done what we've done and we've been up front about it. We've never ripped anybody off and I challenge anyone to say we have. They can call me up. We haven't. We've always tried to do good fucking business on the business end. We've always tried to make good, honest records and that's all we can fucking do. If we die on the vine after two years, so be it, but we'll still be making records. We'll still do what we gotta do.
I remember when I saw the Spin cover, I was taken aback, but then I realized that Rancid didn't change. It was just that Spin pulled their head out of their ass long enough to put you on the cover.
M: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly it. We never fucking changed. We never fucking did. It just happened. I mean, the Offspring are a perfect fucking example of that, even more than us and Green Day.
Yeah, they even got harder.
M: Yeah, exactly. Listen, I gotta get going because I'm running fucking late, but have you gotten enough?
More than enough.
Have a good show and I'll try to catch you when you come to town.
M: I hope you can. All right, well, you take care of yourself.
You too. It was good talking to you.
M: Thanks for the interview.