Oodlesnay On "Ixnay On The Hombre"
Overnight success my ass. If you thought things happened quickly for the Offspring, think again. Formed in California's Orange County 12 years ago, in the wake of the post-punk explosion of the early '80s, the band, full of whipsmarts and sassy teen sneer, logged thousands of miles on the road in search of a good time and an audience.
Of course, it wasn't until their 1994 disc that the audience part happened. As they were traveling through Bakersfield, CA (again), on tour in a beat-up old Econoline, the van's engine exploded and, strangely enough, so did the band's radio single, "Come Out And Play (Keep 'Em Separated)," which later vaulted to #1. At last, there were audiences. Their debut, Smash, on the indie Epitaph label, went on to sell over eight million copies worldwide, and over the next year and a half the band went on to play what seemed like just as many tour dates.
Fast forward nearly three years, an eternity in rock and roll terms, where trends come and go faster than tricks at a brothel. Guitarists Dexter Holland and Noodles, bassist Greg K., and drummer Ron Welty, still together - though now with a little cash in their pockets, and on Columbia Records - release their long-awaited follow-up, Ixnay On The Hombre, if for no other reason than to continue their creative streak and prove that their debut success was no overnight fluke.
Theory proven. Hombre is a beastly bludgeoning of archetypal post-punk riffing and positive proselytizing. With the help of producer Dave Jerden, Holland and Noodles prove themselves to be a dexterous and meaningful guitar duo, following the adage "great taste, less filling" (like all great punk bands) and scorching the musical landscape like bolts of lightning across a treeless prairie.
From his home in Orange County, Noodles enjoys the afterglow of a successful recording project.
Has the band changed since the last time out?
I'm sure we have in certain ways. But any changes just mark our progression, our growth as a band. I've been in the band 12 years now and I'm sure what's happened over that time, especially in the last two years, has been for the better.
How would you have described the band 12 years ago?
Tinny little punk rockers, playing tinny little music. I was 21 when I joined the band and I was the only one old enough to buy beer. I think that's why they asked me to join. But I worked out so they let me stay.
So then how would you describe the band today?
Less tin, more meat, certainly in our playing. A little bit more knowledge of how to get what we want out of our songs, live or in the studio. A lot more practice [laughs]. We still don't practice much; but touring a year and a half after the record, we're just a lot more accomplished, a lot tighter.
How have you matured musically?
To look at the record, we haven't really matured musically, at least not in major ways. There's still really silly and goofy stuff there, stuff that we love to do. And there are some serious messages, too. That's been the band's combination from the word go, really.
Is there one guy in the band who has been driving those messages?
[The message] was never a conscious thing, ever. It's just the way it comes across. That's the feeling we all share about life, it's why we stay together as a band, and why we've lasted 12 years without killing each other.
Was there a low point for the band?
If we were aiming at celebrity and stardom and riches we never would've lasted through the first year. We did this for fun, so there were no real low points. I thought about quitting the band when my daughter was born. I didn't want to traipse across the country playing punk rock. I thought I needed to do the right thing and quit. But then I said, "Fuck that, I need to do this," and hung with the band. There were times when I had to be replaced because I had to work to support my family, and that really sucked. But that's the sacrifice you make.
Has the new record deal changed the tone of the band? Have you gotten more serious?
Absolutely not. We've always gone in and demoed our stuff before recording and compiling it. We told Columbia that we weren't going to audition material and that we didn't want anyone coming to the studio, and they obliged us. They left us alone and got the record when it was done. They didn't hear anything beforehand and they're real happy with it. They were stoked. At least they seemed to be.
Did you feel like you took any chances on the Ixnay record?
Not really. We recorded a few more songs than we needed, and if we had used some of the other ones that were left off, it would have ended up a little more risky. But we're not disappointed in what we kept. I think it's a great record and I love these songs. Maybe we'll save the limb-walking for the next one.
The climate isn't good for taking risks these days, is it?
We went into this business with our eyes open. Any week we realize that this whole Offspring thing could take a nosedive and we could just be gone. We could be the next "Great Wasn't." That's the nature of the business. So, no, I guess it's not a great time for risks.
In terms of your guitar, you sound like classic rockers on a couple of tracks. Does your punk rock have classic-rock roots?
Uhhh...errr...uhhhh... How can I deny that? I can hear Zeppelin in there a few times.
You ripped off Zeppelin on "Way Down The Line."
[Laughs] Yeah! It kind of sounds like "D'yer Mak'er." It didn't sound like that until we played with some of the effects on guitar. Then it was like, Whoa, daddy! It was right there. It originally had a ska ending, then Dexter came up with that whole lick and we pumped it up so it's really in your face.
And there's a "More Than A Feeling" riff in there, too, on "I Choose."
Yeah, I don't see it, but others have said the same thing. Jello [Biafra, punk-rock icon and author of the album's "Disclaimer" opener] walked in on that one while we were recording it and said, "Offspring? This isn't an Offspring record! This is a Boston record!" I don't hear it but I hear that chucka chucka. I like the song because I have my only solo on it.
Did you write your own solo for that?
Dexter had a solo written for it, but it didn't really sound that great and none of us liked it much. It was too standard, so I came up with my Jane's Addiction rip-off solo and we went with that one.
You don't have any other solos on the record?
Are there any others? There's a lick on "Me and My Old Lady," and that's Dexter. I think he kept all the prime ones for himself. A lot of the songs have little licks that underline the chords; they aren't really solos. But Dexter takes most of those, too. Those little licks have really become a key to the Offspring's sound.
Tell me how you came up as a guitar player and what you intended to accomplish.
