Salvation through Punk--The Rancid story®---
Contrary to the popular Sonic Youth-led opinion, 1994
was the year punk belatedly broke in America. Berkeley's
pop-punk heroes, Green Day, released Dookie, and
watched its sales reach astronomical proportions. Down
in southern California, the Offspring were undergoing a
similar transformation to stardom. For Rancid, the
effect was immediate and dramatic.
Rumors flew threw the music world. Rancid had been
offered $7,000,000 to sign to Epic. Madonna sent a nude
photo of herself to encourage them to join her label,
Maverick. The band was about to abandon its punk
principles, take the money and run. No, Rancid was about
to pull one of the biggest rock 'n roll swindles since the
Who would have believed, even six months earlier, that
there'd be so much attention surrounding a small,
hard-working band, barely known to the national press,
and then merely for its mohawk haircuts, and not its
selling power. True punks in music, attitude and
behavior, Rancid seemed the band least likely to capture
the nation's imagination. Didn't America really want a
kinder, gentler face of punk?
Besides, two of Rancid's members had already had their
shot at the big time, and deliberately tossed it away.
Fame and fortune never knocks twice, does it? Well, the
band was about to prove everyone wrong, including
Rancid seemed destined for the world of McJobs.
Guitarist Lars Frederiksen explained, "Rancid is a
working class punk band with a street-level point of
view. We write about what we experience in everyday
life, the things we've been through. We talk about unions
and union strikes, working, things that we've done, seen
or been around. We all basically grew up in working class
neighborhoods, and that's what we've seen."
All four members' working class families instilled a
hard work ethic in their children. Even so, drummer Brett
Reed's family was forced to rely on food stamps. Their
economic situation was so dismal that Reed left school
at 16 to help support the family.
But at least he had a father who was trying hard;
Frederiksen didn't even have that. He was a latchkey kid,
whose mom worked long hours as an Avon lady. Bassist
Matt Freeman was luckier, his family was solidly
working class, his dad a cop. Singer Tim "Lint"
Armstrong's dad was an alcoholic, drinking away much of
the money his mom worked so hard as a secretary to
It's no wonder Armstrong was to have so many bitter
experiences later in life, much of which would be
churned into Rancid's songs. But in common with the rest
of the band, his working class roots remained strong, and
family remains important, which is why the band is so
In fact, Armstrong's friendship with Freeman dates back
to their first meeting at age five in their home town of
Albany, California. A shared love of punk came later, a
particular love for first wave Britpunk bands was
Those bands--although most came out of middle class
backgrounds--spoke directly to the working class youth
of the day. Their anger and frustration at the world
around them, a willingness to shine a bright light on
society's iniquities and an overwhelming desire to bring
down the current order, touched a chord in Britain's
youth in the late 70's.
It would touch a similar chord in all the members of
Rancid. Punk itself, with its frenetic, angry, chaotic
performances, was a perfect outlet for a music scene
simmering with frustration and rage. It was an ideal
Soon Armstrong and Freeman began playing together,
initially both on guitar. They jammed their way through
innumerable, long-forgotten groupings of friends; the
"bands" remained mostely nameless, nothing more than
rehearsals in garages and living rooms.
But all that changed in 1987, when they hooked up with
drummer Dave Mello and singer Jesse Michaels. The
quartet formed Operation Ivy, which Freeman tags a
"punk-ska" band. Their inspiration was taken partly from
the original Two Tone bands and Berkeley's own ska
Freeman explained, "There was a ska band here in the
early '80's, the Uptones, which were a f*cking great
band. They were Berkeley High kids, and I think they
broke up around '86 or'87. There was a ska scene here
once, but that was pretty much over by the time
Operation Ivy came out. However, you still find their
influence on our records." (The Uptones would eventually
provide more than an influence, as we'll see.)
Operation Ivy, to a certain extent, stood out like a sore
thumb in the ska scene. First, in their two-year career
they played only once with another ska band, and second,
they didn't have a horn section. In fact, on only two
occasions did Op Ivy use any horns at all: a sax can be
found on "Bad Town" (from the "Energy" album), and they
did one live show with a sax player.
"I think eventually we would have liked to have horns,
but we weren't around long enough. It just never came
into the picture," said Freeman.
Op Ivy debuted live in April 1987, in Mello's garage. If
Freeman's recollections are right, they played the
following day at Gilman Street, opening for MDC
(Millions of Dead Cops) and Gang Green.
"From then on, we played as many shows as we could; I
think the official number is 185, give or take a couple. It
was really weird, it's the only band I've ever played in
that made a consistent effort to count. We were playing
so much, especially that first summer, we played all
over the place, just crazy f*cking shows."
