Offspring's Noodles: 'I Don't Care To Argue How Punk I Am'

artist: The Offspring date: 09/13/2008 category: interviews
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Offspring's Noodles: 'I Don't Care To Argue How Punk I Am'
Offspring's recording studio is tucked away in a non-descript industrial park in Huntington Beach, California. You could never guess that this unassuming little building is the place where four Orange County musicians have been working on their eighth studio album. And you'd be shocked even more when you found out that the music this quartet has been working on here has resulted in sales of over 30 million albums. Kevin Wasserman, more popularly known as Noodles, lead guitarist for Offspring, is probably the most innocuous musician in the band. He is kind of tall, kind of lanky, and sports thick, horn-rimmed glasses. He has spent a lot of time recently at this little concrete bungalow, recording guitars and singing backup vocals on the band's new album, Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace. And you would have seen him in the company of Bob Rock, producer of the album. Noodles is probably a little tired of going to the studio everyday. But now that's over and he can sit back and listen to all of the music and tell everybody about it. And that's exactly what he did. UG: It's been about five years since you released Splinter (2003), your last album. Why has there been so much time between albums? You did release the Greatest Hits record - was that put out to sort of put a bookend on the first ten years of Offspring's life? Noodles: Really what it was more of a time and place to put out a greatest hits record. Part of it was for purely selfish reasons. The ten years previous we'd spend a year recording a record and then a year touring and then a year recording and then a year touring pretty much like that off and on. And this was pretty much kind of a chance to break up that routine. And it also gave us a chance to do Warped tour, you know, because we weren't gonna do a whole bunch of big touring on just a greatest hits record. So we got to do Warped tour and then we did do Europe and a couple other places after that for four or five months I guess total on that. And that took us really to the end of 2005 and we had about six months where we really were just kind of laying low and then in June 2006 we started knuckling under and have been pretty much hard at it ever since. We'll have a week or two off here and there but we spent most of that time really working on this record. You did tour Japan and performed at the Summer Sonic Festival in 2007. What was that like? Yeah, it was great; we've done the Summer Sonic at least once before and it's always great. I love coming to Japan; I love Japanese food, I love Japanese beer. The shows were great and we actually debuted Hammerhead. Hammerhead was done, the song may not have been mixed, but the song was pretty much done at that point and we decided to debut it out there at Summer Sonic, the second one in Tokyo. And it was great to be able to do that there. The feedback and response we got seemed to be really good and we even did it again a night or two later at a club show that we did in Tokyo. Why do you think the Japanese embrace Offspring in such a big way? Lyrically, the ideas are based in western culture though you do sing about universal themes, of course. But the music is so rooted in American punk and rock and roll. You know, I don't really know. Probably the same things I like about the songs, you know. For ten years, we were definitely a punk band; punk rock was what we loved. But the punk scene was almost dead here in California and it was really just a hardcore punk rock scene happening; really more focused on aggression and testosterone than writing actually good songs (laughs). The focus was the (mosh) pit, not the music that was actually being played. That was the case with the majority of the bands that we played with; there were still gems out there and bands that were doing good songs. But most of was pretty hardcore and we never really fit in on that scene but we did enough to where we could still manage to get shows and get some respect and stuff. There's melody in all our songs though. But I don't know how well they could relate to all our lyrics really, but the world is getting smaller and smaller. With just the traveling and the telephones and now you've got the internet and we all see the same TV shows, the same news programs, and listen to the same music.
"I know what punk rock means to me and no one's going to be able to take that away from me."
