Warning: This is extremly long.
Rancid. Same as it ever was. Punk is not a trend these guys latched on to in greed, but a way of life they were
forced into thru poverty and rejection. Okay, okay. Rancid is making money now. That's partly because today "album
alternative" radio essentially means mainstream rock, and punk rock--which is supposed to be about alienation and
fighting the system--has become a mass-media trend. Or, at least a certain kind of resuscitated punk/power pop
has become a trend. Let's get this into perspective: it's not as hot as REM or Clint Black or Selena-who, even
post-mortem, will continue to be the kind of pop that fills soccer stadiums-but this kind of pretty punk has slowly
caulked the cracks behing the kings of pop.
Rancid is one of those successful punk bands. Even with remarkable musical success, however, the members of
Rancid are not wering expensive duds or logos some sponsor is paying them to wear. They look basically the same
as they always did. Their mohawks, tattoos and clothes are not about image, nor are they likely to change after a
royalty-check shopping spree, because years of conditioning have left them knowing no other way than their own.
"'Working class punk' is what we are," says Rancid vocalist and guitarist Lars Frederiksen. "We all had blue collar
upbringings. We all come from very humble backgrounds and saw our families struggle to support us. I saw my mon
hold down weekend jobs after working all week. She wworded as an Avon lady and a s a keypunch operator just so
we can have shoes. She worked to survive because she had to."
Survival was an instinct well understood in the childhood homes of not only Frederiksen and his mom, but all the
men in Rancid. Tim Armstrong, Rancid's other vocalist and guitarist, lived with his parents and two older brothers
in a home his mother inherited. Though the house was located in a decent neighborhood, Armstrong's father
eventually wound up jobless on the bad end of a severe struggle with alcohol, forcing Tim's mother to cover the
family's bills. The Armstrongs were likely the poorest family on the block. Drummer Brett Reed's childhood was
split between his divorced parents, leaving him little stability, while bassist Matt Freeman saw no better, being
raised in a single-parent home consisting of his brother, his father, and himself.
" My dad worked nights, so my brother and I were home alone all the time," Freeman remarks. "Still, we had to do
s*it around the house. I had to work. I learned how to use a washing machine when I was tall enough to stand on the
box to push the f*ckin' button."
"Our upbringings instilled in us a serious work ethic," adds Frederiksen. "We work. We work hard. If we're about
anything, we're about the working man and the working ethic. Under 5% of the American population makes over a
hundred thousand dollars a year, so there's another 95% just like us. The majority of people can relate to the street
level points of view and perspectives."
Rancid began applying this work ethic in 1992, when they released a 5-song 7" on Lookout! Records, the previous
home of Operation Ivy and Green Day. Rancid then put itself on the map with its 1993 self-titled Epitaph debut and
1994 Fat Wreck Chords 4-song 7", but it was 1994's "Let's Go" that made Rancid happen big.
Recorded and mixed in only 5 days, "Let's Go" featured 23 songs spanning 44 minutes of intense, catchy, hook-laden
punk. Soon after, Rancid's struggling life in California's East Bay music scene was invaded by MTV , radio and-of
course-record label execs with deep pockets who's do anything to sign the band. It is said that Madonna sent a nude
photo of herself in hopes of signing Rancid to her Warner-backed Maverick label, while Sony's Michael Goldstone,
known for signing Pearl jam, apparently dyed his hair blue and nearly secured the band with a record/publishing
deal which equaled two million dollars. But anybody can slap blue dye on their hair. And everybody has a nude photo
Though some major newspapers published that Rancid had signed to Sony during this bidding war, the band pulled
out in the final hour and returned to their mega-indie home at Epitaph. Some say this was because Rancid was
guilted by friends and colleagues into not "selling-out to a major."
According to Armstrong, however, staying with Epitaph was a decision they made themselves. "People's opinions
had nothing to do with it. We were worried about Rancid, and what we wanted to do. I never give a f*ck about what
people think. You can't."
Newfangled right-wing punks (no, that's not an oxymoron, though maybe it should be) may criticize the fact that
Rancid now accepts its own high profile in the media, but the workd ethic earned the band the success it
deserves-and deserves to enjoy. Freeman coments, "No one haded anything to us-we had to work! Green Day did the
same. If you sit around waiting for the magical rock god to pronounce upon you that you're gonna be a big band, it
ain't gonna f*ckin' happen."
