Green Day: Rebel Yell
GW How did the success of American Idiot change your life?
ARMSTRONG It made me more accepting that being a rock star is a good thing. We came from an era where “rock star” was the worst thing somebody could have been called.
GW Sure, punk was always very mistrustful of that.
ARMSTRONG Yeah, but I think we all became more accepting of the fact that this success is a great opportunity, so let’s have fun with it. It changed my life to where I had more fun than I’d ever had before. Back when Dookie became successful, I felt like we were still learning. I felt like, “Hold on, let me just learn a little bit more. Let me evolve!” The success was kind of overwhelming at that time, whereas this was years in the making. I felt like we’d earned the stature we came to have.
GW How do Mike and Tre support you when you’re striving to come up with songs? Ultimately, the pressure is on you as the songwriter. Is it better if they stay out of your way or if they goad you a little?
ARMSTRONG It’s a cross between the two. They stay out of my way until I complete my idea. Then they come in with their opinions after that. And they’re always there for me, all the time. That’s what’s great about them. Mike, Tre and I were hanging out with Lars from Metallica last night, and he was like, “Man, I can’t believe you guys are such good friends!” And I was like, “Well, that goes without saying. Isn’t it supposed to be like that?
GW That is the idealized image of a rock band, like the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night.
ARMSTRONG Well…we don’t do cartwheels through the fields together, but we’ve just grown up together, literally. I’ve known Tre since he was 17, and I’ve known Mike since he was about 10.
GW Making this album was a long process, as you said. Was the Foxboro Hot Tubs album just a way to blow off some steam?
ARMSTRONG Aw, fuck yeah! That was just a shitload of alcohol and an eight-track tape recorder. We had this old Tascam from the Eighties with a reel-to-reel tape recorder inside the mixing board. We had all this vintage gear and we just started riffing. We went on tour for the album, drank way too much and just had a great time together. I think we needed that escape for a while to refuel us or bring us together a little bit more.
GW With American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown you’ve written indictments against the Bush administration and some of the most compelling portraits of this time that we’re living through now. Yet, it seems to me that you’ve always consciously distanced yourself from being seen as any kind of rock star activist saint, like Bono for example.
ARMSTRONG Well, that guy’s got a gift for doing the things he does, and it’s amazing. But sometimes I think of myself as being a bit of a comedian, also. A guy like Bill Maher is able to be more powerful through his comedy and the things he says on his show because he’s coming from the standpoint of a person who is living in society. For me, it’s very important to be a part of society if I’m going to comment on it. And to not be isolated.
GW You have a great facility for capturing what it feels like to be earning only 20 or 30 thousand dollars a year and the company just cut the health benefits. There’s a realism there that wouldn’t be there, I think, if you were coming from a more “saintly” perspective.
ARMSTRONG Yeah, maybe it’s about representing the underdog. I don’t know. I still have the same friends that I’ve had my whole life. And I’ve always lived here in Oakland. For me, it’s very important to feel connected to that and to stay deeply rooted in it. Maybe it’s just coming from the working class. When you come from the working class, you’re always working class. Or at least you should be, or have a sensibility about it. That comes very naturally to me.
GW I read somewhere that you still go to Gilman Street, the Berkeley punk club where Green Day got started.
ARMSTRONG Yeah. I played there with Pinhead Gunpowder a year ago, which was the first time I’d played there since ’93 or so. But yeah, there are a few people over there that I’m connected to still. And it’s still going strong.
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