And Op Ivy did play anywhere and everywhere: the Place
in Davis (now a parking lot), in Chico, the C&W Saloon in
San Francisco, Gilman Street, of course, and parties, lots
of parties. The latter made up the bulk of their shows.
Later that year, Op Ivy debuted on the Maximum Rock 'N
Roll compilation "Turn it Around" with two tracks,
"Officer" and "I Got No." The original format was a double
7-inch, however, the record was reissued around 1990 as
a single 12-inch, with profits benefitting Gilman Street.
Both songs were under two minutes long; Op Ivy's longest
recorded effort, "Bad Town," clocked in at just over two
and a half minutes. "Officer" was a full-on ska song
dripping punk sentiments. "I Got No" was more raucous, a
short, but shambling punk song. It was a decent debut
effort, but honestly, it was their live shows that were
making the most impression.
Larry Livermore, a fixture at Gilman Street, knew that
Op Ivy was special from the first time he saw them.
Livermore, a member of another Berkeley band, the
Lookouts, had already self-released his own group's
album. Now he and friend David Hayes began talking about
putting out records by other Gilman bands. They
approached four local bands, including Op Ivy, who all
agreed. In January 1988, Lookout Records released their
first four 7-inch EP's.
The "Hectic" EP split the songs between
hardcore--"Junkie's Runnin' Dry," "Hoboken," "Sleep
Long,"--and ska: "Here We Go Again," "Yellin' in My Ear,"
and "Healthy Body." But bar the latter track, even the ska
songs went by at lightening speed. Their blending of
hardcore and ska within songs would eventually launch a
new sub-genre, skacore. The impact was immediate, and
Livermore credits Op Ivy for the label's success.
Berkeley scenestress and veritable booker, Kamala
Parks, organized a 6-week tour for Op Ivy that began in
March 1988. And, credit given where credit's due;
Freeman notes that Cathy Bauer, now at Lookout Records,
then in St. Louis, was the first out-of-state person to
book the band.
Op Ivy played shows anywhere they could across the
country, mostly at parties, although they did perform at
a few clubs. Their biggest gig, in front of a crowd of
200, was in Chicago with Toxic Region, Zero Boys,
Germany's KGB and Desperate Minds. However, San Diego
holds the record for the best paying show: There they
received the princely sum of $140 ( a phenomenal amount
for an unknown band, even today).
Amazingly, Op Ivy returned home with cash in hand, a
princely $300. "You have to understand, we ate out like
twice, we didn't spend any money at all, hardly. We just
sold shirts and ate cheese sandwiches on the hood of the
car," laughs Freeman.
Back in Berkeley, the band continued playing numerous
shows to ever-growing numbers of fans. They followed
up their Lookout EP with a full-length album, "Energy," in
The album proved that Op Ivy was maturing musically.
Songs like "Take Warning," "Unity," and "Bad Town"
actually slowed the pace to a mid-tempo beat, and added
reggae to their repertoire. The band was replacing some
of its break-neck speed with musicianship and tighter
songwriting. But even the most frenetic songs, like
"Bombshell," tossed in quick guitar leads and backup
Initially, the record was released on vinyl and cassette
only, but in 1991, the album appeared on CD, and included
the "Hectic" EP and their "Turn it Around" tracks.
In 1992, a further posthumous release appeared, the
"Plea for Peace" EP. This came out through auspices of
old friend Murray Bowles, who took many of the band's
photographs, and Eric Yee. There are also a considerable
number of Op Ivy bootlegs on the market, many
containing live material from Gilman Street shows, and
the occasional demo. "Plea for Peace" also reappeared in
this entirety on a bootleg as well.
Some readers may find it a little confusing that Freeman
is listed as Matt McCall on Op Ivy records. "McCall was a
nickname that Jesse gave me. It was a joke, and he ended
up putting it on the record. It had to do with the TV
show, "The Equalizer," the character's name was McCall."
"Back in the day, I used to organize all this f*cking crazy
s*it, borrow people's cars and get trips together. I was
just a total operator, that was the way things were back
then. You didn't have any money, so you had to hustle
"Jesse would say, 'You're like the Equalizer dude, you got
all that s*it taken care of."
So Jesse dubbed Freeman McCall, but eventually, the joke
and name would fade away. What was no joke, thought,
was Op Ivy's growing popularity. The band was playing
throughout California, including unforgettable shows in
L.A.'s South Central parks. They played the Anti Club, and
even made it to Phoenix on April 22, 1989, where they
played with the Offspring. It would be one of their last
shows. The band was having serious problems with their
This level of success was something they never
expected, but one person did, Larry Livermore. Freeman
recalls, " We were playing this show in Fresno, and Larry
came along. I remember quite specifically him telling
me, in the middle of a California desert, that Op Ivy was
going to be one of those bands, like the Dead Kennedys,
that keep selling more records after we break up.
