Offspring: 'If You Look At The Songs It's Essentially Three Chords'

artist: offspring date: 06/08/2012 category: interviews
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Offspring: 'If You Look At The Songs It's Essentially Three Chords'
Days Go By is the Offspring's ninth album and like their previous records it brings together elements of rock, punk and funk. Guitarist Noodles is all over these tracks spilling little bits of distorted guitars here and clean guitars there. This is Bob Rock's second time producing the bandhe worked on Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace and the first time drummer Pete Parada has ever played on an Offspring record. Though it is the band's first album in four years, they did release Happy Hour! in 2010, a Japan-only release that featured alternate and live versions of earlier songs. This seemed like a natural jumping off place to begin the conversation. UG: The Offspring's last studio album, Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, came out in 2008 but in 2010 you did release Happy Hour! There were a lot of covers on there from T.S.O.L., the Buzzcocks and the Stooges. Were those bands really important in the development of the Offspring's music? Noodles: Yeah absolutely, we listened to all that stuff. With T.S.O.L. when Dance With Me first came out that record was on my turntable for a year and so was the first Ramones album. Those records changed my life for sure and gave me a love of music really. I mean I had real passion for that music at that point. I always loved music and that stuff just kinda turned the world on its end for me. You can certainly hear how those bands rubbed off on the Offspring on early songs like I'll Be Waiting and Blackball. But there's virtually none of that influence on the Days Go By album. Well I think if you were to jump from the first record to this one, yeah. I think if you look at all our records from one to the next and see the progression, I think the progression there has been pretty steady. We've always liked mixing it up a little bit. For the first 10 years we played mostly with hardcore punk bands and that was the scene that was happening at the time. And we weren't so much into just the angry hardcore. We also liked songs and we liked the Ramones and we liked the Vandals and the comedy aspect of it as well. We played with a lot of just really straight edge, hardcore angry motherfuckers and we shared some of that. But we also liked to kind of laugh and poke fun at each other too. On the Happy Hour! album you covered Hey Joe. Was that a nod at Jimi Hendrix? Probably a little bit of that and Love even. Love did an amazing version of Hey Joe. Yeah, and then there's a nod to Black Sabbath in the breakdown in the middle. Splinter comes out in 2003 followed by Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace in 2008. That's a five-year span and then Days Go By is released in 2012, which is a four-year break. You've bridged the gap from five years to four years. [Laughs] Part of it is while we're touring, we don't even think about new music and we don't think about new songs or things like that. So after a record we'll tour for roughly a year on and off and then just kinda go our separate ways for six months or so before we start sitting down and thinking about the next record. So yeah, we worked on this record for just probably a little bit over two years actual working on it. The way we did it while working with Bob Rock the producer, we flew out to Hawaii and couple times for demos and then we did most of the work here in Huntington Beach. Bob living in Hawaii, he'd come out for a month and go back for a couple weeks and come out for a month and go back for a couple weeks. I think at certain times he even went and worked on other projects and we'd kinda sit with stuff. Sometimes we'd still be in a demo studio working at that point. Usually all of the stuff from the writing to recording and all that and a lot of the times that was done at the same time. A lot of that stuff was written in front of mics. Was it really? Yeah, with Bob right there. We're doing things very differently. Dexter used to kind of woodshed to write a lot of his stuff and then we could get together and hash out what things we would change about anything and then go in and record it. And then things would still change even in the recording studio. But this time we're just pretty much writing it in front of the mics. You worked with Bob Rock on Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace and brought him back for Days Go By. He doesn't seem like the obvious choice to produce the Offspring. Yeah, a lot of people have said that. Even in the beginning when we decided to have a discussion with him about producing us, we knew of him from Metallica and Motley Crue and a lot of the big rock stuff. But once we sat down with him we learned where he came from and some of the other bands he's worked with. He's worked with D.O.A. and produced or at least mixed and engineered some Avengers stuff so he's got a lot of roots in punk rock as well. Dexter was talking to him one time and said, You know that guitar sound on Pretty Vacant'? I think it was some Sex Pistols song. Bob goes, Yeah, that's a Les Paul through a Vox AC-30. He was just like, Bam. OK. So yeah, Bob's got a lot more going on than just the big metal rock stuff. We shared a lot of musical sensibilities with him. Days Go By is the first album drummer Pete Parada plays on. Yeah, because I think Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, all the basic tracks were done I think by the time he started working with us about five years ago. So yeah, this time we had him play on about half of it and we had Josh Freese still play on about half of it. Was there a reason Pete Parada didn't play on the entire record? I think mostly it came down to logistics. If we were in the studio and felt like things were really going and we knew Josh was in town and we didn't want to slow down and wait for Pete to fly out, we'd call Josh. Pete doesn't live in southern California. If Josh was in town he could come down and do it and we could just keep going with this. When the juices are flowing you really want to move with it. If you're hemming and hawing about a song, we'd send Pete a demo. The way Pete worked was we'd fly him out for a couple days and knock out two or three songs and then he'd go back home and we'd send him demos and have him come back out and knock another two or three songs out. With Josh if we were flowing and he was in town, it was boom. He lives in Long Beach so in 15 minutes he's over and four hours later we have a song.