You touched on the most important element: melody. Even something a little different like Fix You has tons of melody and great chord changes. The Sex Pistols were punk but they were able to do it; the Ramones were punk but they were able to do it. It was a ridiculous argument but I remember people arguing, Well, they're not hardcore! And it was like, Well, who cares? They're aggressive and they have great songs; who cares if they're hardcore enough? Now we have the same conversation about punk. People ask us if we could really be punk. I don't care to argue how punk I am to anybody; I know what punk rock means to me and no one's going to be able to take that away from me. When you look back at the Greatest Hits album, do you ever look at any of those songs and say, Wow, that's a great song. Almost as if you hadn't written it or played on it? Are you able to stand back from a song and have the ability to see it in that way? Yeah, yeah, that's how I feel about this record that's coming out. Because this record is new, it's very exciting for us. I think we did a great job on this record. I'm really stoked with how all these songs came out individually and as a whole record. I don't think that too much when I hear most of the stuff off the Greatest Hits record was songs that you heard a lot on the radio. They don't really strike me that much because I'm so familiar with them. But I'll go back and listen to an old Offspring album and there will be a song on there that, in my opinion, deserves to be on the Greatest Hits record, but for whatever reason didn't get as much attention. And I'm really struck like, God, that's just such a great song, I just love that song. Why didn't it do as well as I think it should have? But I feel that way about this record, too. Granted, part of that is because of the newness of it; you kinda always feel that way with any new record. And who knows what kind of effect this will have until it's out. Until it's released, we won't know what kinda feedback we're really getting. Does it get to a place where, as you say, you specifically needed to knuckle down and work on a new record? Or does that moment sort of arrive organically because you've been collecting guitar riffs and Dexter has been putting together different song ideas? Yeah, it depends. Dexter is the songwriter, really, so a lot of times he comes and the way it's usually been, he comes to the studio with almost the whole record written. And then a couple of songs happen in the studio. This time, it was more like he came in with a couple of songs and all the songs happened in the studio. While we were working with Bob, Bob Rock the producer, he really wanted to kinda be involved in that. And really his role was as a soundboard and a critic really, critiquing the songs with Dexter as they came to be. Some songs, you know, Dexter would come into the studio on Monday morning and go, Hey, I wrote this, and it would be the whole song. Other times he'd come in with just a riff or a part or a melody and build on that; it would be a lot more involved (with) songwriting. We were all kinda in the studio at various times when various things were happening, and we all our say up and down, thumbs up/thumbs down. Maybe this needs a little work, this part is great don't fuck with that, things like that. Whether we were talking about parts of songs or just tracks, individual tracks as well. Let's look at some of the individual songs and maybe you can fill us in on what is happening musically and guitar-wise. Half-Truism is the opening track and it begins with this clean guitar then segues into typical Offspring madness. I think that's actually Dexter (playing the clean guitar) doing that and then there's also the harmonic part over it. There's the clean picking and then there's harmonics played on top of it. And I want to say that that's actually Bob playing that harmonic part on top of that. And then it comes in with the heavy, standard Offspring guitar (laughs), and then we go back to that. I'm not really sure if that clean guitar is me or Dexter; we both played it, I'm not sure. We both played it at different times throughout and I'm getting confused as to what was the actual track and just shit thrown to see if it would stick. How does it work in terms of who plays what? Are you regarded more as the lead guitar player while Dexter is seen as more of a rhythm player? It depends from song to song; there's no real everyone goes, Oh, you must be the lead guitarist! No, not really. I'm generally a more accomplished lead player than Dexter but not always; it depends on the style. In Trust In You, the second song on the record, there's this really slidey kind of guitar solo that Dexter played. He is much better at sliding up and down the neck and