Armstrong adds, "So many bands do that. There are bands on Lookout! Records asking, "Why aren't we selling as
much as Op Ivy or Green Day?"
Freeman answers rhetorically, "Because you didn't play 185 shows in people's basements having to learn how to
make a vocal PA out of a bass amp."
Perhaps the spotlight has changed these guys a little. Without a trace of irony, Frederiksen confesses that there
have been some lifestyle modifications since the band's success: "I've been able to start eating a little more
Otherwise, Rancid still goes to all the punk shows at Berkeley's infamous punk venue, Gilman Street, or wherever
the punk and ska bands are playing. Armstong still doesn't even own a car, opting instead to catch the bus or ride
his BMX bike.
"Just today we ran into some kids who like the band," says Frederiksen,"and one of the kids said he didn't think it
was us, because he didn't think Ranicd would be on the street hanging out. That's totally not the case. We're a very
One reason Armstrong and Freeman can stay level-headed is that they've been thru all this upswing before-and
they've seen how quickly a limited fame can fade. From 1987-89, Armstrong and Freeman were in the seminal
ska/punk band Operation Ivy, who revived the Bay Area punk scene ruled many years earlier by the Dead Kennedys.
Playing almost 200 shows in 2 years, Op Ivy gathered a large following, and were actually the first band to ever
sell out Gilman Street. However, vocalist Jesse broke the band up in 1989. Armstrong, Freeman and drummer Dave
Mello tried to continue under the name Downfall, but they only lasted a few shows.
When asked what they learned from Op Ivy, Armstrong quickly and pointedly answers, "Don't break up over
something that can be worked out."
After taking a few more moments to reflect, Freeman almost painfully adds: "What I really learned is not to take
anything for granted and enjoy what you have when you have it, because it can be taken away at any point."
"You blink, and it's gone," nods Armstrong. "Those were some good times, but you think the're gonna last forever.
But s*it changes. Some kids grow up, some people die, some move on. You have to really appreciaate what you have
when you have it."
Armstrong and Freeman may have been local heroes with Op Ivy, but they were essentially ignored after the band's
demise. "Op Ivy was a big deal in the East Bay," Armstrong remarks, " but when you're not in a band anymore, people
don't give a f*ck about you. There were people who weren't there for me anymore. I kept going to every punk rock
show, even though I wasn't in a band anymore, but I started drinking a lot and went on a downward spiral. Without a
band I had nothing to believe in. Op Ivy was really important to me."
"It wasn't until Rancid that I felt I was in a real band again," adds Freeman. "There were three years in which I had
to let go of so much I wanted Op Ivy to do. It's depressing to me to listen to the record, because we put it out 3
weeks before we f*ckin' broke up."
Around the time Armstong and Freeman were bouncing around different bands, Frederiksen played 6 unhappy months
with the UK Subs. He recalls, "It was a f*cked up time. They tried to make me look a certain way, act a certain
way, and that's not me. If someone wants to tell me how to look and act, my natural reaction is to say, 'F*ck you!'
I'm in a much better band now with my best friends in the whole wide world. In a lot of ways, Rancid is the first
time I've ever experienced a sense of family. I am glad I did the UK Subs, though, because it brought me down to a
very, very, very humble level."
When Frederiksen got home from touring with the UK Subs, he pretty much hit bottom. "I had no motivation, so I got
totally whacked out on drugs," he says. "I won't say it's 'punk rock' but I was exposed to these things at a very early
age. I had an older brother who was like a father figure. Whatever he did, I wanted to do the same. If that meant
snorting heroin, then I snorted heroin. If that meant making a coke smoke, that's what I did."
When Rancid brought in Frederiksen as a second guitarist, their acceptance and friendship helped him get his life
together. "I quit drugs before I quit drinking because drugs were taking their toll on me. I was sick of the
headaches and the puking and the s*itting blood. I figured I'd stop everthing but alcohol, but then I
overcompensated with drinking. Now I'm totally clean because I don't choose to do either."
The rise of Rancid also proved medicinal for Armstrong, whose post-Op Ivy crash sent him to detox 5 times.
