Green Day In Australia
From "Kerrang!"
Scorchio! We're in Brisbane, Australia, and the heat outside the luxurious Dockside apartments is intense. Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt staggers out to the hotel's garden and empties a bottle of water over his scruffy head. "I'm burning up!" he yells as he comes over to shake hands. Green Day are a ridiculously friendly bunch. Forget all that stuff you've heard about the trio being awkward and insular. Mike, drummer Tre Cool and frontman Billie Joe Armstrong are almost falling over each other as they greet us. So much for the million-selling punk rock superbrats.

It would be understandable if the guys were too shagged out to be socialising out here in the harsh Aussie sun. They've just come off a tiring plane ride from a small Indonesian island two hours North of Jakarta. They got a connection in Sydney and are still pretty jet-lagged. "Comatose" Mike calls it.

The band spent a few days on that paradise island trying to relax in the middle of another hectic world tour. Problem is, Mike's been out in the sun too long, and his skin's been frazzled to a crisp.

On the plus side, there's a bunch of sold out gigs to look forward to over the next few days. Green Day are hugely popular in Australia; all gigs sold out on the day they were announced.

But in spite of this success, Green Day will never be part of the establishment. They stick out like a sore thumb in the posh lobby of the hotel. Tre's nuclear green hair is a bit too much for some of the snootier guests milling around in the bar. He is also doing loud impressions of the Simpsons, the Marx brothers and Ren and Stimpy. Billie Joe, meanwhile, is keen to find out what happened to Australia's greatest punk band The Saints, and laughing as he recalls the trouble Green Day had filming the video for the recent 'Geek Stink Breath' single. Apparently, the fierce strobe lights used in the vid left the band dazed, half-blind and walking into walls for hours afterwards.

The joking continues as Kerrang! Photographer Tony Mott lines up the threesome for a quick shoot. "How would Rancid do this?" they ask, chuckling. They quickly decide on the right pose: hands outstretched on the tops of their heads in a parody of Rancid's mohawks. Nothing malicious, mind you.

In a blur they're back outside for more shots in front of a confused security guard, who looks on bemused as Tre rubs his head on Mikes to give the latter's hair a few stylish green streaks. Mike's feeling a little healthier now. He looks up at the darkening sky as stormclouds start to gather. " I hope there's lightning!" he gurgles. " I want to hold on to something metal." He does a quick impression of a punk rocker struck by a bolt of lightning, shaking uncontrollably. "Hey, man, I haven't slept in two years! C-c-c-can't f-f-figure it out-t-t-t!"

Green Day have had a mad week. A few days ago their gig in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta threatened to turn ugly when police and security guards struggled to control rioting fans who couldn't get a ticket. Billie Joe has his own explanation for the crowd trouble.

"They didn't like Mike's hair!" he cackles.

Yes, despite the generally lukewarm response to the 'Insomniac' album, the follow-up to the multi-platinum 'Dookie', the kids are still mad for Green Day. Thousands lined the streets in Sydney when the band did a signing session at a record store. The crowd were so noisy that Mike had to bang a microphone on a table -making the sound of a kick drum- to make himself heard above the commotion. Billie Joe also tried to calm the deafening screams by writing 'SHUT UP!' on one of the many green TV sets banked up on the wall behind the band. He spent a minute or two defacing a few more TV screens before Tre grabbed a mike and leered: "I want to wash your grandmother!"

Girls screamed even louder.

One of the fans who queued up for an autograph sported an Offspring T-shirt and a punk hairdo with both sides of his head shaven. He was too good an target to let pass with just a signed CD. Mike made the first move by drawing an anarchy symbol on one side of the kids head. Billie Joe got all artistic on the other side, and the guy walked out of the place looking like Slayer's tattooed baldie Kerry King, a huge grin on his face. Huh-huh. Cool.

Back at the hotel in Brisbane, it's time for a chat with the biggest punk rock band in the world. And what better subject to bring up first than the Sex Pistols - the original and best punk rock band of them all, who have just reformed after their gob-splattered glory days.

" I just hope they still have all their old clothes, if they can still fit into them," sneers Tre. "Yeah," Billie Joe laughs," Johnny Rotten's got kind of a gut now."

So if the sex pistols are as old and sad as Green Day are suggesting, who's holding the torch for punk rock in 1996? Green Day themselves? Billie Joe isn't playing ball on this one.