stopping in the right position than I am. If you're doing bending and noodling and tweedling, then I am. It just depends on the style of guitar. The same with rhythmically; there are songs where we're rhythmically sliding up and down and Dexter has always been better at that than I ever have been. There's certain licks or whatever, right-hand stuff, that I'm usually better at than Dexter is. But his left hand is, at least much faster at sliding up and down the neck and more accurate than I am. Describe what is happening on Hammerhead which is the band's first single. There are some cool guitar tones on the intro and then it builds in that heavy drum riff. Actually, maybe you could describe more in general terms how an Offspring song gets layered and orchestrated. And did Bob Rock participate in this process? Yeah, well, we did a few different sessions doing the basic tracks up in A&M Studios (in Hollywood, California). I'm trying to remember exactly what was done when because some stuff we'll just start messing around in the studio and we'll just do it with a drum machine track to kinda build on a song. And that's really kind of the demoing process and then we'll call our good buddy Josh (Freese). We didn't have a drummer; at the time we were doing all the basic tracks, we were without a drummer. Adam (AtomWillard) had left to be in Angels & Airwaves and they were working, I think, on their new record or just starting to tour on it when we were doing the basic tracks for this. And so we went with Josh again and we had to schedule around his schedule; he was doing all kinds of stuff (he is a fulltime member of the Vandals, Viva Death, A Perfect Circle, Devo, and Nine Inch Nails). That guy's so busy. He's a good friend of ours and he's a great drummer so it's really a no-brainer (Freese recorded the band's 2003 album, Splinter). So, some songs we'd come in as a demo thing and then we'd go in and we'd record the basic tracks. We did a whole bunch early on in the project and then we went back three or four times, I guess, throughout the making of this record, as new songs were written. All four of us play on the basic tracks but we really focus on getting the drums. You have to have a good room and we do those up in Hollywood at Jim Henson's Studios (formerly, A&M Studios). Once we have a number of good tracks, we bring them back here (the band's recording facility in Huntington Beach, California) and then we start overdubbing. I don't think we really kept anything from the live guitars when were doing basic tracks; all of the bass is overdubbed. I know I re-did all my parts here in the studio; here and in Hawaii. Hawaii? Yeah, that's where Bob lives so we did about half the record over there; I want to say a little less than half over there, we did more of it here in Huntington (Beach). But we'd do it both here and over in Hawaii. That sounds very cool. Yeah, not a bad gig!
"I'm really stoked with how all these songs came out individually and as a whole record."
Are you the type of player who is always looking for new guitar tones? Experimenting with all the latest toys? Or do you tend to fall back on your tried and true guitar sounds? A little bit of both. I'll have times where I'm really into new guitars, new guitar sounds, new amplifiers. And then I just kind of back off for a little bit. I was really into collecting a few years and it kinda got crazy and after a while it got kinda confusing when you're messing around with too much stuff. At least it did for me. Most of that stuff wouldn't work for what we do anyways. You've got to start with just a good guitar sound and that's really kinda what we've always done. Every once in a while we'll put a chorus on a clean part here or there or maybe some kind of noodling bit over the main beef of a song. We don't screw around with effects too much. We messed around a little bit with amps and stuff in here. The only real effect we relied heavily on was the, what is it, the (Robert) Keeley-modified Tube Screamer? It's like the Ibanez Tube Screamer except it wasn't even an Ibanez. Essentially it's the same circuitry and stuff but then he adds some kind of chip to it or something. So what is your basic amp/guitar configuration, Noodles? We used a couple of different things; Dexter relied really heavily on an old Gibson. I think it was something that maybe Bob even hipped him to. It was an early 60s SG Special; it's a cherry with the single P-90 pickup and he's lovin' it. And for most of the rhythm tracks, especially all the heavier stuff, he'd run it through a Marshall JCM2000 or a Vox AC30 and that would give a little stringiness to it. We ran it all at the same time; it wasn't like three different tracks. All it was all on the same track, well, different tracks but the