"I said, 'Whatever, Larry. I think you did too much acid in
the hippie days, dude." I didn't think that, no one thought
that. You've got to understand that back then it wasn't
like it is now; major labels offering you millions of
dollars, all these bands coming out of nowhere and
getting contracts. When Larry was telling me that, I
didn't believe him, but he's since proved me wrong. I've
actually talked to him since and said, 'You were totally
Apparently, this wasn't the only time that Livermore and
an Op Ivy member had this conversation. This is the label
head's take on those discussions. "I used to have these
big arguments with Op Ivy and they'd say, 'Well, we
thought you were a nut then, but I guess you were right.'"
With hindsight it's easy to see how big Op Ivy would
become. They gigged constantly, and their shows were
"Live, we were insane. We used to go crazy; things would
break down, it was just chaos. You've got to understand,
it was a punk show. There'd be people flying and flailing
around the equipment, equipment getting knocked over, it
was just chaotic."
And that's precisely how life was becoming.
"It just got too crazy. We started off as this little
garage band, and then we got really popular, really quick.
We had to start dealing with all sorts of crazy stuff.
Before, if we showed up it was, "Great here they are,"
but later, if we didn't show up for some reason it would
be a tragedy."
"I think the bigger you get the more pressures are put
upon you. We were all young and just didn't want to do it
like that any more. I'm sort of glad it stopped when it
did, because it didn't have time to really degenerate
into... (Freeman dissolves into laughter) Who knows what
would have happened."
On Rancid's new album, "...And Out Come the Wolves,"
there's a track called "Journey to the End of East Bay,"
which is Armstrong and Freeman's take on the demise of
"In 1989 you got a garage or an amp, we'll play anytime.
It was just the four of us; too much attention
unavoidedly destroyed us."
In May 1989, Op Ivy dissolved, gone but not forgotten. In
fact, the band's fame and fortune has increased
exponentially over time. Livermore was indeed right.
"Most people don't realize it, but Op Ivy was our biggest
band for years, Green Day existed in their shadow until
"Dookie. Op Ivy is still selling more than ever; each year
they sell twice as much as the year previous, and that's
been going on since 1989." At current count, "Energy" has
sold over 175,000 copies.
Freeman still finds it a little hard to believe. "Bands
break up all the time. If you had asked me six years ago
if we'd been such a big deal and people would keep
talking about us, I would have said no. It was just a band,
I didn't think anybody knew us outside of the Bay Area
and the people we hit on tour."
"Christ, we went to Europe a couple of years ago, and
even five years ago when I was there with MDC, it was
insane. Everyone was like, "Oh, you come from Op Ivy and
blah, blah, blah."
"Still, I started to get a feel for it in '91 when the CD
came out,...To us, even in Rancid, it was a gradual thing.
It's like being in a tornado, all this crazy s*it is going on
around you, but you're in the eye and everything is calm.
If after Op Ivy I'd have gone to some island or Antarctica
or something, stayed there for five years, and then come
back out, I probably would have been in shock. I think
where poeple get into trouble is they just get moved up
too f*cking quick, and they don't really have the ability
to deal with it. And that's sort of what happened with Op
Ivy; it was real fasttrack, it just happened really quick."
"People think that the band's still around, too. We get
letters, "I bought the new Beastie Boys and Op Ivy. When
are you guys going to come and play Boston?' Well we
broke up six years ago, sorry."
Since then Michaels went to Nicaragua, and later became
a buddhist monk for a period. Mello has since joined
Schlong, who have an extensive discography of their own.
Meanwhile, in the waning days of Op Ivy, Armstrong
formed the ska band Dance Hall Crashers. Freeman,
switching back to guitar, joined him there for a brief
period. Armstrong wrote much of the band's early
material before leaving in late 1989-early 1990.
During the summer of 1989, Armstrong, Freeman, Mello
and his brother Pat (who'd roadied for Op Ivy) and the
Dance Hall Crashers' Jason Hammond, formed Downfall.
The reggae-infused band played a few dates around
Berkeley and did some recording, which Lookout will
hopefully be releasing in the near future. In the
meantime, the curious will have to be satisfied with the
tracks they've released on compilations through Lookout,
Maximum R 'N R, and Very Small World.
At some point around this time, Freeman also went into
the studio and recorded "Back to Bodie" with Kamala and
the Karnivores for their debut single on Lookout.
