Green Day: Rebel Yell
GW How did Butch get selected to produce 21st Century Breakdown?
ARMSTRONG We met with only a couple of people. We met with Linda Perry. She was cool. She had some good advice and a good vibe about her, but maybe she wasn’t quite right for this particular project. I really liked her a lot, though. And we met Butch. I knew he was capable of making a great record. It was more about how we related to each other and if we liked each other, really, and I liked him immediately. He just brought a sense of calm and class. I didn’t always know what he was doing when he was tweaking out on things. He’s a very techie guy. He can geek out on something for a long time. But hearing the end result, I think we managed to hit a top end, a low end and an overall sonic quality that I don’t think we’ve ever achieved before. It’s bigger and more lush sounding.
GW So there’s been a parting of the ways with Green Day’s longtime producer, Rob Cavallo?
ARMSTRONG Yeah. He was going his way and we were going ours, and it wasn’t really making sense to work with him on this record. We’ve worked with him ever since Dookie, pretty much. I think we owed it to ourselves as artists to work with other people. I mean, I wouldn’t count out working with Rob again, but he just wasn’t the right guy with this record.
GW Earlier you mentioned your love for the British Invasion period in rock music. Name some songs that you think are the most perfectly built, perfectly constructed songs from that era.
ARMSTRONG Oh my God. [smacking himself in the face] Okay, I’m gonna say “Afternoon Tea” by the Kinks. And “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks. I’m kind of on a Kinks trip right now. I would say “Making Time” by Creation, “Pictures of Lily” by the Who, “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones and “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” by the Animals. That’s just off the top of my head. Tomorrow I’ll think of five more and say, “Why didn’t I mention those?”
GW Have you been able to quantify the magic? What’s your take on what makes songs like that so incredible?
ARMSTRONG Well, I don’t sit around and do the math like [Weezer frontman] Rivers Cuomo or someone like that. It’s just one of those things where it raises the hair on your arms. I just love melody—that kind of melody, those guitar sounds and those song structures. And I love it as it’s written and played by those people. There was something about the way that those rock musicians in England were putting their take on American rock and roll and pop music. It’s almost like they just turned up the volume a little bit and it became bigger.
GW Do you see punk rock as an extension of that in some way?
ARMSTRONG Certain kinds of punk rock, like the Undertones, the Ramones, Generation X, Buzzcocks, and then bands of my era, like Operation Ivy, Crimpshrine, Jawbreaker and stuff like that. The similarity is that it’s all just really good songs written by authentic people.
GW Punk was a return to concise song structures after the prog and glam eras.
ARMSTRONG I think so. But some of that shit’s good, man! I put together a guilty-pleasure mix the other day, and one song was “Public Enemy #1” by Mötley Crüe. And I’ve gotten to like Poison a little bit more. I think their first album was actually pretty good.
GW I’m shocked.
ARMSTRONG No, no. “I Want Action”—that’s a good swing, man. It’s actually good. It’s hard to look at them, but I think there’s some good shit there.
GW And, as far as Seventies glam goes, you’ve certainly been influenced by Queen.
ARMSTRONG I think I like the idea of Queen more than I like Queen, ’cause I can’t sit there and name every song on A Night at the Opera. I like Freddie Mercury’s kind of grandiose style, and I like all the harmonies. Songs like “Killer Queen” are great. But I’m not a person who puts on a Queen record all the time.
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