same take, I guess (in other words, both the Marshall and Vox were miked up and recorded simultaneously). And then the Dimebag Darrell Krank amp which actually sounded really good (laughs). I wouldn't think that a Dimebag Darrell amp would work for us at all but it really sounds really good. It's a lot more varied; not that there's anything against Dimebag, it's just different styles, you know what I'm saying? It's actually a really cool and great amp. And what is your main guitar? It's an Ibanez NDM 2, the signature model; it's a Talman. It's a Talman that I first started playing and then they discontinued and so I was just using the other Talman they kind of hung on for a little bit until they discontinued that one too! It's kind of similar to a Fender in style and shape except that it's got humbucking pickups; it's got a hum/sing/hum configuration on it (IBZ INF 1 humbucker neck pickup; IBZ INFS 1single coil middle pickup; IBZ INF 1 humbucker bridge pickup) which suits me a little bit better. I've always loved Fender guitars but it was always hard to get a good Offspring sound. I like Les Pauls, too, but they're just a little heavy and just a little chunky structure wise with the body and neck and everything. The sound of the guitars on Rise and Fall were huge and that's always been a part of the band's sound. You might be classified as some kind of proto-punk band but at the heart of everything is a real dynamic guitar tone. Yeah, well, you know, I mean, no one is gonna confuse me or Dexter with Eddie Van Halen! So, our guitar tone is really something that sets us apart. It's something that we definitely need to rely on heavily because we can play guitar but we're not great guitar players. And following that train of thought, most of the solos on the album are more like orchestrated guitar sections than straight up 16-bar lead breaks. Is that something you were consciously going for? Yeah, something that we kinda learned from well, shit, it wasn't so much we learned it from punk rock. In the 80s, it was verse/chorus/verse/chorus Solo! Verse/chorus/extended chorus/outro. You know? There were so many just bad solos! And punkers didn't play solos; most of 'em couldn't. My favorite ones did; Stan Lee (Dickies) would do a really good solo but he didn't have to be trying to set the world on fire with his guitar solos. He would just do a tasteful kind of melodic type of solo and so that certainly appealed to me more. You know, I love a great solo; I think Randy Rhoads was great on some of the stuff he's done but that's me thinking more like a guitar player than just a guy who wants to listen music and sing along. I think I'm thinking of it more technically when I listen to some of that stuff. So, that's kind of where we came from. But a solo can really work in a song if it's a great solo. If it's good, melodic; it can be fast as long as it carries the melody as well. The solo in Nothingtown has those types of melodic and rhythmic elements. Right; that's me. I was really kind of going for almost an old R&B rockabilly kind of thing. It started out (as something different); I don't know how that ended up on there. I'm getting it all confused in my head. It started off with triplets in that, just some cool old R&B stuff but obviously faster. That's one of the ones I kinda wanted to change the very end of it on that. And actually I had written something that was like twice as long and we ended up, against my judgment, it was one of the arguments that I lost, so on the record we cut that in half (laughs)! So, I was a little bummed about that. I worked hard on that, dude, you know, one of those things. There are keyboards on a couple songs including A Lot Like Me. The piano part on that was actually written on guitar and we never got the guitar to sound right in that part. We tried a bunch of different things and it just never really kind of felt the way we thought it should. So then they started messing around with the keyboards and came up with a piano sound. We know, Ah, shit, whenever you start messing around with piano, you're gonna get shit for it. But whatever, we thought it worked and it works pretty damn well. I'm assuming Dexter is playing the keyboards. He actually played a little bit of piano before he even started playing guitar. And there some keyboards in Fix You. Yeah, some strings. And some acoustic guitar. I thought it was just a clean guitar on that but maybe it is acoustic. I'll have to go back and listen to that shit. Who would have played the acoustic? If there's acoustic on that, it's Dexter. I know I played on Kristy, Are You Doing Okay,' there's some acoustic on the start and I played electric on that as well.
"There's definitely moments where I have a sense of pride about our accomplishments."
