25 Years In, The Offspring Are Still Looking For More
"We've definitely stopped worrying about showing musical maturity."
There’s a scene in Wayne’s World where Wayne and Cassandra are going through a crate of vinyl and looking at the records. Cassandra pulls out Peter Frampton’s legendary live album, Frampton Comes Alive. “Everbody on earth had Frampton Comes Alive,” Wayne comments. “If you lived in the suburbs, you were issued it.”
There are many records like Frampton Comes Alive that seem to hold such universal resonance — ones that everyone of a certain demographic seemed to own. In the ’90s, The Offspring were responsible for three of them back-to-back — 1994’s Smash, 1997’s Ixnay on the Hombre and 1998’s Americana.
These multi-million sellers can more or less be recited off by heart if you were coming of age around the middle of the decade, and particularly if you ever rocked a wallet chain, three-quarter jean-shorts and Vans. Even if you didn’t, you more than likely had an older sibling or cousin that did — and the hits of The Offspring are still being passed down from generation to generation.
On the eve of its 25th anniversary, The Offspring are set to undertake a tour in which they will play Smash in its entirety. This will include a visit to Australia, where the band will headline the first-ever Good Things Festival.
Ahead of that, lead guitarist Noodles — Kevin John Wasserman on his birth certificate — spoke candidly about the rise of Americana, playing albums in full and having a beer with Joe Strummer.
Before we get too stuck into the past, The Offspring have reportedly been working on a new album. Can we get an update on where that’s at?
Yeah, we’ve been spending a bit of time in the studio with Bob Rock, who worked on our last two albums as well. He’s great, man — we get along with him really well. We’ve got a bunch of new songs that we’re preparing to go in and record right now.
I think there’s a record’s worth in there, but we’re thinking that maybe the songs are just a little too different. We know there’s a song or two on every record that comes out of left-field for us, but it’s more than just a couple this time. Right now, we’re entertaining the idea of doing two records — one where we can put all of these, and another of straight-up Offspring songs.
How do you navigate that as a band? It seems like The Offspring has always been caught in a catch 22 of sorts — if you do old-school skater punk songs, you’re accused of running out of ideas; but if you do anything that isn’t that, you get accused of selling out.
Exactly. Some of the hardcore fans just want us to remake Ignition over and over. We want to make records that the fans like, but at the same time — more than anything — you should be trying to make a record that you’re proud of. We definitely want to take our fans with us as we move forward, and we’re still happy to play the songs that made them fans in the first place.
I’ll tell you one thing: We’ve definitely stopped worrying about showing musical maturity. We’ve been doing this as a career for 25 years, and I don’t think we’ve ever had to try and show maturity in that time [laughs].
We’ve never been critic’s favourites — but at least they never came after us like they did for Greta Van Fleet. Did you see that?
Wasn’t it something?
Oh my god. [laughs] Those poor kids!
2018 marked 20 years since the release of Americana. At the time, ‘Pretty Fly…’ and ‘Why Don’t You Get a Job’ were probably the most un-Offspring songs that you’d ever released, and they’ve more or less gone on to be signature Offspring songs themselves. Is that an interesting contrast for you?
Yeah — I still love all that stuff, man. I mean, we play ‘Pretty Fly’ every single night. Our fans would riot if we didn’t.
It’s funny…when I was talking before about those two different sides to the new music that we’re writing, that’s more or less the exact same position we were in when we were making Americana. It was important for us to have that balance there — songs like ‘Pretty Fly’ are just as vital to that record as songs like ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ are.
Obviously, Americana came off the momentum of the success of both Smash and Ixnay — was there any mounting pressure within the Offspring camp to make a record that was as big as those two?
Yeah, there was. For a couple of reasons. The first was that we still felt like we were living in the shadow of Smash. I mean, Ixnay was by no means an embarrassment — it did really well by any standard.
“We’ve been doing this as a career for 25 years, and I don’t think we’ve ever had to try and show maturity in that time.”
You’ve got to remember, though, that Smash was just so wildly successful — as big as it was, Ixnay wasn’t nearly as huge as Smash was. The second was that, even when we were making Ixnay, we felt like we’d been painted into a corner. We thought people were expecting us to be this pop/rock act now. It was defensive — it was like, “We’re still a punk band, man! That’s where we came from!”
