Long before there was The OC, The Warped Tour or even X Games,
there was The Offspring, formed by a pair of Orange County high
school buddies back in '84 following a show in Irvine by local
legends Social Distortion.
Almost two decades, six albums and 32 million records sold, those
two pals, vocalist/guitarist Dexter Holland and bassist Greg K,
along with fellow classmate (and school custodian) guitarist Noodles,
are still delivering on their seventh and latest effort, Splinter.
The album was recorded in L.A. and Atlanta, produced once again
by Brendan O'Brien (who was behind the boards for 2001's Conspiracy
Of One), with The Vandals' Josh Freese sitting in after the departure
of drummer Ron Welty, who'd been with the band since 1986. Completing
the old-school punk reunion are Pennywise's Jim Lindberg and former
California gubernatorial candidate Jack Grisham of TSOL (who are
signed to Dexter's Nitro Records) doing backing vocals on "The
Noose" and "Da Hui."
"After seven albums, it takes some effort not to just rest
on your laurels," says Dexter about making the new record,
whose genesis can be traced back to demos recorded in the band's
D-13 studios in his hometown of Huntington Beach, CA. "I
listened to some of our older stuff, and tried to pick out what
the charm of it was, without repeating myself. I feel good about
this record. We've mixed things up a bit."
Marking out that new turf are songs like the first single, "Hit
That," with its Funkadelic-meets-DEVO keyboard riff from
old band pal Ronnie King (Tupac Shakur, NOFX, Snoop Dogg, Pennywise).
The track effortlessly updates the band's characteristic feel
for potent hook-filled melodies and anthem-like choruses, recounting
the tale of a family broken up by sexual infidelity and gamesmanship.
Other stylistic departures include the jaunty, horn-laced rude
boy reggae/ska and DJ scratching of the self-explanatory "The
Worst Hangover Ever" ("It hurts so bad that I'm never
gonna drink again... At least not 'til next weekend") and
the '30s-style Eddie Cantor/Al Jolson falsetto croon of Dexter
on the album-closing anomaly, "When You're In Prison,"
which suggest not turning your back or bending over for a bar
"The great thing about being in a band is you're always
learning something new," says Dexter. "This was our
second time recording with Brendan, and it was that much better
because we knew what to expect from him and he knew what he was
going to get out of us."
"We're a lot more comfortable in the studio," echoes
Noodles. "The people we've worked with, from Thom Wilson
and Dave Jerden to Brendan, have taught us so much. And we've
tried to absorb as much of that as our tiny brains could hold.
The more we do this, the more we realize, this isn't rocket science,
brain surgery or U.N. negotiations...although sometimes it may
feel like it when we argue. But it was no problem getting the
right energy level. We tried to make it sound even better."
"We always try to throw in some new sounds or mix things
up a little bit," said Greg K. "And then there are the
more straightforward, traditional rock and punk songs."
Splinter, a name the band chose only after rejecting first choice
Chinese Democracy, the ill-fated title Guns N Roses' Axl Rose
wanted for his yet-to-be-completed new album, stresses the different
directions individual members of the band has set out to achieve.
Still, the disc boasts some of the group's signature high energy
rock on the apocalyptic, doomsday-laden "The Noose,"
the rush of "Long Way Home," the introspective dirge
of "Race Against Myself" and the pure punk thrash of
"Da Hui," the group's tribute to the original native
Hawaiian surf brotherhood on the North Shore of Oahu. Dexter and
Noodles, surfers themselves, went to the Island to shoot a video
riding the waves with Da Hui, which will be included on Splinter's
"A friend of mine played it for those guys, and they liked
it," says Holland, "Because it basically says they're
tough. And you don't mess with 'em."
Dexter's lyrics are at once dark-laced and bitterly humorous.
He contemplates imminent doom and self-destruction ("The
Noose," "Lighting Rod"), commitment ("Long
Way Home"), paranoia ("Race Against Myself"), alienation
("(Can't Get My) Head Around You"), empowerment ("Never
Gonna Find Me") and even sexual humiliation (in the Buddy
Holly acoustic rave-up "Spare Me the Details").
"There's a kind of black humor, but some it is tongue-in-cheek
and lighthearted, too," he laughs. "You need balance
in a record. You don't want to be too depressing."
As for his politics, Holland insists: "It's very easy to
be right and left at the same time. It's not a spectrum, it's
rather a circle. On the one hand, we're saying ultimate freedom;
on the other, ultimate responsibility. But they kinda go hand-in-hand."
Having sold more than 32 million albums worldwide, one would
wonder what continues to drive The Offspring...
After two decades as a punk-rock band that has done things its
way, even as it was among the first indie groups to graduate to
a major label, Dexter still has the desire to pass the torch to
the next generation of fans. Just as he grabbed the torch from
idols like TSOL, the Adolescents, Social Distortion, Bad Religion.
"We're just happy to be at the party," says Dexter,
who continues to follow his original principle of empowering another
generation of young people trying to find their identity in a
conformist world. "I know younger kids relate to what we're
doing. We're pretty much the same as we ever were. When I was
young, I couldn't imagine myself working at a desk 9 to 5 with
a suit and tie. I knew there was something better, something that
would make me happy and this is better than even I could've imagined."
"There's such pressure on, as you get older, as to whether
you should be playing in a rock band anymore. I'm thinking maybe
we can do this for a few more years...and that's what I said a
few years ago. I feel lucky we're on the radar at all. We've had
quite a long run... I want to keep it going."
The Offspring will begin touring the world by the end of the
fall, with new drummer Atom Willard, formerly of Rocket From the
Crypt, in tow.
"He's a super-cool guy," says Noodles. "We're
having a lot of fun with him. I'm real excited about getting these
songs ready to take on the road and see how it's going to work
out. I think it'll be awesome. We have a hell of a line-up now."