Lyrically, Kristy, Are You Doing Okay is sort of along the lines of Aerosmith's Janie Got A Gun. Is that correct? Yeah, you are. You know, that never occurred to me; I forgot about that song, you know. Yeah, it's a heavy, kind of unusual thing to sing about. It's a phenomenon that happens far too often (child abuse) and Dexter has had this incident or a couple of incidents that he remembered from when he was younger. He kind of woke up one night and laid down all those lyrics. I think everyone alive has a personal connection to somebody who suffered like that whether they know it or not. At least in this country, the real statistics on that are astounding. It's horrendous. Let's Hear It For Rock Bottom has a kind of Police vibe to it rhythmically speaking? Uh, yeah, I think so. Well, you know what reminds me of the Police in that is actually the harmonies that go along in the choruses. But certainly there's some sort of twisted ska thing going on in the verses; that hadn't occurred to me that that would be Policey. And that riff during the instrumental section that repeats while the chords change behind it - where would that type of orchestration come from? That was definitely something that got worked in the studio because it had a totally different verse. It had this really heavy, dark, menacing bass driven verse and Dexter and Bob felt that it just wasn't working. I really loved it because it was a huge contrast between the verse and chorus. I felt it worked together but they weren't feeling it. After a little while it was, Nah, this isn't working and then it really got reworked. They were right, it did come out a little better. You never know with these things. Another one where I lost that vote but I like the song, it really started to grow on me once they changed it. Sometimes I'll hear something and I'll have a hard time letting go of the way I originally heard it. Sometimes I just have a block there. And this is exactly the situation where Bob made his presence felt? Absolutely. That's why we always feel that we've benefited greatly from having an independent, objective ear in there. Rise and Fall which is sort of the title track has that very fast Offspring punkish rhythm? Right; certainly more old school, '77. It's a real common chord progression, a similar sounding chord progression and trying to make it sound new. That's the key to great rock and roll is to take the same three chords and make them sound new over and over again. If you look at bands like the Ramones or AC/DC, they do that stuff. Do you know what that chord progression is? Uhh, C - D - G (big laugh)! Is that what it is? It's pretty close to that; there's actually a fourth chord in that. I would have to pick up a guitar and try and figure that out. You know, it's funny though, some of the easier ones are the ones that I fuck up on the most. But the way you described great rock as reinterpreting what's come before, that's precisely what Offspring manages to do. Oh, well, thank you. I think we have to rely on far more chords; some of our songs have five or six chords in them (laughs). Not to mention minors! What's a minor chord? And that comment sort of brings us back to what you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation when you said you can never tell what the reaction will be to new music. As great as you think Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace might be, you don't know how your audience will accept this new album, do you? I'm confident because I don't feel like this there are some departures here, I guess. I'm slow to realize how different some of these songs really are. Fix You is a very slow song for us but it doesn't seem that far a field to stuff we've done in the past. In tone, that song reminds me a lot of Dirty Magic that we did off Ignition in '92. So, just the tone of the song reminds me a lot of that; the tempo is probably not too far off from that. But other people are kind of pointing out, That is pretty different for you guys. A Lot Like Me they're really pointing out but to me that totally sounds like an Offspring song. I'm confident that this record is gonna do OK at least 'cause I don't think it's that far a field from stuff we've done in the past. Definitely to me it sounds like an Offspring record for sure. So, I have that to rely on (laughs). The flipside is you never know - is it gonna do really well? Is it gonna do really poorly? You can never know. I suppose so. Yeah, but you can't worry about that. You make the songs, you do them so you think they're as good as they can possibly be and then you gotta kind of let it go. And just hope for the best and that's where I'm sittin' today. I think we did a really good job on the record and I'm just hopin' for the best at this point. After we finish our interview and you finish your beer, what are the plans? We've got a bunch of festivals this summer and then we're gonna be touring the rest of the world after that. The festivals are mostly here in the US and also in Europe. We're actually talking about coming to Japan and doing some shows there; there's nothing actually written yet but it's in discussion for sure. Who are some of the bands you'll be touring with? Oh, I don't know, we haven't even gotten that far. Once we start plotting the tour, then we're kinda figure out who we'll take on each leg. Usually we'll pick somebody to take with us unless we go out opening for someone else. Guns 'N Roses with special guests the Offspring! You never know. At the end of the day, you must walk around with a huge grin on your face because this amazing new record and for all the astonishing success Offspring has experienced. There's definitely moments where I have a sense of pride about our accomplishments. But overwhelmingly, I'm just more excited and grateful; grateful to be able to keep doing this. It's a cool gig, so I'm digging it. But thank you Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2008
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