"I think the whole 'rebirth' of punk rock is a load of shit," he scowls. "Six or seven years ago, people were afraid to say the 'P' word, and now everyone claims to have seen the Jam back in '77, when they probably opened up for Pink Floyd and everybody hated them." "Those people missed the '80s, when punk rock was underground," argues Tre. "That was when great bands like Nomeansno, Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys were travelling around the world in vans. Punk was a four-letter word for a long time." "I chose this lifestyle," says Billie Joe, bristling. "When we started playing punk rock, it was a proven fact that punk could not get popular. So we never played punk rock to become famous. People now use the phrase 'post-punk' like it's after the fact which is the worst label I've ever heard. Sometimes I think because we're this big band now, because we've made a lot of money, we've become totally redundant- we're not punk rock anymore. But then I think about it and just say, 'you can take us out of our punk rock environment, but you can't take the punk rock out of us', you know what I mean?"

Ah, the punk rock sell-out. Every band that's sold any records has faced the same tiresome accusations from their hard-core fans. On the subject of Green Day's move from indie label Lookout to major label Reprise, Billie Joe has nothing to hide. "We wanted to go from an independent to a major," he states simply. "We got an offer from Epitaph (home of Offspring up to now), but we were like, 'Do we want to be on an independent pretending to be a major, or do we want to be on a real major?'. We chose to go to Reprise."

Green Day's first album for Reprise was the 10-million seller 'Dookie'. Their second, 'Insomniac', was never likely to equal Dookie's sales figures. Perhaps even Billie Joe senses this.

"I want to have at least 40 or 50 songs before we start recording our next record," he insists. "I think we're going to take more time between 'Insomniac' and the next album than we did after 'Dookie'."

Insomniac is a more serious record than Dookie. In some ways it echoes the way Nirvana followed the amazing success of Nevermind with the darker and more difficult In Utero. "I think In Utero made a lot more sense to people after Kurt died," reckons Billie Joe. "There are a lot of confessional lyrics on it - really depressing, melancholy stuff. I got into that record right before he passed away. I like all the Nirvana stuff. They opened up doors for a lot of bands." Green Day included. Do they remember where they were when they heard that Kurt was dead?

"We were talking about doing the video for Basketcase," says Billie Joe without a moments hesitation. "It was the day after we got back from a tour. We were in Seattle the night before. Somebody told us he'd committed suicide, blown his head off, but they still weren't sure if it was Kurt. Mike was saying, 'Alright, let's get down to business- about this video'." Here in Australia, Green Day are playing 5,000 capacity venues. "That's pretty large for us," Billie Joe shrugs. "I think we're a much better band in a smaller place. If we do a couple of nights at a 2,000 seater, people at the back are going to be able to see us and have somewhat of a good time. On the last US tour we just got aggravated after a while, because it just turned into everyday Rolling Stones rock."

The last thing Green Day want to do is turn into some star-tripping rock and roll circus. When they talk about spending some of those Dookie royalty cheques, all they'll say is that Billie Joe has installed a recording studio in his home, while Tre has treated his car to a long overdue paint job. And what kind of punk rock wheels does Tre Cool drive? "Let's just say it's late 60's and fast!" he laughs. Mike Dirnt is the Loadsamoney of Green Day. "I have a Rolex collection and a diamond collection," he lies. "I'd like to find the biggest goddamn diamond I could find, eat it and pick it out of my shit the next day."

Gross? That's nothing compared to the stunts Green Day cooked up in Wigan on their pre-celebrity UK tour of '91.

"We did a Christmas play," Billie Joe grins. "We made the whole crowd sit down on the floor. Tre was the virgin Mary, Mike was Santa Claus and the narrator and I was the Schizo three wise men." "And we had our friend Shaun, who has long brown hair just like JC," adds Tre. " He came out between my legs and we had ketchup squirting everywhere all over my nice virgin Mary outfit. We also threw a placenta out into the crowd. We made a placenta with rice pudding and tomato sauce."

On this unsavoury note, a waiter knocks on the door bringing room service. Cue punk brat overload! Tre goes ga-ga. "Coffee! Coffee!" he screams like a deranged European old maid. He starts drumming violently on the table. The cups and saucers rattle around dangerously. Then he begins pouring coffee straight on to the floor, talking casually all the time as if nothing was wrong. The guy's a walking comic book. Maybe that's why Mike was recently sent a 40-volume Green Day comic, written and illustrated by a fan. But there are limits as Billie Joe points out.

"A role in the Simpson's? I'll leave that to the red hot chilli peppers," he says scathingly. "It's a funny show but I wouldn't want to market myself in that direction."

Yes, Green Day are for real. Platinum sellers, but still punk rock. Still sticking two fingers up at all the rockers and movie stars who want to be seen with that funny little punk rock band now that they've sold tons of records and are all over MTV.

"I don't like actors," spits Billie Joe. "And I hate other musicians, except for the ones that I already knew or the few that are cool. I don't want to become an actor and I'm insulted when actors become musicians. I'm just not into the whole rubbing shoulders with the big boys kind of thing. I'm doing just fine without them."

Green Day: three punks against the world.