Photo: Daveed Benito
The Offspring Talk The Near End Of COVID-19, Why Birds Are "Badass" & New Album, 'Let The Bad Times Roll'
Is this the worst time to be alive? The question is compelling. Sure, we may carry around the Library of Alexandria—plus the totality of music and cinema—in our pockets. But that's cold comfort in an era where mob mentality is the order of the day yet we may have kissed hugging goodbye.
This must have crossed the Offspring's minds. In their latest video, housebound youths are menaced by a) a smartphone with arachnoid legs b) anthropomorphic coronaviruses and c) a bloodthirsty crew of rioters. The title? "Let the Bad Times Roll." So, Offspring: Does it get worse than the early 2020s?
"It probably doesn't compare to the Dark Ages or the Bubonic Plague—or World War II, for heaven's sake," the OC punks' lead singer Dexter Holland tells GRAMMY.com. "But no doubt, what we're going through is serious, right? That's why we're calling this album Let the Bad Times Roll. It's not a walk in the park."
Let the Bad Times Roll, which the Offspring released April 16, is their first album in nine years. But if you think they returned sober and austere after recent global nightmares, remember: These are the guys who wrote "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)." Their new tunes tackle societal unrest ("This is Not Utopia"), addiction ("The Opioid Diaries") and romantic ruts ("We Never Have Sex Anymore") with a giddiness that recalls their bleached-tips-era breakout.
What if the answer to that question proves to be "yes"? The Offspring are psyched to be alive anyway. Their guitarist, Noodles, is getting into birding these days; he calls birds "badass." In his spare time, Holland makes hot sauce, flies planes and bones up on molecular biology (he has a Ph.D. in the field). Maybe therein lies the lesson of Let the Bad Times Roll: the world might suck right now, but you can live around the suckiness—and live well.
GRAMMY.com gave Dexter and Noodles a Zoom call at their studio to discuss the making of Let the Bad Times Roll, how a microscopic virus ruined everything, why Noodles dislikes chickens and myriad other subjects.
How was your weekend?
Noodles: Good. Long. Long and good. We were just talking about how I let myself drink a lot this weekend.
What's your drink of choice?
Noodles: Mostly Pacifico. I like the Mexican lagers—Modelo, Pacifico.
What about you, Dexter?
That's probably the ultimate beer, right?
Dexter: It looks like we're playing in Dublin this year, so we're all very excited. The Guinness really is different there. It's fresh. They make it across the street in Dublin, right?
Noodles: It is. It's creamier.
Dexter: You can get a good pour pretty much all over Europe, but it's hard to get a good pour here in the States. I heard some urban legend that there's some piping directly from Guinness into some of these pubs.
Noodles: That's why it's so good!
We have a lot of ground to cover. This is the first Offspring album in nine years. What was going on in the interim?
Dexter: I mean, we write all the time, but it just didn't feel right yet. I didn't feel like there was an impetus to have to put it out. I can remember for a long time, we did records every two or three years. It felt like there was that pressure: You had to do that or you're going to fade away and stuff. I just don't believe in that anymore. I don't care! We tour a lot still, which is great, so we just worked on it in between when we could. It didn't really start coming together until a couple of years ago.
Noodles: We had a really creative period about two years ago. That's when most of this record was written. And we still probably have half a record's worth of songs, so once we get through this cycle, we can start taking a look at those again, and hopefully, the next one will come a little bit more quickly. But if it doesn't go like it did this time, then it won't be quickly! It'll still be long, you know? We make sure we don't put anything out that's not ready to come out.
Dexter: I want it to be really good. Good all the way through, in my eyes. I think we got there, for me, this time.
I don't think you're going to fade away anytime soon. The video for the title track has more than a million views [At press time, close to two million].
Dexter: Oh! Well, that's good.
Noodles: Which video?
Dexter: "Let the Bad Times Roll."
Noodles: Oh! Nice.
Dexter: We just hit a million! Alright! Woo-hoo!
Noodles: Right on!