"We played with a lot of just really straight edge, hardcore angry motherfuckers and we shared some of that. But we also liked to kind of laugh and poke fun at each other too."

When we spoke for the Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace album you said, The key to great rock and roll is to take the same three chords and make them sound new. The music on Days Go By sounds a lot more complex than just moving around three chords. Yeah, I know but at the same time if you look at the songs it's essentially three chords. We're texturing the guitars a little bit more and we're learning how to do that and layering different things and trying different sounds. Even with the pop song Cruising California (Bumpin' In My Trunk) there's keyboards and stuff but it's really four chords in that whole thing and that's it [laughs.] Yeah, we still try to stick to that. What we don't want to become is prog rockI think that's one of the things that people say. But at the same time we don't over think that stuff either too much. We wanna write good songs. If a song has five chords but sounds good we're not gonna go, Oh, we can't do that. Is a song like Cruising California (Bumpin' In My Trunk) as much a part of the Offspring's character as a song like Days Go By? I think so; that's the lighter side of us. A song like that; a song like Pretty Fly (For a White Guy or Original Prankster. And then there's another one on this that's pretty funny called Secret Family. It's all about a guy who is married with kids and falls in love with a stripper and wants to start a second secret family [much laughter.] You know it's just dumb stuff. Like I said we also love the Dickies and the Vandals and bands like Verbal Abuse. Days Go By has a lot of great guitar tones and melodic stuff going on in it. Is this one of the songs where you experimented with different sounds and layers? Yeah, that song changed a lot. It was such a straightforward rock song and sounded like so many other bands in a lot of ways from the Foo Fighters to the Cult and we've gotten a lot of that. We wanted to make it sound like an Offspring song. That intro lead sure reminds people of the Cult absolutely or reminded me of it but the song doesn't I don't think. It's hard to imagine the Cult doing a song like Days Go By. Yeah, and we were kind of discussing it and we changed that so much. Finally we got to the end and I go, You know what? If I head that riff coming out over the radio it would prick my ears up. I'd go, Ooh, what's this?' And that's kinda what we all agreed on. The song we think is stronga mid-tempo straightforward kind of rockin' song. Trying to look at your own music subjectively is an interesting view to take. It's really difficult to do that; to be subjective. But yeah, ultimately you gotta try to stand back from these songs and just weigh em as a music fan. How would I feel about this song if it wasn't me playing on it? That's really difficult to do. It must be impossible. Days Go By is the first single from the new album and Hammerhead was the first single from Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace. Did you consciously want the first single from this album to be more melodic and less heavy than Hammerhead? Not so much. It's, How's the song sound? Do I like this? Is the melody good? Is there enough punch in the choruses? How's the intro? Does it grab people and make em want to take notice of the rest of the song? I guess you kind of look at all of that. When you're doing it it's not so much thought out as a feel. You're working on different guitar sounds for different parts. It's, How does this chorus feel? How does the verse feel? Does the verse stand up to the chorus? Should we put a pre-chorus in here and if so does it build on the verse and then lead into the chorus? And ultimately you just gotta go, How does it feel? And you stop thinking about all that shit and go, How does it feel? Do you have a better sense of how to orchestrate guitar parts and layer different sections? Well, I think so and again that's all subjective as well. I think ears change over time. I think what was a great sound last year or last month may not be a great sound today in my ears. And gosh, traveling around you learn a lot. You're playing in different venues all the time outdoor and indoor and different monitors. Sometimes you just end up crumbing on your guitar sound and sometimes you're stoked and you love it because it's so good. It depends on what the cabinet is set on: do you have it up on wheels or do you have it on a cement floor or a wood floor? But I think you kind of learn to take that all into account and make the most out of what you've got. And I think tastes change. You've changed your gear over the years? I've changed pickups; I've changed amps. I really like what I've got running right nowcheck with me in two years. It might be a totally different rig with active EMG pickups. Can you describe your main guitar and amp rig on Days Go By? Yeah, for a lot of this we used an old SG Junior with one P90 pickup. We've been using that a lot. Gosh, we used Marshall amps; Crank amps; and a Vox AC30. Dexter used a Diezel head and sometimes we'd use em together and sometimes just one. I think we used a Roland JC-120 for when we re-did Dirty Magic and some of the other clean parts on the record. And all different kinds of guitarswe've got Gibsons Les Pauls, Fenders and of course a bunch of Ibanez in there. I've got an old Strat we used on some of the more glassine kind of clean guitar solos. Dirty Magic had a pretty dark vibe about it. A lot of people point to that song as one of the first places where we really stepped outside of what was considered punk. I remember a friends of ours, one of the guys in Guttermouth, listening to that and going, I don't know about this one, dude. It's not fast or aggressive or in your face. And we're like, Aw dude, c'mon, it's a great song. What do you mean?

