Like them or not, there’s nary a soul who wouldn’t recognize Green Day. As soon as they exploded into the mainstream consciousness with their major label debut, Dookie, their tight, high-energy pop-punk blips of songs and flamboyant personalities made the Berkeley trio darlings of any and all music media. They were sprawled out on magazine covers, their lives charted out, and their music hailed as a door opener for other punk-minded bands. We learned their real names, we heard their tales of convoluted childhood, and Rolling Stone so eloquently told us that lead singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and his wife “fucked like bunnies” on their wedding night.
But the fame and fortune didn’t quite get to their heads. The band always seemed to tour with a healthy number of Lookout! Records bands — the label that released their first two LPs — and was wary of playing larger venues or charging much for tickets and merchandise. In fact, with Ticketmaster taking a substantial amount of their ticket prices and the band selling shirts for ten dollars, Green Day often lost money on tour.
The band never stayed static, though their evolution somehow didn’t always travel alongside the over 10 million listeners who bought Dookie. Fans came and went as Green Day quietly released Insomniac, with a much angrier sound than they had yet produced, and Nimrod, a more eclectic album with a sappy acoustic song and an instrumental. Still, there’s something so appealing about Green Day that they can afford to take two years between records, and their fans will wait eagerly for their next trip through town. Maybe it’s their unavoidably catchy songwriting or the raw spirit that comes flooding through their albums and shows like a glorified kick in the nuts. Maybe it’s the band’s lyrical content, which is refreshingly quirky, void of clichés, and often quite personal. Or, maybe it’s their captivating stage show, which drummer Tré Cool wavers between deeming “The Greatest Show on Earth,” “The Coolest Show on Earth,” or the “We’ll Show You Our Weenies Show.” True to form, Billie Joe was once arrested in Minnesota for doing just that.
After yet another two-year absence, Green Day is back, bringing people together in the recent movie High Fidelity — a scenario Tré highly approved of — and making their grand re-appearance at this year’s Warped Tour. They also have a new album in the works for October, which will later be accompanied by a national tour and a host of “surprises.” Engineered by a 19-year-old who, according to Tré, is fortunate enough to receive the perks of an occasional Green Day beating, the new album is tentatively titled Warning. It’s yet another side of Green Day, this one coming from a band whose members are now married with children, and has something of a been-there-and-back-to-share feel. While skateboarding around the studio on a break from recording, Tré Cool got talking about it all.
Warning is being completely self-produced, which isn’t something you’ve done since the band was on Lookout! How’s that going to affect the album?
I don’t know, it’s not really any different. It’s kind of less trouble. You don’t have to spend time explaining your vision to people, your ideas. You just kind of make them happen and then show them to people and say, “Hey, check this out.”
It seems as if your band always prefers to play smaller venues. What do you anticipate the Warped Tour to be like?
Oh, it’ll be cool. It’ll be kind of a small feeling. All the places that the tour books, there’s kinda like no limit to how many people can show up. So like, no matter what, no matter how many people go to the Warped Tour, there’s always going to be a fair amount of empty space, so it kind of gives the illusion of a smaller event. But there’s gonna be two stages, skateboarders, mayhem, booze, people having sex under cars, all that good stuff. And that’s not something you can get in a small place, and that’s something else that we like. We don’t only like small clubs. We see lots of bands in small clubs. I think that’s what it is. I think we like to see shows in small clubs, and so we kinda do our tour like, “Well, what do we think people would like to see?” We assume everyone has the same taste as us.
What stuff are you planning to play on Warped? Will you showcase any of the new material?
Well, we’re not going to go out there and play all new stuff off Warning, you know? Because no one’s heard the album yet. The thing is, we’ve got a short set and we’ve got way too many good songs that people know to even play half of them, so you know, we’re in a position where we have to only play the mega-hits [laughs]. I mean, we don’t have to always play those ones. But, if you look at our setlist, it’s like, “Damn, that’s a hell of a big song. Damn, that’s a hell of a big song. Damn, that’s a hell of a big song.”
Do you ever get tired of playing those?
No, no. We haven’t really played those songs in a long time. I can’t wait to play ’em. There’s a lot of energy in them, people go crazy. I go crazy. I think I go crazier than anyone else in the crowd. I challenge anyone to hurt themselves more than me. No. [laugh]
Do you often get hurt at shows?
Oh, yeah, yeah. Every tour, I’m all banged up.
You’ll be leaving the Warped Tour towards the end to play a few places in Japan. How’s playing Japan for you?