Dexter: That means we've collected about 32 cents in royalties from YouTube.
Noodles: Yeah! F**k yeah! Cha-ching, baby! Alright! Still got it!
It seems like your ability to craft hooks and melodies is unabated. Can you share your melody-writing secrets, or would that be a bad idea, publicly speaking? Like giving away the herbs and spices?
Dexter: [laughs] I mean, you kind of have to wait for a certain kind of inspiration to hit, and then you take it and run with it. It's generally melody first and lyrics second, but sometimes the best stuff is just both together. I think "Pretty Fly" was like that and I think "We Never Have Sex Anymore" is kind of like that. The lyric came about as much as the melody.
I love great melody writers in any genre. Who are your favorites?
Dexter: Favorite… artists?
Noodles: [under breath] Melody writers.
Yeah, those specifically.
Noodles: Well, I mean, I love the Ramones. They could always take three chords and make them so that you could sing along to them. I love the Ramones for that.
Dexter: I mean, what's great about music is that you can jump from genre to genre. Of course, we've spent a lot of time listening to the Ramones and stuff, but lately, I've been kind of into Vivaldi. And I was checking out John Denver the other night because his songwriting is really, really good, right? He comes across as a little light to a lot of people, but I think he's actually a really great songwriter.
Noodles: Oh, [he's] my parents' favorite, John Denver. As an adult, I had to go back and get the John Denver's Greatest Hits CD. Actually, it was not too long ago. I realized I didn't have it anymore. I still buy CDs. Isn't that funny?
The video for the title track is rife with smartphones and masks and quarantine imagery. Is this the worst time to be alive?
Dexter: [laughs] The worst time to be alive! Well, for all of us in the room, probably yes. But it probably doesn't compare to the Dark Ages or the Bubonic Plague—or World War II, for heaven's sake.
Noodles: But you bring up a good point. Are human beings just spoiled and complaining?
Dexter: I think so.
Noodles: Whiny little ankle-biters?
Dexter: A little bit. A little bit. But no doubt, what we're going through is serious, right? That's why we're calling this album Let the Bad Times Roll. It's not a walk in the park.
Noodles: And we really have seen a lot of human strife over the last four years. I think maybe a lot of it is just blown up in the press and world leaders trying to keep us…
Noodles: Yes. Divide and conquer, so they can stay in power.
I noticed in the video that it's all young people bearing the brunt of this. Obviously, it's all exaggerated and humorous. But has this generation—my generation—gotten the raw end of this deal?
Dexter: Are you part of the young generation? Is that what you're saying?
Yeah. I'm in my late 20s.
Noodles: Well, I mean, we wrote a song years ago: "We Aren't the Ones." Yelling at our forefathers: "Why did you f**k up the world so bad? Now we have to come in and clean it up?" So there's always going to be a little bit of that. Certainly, taking care of the climate, taking care of the world we live in—I don't think anybody's been very good about that lately.
Dexter: What we're talking about is that your son missed his high school graduation. We're talking about the raw end of the deal. Little things like that. Yeah, absolutely! I think the answer is yes!
Noodles: [long pause] Yes. [both laugh]
"The Opioid Diaries" is kind of the emotional center of the album to me. That seems to reflect the nightmare a lot of people are going through these days.
Dexter: Right. It's interesting you bring up that song because it's really been getting a lot of attention. I thought of it as a great punk song, but we put it at number eight on the record or something. It's a song about addiction—and, of course, that's not a new topic—but I feel like, with the opioid crisis, there's something different about it.
I almost call it "creating accidental addicts" because these people aren't searching for drugs recreationally or getting lost in drugs the way you typically think of it. It's people going to the doctor's office—somebody they trust. They've got a legitimate issue. It's a high school athlete or a blue-collar worker who's got lower back pain and they get prescribed this highly addictive stuff. They think it's OK, then before they know it, they're addicted and they're turning to heroin because they can't get a refill on their prescription.
We have this whole new crop of people who would never have become addicted before, and it's absolutely the fault of the pharmaceutical industry.