In the spring of 1990, Freeman joined the legendary MDC.
He debuted live with them in April 1990, then
accompanied them on their American tour from June
through July, with Armstrong along as a roadie. In
August and September, MDC toured Europe, afterwards,
Freeman went on to record their new album, "Hey Cop If I
Had A Face Like Yours," with the band. However, by the
end of the year he'd had enough.
"MDC was like being in the Punk-Rock marine corp. I
never worked so hard in my life. I shouldn't say that, I
worked harder in Rancid; let's just say it was trying.
They were all older. I was just a young kid and they sort
of kicked by ass, like I was in boot camp." In other
words, they kept you in line?
"Yeah, they kept me in line...they also taught me a lot
about being in a band."
However, with no band, there was no money, and Freeman
spent the next year and a half working at a truck rental
company to dig himself out of debt.
"Toward tthe end, I was king of the car washers. I had a
little staff and organized everything, but that's because
I was insane and working in a job that I was completely
overqualified for. They wanted to give me a management
title, but I wouldn't take it. I told them, "I do a really
good job now, if you give me a title, you're just going to
expect me to do all this cool s*it, now I'm just a hero."
The job had its benefits, including a van and on-hands
experiences working on cars. Meanwhile, Armstrong was
also struggling to make ends meet. He held a series of
jobs that just didn't cover the bills, and was slipping
into a spiraling poverty trap. He ended up homeless,
couch-surfing, and, at his lowest point, living and
working at a Salvation Army shelter.
Armstrong was drinking too, way too much, and that's
when Freeman stepped in. At the end of 1991, the pair
started a new band, Rancid. They brought in another
Gilman Street regular, Brett Reed, on drums, formerly of
the nowhere band Smog.
The trio debuted at a friend's house in Oakland around
Christmas time. There'd be many more shows to follow,
but at this point the band was still relative unknowns. It
was small enough that Freeman could initially split his
time between them and the Gr'ups. In fact, one
memorable show, at a party in Oakland, featured an
all-star line-up of the Gr'ups, Rancid, and Berkeley
supergroup, Pinhead Gunpowder.
The Gr'ups featured two members of the Blatz and old
friend and booker, Kamala Parks. Freeman returned to
guitar for this rockabilly punk band; that was his homage
to his all-time favorite band X. The group played out
every few months, and soon released a single on Lookout
In 1992, Rancid also debuted on Lookout Records with a
five-song single. "I'm Not the Only One"'s dark intro was
driven by a pulsing bass line, which then splayed into
frenetic hardcore. But the seeds of things to come were
already planted, the chorus was melodic and anthemic.
"Battering Ram" followed a similar path, though
hardcore, with nods to the L.A. scene, with a shout-along
chorus. "The Sentence" and "Media Controller" were both
equally aggressive, frenetic, and while not tuneless,
were not strong on melodies. But "Idle Hands" almost
harkened back to Op Ivy, with its reggaefied intro, before
it kicked in to pure hardcore.
At this point, the influences weren't the early Britpunks,
but the later Oi and hardcore scenes. In this country, the
terms punk and hardcore have become synonymous, but
initially they had quite distinct meanings. Originally,
punk was a wide, but closed genre that encompassed
bands as diverse as the Pistols and Elvis Costello, the
Clash and Generation X. Punk had more to do with
attitude than sound, which is why a pub-rocker like Nick
Lowe, mods like the Jam and Who copyists Generation X
could all be tagged Punk.
Although their musical take could be quite different,
there was a shared attitude toward the world at large
that kept the movement coherent. Across the punk
spectrum, the bands looked around them and rejected
what they saw, their solution was simple, pull it down
and start again.
With the eventual co-opting and demise of punk, a new
generation sprung up at the turn of the decade. They
arrived even angrier than their progenitors. They played
faster, more aggressively, and tossed melodies away for
straight out rage. In Britain, they were labeled Oi (the
British equivalent of Hey You!) and many, but not all of
the bands had ties to Neo-nazi groups. In this country,
similar bands sprung up and were labeled hardcore.
The scene was different from punk both in the sound and
music. The original punks were not violent; this was not
true of the hardcore scene, and the obvious example was
in the dances. Punks pogoed, jumping up and down in
place, in a mostly solitary display. The hardcore scene
slam-danced, which by defintion meant bashing into your
Although the media was responsible for feeding the
scene of violence around the scene, in truth, it was more
violent. It was also more nihilistic. Punks may have
wanted to destroy, but they had intentions of building on
the rubble. Punks had no problem preaching. The hardcore
scene just wanted to destroy, it had no hopes of creating
something better in its place. To them, sermons on
improving the world were anathema.
