Source: Guitar World, December 2000
Typed and slaved over by Anthony at www.greendaysite.com

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Part One:
Substance-Abusing Vertically Challenged Persons?

Mike Dirnt mashes down the accelerator of a rented BMW and we go lurching up Cahuenga Boulevard, north toward Sunset, in the sleazy, older part o Hollywood. "The last time I was in L.A., I had midgets sniffing cocaine in my hotel room," Green Day's bassist matter-of-factly observes. "You know, it's much more tame now."
    Sprawled in the back seat, drummer Tre Cool is grinning and mellow, having had a few hits off his small bronze pipe back at the rehearsal hall.
    "You don't see a lot of smokin' midget guitar players," Mr. Cool muses. "You don't see a lot of those three-quarter size guitars. Now a ukulele...sounds like 'you can lay me.' What about balalaika?"
    What indeed? Green Day may have been out of the limelight for the past years, but the march of time has not diminished their capacity for adolescent wackiness. They haven't matured all that much, but their music has. Their new album, Warning, takes in a wider range of sounds and styles than any of their previous discs. Acoustic guitars are prominent on many songs. And Green Day guitarist/singer/songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong seems to have finally come clean about having swallowed the classic rock dictionary. Various songs contain echoes of the Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Who and other timeless rock icons. But every single number is imbued with the glinting melodic sensibilities and deadpan wit that have always been Armstrong's stock-in-trade. And at the end of the day, it's Armstrong's unmistakable songwriting style that defines Green Day--even more so than the buzzy pop-punk sound they brought to the commercial mainstream with their albums Dookie (1991), Insomniac (1995), and Nimrod (1997).
    "The songs are more acoustic-based," Dirnt says of Warning, "but not in a Bon Jovi way. More in an early Bruce Springsteen or Pete Townshend type of way."
    While Dirnt and Cool cruise L.A., Armstrong is holed up in a nearby recording studio with a roomful of guitars and some overdubs to complete. Dressed in dowdy blue work clothes and heavy boots, he looks more like someone who's there to clean the studio than a rock star client who's spending a hundred bucks an hour. The guitarist moves with quiet, deliberate intensity from the control room to the lounge. Settling onto a leather sofa, Armstrong explains that he sees Warning as the next step in Green Day's evolution--one that was made possible by "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," the acoustic ballad from Nimrod that became a surprise hit in 1997.
    "I think 'Time of Your Life' has really freed us, in a lot of respects, to be able to do different things," says Armstrong. "To get into more sensitive content without feeling like you're selling yourself out. Or that you're doing something because you need a hit."
    After Green Day finished touring in support of Nimrod, they were more than ready for a hiatus. To reconnect with their roots, they spent a lot of time hanging around the San Francisco Bay Area--their home and the place where they first became a band, as part of Berkeley's Gilman Street punk scene.
    "We had to take some time out to get our personal lives in order," says Cool, who went through a divorce and a second marriage in the interval between Nimrod and Warning. Dirnt had some health issues to sort out. What he feared was a heart condition turned out to be a relatively minor digestive disorder. The bassist also underwent a divorce--one that allows him to share custody of his daughter with his ex-wife. Fatherhood is a big issue for both Dirnt and Armstrong these days. Dirnt wears a "Superdad" T-shirt for our interview. Given the slightest incouragement he'll whip out his wallet and start showing photos of his daughter.
    "I moved fives times in the last three years," he says. "I split with my wife. It was an amicable split, but it was a split nonetheless. I lived in a crappy apartment for a year. Then I sold my house. Then I lived in another tiny little house. Then I moved out to Oakland and I live there now with my girlfriend Sarah. So it's really nice."
    Armstrong also needed time off to work on his marriage, which, unlike his bandmates, he was able to save. "My marriage was pretty rocky," he confesses. "I really needed to concentrate on that. I just needed to stay home for a while. I needed to stay home from music for a while--to be hungry for it again."
    The hiatus affected Armstrong's approach to songwriting as well. "For Nimrod, I was writing songs constantly," he says, "just powering through them. But on this one, I would just wait for the moment."
    "We weren't forcing songs out at band practice," adds Dirnt. "Every song came from an inspired moment. It was very organic and much more relaxing for Billie to write that way."
    Green Day may have become multi-Platinum rock stars in the late Nineties, but band practice is still an almost daily instiution. "We took about a month and a half off from each other," says Dirnt. "Then we start practicing five days a week. Band practice isn't an event for us. It's what we do. We enjoy it, but we take it very seriously. We always have. Even when me and Billie were, like, 10. After school, we'd be like, 'Dude, let's jam.' And it was definetly gonna happen."
    "We wanted to make this record in our practice space," says Armstrong of Warning. We wanted to get our ideas filtered in there first. No writing in the studio. Sometimes I think being in the studio can have disadvantages creatively. You can feel stifled a little bit."
    In order to keep a homey vibe going, the band found a small, funky recording studio near their homes rather than going to a big-time facility with Platinum records lining the walls. They also decided to produce this one themselves, with longtime producer Rob Cavallo just playing an advisory role. The whole project was fairly low-key.
    "808 Studios is in a sort of Latino community," says Armstrong. "The freeway runs right over it. Every time a truck went by, you could feel it, and you can hear it in the frequencies the microphones pick up. We said, 'This is a great place! It's 10 minutes from where we live. We can still have our lives at home but still not be distracted when we're working in the studio. So we said to the guy who owns the studio, 'Would you be willing to put some money into remodeling here and there?' He said yeah, so we made our record there."
    "The neighborhood was really something," Dirnt recalls. "There were people out there selling drugs and shit. But on the other hand, there's a lot 'community' in the Latino community. You're talking about people shutting down the street and barbecuing on Friday--just because it's Friday. That's rad."
    "The thing is, the studio wasn't plagued with the 'stink' of anybody else who'd been in there before," adds Armstrong. "Especially in the Bay Area, every studio we checked out, it was like, 'Oh yeah, this is Santana's favorite room.' 'Oh, great. See ya later.' At one studio we went to, the woman had obviously been doing the same spiel for 20 years: 'Oh yeah, we've had everyone here, from Huey Lewis and the News to Sammy Hagar to Journey to Santana.' Every name that she was saying, we were like, 'Aww,' 'Ouch', 'See ya.'"