Green Day reveal what they've learnt over almost a quarter-century together
You need a good producer for when you feel like you’re losing it in the studio
Billie Joe Armstrong (vocals/guitar): When things were getting a little difficult during the recording of ‘21st Century Breakdown’, Butch [Vig] helped us a lot. He brought this great sense of calm, but was totally enthusiastic at the same time. Half the job of a producer is to be an adviser and say, ‘Look, I know you’ve heard this song 13,000 times in a row but it’s still as good as it was the first time you heard it’. There were times when we definitely needed that.
Tré Cool (drums): Butch also wears a cape around the studio and has a podium. He’d call us in sometimes and do his rants – sometimes they’ll be in English or sometimes they’ll be in some kind of broken Scandinavian language. I can’t reveal too much about his working methods. It’s sort of like the Freemasons…
Mums are full of great advice...
Mike Dirnt (bass): I can’t imagine not being in Green Day. Everything in my life is based around this music and this band. Fortunately, I’m in a position where what I do best is what I do for a living. My mom always said, ‘Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability and, if you’re lucky, it’ll be what you’re good at’. She’s a clever lady. One thing that both me and Billie can relate to is what happens if you are brought up in a house full of women. It opens your eyes real quick and shows you a sense of respect for the world.
…And dads can be pretty helpful too.
Cool: I must have been a nightmare kid. Me and my dad got a lot closer when I moved out at 17 – we started bonding big-time but before that I think he thought of me as the rug-rat. He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. I definitely looked up to him but I was kind of scared too – y’know, knowing that he could kill me at any second. But he wasn’t authoritarian, he was the kind that would party with you.
He taught me a lot too, about physics, heavy weaponry, mass-produced feminine-hygiene products. It’s sad to see him now, though, in that state he’s in. He wears his army helmet and runs around in his underwear. He still thinks the war is on, and if he hears a helicopter he runs for the bushes. He’s a little quirky.
After 20 years in the business, criticism shouldn’t matter too much.
Dirnt: People can think whatever they want about us. Nobody’s gonna throw anything at me that’s never been thrown before. The way I look at it is, if you don’t like Green Day then you’ve obviously got something against rock’n’roll or you just never liked us. We looked at this album [‘21st Century Breakdown’] like an opportunity, because we’re never gonna get this chance to follow up an album like ‘American Idiot’ ever again and challenge ourselves. So why not?
If it’s cocky or conceited or whatever to be ambitious, then throw me in jail. I’m not forcing anyone to buy my record or come to my show. We invite everyone but if someone else knows of another band who after 20 years is still putting out records and having fun, and they’re in love with their eighth or ninth record as much as they were with their first, then go and see THAT band.
Being the main man in Green Day is much harder than everyone thinks.
Cool: Billie has a work ethic that I’ve never seen in any field of work. There’s no construction worker or veterinarian you could show me who works as hard as he does. He’ll have four things going on at once but then a song will hit him, and he’ll go straight to that and try and squeeze everything out of his brain that he can at that moment. You can’t wait for a song or put it in the back of your mind for when it’s time to write songs. When it hits you, you have to go do it. So he’ll write songs on bar napkins or… with a stick in the mud.
Don’t play the instrument, play the song.
Cool: I was always looking to write songs even when I was playing drums for The Lookouts [his band before he joined Green Day in 1990]. We wrote a lot of songs and it was never about showing off how fast I could play or how many notes I could play – although I can play very fast and I can play lots of notes if I want to. But it’s more about choosing your moments and doing what’s right for the music.
We’re living in an information age of hysteria more than ever.
Dirnt: What you have to understand is that America really is a big place, so there are major metropolitan areas that have a lot of news sources and then you have smaller areas with no news sources. In an information era, it can be about who gets the front page of your computer screen. I mean, it was only a few weeks ago that the whole world was gonna die from the pig flu. It’s comical but it’s also like psychological terrorism and it’s one of the reasons that America has the problems it has.
It’s important to have ambitions beyond your band.
Cool: I’d love to be the frontman of ABBA but I’m not blond and not Scandinavian so it might be tough. It’d be great to be the Red Indian guy in the Village People because he has the most feathers. I’d like to capture Big Foot and ride the Loch Ness Monster. Oh, and prove that God doesn’t exist.
Did You Know?
*Billie Joe cut his first single at the age of five when he recorded a song called ‘Look For Love’ for Fiat Records – a local Bay Area label
*All the videos for the singles off ‘American Idiot’ were directed by Sam Bayer – the same guy that worked on Nirvana’s epochal ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ clip
*The ’97 worldwide smash ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ was featured on the ‘Nimrod’ album but originally surfaced as a B-side to the ‘Brain Stew/Jaded’ single in ’96