"We're not trying to be self-proclaimers of anything,"
Frederiksen elaborated. "Punk rock to me is not about
making a better life for yourself, nor sitting aroung and
moping about s*it. Personally, I can't do that. I do what
comes naturally to me, making music; keeping my
convictions inside and going on with what I'm doing.
Rancid isn't one of those bands that wants to change the
That's quite a different stance from the first wave
punks, which strove for political activism in their music
and their lives. Many of the early punks were directly
involved in Rock against Racism, and by extension, in
working against the Neo-nazi National Front Party.
But Frederiksen best sums up the difference between the
old and new generation's attitude with the following: "I
can't intellectualize about things that are so terrible.
You want to do something for people, more than anything
in the world! But you just don't know what. I believe it
all starts with yourself believing or noticing what's
around you. Still, it's really not about politics or your
personal beliefs, it's about music."
And so, for the purpose of this piece, the author will be
distinguishing between the terms, especially in the
In the summer of 1992, the Gr'ups went on a two-week
tour opening for the Offspring.
"We had a lot of fun, it was almost like a vacation. That's
what it was for me, because I'd quit my job to go on this
tour. It was one of the most fun times I ever had in my
life. No one knew who the f*ck we were, people kind of
knew who the Offspring were. We went out in two vans,
but the Offspring were more rock, because they had
air-conditioning in their cars."
"They'd just finished recording their first album for
Epitaph and I was giving the guys so much s*it for
signing to them. "Ooooh, big Bad Religion label!" I was
joking around, but I was just giving them so much s*it.
Of course, at the end of the tour Dexter Holland said,
"Your band should call up Mr. Brett." "I'm like 'Yeah, right.'
Lo and behold, now we're on that label." Freeman seems
to have a propensity for making statements he'll be ruing
"Yeah, I guess I'm not very smart. You know why? I just
never take anything very seriously; 'Whatever, dude,
we'll see what happens.' I'm sort of a realist...well,
mostly it's me just being combative. 'Yeah, right, Larry,
right, Dexter.'" The bassist bursts into laughter.
After the tour, the Gr'ups broke up, later reforming
without Freeman. However, he did help their new
guitarist learn the songs. By that time, Freeman wanted
to focus exclusively on Rancid. The band was now
considering adding a second guitarist, and initially
invited in Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong.
Op Ivy had played quite a few shows with Green Day, and
trivia fans already know that Green Day opened for Op
Ivy's final show, appropriately enough, at Gilman Street.
Since those days, the two Armstrongs (no relation) had
become close friends.
At the end of 1992, Billie Joe played one show with
Rancid, but it obviously wasn't a permanent solution, as
the Green Day guitarist/singer couldn't afford to split
his time between two bands.
Meanwhile, even though Rancid had never bothered
contacting Epitaph, Gurewitz had gotten hold of Rancid's
single himself, and called the band. Near the end of 1992,
the trio went down to L.A. to meet with the label. In
January they were in West Beach, Gurewitz's Hollywood
studio, recording thier first album, "Ooooh, big Bad
Religion label!" must have been continually echoing in
In between recording times, the band returned to
Berkeley, where Reed ran into guitarist Lars Frederiksen.
The guitarist had been a member of Slip, who'd opened
for one of Rancid's early shows. Since then, he'd join the
seminal British punk band, UK Subs, and been touring
with them. But Sub captain Charlie Harper is notoriously
difficult to work with, and Frederiksen was now looking
for a new band.
With the album nearly done, the trio returned to the
studio, but Rancid was now officially a quartet. Which is
precisely how their self-penned Epitaph bio reads. Once
again, Freeman was about to put his foot in his mouth,
only this time the rest of the band helped:
"Brett drummed for the infamous Smog, Lars played with
the UK Subs, and Lint and Matt wasted their time in a
band called Operation Ivy. Smog played once and
Operation Ivy played 185 times. I have no idea how many
times UK Subs played. Smog recorded their first
practice, while Op Ivy released a 7-inch, a full-length
album, then broke up in 1989 and faded into obscurity. UK
Subs are probably still struggling out there somewhere.
Although Smog broke up in 1991, in some people's hearts
they will be forever."
Although the bio then makes clear that Op Ivy was indeed
a groundbreaking band, it ended with the following
"Through hard work, persistence and an explosive debut
LP on Epitaph, Rancid has managed to do the impossible;
they were able to shake the legendary image and sound of
Smog. This record is a testament to that victory."
