Green Day: Rebel Yell
GW Green Day have covered Queen’s “We Are the Champions” live.
ARMSTRONG Yeah. That started out when we were doing all these covers, and it was just fun to do. We did that and we also did “A Quick One” by the Who.
GW There’s a great tradition of British Invasion rock and power pop—three or four chords, a couple of verses, a couple of choruses. How do you go about putting your own stamp on that tradition and make it your own?
ARMSTRONG You just look for a melody to hit you over the head. You take your influences and try to sing your own song to them. It takes a long time and a lot of patience to wait for a melody to hit you, sometimes. Also, I’ve always had the loud guitars going—just a modern version of an old tradition.
GW So do you generally start with a melody when you write a song?
ARMSTRONG Yeah I do. I’ll get a melody in my head. Then I have to wait around for a lyric to hit me.
GW ’Cause some people strum chords and get their melody out of that.
ARMSTRONG Yeah, there are all different ways. I don’t have any formula in the way I do it. I learned how to play piano and I use that to write sometimes, whereas a song like “Know Your Enemy” was a guitar riff first. And then there’s a song like “¡Viva La Gloria!” which was definitely getting the melody first and putting chords to that, rather than putting a melody to chords.
GW There are a lot of piano-driven songs on this album. Are you writing more on piano these days?
ARMSTRONG Yeah. I don’t even know how to play it and sing at the same time yet, but the piano changed my writing a little bit. It leads you to different chord progressions and just kind of opens you up, because on a piano keyboard, everything’s laid out for you right there. So “Last Night on Earth,” “Restless Heart Syndrome” and “21 Guns” were all written on piano. The piano has added another dimension to where we’re at now.
GW At what point in the songwriting process did the characters start to emerge?
ARMSTRONG I’ve always loved the name Gloria. And Christian, that’s like St. Jimmy in American Idiot; Christian is a Christian name for sure. I think if there’s one positive character you could pull off of this record, it’s Gloria, because she’s the person who wants to carry the torch and declare her own independence and sense of worth in a punk rock way. And Christian, his torch is more about burning the place down: self-destructive. So there’s a yin-and-yang thing between the two. Also, I’m singing from personal experience through both of them. I just like to add names to give the characters some flesh and blood. I think, in a way, that makes it a little less self indulgent, a little less about me, so maybe people can have their own attachment.
GW Are the characters extensions or continuations of any of the characters in American Idiot?
ARMSTRONG No, not intentionally, just two brand-new people. But I always thought it would be cool if we could make a movie with Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy, Whatsername, Gloria and Christian—like combining two records together.
GW So is 21st Century Breakdown a sequel to American Idiot?
ARMSTRONG No. No! I think the only thing the two would have in common is just the source they’re coming from, which is me, Mike and Tre. So there are bound to be some similarities.
GW Were you thinking about your kids in writing about the Class of 13? Were you wondering what kind of world your son, who will graduate high school in 2013, will inherit?
ARMSTRONG That’s where I got that from, yeah. 2013 is when Tre’s daughter will be graduating, as well. And I just thought, Wow, what an unfortunate year to graduate, but what a cool year, too. I wouldn’t mind wearing a T-shirt that says “Class of 13.” So I just started thinking about the generation zero, born under a bad sign. Maybe we’re all part of the Class of 13 right now. And it can also be, like, the name of the band that’s actually playing. Instead of Green Day, maybe we could call ourselves the Class of 13.
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