The person burglarizing houses for a fix is just somebody who got in a car wreck.
Dexter: Yeah, that's right. I wanted to write about it because I thought there was a unique twist to what's going on here, and an unfortunate one.
"Hassan Chop" sounds like a throwback to old-school d-beat. Did you guys come up on that stuff in the old days?
Dexter: Old-school what?
D-beat. Like Discharge.
Noodles: What do you call it? P-beat?
No, d-beat. [demonstrates galloping rhythm]
Dexter: How funny. We've never heard that before!
Noodles: We're learning!
Dexter: You got us!
Well, if that's not a reference you're familiar with...
Dexter: We'll have to look that up! Yeah, I think it sounds like an older kind of sound.
That was kind of the idea with this record: not to make an album that sounds like old Offspring, but to do some songs that were a little more straightforward, maybe. Some people associate that with old Offspring. There are people online calling it "classic Offspring." I don't know about that. But people seem to like it, and they say it sounds fresh but still sounds like us.
Noodles: Well, we knew after nine years of not putting anything out, it would be a really bad time to reinvent ourselves. But we don't have that much interest in reinventing ourselves anyway, you know? We always experiment with a song or two on any record, but there's a certain kind of music we love and a certain kind of music we love playing. We always gravitate more towards that. It's easy for us to do that.
"Gone Away" is softer and more introspective than I generally associate with the band. How did that one come about?
Dexter: Right. I know, it's kind of funny. On one hand, we're saying we're creating a straightforward album.
Noodles: But it's pretty varied musically!
Dexter: A song like "Gone Away" is what people would have called a departure for us a few years ago. It's almost like they're getting used to our turns.
Noodles: Well, it's an older song of ours, so I think the fans… maybe we're getting a pass for changing our styles up a little bit on that. But really, it was the fans who were clamoring for that song. We've been playing a similar version live for four or five years now and the fans love it. They immediately took right to it. And at meet-and-greets and on social media, they're always asking for a studio version of the piano [led] "Gone Away." So, we tried it and we felt good about it.
Dexter: We said it was OK.
I just watched your birding and surfing videos. You guys seem to have diverse nonmusical interests, but you meet in this band as the nexus point. How else do you guys spend your extra time?
Noodles: Actually, I hike that area and I do look at birds. I don't usually dress in the full gear and that telescope's way too heavy to be carting around.
Dexter: That was the joke: to take it a little bit too far.
Noodles: Yeah, yeah. But I do like hiking that area and other areas around here. Getting out. I haven't surfed much lately, but I still intend to. I think all the time about getting a new board and getting back out there. My old boards are kind of beat up.
Dexter: I make hot sauce in my spare time.
Noodles: He's got all kinds of s**t going! I'm the one who's got no excuses! I should be doing way more in my life. He makes hot sauce; he flies planes. He still studies genetics and viruses.
Dexter: [bashful voice] You're good too!
Noodles: I'm playing Sudoku.
Dexter, how does your Ph.D. manifest in your daily life? I'm sure you're just reading about it and soaking up as much information as you can.
Dexter: Right, right. I mean, I have the degree. I don't work in the field, but I try to keep up with the literature. I think the most amazing takeaway is that as much as everyone knows, no one knows. It's still hard to predict a pandemic and how it's going to spread. I don't think they saw the variants coming. It didn't look like it was that kind of virus. So, you're always being a little bit surprised, you know? I think they're doing a good job of trying to get ahead of it with vaccinations and all that, but we're not there yet.
I've noticed the language has changed so much from the days of "Flatten the curve!" or boiling your mail or something. It plunged us into the Dark Ages of scientific knowledge, suddenly.
Noodles: We weren't boiling our mail, but we were wiping down our groceries and s**t when the stuff first happened. We don't do that anymore.
Dexter: I talked to a guy I went to school with and he kind of said, "Well, what's cool about this is that the public gets to see science in action." This is real time, and we're going to change our opinion as more data comes in. They thought that the virus was contagious on surfaces. It turns out that it looks like that's not the case. You're seeing that this is how science works.