Those in the know found the bio hysterical, but not
everyone got the joke. MTV obviously didn't (why am I not
surprised?--Jen), and when it debuted Rancid's video,
the VJ quoted straight-faced from the bio. Freeman said,
"Then we started seeing all these ads, 'Ex-Smog!'"
Rancid's eponymous album arrived in April 1993 and the
change in the band's sound from its single was dramatic.
The songs were still frenetic, but the band was now
concentrating harder of melody, and some of the
choruses even spotted harmonies.
The influences were diverse. While the album still had
numerous nods to the hardcore scene on both sides of the
Atlantic, snatches of the Clash were also sneaking in.
The radio single "Hyena" contained an opening bass line
which owned much to the Brit band's cover of "Black
Cadillac" (the author got this wrong--she means "Brand
New Cadillac"--Jen). Meanwhile, "Outta My Mind" had
guitar lines reminiscent of Johnny Thunders circa the
Heartbreakers. Bad Religion also seems an obvious
But this isn't to suggest that Rancid had composed a
totally derivative album; they hadn't. Songs like "The
Bottle" and "Unwritten Rules" had jangly, harmony
drenched choruses unlike any of the hardcore bands, the
latter was even brushed with a light-speed ska sound,
although their cover of the Uptones' song, "Get Outa My
Way" did not.
But it was "Another Night" that heralded the future. The
song had a tag-team sing-along chorus and trade-off
vocals that would soon become their trademark. The
tag-team approach is typical in the hip-hop world, but
rare elsewhere, which makes Rancid songs instantly
identifiable. The song was full of hooks, but less in a
musical sense than in stand-out lines that the listener
just had to shout or sing along with it.
The back cover of the album features Rancid standing in
front of a sign pointing the way to Gilman St., and that's
precisely where they were headed. They played around
the Berkeley area throughout the summer of 1993,
slipping in a few L.A. shows, including one with Green
In September, Rancid embarked on their first tour of the
States, tossing in two shows with Bad Religion and
Green Day in L.A. and Salt Lake City. In November, the
band left for a seven-week European tour, which included
Britain, Italy, Belgium, and multiple shows in Germany.
In the new year, they released the "Radio Radio Radio"
single, on Fat Wreck Chords, the label run by NOFX's Fat
Mike. This was Frederiksen's debut on record; the title
song, "Radio" was co-written by Green Day's Armstrong.
"Radio" was the perfect cross between Green Day and
Rancid; the song was played at normal Rancid
hyperspeed, but the chorus was pure Green Day pop
harmony. "Dope Sick Girl" was also a lightening-speed
track, featuring split vocals and one of the fastest
guitar leads ever played.
"Just a Felling" (a deliberate misspelling) reached warp
speed, with Lars providing a guitar lead that rivaled
"Dope Sick Girl" and a chorus drenched in melody. The
middle section slows slightly, and Tim Armstrong's
vocals drop to a chant. "Someone's Gunna Die" was
Freeman's turn to excel, the song a hardcore gem with a
chanted chorus of "oi, oi, oi."
If there was anyone with doubts about the band's musical
mastery, "Radio Radio Radio" laid them permanently to
rest. But how did this single turn up on Fat Wreck Chords
as the band was now signed to Epitaph?
"Mr. Brett (Gurewitz) doesn't care if we put out 7-inches
elsewhere, and Fat Mike had asked us long before to do a
single for him, so we just did it. Fat Mike's always had
faith in us; he's helped us out and been a good friend to
the whole band. He was one of our earliest supporters. I
think it's been really good for him, and he totally
In February 1994, the band began recording "Let's Go." If
the musical leap between their debut and the single was
immense, their next leap was enormous. Twenty-three
songs crammed into just under 45 minutes, the record
was a perfect blend of hardcore, punk, and pop.
The songs still zipped by at warp speed, but within,
there were slower passages and breaks, all seamlessly
sewn together to give them a fluid feel. The album was
overflowing with tight melodies, choruses that rang
with hooks and anthemic lyrics. The radio single chosen
was "Salvation," a pure crowd sing-along, but it was the
loosest of the songs, and for that reason alone, not
representative of the rest of the album. More apt was
"Side Kick" with its pounding drum beat, tight guitars,
driving bass, and catchy chorus.
"Salvation"'s lyrics were semi-autobiographical, telling
of Armstrong's experiences at the Salvation Army, where
he exchanged a bed for driving around the burbs, picking
up the well-to-do's cast-offs.