It’s cool, you know. It’s very Japanese. Their punk scene is amazing. It’s really, you know, present. I think that, uh, it’s kinda like going back in time a little bit, but at the same time it’s like jumping into the future. They keep what’s cool and they glorify it, like American music and stuff. And punk rock in general. They love the Ramones, stuff like that. Green Day. All the good bands. Stray Cats. The Stray Cats are huge. They’re like one of the biggest bands over there.
Where are you, are you in Florida?
I like it down there. I like Florida a lot. It’s really cool.
It’s really hot.
Well, yeah — cool, hot. I like to be hot. I dig Miami. It’s pretty cool. I just like the beaches, and, I dunno. It’s kinda’ freaky. It’s like, another planet, you know? Plus my wife is Latina, so she likes it a lot. The Latin community is huge there. It’s like the Hollywood of Latin America. All the shows that are popular in Latin America and South America, they’re there.
Although there was something of a small riot when Buena Vista Social Club came down here.
Cool. That’s the best. When you play a show and people go berserk. And I don’t think those old guys were really inciting anything either. They were just like, “What the fuck?”
For the last while, every show of yours has ended with you guys trashing the stage in some fashion. How’d that start?
I don’t know. It just kind of increasingly got more and more dangerous until we were like, fuck that. Kill the instruments. I don’t know. I don’t know when it happened. It just sort of escalated.
I’ve seen you set drum sets on fire. Are you going through those pretty quickly now?
Yeah, we carry around a truckful of them. The folks at Slingerland, they hook me up.
How long do they last?
I don’t know, it depends on how badly they get destroyed. I mean, if you put a microphone stand through them, then they’re not going to work again. I have a drum-tech, Kenny Butler, he pieces back together and makes Frankenstein kits. He’s like the busiest man in rock ‘n’ roll, my drum-tech.
All the songs the band writes and records don’t make their way onto the album. Are you doing anything with those songs?
We just hold onto ’em and some day in the future we’ll put them out.
How many do you have?
A good album.
Are you planning on writing any more songs yourself, like “Dominated Love Slave” or “All By Myself?”
I guess. But I don’t know if we’re gonna’ put them on any records. Maybe, though. It depends on where we’re at and what we wanna do. If we do something like a theatrical kinda thing or for a movie, I dunno. We keep things open. Because I’ve got a sick mind, and a twisted brain.
You know, Billie’s running for president.
He’d make a good president.
Yeah, yeah. Just don’t believe all the smear ads. Don’t believe the hype.
Well, I’d trust him over Bush.
Yeah, he’s an option you can choose. Billie Joe and his trusted staff are going to lead you farther into the future than you’ve ever gone before.
What party will he be running under?
The Green Day party.
Is that in any relation to the Green Party?
No, the Green Day party. The Green Party’s our enemies. They all pretend to be environmentalists, but they be throwing their cigarettes out the window, not recycling, all that shit.
You have never given an official reason for pulling out of the opening slot for the Rolling Stones. Why’d you do that?
Oh, um. Well, I’m not going to tell you.
Green Day’s taken a lot of Lookout! bands on tour. Have you kept a good relationship with the label since you left?
We just take out bands we like. If they’re on Lookout!, that’s great. D-Generation wasn’t on Lookout! We just take out bands we like that we don’t think our fans would get a chance to hear about if we didn’t force them down their throats. Like Pansy Division.
Does the band make a conscious effort to keep side projects like Pinhead Gunpowder and the Frustrators separate from Green Day?
Yeah, I’d say so. We don’t want people to … it’s not one of those things where we’re like, “Oh, let’s put out a record and it’ll be huge because of our success with Green Day” or something. It’s just for fun, you know? We do this shit for fun, you know? The way to keep it that way is to keep it small, and we take steps to do that.
Do you feel like Green Day’s lost any fun in being large?
No, no. It totally gives you freedom. It gives you freedom to take two years to fuck around and play music with each other and stay out of sight. Which is pretty fun.
For a while, there was talk of Green Day putting together a B-grade horror flick. Whatever happened to that?
I don’t know. It’s just kind of sitting on the backburner.
What were you doing for it? Writing? Directing?
Yeah, doing all that shit. It just kind of took second priority to this record, you know? Kind of just changed our minds.
As well, the band had once mentioned that you were working on a book called Insult to Injury that was to chronicle the various injuries you’ve gotten as a band. Is that coming out?
We’re still working on it. See, we haven’t gotten hurt enough yet. We know there’s gonna be a real doozy and it’s gonna be, “OK, it’s time to put the book out.” I mean, we could totally fill a book. We’ve never written a book and we’ve never done the movie, and it takes a lot of time and you gotta stop playing music and we refuse to quit playing music, you know? We’ve been sort of on a hiatus but we’ve been playing every day. Just because we’re not playing shows, we’re still keeping busy. It’s like, music is what makes us happy. Movies don’t.