"Cruising California (Bumpin' In My Trunk) is the lighter side of us."

Do you ever give more thought to that dividing line of what you can and cannot do musically? Sure. It's funny because I didn't think about that with Pretty Fly. I thought Pretty Fly was just funny. I think Why Don't You Get a Job on that record was a little more like, Whoa, are we OK doing this? How's this gonna work? But ultimately you just go, Ah, you know what? It's kind of a cool song. It's not the punkest of songs by any means but we're gonna go with it. There's an arsenal of gear you're mixing and matching. Yeah, and Bob is quite a collector of guitars, amps and different stomp boxes and stuff. He'd bring in something new and it would be, Hey, let's see how this sounds. Cause he wanted to see how his new guitar sounded and some of the times it worked. He brought in a Les Paul. I don't think it was vintage but it was made to look vintage and it sounded great and he had it at the studio for a month or so and it ended up on a couple of things. Secrets From the Underground has a cool little orchestrated solo section. You've never been about straight up soloing. Not so much, no. Not with this band anyways. We tried early on and I remember on the first record cutting some out because the solos sucked. It was wanking. And that was one of the things about punk rock was that not every song needed a guitar solothe Ramones never did em. All I Have Is You is filled with these little guitar lines that come and go. Is that just you experimenting? A lot of times, yeah. And a lot of times Dexter and I will go back and forth and try different things. That song is such a simple structure and really kind of stripped down at the beginning and in the verses. That's an old, old song that he's been workin' on at least since the last record. It's changed quite a bit and he finally got it to where we all really like it so we ended up going with that. All those little things you just throw em on there and see where they work and how much do we use em? Should it be in this part and that part and that part or just this part and that part? Or should we change it a little bit between the two parts? Dividing By Zero has a bit more of that classic Offspring punk groove to it. Right. That song kind of reminds me a lot of Take It Like a Man. And we had a really good time just getting together and all playing on that one. That was really fun and Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell as well. One of the lyrics from Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell is, Oh, we're pouring gasoline so dance around the fire that we once believed/Ah, we're going down in flames so dance around the fire. Is there a sense of resignation in this? Yeah, that song's pretty much a nihilistic song. Days Go By is kind of like a commiseration and then a call to hope that these days will pass. Let's look to the future and let's have some hope. You gotta pick yourself up and you gotta stick with it and hang in there and you'll get through it. Whereas this song is, Aw man, it's all fucked up. But then he also asks the question, 'Are you really going down like that/Riding down the missile with a cowboy hat?' So yeah, Are you really gonna make it worse? Are you gonna fuck it up even worse or are you gonna try to do something? But we all know how it feels to be on both sides of that. Aw, this is fucked. Fuck it. But then you go, Wait a second. Alright, I can help here rather than be part of the problem. It's a little bit of both; we're schizophrenic in a lot of ways I think. Dividing By Zero has that sort of Arabic-sounding solo. The intro riff has got a little bit of that Arabic feel and certainly the solo does for sure. I think that's a natural harmonic minor or whatever. I don't know. Where did that modal type of playing come from? Had you heard other guitarists using that scale? Yeah, a little bit. I think really a lot of the surfy stuff was from Dick Dale. That solo in Bloodstains, the Agent Orange song kinda got us going with that. I'm a big fan of System Of a Down and they've got a lot of that stuff going. Are you really? Yeah yeah. I can't speak for Dexter or Greg but I love that band. I think Greg hates em and I think Dexter's kind of in the middle somewhere. Once in a while you can hear a Nirvana influence pop up in a song. Sure yeah. A friend hooked Dexter, Greg and Ron upI had to work and I couldn't goto some MTV awards and they got to go backstage and they actually handed Ignition off to Kurt and asked him to listen to it and were stoked to be able to do that. Epitaph Records re-released newly mastered versions of Ignition and Smash. How did that feel? I think it was time. The way technology is coming you can play the stuff louder and still keep it sounding good. I think it was great that we were able to redo that. So you dig the remastered versions better than the originals? Yeah, I haven't A/B'd them or anything but yeah sure, I thought they sounded good. If we could go back, I think we would redo those records [laughs] and especially the first two. Even Smash I can pick out things where we're not the tightest band in the world on these things. But at the same time that's where you gotta let it go. It is what it is and people liked it. We started the conversation by talking about early songs like Blackball and I'll Be Waiting. Everything from the sound of the guitars to the grooves were pretty rough. I tell you a lot of that was probably accidental at least on those first two records. We didn't know what we were doin' and we got what we got. I don't want to sound like I'm bashing that stuff. They were wonderful documents of that period. Yeah absolutely. As much as I hear em now and go, Man, I wish I had this guitar or that guitar back then, you gotta let it go.