With "Let's Go", the Clash comparisons came fast and
furious, especially aimed at Armstrong, whose gruff
vocal style is reminiscent of a less mumbly Joe
Strummer. A more accurate comparison of the band's
sound would be to cross the Clash with hardcore, for the
Englishmen never played this fast. But Rancid's song
structures are similar, while their attitude was
As always, there were hints of reggae and ska carefully
embedded into the songs, syncopated bass lines that
sneak in, like the slow passage in "Burn." It was as if
Rancid had rolled the whole of the larger punk genre into
"Let's Go." An in a way they had.
But it's really the intangible things that make "Let's Go"
a punk classic. This includes the lyrics that ring with
truth, sincerity, and reality. Equally important, though,
was the sustained level of energy, a hyperkenetism that
infuses the record, spraying out over the listener like a
jolt of double espresso.
That spring, with the album completed, Rancid put
together a side project, Shaken '69. Joining forces with
ex-Op Ivy drummer Dave Mello, the Uptones' Paul Jackson
and Eric "Dinwitty" Dinn, and featuring Skankin' Pickles'
Lars Nylander and Mike Park on horns, Shaken '69 is a
pure ska band. The group recorded a couple of songs
which hopefully will be turning up in the near future on
compilation. Shaken '69 would like to do more, but as all
the members are in working bands, it's difficult to
In June, Rancid embarked on a month-long tour that
covered the south and midwest. After a brief break, they
spent August with Sick of It All playing the west coast.
But the highlight of the summer shows was the Epitaph
Summer Nations shows. A label celebration and party,
the celebration stretched across 3 days at L.A.'s
Palladium, a gala event to rejoice in the rise of punk and
Epitaph. The highpoint for many fans was when
Pennywise invited Armstrong and Frederiksen onstage
for a rendition of Minor Threat's "Straight Edge."
Come autumn, Rancid were back on their own touring
across the nation. Then, in November, they joined forces
with the Offspring for a series of shows that left
crowds partying in happy exhaustion.
1994 also saw the release of the Epitaph compilation,
"Punk-o-Rama", which features two Rancid tracks,
"Hyena" and "I Wanna Riot." "Riot" was a slow skanker
with a dark turn, the closest comparison might be the
Specials without the horns.
Rancid was also featured on the Kill Rock Stars
compilaiton, "Rock Stars Kill." Their track, "Brixton," is
cloaked in an early reggae sound, down to the '60s
sounding keyboard lines. The album was subtitled "23
More Bands that Don't Want to Be Rock Stars," which
might have been true in some cases, but at least one
band wasn't so sure.
By now, Rancid was a hot commodity, "Let's Go" went
swiftly gold, and is currently working toward platinum,
thus label reps were turning up at numerous shows. Word
quickly spread through the press, and a media frenzy
began. And as Freeman explains, "Then we went through
all that major label stuff." Although the band fielded
numerous offers, incluidng Maverick (Madonna did indeed
send them a photo of herself, which was taken from the
book), it was Epic that made the biggest impressions.
Epic had a lot going for it. It was the Clash's label, it
was offering $1,500,000 and Micheal Goldstone and
Michelle Anthony were genuinely nice people, who
sincerely liked the band.
"Last summer was just f*cking nuts; you had all these
bands going crazy (saleswise), and if you do this for a
long time you start thinking in those terms. We're only
human, and we talked to them; if anything, it was a quest
for knowledge. If anyone's throwing that much money in
your face , and you see all the other bands selling like
crazy, you're going to consider it. You'd be a fool not to."
"None of us are college-educated; this band's our life,
this is all we have. When people are giving you that much
attention, you're going to listen to them. So, I'm not
ashamed for talking to them. Some people have said,
"How can you even think about it?" Well, f*ck you, I'd
like to see you be so f*cking ideological."
"All of our parents kept working. My dad just had a
double hip operation last year from working all his
f*cking life. We all came from working class areas, we
don't have trust funds, this is all we have. If this dies
tomorrow, we'll be doing what we were before this,
washing cars or making pizzas. Yeah, we thought about
"In the end, when all was said and done, we made a band
decision that we wanted to stay with Epitaph. No matter
what happened that's where we should be, just because
our friends were there."
"I read someplace were it was being compared to (the
Sex Pistols) "Great Rock and Roll Swindle" which would
have been a great story--yeah, we took them to the
brink--but no, it had nothing to do with that, I wish it
was that heroic."
And when the dust settled, Rancid went back to work.
January 1995 saw the release of their new single "Roots
Radicals" b/w "I Wanna Riot." The single was extremely
catchy, with snatches of punk guitar leads vying with
the ska-infested bass and drum line. The chorus is
anthemic; heard once, you'll be chanting it forever. The
song has since reappeared on their new album.