It's miraculous that we got a vaccine in eight months or so.
Noodles: Agreed. Agreed.
Dexter: It is really amazing that they have that. Luckily, they'd been working on the technology before, so it was easier to get it going quickly because they almost had it ready to go. Unfortunately, that also brought up all the "Oh, it was developed too quickly! It's not safe!" kind of stuff.
Noodles: There's been an undercurrent of anti-vaccination sentiment for a number of years anyway.
Dexter: From the beginning. Edward Jenner was vaccinating people with cow pus, so they were saying you're going to grow horns. Those were the comics that would lampoon people in the day. They would have these people growing limbs and all that.
Noodles: See, I'm still hoping for fire antlers! I want fire antlers from my Pfizer shot!
Noodles, what's the essence of your love of birding? Is it the sense of discovery? Their sheer variety?
Noodles: I just think they're badass! [both laugh] I like getting out and hiking. I love being out in nature. I love fishing a lot. I love surfing. So, I'd always see these birds and I didn't know what they were. I started looking into it more. You see how they're all related: some of them are really similar, some of them are really different, you know? Some travel from all over—from pole to pole, almost, in their migration. So, all that s**t's just interesting.
Now, I don't know what I'm talking about that much. I know some of the bigger birds that you'll see. The birds of prey, I think I'm a little bit more fascinated with. They're just so beautiful.
Dexter: It was kind of surfing and being outdoors that got you to look at them. It wasn't like you were always fascinated with birds. It was sort of a byproduct.
Noodles: Like, I'm not a big fan of chickens.
Dexter: [laughs] No?
Noodles: Although some of the ducks are pretty cool-looking. We get a lot of ducks in the wintertime.
Dexter: What about parakeets? Would you ever get a parakeet?
Noodles: I would actually love to have a bird like that!
Dexter: Now I know what to get him for his birthday.
Noodles, I have two bird questions before we wrap this up. Number one: How do they know how to migrate thousands of miles without a map? How do they know where to go?
Noodles: Yeah, I don't know that they've actually discovered that. I've read some articles on that. Mostly with pigeons. Like, how do pigeons know how to home in on stuff, right? A lot of these birds just kind of go to their ancestral lands somehow, but pigeons would go to particular houses and homes. Especially the messenger pigeons during World War II and stuff. I'm not a big fan of pigeons. They seem pretty stupid, but they do these incredibly smart things.
Dexter: He's selective! Birds are badass, but there are certain birds that don't make sense! I heard birds could sense magnetic lines of the earth's revolution, maybe.
Noodles: Some studies suggest that, yeah.
Number two: When I wake up and I hear birds chattering outside my window, what are they saying? Because it sounds like it's generally the same call repeated—not a ton of variation.
Noodles: I have no idea.
That's pretty much all I've got. What are you guys listening to lately, besides Vivaldi and John Denver?
Noodles: I recently found this band called Pist Idiots from Australia. They've just got a great sound. I think they've got some great songs. Kind of post-punk, but guitar-based, so I kind of like that. My kids have been hipping me to some kind of funny, different stuff. Punk-ish hip-hop stuff. A guy named Nate NoFace is kind of interesting to me. Nasty Noona's another one. Deathsquad is this band all these people are in and out of. They just all collaborate together then do their own stuff as well.
Nice. I'll check them out. What about you, Dexter?
Dexter: Well, like I said, Vivaldi, John Denver. There's this cool band called Beat to Death. Stuff like that. It's all over the map.
Noodles: I don't know Beat to Death.
Dexter: I'm actually making it up. [both laugh uproariously]
My ex-sister-in-law went out with this guy and he was in a hardcore band. I was like, "What's your band's name?" and he said, "Beat to Death." That was the most ridiculous thing! And not even "Beaten to Death!" It's "Beat to Death!" It's grammatically incorrect and silly at the same time, so I thought that was kind of the ultimate name.