A Punk’s Progress

I recently spoke with Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen while he was on the road on the Warped tour and to promote Rancid’s long-awaited fourth album, Life Won’t Wait. Here’s a little of our conversation:

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Life Won’t Wait was recorded basically all over the place, in a lot of different studios; was there any concern about the songs having really different mixes, or were you going for a lot of variety?

Fortunately, we had a really good engineer, and we pretty much had the same one for the whole record.

Along similar lines, there were a lot of guest artists on the album, was there any concern that that would maybe detract from it being a Rancid album, or be seen as a negative instead of a positive?

There’s 22 songs on the record, and I think maybe there’s six, maybe seven songs that guests are on. Nah — it was just that this whole record was about us having fun, and who gives a fuck about what anybody else says.

Warped’s been going about a week, ten days, or so?

About two weeks, we’re in Oklahoma–

I was about to ask you, is it just me or do you see any irony in you playing a place called “Mohawk Park?”

Yeah, it’s kinda funny, I’m finally home! We’ve finally reached our Mecca… [Laughter]

On the Warped tour, are you doing a lot of Life Won’t Wait, or is it a mix?

We got like 108 songs available, we’re trying to do all of them. It’s hard to cram four records, and singles and all that stuff into a half-hour set. So we pretty much do different songs every night. We haven’t played the same set twice.

There’s been lots in the press about people in the band having had problems with alcohol and drugs. Is it hard being on tour where there’s a lot of drinking and that kind of stuff?

Me, personally, I can’t drink. And for Tim, he can’t drink, or the guy will end up homeless, in a shelter. He’s OD’d three times. It’s kinda like, you either wanna die or you wanna make music, and I think music’s a little bit more important to us.

Alcohol and drugs, I suggest that you go out and do them, and do them as much as you can, because it’s no big secret that the world’s a fucked-up place to be. People that make minimum wage, if you’re lucky to have both parents in the household, both have to work 40-hour weeks, and then you can barely get by. It makes you wonder if there’s some conspiracy behind it, ya know?

On Life Won’t Wait there’s a quote from Bakunin, and at various points Rancid has talked about anarchism, but to most people anarchy means places like Somalia or Bosnia, where nobody would want to be. Is anarchism a realistic philosophy, does it mean something different to you than what it means to most people?

Along the way, people know how we feel about social issues. I think with this record, we’ve gotten a lot more political. We’ve been so many places in the world now, our scope has broadened. You get different points of view when you’ve been in different countries, and see how they operate.

America doesn’t have socialized medicine, but if you take Europe, for instance, in Germany, the government funds the squats. And Denmark is pretty much the only place in the entire world that will recognize gay marriages.

If you take a look at the whole spectrum of the world and see where we are, it almost seems like we’re fifty years behind everyone else. I mean, it’s still an issue that gays are in the military… a college education doesn’t mean dick anymore, it’s almost as if it’s geared toward “birth, school, work, death… “

To quote the Godfathers, one of my fave bands…

If Rancid’s done anything, we’ve always just tried to make a better life for ourselves, without stepping on anybody’s toes, because I think that’s what punk rock means to us. We all come from working-class families, single-parent homes, none of us have college educations. We’re more geared on the working-class ethic, blue collar. I don’t even know if that even exists, sometimes…

It seems to be shrinking, or going overseas…

You wonder why that’s happening. But I think you can take something like communism and make it work. If you take views, whether they be anarchistic, socialistic, or communist, that’s gotta start within you, as opposed to looking at, you know, Stalin’s Russia. You put one paranoid guy in power and he’s gonna kill everybody. I think there’s a lot of different aspects in every sort of political system that you can draw from. It’s kinda like religion, what do Jews, Protestants, and Catholics all have in common? Guilt!

One of the big things in punk rock is to get into the whole “sell-out” debate and all that crap. But for most people I know in bands it’s really not about money, it’s about how you feel on-stage, with your people, and seeing other people enjoy that. But at your level, you also get to do really cool stuff like meet Joe Strummer and drink Jolt Cola over at Joey Ramone’s house. So my question, to quote Dirty Harry, is “Do you feel lucky?” And what kind of cool stuff that you’ve been able to do that’s your favorite?

Well, for me personally I got a family in this band, and I think that’s the biggest plus that I’ve gotten out of all of this. And I think that’s true of us entirely, as a whole. That’s the most important thing to us — the friendship involved. We just did what we wanted to do, we rolled the dice, and I guess they fell good in some ways and bad in other ways. But, yeah, I feel very grateful. But you gotta keep your “humility glass” filled, the only way to go through life, in my opinion, is with your humility glass filled to the brim, because I think that’s really important.