In February, Rancid returned to the road for a short tour
encompassing L.A., Chicago, New York, Boston, and other
big cities. Then it was back to the studio in March, where
they spent the next six weeks recording the new album
with Jerry Finn in the producer's chair and Gurewitz
behind the supervising board. After "Let's Go" ti wa hard
to imagine what Rancid's next step would be. Many bands
would have been satisfied recording an extension of
their last album. But Rancid have an ability to scour out
new musical crests and mount them with seeming ease.
And thus it was with "...And Out Come the Wolves."
Even the brief intro to the opening track, "Maxwell
Murder" was unexpected: a dark, eerie sample from the
movie, "Gringo." And although the rest of the song was
standard Rancid punk, the album quickly shifts gear with
"The 11th Hour" co-written by the Uptones' Eric Dinn.
This song was slower than almost anything they'd done
before, its Clash influences proudly bared. Then, there
was the inclusion of "Roots Radicals" which, while not
surprising ("Radio" was also included on an album),
heralded a welcome return to singles and compilations.
The new single, "Time Bomb," was full-on ska, with its
chorus recalling Ian Dury's "Sweet Gene Vincent"
black/white listing. Two more ska tracks, "Daly City
Train" and the hook-laden "Old Friend" also appear, all
three featuring the Uptones and Shakin' 69-er Paul
Jackson on organ.
Virtually all of the 19 tracks are played at a mid-tempo
pace, even though the album is just under 50 minutes
long. Rancid's propensity for trade-off vocals has
increased, to great effect. With each member having a
distinct voice and style, the trade-offs give each song
and the lines within added power and individuality.
With the pace slowed, there's more room for both
backing vocals and the instruments to come to the fore.
While Reed provides an excellent backbone for the music,
Freeman continues to play a highlighted role unusual in
punk. On songs like "Journey..." his bass virtually carries
Frederiksen also has greater opportunity to shine. Many
of his riffs are bright, breezy Clash-inspired passages,
not surprising from a man who places the English punks
at the top of his hits list. Many of his brief, but crucial,
leads are reminiscent of that band as well. However,
Frederiksen is a far better guitarist than the Clash's
Mick Jones was in 1977-78. Thus, Frederiksen's guitar
parts are more proficient, inventive, and interesting.
While most reviewers will opt for the easy Clash
comparison, "Wolves" is not just the best album the
Clash never wrote; the sound goes far beyond that. Songs
like "Maxwell Murder" and "As Wicked" owe nothing to
England's finest. "Listed M.I.A." has guitar leads clawed
from Johnny Thunders, while "Avenues & Alleyways" is
the Heartbreakers playing a slowed-down hardcore. "The
Way I Feel" even throws in a Pistols' riff, before
dissolving into pure Rancid melodic speedcore.
As always the lyrics were ripped from the band's
personal experiences. There's the good times to be found
in "Olympia, WA," Op Ivy's demise in "Journey...," the
chilling look at addiction in "Junkyman," the misery of
homelessness in "As Wicked," and the ubiquitous songs
about girls, including "She's Automatic," "Old Friend,"
"You Don't Care Nuthin'", et. al. "Wolves" was nothing
short of sublime, and will inevitably bring Rancid even
greater success. After its completion, the band took a
well-deserved break. A September tour of Europe is
scheduled followed by another national tour. At the time
of writing in early August, their single is already
receiving major airplay.
Rancid's climb through the music jungle has not been as
meteoric as their labelmates', neither the Offspring nor
their friends Green Day. Still, their success has been
dramatic, and for much of the music scene, as
unexpected as the other two. In many ways, Rancid's
breakthrough has been most exciting.
The band is truest in vision and sound to the first wave
of punks that stormed through Britian, but left America
cold. From Rancid's mohawks, bondage pants and studded
leather jackets to the social awareness of their songs,
the group carries the torch of true punk. The seed of
rebellion are still in place, and remain there everytime
Armstrong raises his middle finger toward a
That rebellion spells trouble to parents and danger to the
established order, which is why the Britpunks found
themselves co-opted and eventually marginalized out of
existence. But Rancid remains unfettered, sticking to
their guns with their Epitaph posse behind them. Across
England, one can still find the old spray-painted slogan,
PUNK ROOLS, fading away on walls. But, in America, punk
rools anew. And Rancid is the new order.
The author, Jo-Ann Greene, goes on to thank Rancid for
thier help with this piece, and particularly Matt Freeman
for making so much of his limited spare time available.
Thanks also go out to Larry Livermore, Cathy Bauer,
Lookout Records, Fat Wreck Chords, Flipside records, and
the people at Epitaph.
Thanks to Johans punk page