I just wanted to play along to Clash songs with my buddies at the park, or play "Sympathy For The Devil" on guitar. That was it. I don't remember playing with any aspirations at all, back then. I played because I loved playing. Whatever I was into on a record, I wanted to learn. I'd pick it up, plug in, and figure it out. The more I did that the better I got. Ramones songs were a great place to start, and the Dickies, too.
How old were you when you picked up the guitar?
I was 18 when I first got into it.
So at 31 you must still be learning.
Oh yeah. When I was 18 until about 24 was when I was the best guitar player I was ever gonna be. Everything was new and I just banged on the damn thing. I didn't think about it. Everything was fun. You have such a feeling of excitement. That translates into your playing. I must sound horrible, like a grumbly old man!
No, not at all. But what has to happen for you to be excited about playing again?
I really still love playing, getting out and rocking. Now I like switching from an electric to an acoustic once in a while. Or go from a single-coil to a humbucking or a Strat to a Les Paul. I just bought an E-bow and I can screw around with that for hours.
So you keep on moving forward as a player?
I guess that's my philosophy. Somebody asked me the other day what I'd tell kids who just picked up the guitar, and I couldn't think of anything decent. Just keep playing. . . . Play what you enjoy. Don't worry about being somewhere else other than that chord or note you're playing at the time. Have fun with it. If you practice to be somebody else, that's disingenuous. Play for fun.
Did you ever want to "be" somebody as a guitarist?
Yeah, I wanted to be Hendrix. No . . . not even Hendrix. I wanted to be Keith Richards, but that was just for the fun of it. I don't ever think I'll be Keith. I don't want to be Keith Richards [laughs]. He's my idol but I don't want to be him. That'd be a little scary.
Has money made it more interesting for you to be a guitar player?
Yeah, sure. I just bought a Taylor acoustic. It's an awesome guitar. I've been banging on it for the last month. In the meantime, all the strings on my electric rusted out while I was playing acoustic, so I changed the strings and started banging on electric again.
How often do you practice?
There are times when I go every day for a couple of hours and then there are times when I won't pick it up for a week, depending on what I'm doing. Sometimes I'll go through a guitar magazine and learn a song. The other day I tried to learn "Pinball Wizard" from some magazine [that'd be our Aug/86 issue-Ed.]. I had my own way of playing it; I'll never get it verbatim. Now I play an amalgamation of how they tell me to play it and how I want to play it. But I will try to learn it. Then I'll spend some time just banging out chords, come out with some weird little riffs of my own, some weird Middle Eastern kind of droning things.
Did Dexter turn you onto that Middle Eastern stuff?
All the Middle Eastern stuff is his. He's got a real ear and feel for that. Originally he heard it from the old surf and punk stuff, then he got into belly-dancing music. He really went off. For his bachelor party I hired a Middle Eastern band and this guy came out playing an electric oud. They got the wildest sounds out of those instruments.
How do you and Dexter work together as a team?
What we try to get is a sound that's fat and punchy, yet real well-defined. We want the energy there, but we want it fat enough so we can cut it with a knife. We try to differentiate our playing a little bit, but that just happens in the studio.
How can we pick out your parts in a stereo mix?
I'm in the center and Dexter's in the far right and far left! At least that's how it is as far as the rhythm goes. He plays along with the rhythm section when the guys are doing those tracks, and then I'll come along and match him. Then he'll come back, take out his first guitar, and overdub it to try to lock in more with Greg and Ron.
Is it tough to lock in like that?
When we're playing live, not at all. But when we're in the studio together and we're listening to tape we'll play through the whole thing and you'll notice it gets fuzzy in certain areas. But you don't want to clean it up so much that you'll lose the energy, and you don't want it to sound sloppy, either. Most of the stuff we fuss about most people wouldn't notice-as long as the energy's there and the song has the groove going. If there's a missed note or a missed chord, or if Greg comes in a half-second late into the chord we're doing, you're gonna hear that for eternity if you don't work it out. There's stuff on our other records that I can't bear to hear anymore.
Are you guys perfectionists in the studio then?
I think we really work hard on getting the sound we want and getting the songs the way we want to hear 'em. But at the same time we're not anal about it.
What was producer Dave Jerden's role in the whole thing?
Dave lent an extensive knowledge of recording studios and equipment. He turned us on to Bogner amps. Dexter's rhythm guitars go through a Bogner and a Mesa and a Vox AC120. The Vox is real low and the Mesa and the Bogner are comparable volume-wise. I'm just going through my Mesa.
What else did he introduce in the studio?
He introduced Leslie speakers. Dexter was hittin' me up for a chorus kind of thing on "Gone Away" and Dave wanted me to use these Leslies. . . . Also, there's some wah in "Amazed," and little weird things here and there, but most of the songs are cut and dry, with a little reverb.
Do you and Dexter have similar backgrounds on guitar?
When I first joined the band I had two years on Dexter as a guitar player, but that was 12 years ago. I've been playing for 15 years and he's been playing for 13, so that headstart I had on him kind of levels out after that long.
But the guitar sound is the central focus of the band.
The wall-of-guitar thing is definitely where we came from and where we want to be.
Are you taking punk rock in new directions?
Anyone who plays in a punk-rock band should be taking punk rock in new directions. It's not about limiting yourself. Punk's never been about limitations. It's about breaking out and branching out and exploring new areas, not conforming to what's been done or what you're told should be done. For the Offspring, we're doing different things, branching out. "Me And My Old Lady" and "I Choose" are pretty much straight rock tunes, but I don't think we're taking punk rock in any real radical direction.
Who knows? Sooner or later you guys might not even be a punk rock band...
[Laughs] Well, I'll always think we'll have that with us, and punk rock will always be with me persoanlly. But yeah, the band may not. Punk means something different to everybody. What it means to the average radio listener is quite different from what it means to those of us who were in the trenches 15 years ago.
By Bob Gula, from "Guitar" magazine - March 1997