Tim Armstrong: Dear Guitar Hero
I play a hollowbody and always have trouble with it feeding back when I crank my amp. Do you ever have this problem, and if so, how do you combat it? —Larry Dimmick
My guitar is a 1971 Gretsch Country Club hollowbody. I think mine is unique because it’s from the Baldwin era [Gretsch was sold to Baldwin, a leading piano manufacturer, in 1967]. The neck is connected to the body—it doesn’t hang over the body like it does on Gretsch models like the White Falcon. The guys at Gretsch told me that’s why my guitar doesn’t feed back as bad. I hear about people padding their guitars to prevent feedback, but fuck that. My guitar feeds back when I want it to. I’ve also turned off the front pickup, so the selector is basically an on/off switch. I play through a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier, and I’ve got it overdriven like crazy. It doesn’t feed back while I’m playing, but when I stop I can just hit the on/off switch and silence the guitar. I don’t use a noise gate.
What are some of your musical inspirations outside of punk rock that may surprise people? —Freddy Newandyke
I read a lot, and one of my favorite writers is Stephen King. He said that to be a good writer, you have to read a lot. I’m with him, but I do the musical version of that. I’m always playing different kinds of music—I collect song books, and I’ll get anything from Brazilian jazz to Hank Williams. I also listen to a lot of Northern soul [a style of British dance music popularized in the late Sixties] like Frank Wilson and Dobie Gray. I also like Bruce Springsteen, and I love the Ramones, but I love Dee Dee [Ramone] in particular because his songs were so roughneck but very poppy. I will always love punk rock first and foremost and will always come back to the Ramones. They were my first true love. Everything gets compared to them and everything will fall short.
I’ve read that you’ve struggled with alcohol during your career. My bandmates are threatening to kick me out because I’m drinking too much. How’d you get yourself straightened out? —Marvin Nash
You’ve gotta quit for yourself. I’ve got a lot of friends that drink and do drugs, and I’ve got a lot of friends who don’t. After Operation Ivy, I started to drink a lot, but Matt Freeman was always there to help me out. What really helped was when he said he wouldn’t start Rancid with me unless I was sober. We were writing songs in the basement and he said to me, “I’ll always be your best friend, but I’ll only play in a band with you if you’re sober.” After my first year being sober, he told me, “Now we can do Rancid for real.” That’s how it happened. But he was a good friend and never turned his back on me. He gave me an incentive, and I think that’s what you need. You have to ask yourself if drinking is worth the price you’ll pay.
I am a huge Operation Ivy fan, and I have a two-part question. First, do you think that Operation Ivy will ever reunite? Second, how did you get such a raunchy guitar sound on those albums. It’s awesome! —Troy “K-10” Reissmann
I’m extremely proud of my work in Operation Ivy, and we did those 19 songs in one day. The energy was fucking crazy! Plus, we didn’t make a lot of mistakes, and we were together, so it was awesome. We played together from 1987 to 1989, and a reunion just seems weird to me. As an artist, I always want to move on to the new project. As for my guitar sound, it was similar to what I have now. I used a Mesa/Boogie combo, and I’ve always loved Mesa/Boogie—they overdrive without a pedal. I did use a pedal when we recorded the Hectic EP, but on the Energy record I used only the Mesa.
What is your opinion about [legendary NYC club] CBGB turning into a clothing store? —Nicholas Kanner
I just don’t want to forget what CBGB was: the birthplace of punk rock. The Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, Richard Hell, Blondie…all of them came out of CBGB. Then you had Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Warzone, Sick of It All, Youth of Today, Madball, Gorilla Biscuits, Leeway, Crown of Thorns, H20… There is such a rich musical history from the place that birthed punk rock, and you always have to remember CBGB for that.
I love the way ska and reggae players use up-picking for the rhythm parts. When you were starting out was it difficult to get into that method of strumming? —Eddie Cabot
It came pretty easy, and we were playing it very early on. It goes back to what I said earlier about listening to music: if you listen to ska and reggae closely, it shouldn’t be a problem to figure it out. Listen to Lee Perry, Desmond Decker, the Two Tones, the Specials, Bad Manners, Selector… There are different ways to play the rhythm, but whatever way I play it, I always want to hear the note. You have to be careful about putting on too much distortion—you want it to be tough but not too distorted. When I play ska, I want my guitar to sound like a piano. On a song like “Timebomb,” I play super fast, but there isn’t too much gain, and to me it sounds more aggressive.