FOREWORD: Fun-loving Huntington Beach bohos, The Offspring, were less punk than fellow Californian contemporaries Social Distortion, Green Day, and Rancid, but their dirtied-up grunge-daubed arena rock competed better against Seattle heavyweights Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Stone Temple Pilots for ‘90s mainstream rock radio airplay.
‘94s hugely successful Smash featured the tempting dare, “Come Out and Play,” and even better, “Self-Esteem,” which salaciously summed up Generation X’s passive-aggressive plight. Though ‘97s long overdue Ixnay On The Hombre couldn’t compare, it remains an underrated gem.
Luckily, ‘98s Americana allowed me easy access to the universally popular band and I caught up with dexterous guitarist Noodles at their New York Roseland Ballroom show. The band has slowed their pace since. ‘00s Conspiracy Of One was OK, but I was less interested in ‘03s under-recognized Splinter. Following a five-year layoff, ‘08s Rise And Fall Rage And Grace was a nifty comeback. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Famed was bestowed on Orange County quartet, The Offspring, when their third album, Smash, became one of the best selling indie rock albums of all time. Kevin ‘Noodles’ Wasserman (guitar-vocals), Dexter Holland (vocals-guitar), Greg K. (bass), and Ron Welty make simple, effective pop-punk chants that leave a lasting impression on the brain, separating The Offspring from many of their sound-alike brethrens.
Ixnay On The Hombre, released in ’96, had the same sure-footed uniformity as Smash, but lacked a track as popular as either “Come Out And Play” or “Self-Esteem.” However, radio jumped on board immediately for the funky, humorous ditty, “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy),” the stress track from the new Americana. Playing the part of anxious, victimized West Coast suburban misfits mired in teen ‘angst’ wasteland, The Offspring’s panted snot-nosed rants and razzle-dazzle guitar licks pack quite a wallop.
Highlights from Americana include mannered hardcore rockers Have You Ever” and “Walla Walla,” a rollicking version of Morris Albert’s otherwise melodramatic ballad “Feelings,” and “Self-Esteem” knockoff “She’s Got Issues.”
A humble Noodles offered plenty of insight about The Offspring during a pre-Halloween sit-down.
What seems to be the key to your success?
NOODLES: We try to have a good time and do what we enjoy. We hope our songs make a connection and find an audience.
But why have The Offspring earned platinum records while other West Coast pop-punk bands have not?
NOODLES: We’re just better. (laughter) No. There are bands that are better than us. But we’ve just struck a chord with people. We were in the right place at the right time and had been doing this for ten years before we had any commercial success. Why not TSOL, the Dead Kennedys or the Dickies? Certainly these bands have been noticed, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously. Our stuff is lighter than Korn.
The Offspring’s melodies and chants may be more adaptable to commercial radio than those older peers.
NOODLES: The earliest music I heard was when my mom used to listen to the radio. You know, “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” and “Up Up And Away.” Then, there were my father’s records like Simon & Garfunkle and Crosby Stills & Nash. I had a cousin who got kicked out of his house and came to live with us, He had The Who, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Then I got into Kiss.
Does the environment affect the differences between East Coast and West Coast punk?
NOODLES: East Coast is more of an inner city thing. New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC. There’s more of an industrial clanging sound. Iggy Pop once talked about Detroit pop being affected by Motor City industry. Growing up in ideal sunny California, the sounds of waves crashing in the background inspires you.
Also, The Offspring seem to use more major chords and come across less ornery than other punk-related bands. Perhaps it’s easier to lump you guys in with Mr. T Experience and Redd Kross.
NOODLES: Right. I’m familiar with those bands, but they’re not huge influences. We do deal with serious topics on “Have You Ever,” “Staring At The Sun,” and “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” but without overstating it. A very real emotion comes from driving around and looking at the bright kids we grew up with who had huge futures ahead of them and have fallen through the cracks. They got into drugs and forces that have crushed their spirit and left them immobilized or dead.
Do you feel “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” and Smash’s “Come Out And Play” informally address racial differences and teenage self-absorption in a humorous way?
NOODLES: Lyrically, they’re quite different. “Come Out And Play” concerns guns at school and youth-on-youth violence. That went beyond racial lines. “Pretty Fly” is about wannabes, being something you’re not in order to be cool – which is impossible. It’s a lot more tongue in cheek.
What does “She’s Got Issues” concern?
NOODLES: It was initially going to be called “I’ve Got Issues” but it came out like the guy was just whining. So we changed it. It’s about not taking responsibility for your adult life. You can’t blame all your problems on a dysfunctional family or bad childhood. Some people cry about needing closure. Big deal. Who doesn’t? Congratulations. But get over it. All of us have neuroses and psychoses.
Which may relate to the diminished expectations embraced on Americana.
NOODLES: We thought the songs on Americana were little illustrations on the opposite end of Norman Rockwell’s portrait of America. There’s a less attractive side to America. Without really knowing it, we put together a record that shows different examples of that. Dexter thought it’d be wise if the song “Americana” went with the theme of tattoos and fast food culture watering down values.
Rumor has it The Offspring cover the Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated” for the horror-comedy Idle Hands.
NOODLES: The movie people wanted us to do something recognizable for a scene at a high school dance where this hand is running around murdering people. We’re huge Ramones fans, but thought it might be blasphemous covering such a great song. We didn’t know if we could do it justice, We also re-recorded “Beheaded” from our first album which worked perfectly for the theme of Idle Hands.
Since I never heard your first two albums, could you explain the bands’ growth since then?
NOODLES: If you look back at the first record, you could see the seeds and the roots of The Offspring. You got the melody, the hard guitars and drum and bass., You got the uptempo feel. The first album was rougher because we were still learning our instruments. With Ignition, we really came into our own groove. “Dirty Magic” was our first real departure on Ignition. It was slow and had swirly acoustic guitars. The band was what I did on weekends and summer vacations back then. Our band is like brothers. Sometimes we want to kill each other, but it hasn’t been a struggle for us to stay together.
What will your live show feature this time around?
NOODLES: We’re gonna have more people onstage to help us out. We had to take some of the samples off the CD to do “Pretty Fly” live. Our tech has built a rack of doll heads he hits to trigger the samples. We’ll be flying by the seat of our pants and will be a lot more relaxed in what we’re doing.