FROM THE MADDENING CROWD"
Source: Guitar World, December 2000
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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.'"