Armstrong recalls, "Detox is a house where they give you a bed and a place to stay for 3 to 5 days while you get off
crack or alcohol. It wasn't like a Betty Ford rehab clinic, but a total street-level place to get you off the pavement.
After my fifth time in detox, I got a job working at the Salvation Army in exchange for a place to live. I drove
around the suburbs picking up donated refrigerators and ovens. That gave me a couple weeks sober and off the
street, and I started Rancid right after Salvation Army. The rest was just having a dream. I needed something to
believe in, to get me up in the morning and have hope for the future. Rancid filled that void."
Rancid's new album "...And Out Come the Wolves", is a flowing mix of Clash-esque brilliance, offered up as both
fresh and wizened, glib and revolutionary. Spending over 2 months in the studio, Rancid went in with 40 songs and
emerged with the best 19. Rancid tracked the album with Jerry Finn, a producer/mixer/engineer who made it big
when another producer's mix for Green Day's "Dookie" album was rejected--and someone suggested giving this kid
engineer named Finn a shot. Since then, Finn has mixed Jawbreaker and Dance Hall Crashers, plus produced
Pennywise and Rancid.
It just wouldn't be a SoCal album without a little ska, and Rancid does not disappoint, including 3 such tunes on
Wolves. Beside Op Ivy, Armstrong and Freeman have ska backgrounds in the ska/punk band Dance Hall Crashers,
which they helped form in 1989. Though the two quit early on, DHC still play songs Armstong wrote back then and
even had him pen the song "Pictures" on their new album "Lockjaw."
Rancid avoided incorporating ska for a time, with Freeman and Armstrong getting their skankin' ya-yas out thru a
roots ska side project callled Shaken' 69, featuring Op Ivy's Dave Mello and members of the Uptones and Shankin'
Pickle. Finally, after recording the ska songs "I Wanna Riot" for an Epitaph compilation and "Brixton" for a Kill Rock
Stars compilation, Rancid decided to put some ska on their new album.
"Adding a ska element just seemed natural," Armstrong remarks. "When we did the first record, that was where we
were at-playing fast, hard, catchy punk rock. I have a deep love for ska music and always have, and that's where we
Even before the media buzz, Rancid had opened up a number of other creative outlets for its four members.
Armstrong's love of film inspired him ot help with the "Hyena" video and personally direct both "Nihilism" and the
MTV buzz clip "Salvation." Armstrong has since made a 7-minute film called "Larry's Dead", starring Frederiksen
and has bigger film ambitions for the future. He remarks, "Toward the end of the record's cycle, I want to make a
short film somehow tied to the record. Maybe I'll do another video, but I'd rather make a short film. I also wrote a
treatment for a movie I want to make eventually. I want to direct the movie myself and make it be real,
naturalistic, organic-looking, and honest."
After telling such depressing stories about their pasts, the boys in Rancid go out on a more bizarre note by
recounting one of the band's most memorable experiences. Armstrong begins, "We used to practice at Gilman
Street, and one night there was this knock on the window. I thought it was my friends stopping by, so I flipped
them off and yelled, 'F*ck you!' It was the police. We let them in, and they said they were looking for these four
punk kids and asked if we knew them. They had apparently stolen a hundred-year-old corpse from the cemetery and
ditched it here at Gilman. I lied and said I didn't know the kids, thought I was actually living with one of them. The
police came in and looked around, but they didn't find anything."
Freeman interjects, "After they left, I thought about all the hiding places there, so I went up to the sound booth
and looked behind the file cabinet. There was a box wrapped in a Tower Records bag. I said, "I found it, look!" and I
held up the corpse."
"It was rotted out, hundred-year-old dead baby!" exclaims Armstrong. "The police eventually found the kids and
they got busted h-a-r-d-c-o-r-e!" Rancid doesn't play hard and fast to be h-a-r-d-c-o-r-e or punk. They play hard
and fast as a means of exercising aggressions and exorcising very personal recollections of pain, rejection, and
hopelessness. They never considered this band itself their vehicle to a "big future," but in a way to focus on
something they love a opposed to the negative situations around them. Today, Rancid's expressions have found a
giant audience of people who can relate, proving to all that punk doesn't have to remain in the garage to be genuine.
This bio was written by Judy V. with some help from huH