"I think ears change over time. I think what was a great sound last year or last month may not be a great sound today in my ears."

Talking about Smash for one second, that record did really well for the band. What was it about that collection of songs that meant so much to Offspring fans? Oh gosh. The grunge thing came along and Nirvana came along and put a stop to big arena rock that that the time I despised. Now I can go back and listen to a lot of those bands and kinda laugh along and sing along and whatever. But I was stoked to see Nirvana on Saturday Night Live destroying their equipment. To me it was like, Yeah, it's vindication finally. And there was a lot of bands I liked more than Nirvana. I thought Nirvana was a great band but I don't think they'd be in my top five even. There's a lot of bands that I love. But you had the sense when Nirvana trashed their guitars they were knocking down a musical wall so to speak? To see that they were one of us. They were closer to what we were doing than anybody who had ever made that kind of splash before. So it was great to see that. I think the grunge thing just kind of imploded on itself and the fans wanted, What else is new? And then the punk thing came and it was Green Day and it was us really followed by Bad Religion and Pennywise and NOFX and other bands that had been around for 10 years as well. Since it's been four years since the last record, did Days Go By represent a complete document of what you wanted to say as a band? There's a lot of songs on the record that do. Some of it's just about personal relationships and struggling to maintain your sense of identity in a relationship in the song Turning Into You. All I Have Left Is You is about a breakup. Then there's The Future Is Now, which is about human beings getting lost in technology. Secrets From the Underground is about some of the political movements we've seen whether it's Occupy or the Tea Party and people just being pissed off and not gonna take it anymore. Musically in terms of sounds and textures was Days Go By a step forward? Umm, you know what? We're always trying to do that. A lot of the basic stuff we use like that SG, we used that on the last record as well and a lot of similar amps. I think we used half of the amps we used on the last one and then brought in two or three new ones. And some radically different ones for different parts like a Fender Champ or whatever for a small part in something. You wanted it to sound smaller but still gritty. So yeah, we're just always kind of experimenting with that and we always have done. A lot of times some of the songs we come up with and the sounds are just so different we just think, Ahh, it's just not right for the band unfortunately this time. There are those unused songs laying around? There's a song and I don't want to get into it but we've been holding it back for probably 12 years. I think it's such a great strong song but we just haven't figured out how to make it sound worthy of an Offspring record and fit somehow. The inevitable tour is coming up? Yeah, we leave for Europe and we'll be gone for a month. Then we come back and we've got some other dates scheduled and we're trying to build more of a tour around those dates. I think in September we're gonna have a full North American tour and we've already got some Canadian dates in July and I don't know how we're gonna work that all out. You're looking forward to playing the new songs from Days Go By? Absolutely yeah; new and old. We played a small club the other night [Alex's Bar in Long Beach, California on May 3rd] and did just Ignition, the whole record all the way through. What was that like? It was just so much fun. You know it's funny because I was really nervous about it. I don't know why. It was a combination of having that show and then two days later we did the Weenie Roast [big show presented by Los Angeles radio station KROQ and including Coldplay, Incubus, Garbage and others] and having not played a whole bunch lately, the two shows I was really nervous about. But the Ignition show was great and it was so much fun playing those old songs. They came back real quick. You didn't have a problem figuring out the guitar parts? Not at all. I remember those songs more than I remember some of the stuff off of Rise and Fall because we played some of those songs for years. I think there were some songs we only played a few times live anywhere like Hypodermic and things like that. We only had two records at that point and most of the songs we played a lot. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2012
More offspring interviews:
+ Offspring's Noodles: 'I Don't Care To Argue How Punk I Am' Interviews 09/13/2008
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