There was a bit of that that spilled over into Americana, but at the same time we were more conscious of it. We tried not to overreact, one way or another. Funnily enough, Americana made the pendulum between punk and pop/rock swing even bigger for us.
A few years ago, you did the tour where you played Ignition every night. Now, it’s Smash‘s turn. Have you hit any stumbling blocks in attempting to recreate a full album in the live setting?
To be honest, I don’t think we’ve done Smash enough times yet to really get a feel for what it’s like. We’ve only done it a few times now — Australia is gonna be the real test for it.
A lot of it is stuff we haven’t touched in a long time — ‘Not the One’ was probably played three or four times before we stopped playing it; ‘Something to Believe In,’ I don’t think we ever played that. We had to re-learn how to do all of it live — all the backing vocals, all the guitar parts, all the counter-melodies.
We did play Ignition a lot, though. Those full-album shows were a little easier — we always played every song off that record when we were touring it initially. I mean, we only had two records at the time. We could always sub in older stuff, but we were definitely bigger fans of Ignition than we were of the self-titled record.
We knew that Ignition was who we really were as a band — expressing our own voice without trying to copy our inspirations. By the time Smash came out, we didn’t have to play every single song off it – three albums is more than enough for a regular show. I think that’s why it’s been a little more challenging to re-learn all of Smash than it was to re-learn all of Ignition.
These days, The Offspring plays shows with your full-time drummer Pete Parada and your touring guitarist, Todd Morse. Obviously, neither of them appeared on either Ignition or Smash. What has it been like for you, Dexter and Greg to indoctrinate those two into the band on such a level?
They’ve been great. Pete’s been playing with us for over 10 years now, and a lot of the songs off Smash we’d play every night anyway. There were only like three or four songs that we really had to get Pete to work on them, and even then he had no trouble at all.
“We want to make records that the fans like, but at the same time you should be trying to make a record that you’re proud of.”
When we auditioning for a new drummer — this must have been 2006 — we jammed with about 20 guys over a weekend. Pete was one of the only drummers who could nail both the rock stuff like ‘Gotta Get Away’ as well as the hard-hitting stuff like ‘Bad Habit’ or ‘It’ll Be a Long Time.’ He could do everything, so it was a no-brainer to work with him.
As for Todd, he’s got a pedigree when it comes to punk-rock — when he’s not playing with us, he’s touring with H2O. All the guitar parts come to him real easy. He’s a really versatile guitarist — he knows all the hardcore stuff, but he can also play a mean Tom Petty lick when he wants to. Not that we make him play that sort of stuff all that often. [laughs]
It was the anniversary of Petty’s passing just recently. Did you ever get to meet him?
I never did, no. I wasn’t a huge fan growing up, but I came to appreciate his talents a lot — especially as a songwriter. I mean, the guy was everywhere. I guess it just never meant that much to me when I was a kid.
Todd plays in a cover band; they’re called Petty Cash. They do Tom Petty and Johnny Cash, and that’s it. [laughs] I feel like I’ve been able to appreciate his music a lot more through watching Todd play those songs in bars.
I was already a huge Johnny Cash fan, but this turned me into a Petty fan too. I’ve even sat in with the band a couple of times.
It’s interesting with guys like Petty — so many bands that played with him would say he was their hero, and you forget that artists like that had heroes of their own. It’s the same with The Offspring, no doubt — you’ve obviously played with bands that look up to you, but one can imagine you’ve been in a position where you’ve played shows and interacted with your own heroes.
For sure, man. That was us with the Ramones and with the Dead Kennedys — they were huge for us, and we couldn’t believe we got to meet them. I had a beer with Joe Strummer once, too. That was amazing.
That still happens to us now — this weekend, we’re playing a show with TSOL. They’re still a local band — they all have their own lives, but they still get together and play shows. Growing up in LA, in California, they were probably one of the biggest influences that Dexter, Greg and I all shared.
We got to know those guys and we love getting to see them now. We count ourselves very lucky.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster who didn’t freak out about this interview at all, because it’s not like Americana was the third album he ever bought or anything weird like that. He tweets like a stupid goddamn dumbshit motherfucker at @DJYwrites.
The Offspring will headline Good Things Festival in December. For all details, head here.