One thing we’ve always tried to do is never step on anybody’s toes, and treat people with respect. Whether its playing gigs and getting a local band every time that we come through town to play with us, to support the scene in the city that we go through, up to Tim starting Hellcat Records and signing six of his favorite bands and putting out their records. It’s all about giving back to the scene that you got so much out of, and not forgetting where you come from. We hopped in a van and toured cross-country 27 times, this is like our 37th tour now? 38th?

We have complete control over everything we do: from the record, to the artwork, to if we wanna do a video or not. We do one-record deals with Epitaph so we’re not locked into some big major-label deal where they own you pretty much for seven records, seven years or whatever. We’re risk-takers, we don’t have a label right now! That’s the way we take it. If people wanna say we sold out or whatever, say something new, get over it.

To us, it’s just important if we’re making good music. I’m not gonna like a band they’re doing this or they’re doing that, I’m gonna like a band if they have good music. If it’s AC/DC, or it’s fucking GBH, as long as it makes my foot tap, that’s all that’s important to me. I don’t wanna be like Crass, and say you gotta do this, or you’re wrong, and just end up contradicting myself. “We’ll never do this or we’ll never do that,” then do it; a lot of those great old punk bands said that, but did.

There’s always gonna be comparisons between you and the Clash. Do you ever feel like Gene Vincent felt when he met Elvis, like people expect you to apologize because they think you sound like someone else?

I don’t think we do [sound like the Clash]. The Clash never had straight-up ska songs or fast punk rock songs. I think most people, that’s like the easiest thing for them to pinpoint, which is fine. I mean, it’s kinda like if we were ballplayers, being compared to Willie Mays. It’s a great, flattering thing when it’s said. If we’re used in the same sentence as the Clash, that’s a dream come true.

There are worse things to be compared to! I’ve always thought that Matt’s bass playing is a big part of the Rancid sound, and that it’s often overlooked.

You know, I never fucking get that, because, to take myself out of this band for a moment, and look at it objectively, here’s one of the greatest bass players alive, and they’re saying that people like Mike Dirnt are better. It’s like what the fu-uck? I mean, all due respect to Mike Dirnt, I love Green Day and have a lotta respect for that band, but Matt Freeman is the greatest bass player in the world. I don’t think there’s a better bass player. He’ll probably tell you that there’s 28 hundred-million of them, but in my personal opinion, this is his best bass record.

Personally, I know people that play bass, and they come up to me and go “How does he do that? I sit and try to figure out what he does, but I can’t figure it out.”

At the same time I think he’s really influential, I mean, I’ve heard tapes of bands from Finland, and the first song I hear, I go “They’ve been listening to Matt Freeman!”

Hopefully, if it’s not now, in twenty years it’s all due.

I’ve been both a guitarist and a bass player, and it seems like the rhythm section never gets the props that it should.

Little Reed, too, he’s solid, he’s probably the most solid drummer I’ve ever played in front of. The kid can do anything, you give him a beat and in about five minutes, he’ll do it, and he’ll do it better than anybody. He’s only been playing the drums for about 5 or 6 years now, since he’s gotten in this band. I kinda get frustrated sometimes, because those guys are one of the greatest backbones to a band that’s ever been.

How you doin’ total-number-of-tat-wise, and what’s your latest tattoo?

[Laughter] I’ve got so many, man I can’t even count them anymore. Latest one I got, I got a little duck, it looks like a rubber duck, on my hand. Little Brett decided he wanted to get them, and so we all went and got them. I don’t know, you know, stupid tattoos. I got too many, too many.

What have you guys been listening to on the tour bus?

All the Hellcat bands, pretty much. Slackers, Hepcat, Gadget, Dropkick Murphys, U.S. Bombs, Pietasters — we’re on tour with the Pietasters, so — all the Hellcat bands are on the Warped tour at some point in time — so it’s really cool to actually see them, as opposed to playing the shit outta their records.

It’s kinda funny, because I think that, here it is Tim’s label, and I think everybody in this band, their favorite bands are on this label. It’s pretty much got the quintessential American ska bands, you can’t be a better vocal group than like Hepcat. And it’s got the best street-punk bands like Bombs and Murphys, so it’s pretty much the best label happening, I think.

Some people on the West Coast wanted me to ask you, do you all still hedge-dive?

[Laughter] Hedge-core! It all depends…

I guess there’s gotta be a hedge there to dive into…

It’s not only that, it also depends on what kind of mood you’re in. You can’t just because some kid saw it in a Pearl Jam video.

That would just be wrong.

Yeah. It’s a spiritual thing. [More laughter]

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