The Offspring: the Beatweek cover story interview
October 9, 2012 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
“We thought maybe we could sort of make a living at this,” says singer Dexter Holland of the early days of his band, but “even that seemed far fetched.” Decades later, however, the hit songs are still coming. They have a new album this year and, like clockwork, another top ten radio hit to go with it. If there is a counterargument to the notion that a punk rock band is supposed to have a finite shelf life, The Offspring is it. Days Go By has gotten as much airplay this year as their songs like Come Out And Play and Self Esteem were getting in the nineties, and the band seems as vital as ever. Then again, as the new record demonstrates, The Offspring never were strictly defined by their punk roots.
The title track is a serious one, yet it delivers an undeniably positive message. “Just looking around it’s easy to see that the last few years have been pretty tough on a lot of people,” he says, pointing to “the idea of acknowledging that, but also saying hey we all know it’s been tough but no one is going to pick you back up, you’re gonna have to figure out how to get yourself back up and carry on. But keep your head up and things will get better. I thought that was an important message to say right now.”
Yet three tracks later there’s a song whose refrain is “I know you heard that bass bumpin’ in my trunk,” reminding the world that this band has always had a sense of fun. “As we got towards the end of the process I kind of looked at our collection of our songs and said we need to have a couple fun songs on here. So we wrote that song Cruising California, and it’s almost about, hey what would it be like to drive down PCH in my hometown of Huntington Beach on a typical summer sunny day, and all the kind of weird stuff you would see.”
It’s enough to leave some listeners guessing: “Some people are saying we can’t tell, are you trying to make a pop song or are you trying to take the piss out of pop music? And I like that. I like that it makes you question it a little bit. I don’t know, maybe a little bit of both. In our band, having come from a punk background, any time we do something that leans more to the pop side it ends up being a commentary on whatever style of music we’re doing at the moment. That’s one of the cool things about being in this band.
Elsewhere the band pays homage to its SoCal heritage with the tune OC Guns. “One of the things that seems like a contradiction is how so many bands and even punk rock bands came out of Orange County, because it does seem like an idyllic place. The weather’s great and people are happy and maybe there’s a lot of plastic surgery or whatever, but there is definitely another side to it. As a kid growing up it’s very uniform and there’s kind of a lot of boredom. It also is very conservative in some ways. So those kind of elements to living down here is what made it natural for so many rebellious bands to start up.”
The song sees Dexter injecting bits of Spanish into the lyrics, and it’s not the first Offspring song to go there. So does he actually speak Spanish? “I know enough to order a margarita,” he jokes. “I would say I could get by in terms of which way to the bathroom and stuff like that. I’m definitely not fluent, but I’ve grown up and lived in Southern California my whole life and I’ve been obviously surrounded by Latin American and Mexican culture. I love Mexican culture. I love Mexican food. I love the diversity of that kind of culture. So I guess it wasn’t conscious really, but it’s kind of natural that some of that influence would come out in our music.”
That love of Mexican food led him to start the most unusual of side projects for a rock star: he has his own hot sauce. “It just hit me one day, why don’t I have a hot sauce? As kind of off the wall and as silly as that seems, it sounded like it would be fun. I like messing around in different stuff, so I decided to try to make a hot sauce. It actually took a couple years to get a good recipe together, but I have it now.”
It’s not just a hobby either, as Gringo Bandito is already selling in California grocery stores and online. But although he jokes about how he’s keeping his options open, he’s not ready to set down his microphone any time soon. “It’s been really fun doing something that’s completely different, but something that also in a way you’re getting fans, I guess, which is fun. And yeah, no one’s going to make a million dollars off of hot sauce. You do it because you love it.”
Just how Bryan Holland became ‘Dexter’ Holland is the stuff of legend among Offspring fans. “I don’t talk about that too much,” he says. But he does offer a hint: “I thought it was cool how a lot of guys in punk bands had strange names. They weren’t named Ian or something cool. They had more bizarre names, and that’s kind of what I was doing back then.”
“We were part of a punk scene on Epitaph where we were coming up with bands like Pennywise and Rancid and NOFX, and Bad Religion,” he says of those days. “We saw our first taste of being a successful band by watching NOFX, which was just a year or two ahead of us. They took us on tour, and they actually made a living by selling T-shirts at their shows and stuff.”
Decades later The Offspring has achieved the rare feat of fulfilling its entire record contract. “You never make it that far,” he says. “Columbia’s been great. I think what was important to us was that we needed them to take care of the business side of it, please get it in stores, please help us get on the radio stations and stuff, but don’t get in the way as far as making the record. And they’ve been great as far as that goes. They never had to send an A&R guy in. We’ve never had to play demos for them. They’ve never asked us to go back and do something again. They’ve allowed us to be the band creatively that we want to be, which is what we we were used to coming up making our own records, but we really would have demanded as well. So it’s been a good arrangement.”
The Offspring world tour in 2012 stretches from North America to Europe to Japan to Russia, and the band makes a point of playing its hits at shows. So is Dexter able to pick a live favorite? “I’ve got to say I love playing The Kids Aren’t Alright. That was from Americana, and it’s just a real rocking song. I think it has a cool message about people growing up and not always having the ideal life they thought they would have. It always gets the crowd singing along too.”
As for the new material on Days Go By, it runs the gamut from uplifting to fun to angsty. But even the latter is meant as a beacon. “There are songs that are almost downright straight up angry songs. When I talk to people that are fans of our songs they’ll say even though that song is an angry song, it was actually cathartic for me. It helped me to work through those emotions and I felt a lot better after I listened to it. So while there are more fun songs and some serious songs and even some angry songs on this record, the message is designed to be positive and hopeful.”