Green Day’s New Album Is Like Nothing You’ve Seen Before
Billie Joe Armstrong has recently had something of a change of mind. One of his generation’s finest-ever songwriters, the 47-year-old has penned all manner of musical masterpieces in his three-decade career – including several sprawling, epic rock operas through the second half of Green Day’s ongoing lifespan.
But now? Well…
“I’ve decided that I don’t like long songs,” the frontman reveals today with a knowing chuckle and a twinkle in his eye, “and that’s coming from a band that wrote [the nine-minute-long] Jesus Of Suburbia! I’m like a 16-year-old with ADHD. If I’m listening to other people’s music, I always look at how long the song is. If it’s over three minutes I go, ‘Urgh, pass. I don’t wanna listen to that shit.’”
He leans forward, throws up his hands and shouts to comedic effect.
“Who has time for that?!”
Green Day are back, people – but they’re not quite as you’ve known them before.
Speaking exclusively with Kerrang! for their first interview in two years, the Bay Area kings – completed by bassist and all-round gent Mike Dirnt, and drummer extraordinaire Tré Cool – are breaking their (revolution) radio silence with the detonation of lead single Father Of All Mother Fuckers. More than just a tongue-in-cheek title from a band who still proudly practice the art of not taking themselves too seriously, it’s also a release that fits Billie Joe’s aversion to lengthy songs with a run-time of just two and a half minutes, as well as serving as the title-track from their forthcoming 13th studio album. And both the single and the record as a whole mark a musical left-turn away from the earnest punk rock of its predecessor.
That’s not all that’s new. Before settling down with Kerrang! to unpack the secrets of their next chapter, the band are taken on a part-tour, part-photoshoot of their Warner Records label’s recently relocated offices in downtown Los Angeles. Admiring everything from the basement (which used to be a Ford factory and showroom) to the scorching temperatures and stunning view on the roof, the trio soak up an atmosphere that feels genuinely buzzed to have them back. It extends to the three men causing the stir, too, as Green Day’s mood today is equal parts back-to-business and light-hearted – a healthy balance that has no doubt contributed to their 30-year livelihood, and, in Billie Joe and Mike’s case, even longer friendship.
Reclining on a large grey sofa in the plush Warner artist room, the band lounge about with an assortment of snacks and beverages, picking at them sporadically as they discuss the thrillingly unpredictable direction of their creative output on Father Of All Mother Fuckers. For starters, the whole thing clocks in at a mere 26 minutes in total. In fact, according to the band, just one of the songs that make up the album runs past the three-minute mark. And if you’ve already played the record’s lead single as loud as it deserves, you’ll notice that, at least until its ‘I got paranoia, baby!’ chorus, it almost sounds like another band entirely. Yet its relatable themes of “depression, anxiety and money” are trademark Billie Joe, with the frontman explaining of the track that, “You’re out of control of your own body, so you might as well dance.”
On top of that, he says, it is “probably the best first single Green Day ever wrote”.
“I’m really proud of it,” the musician smiles. “It represents Green Day in a new way, but in a familiar way where the playing is on fire. It reminds me a lot of [Dookie’s lead single] Longview in a strange way, just because it’s all of the elements of Green Day just blasting out in a two-and-a-half-minute song.”
It’s a style and attitude that fans are going to see much more of in the coming months.
“This definitely feels like a different chapter,” acknowledges Tré. “We’re fired up and we’re stoked to go out. Until now, we’ve just been fucking lying through our teeth to every single person. ‘So what are you guys doing?’ ‘Uh, you know, nothing…’”
“‘Are you guys still together? Are you gonna make a record?’” Mike adds sarcastically.
“We’re so fucking happy to talk about it,” Tré continues. “It’s just such a gnarly secret (laughs). We’ve got this record that we’re so proud of and we just want to blast it for everybody.”
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It’s a secret that Green Day have held close to their chests for almost as long as they’ve been away. A perpetual songwriter, Billie Joe went straight back into ‘new music mode’ as soon as the band returned home from the road in November 2017. Whereas they’d previously taken a substantial break before hitting the studio to record 2016’s Revolution Radio, its follow-up didn’t require nearly as long a sabbatical. This time, Green Day couldn’t wait to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. And as the frontman chipped away at new demos, Mike hung out with his family and “worked on old cars and shit”, while Tré welcomed a new child, Mickey Otis Wright, into the world. (“I don’t know if you know how it works, but I could go into detail,” he deadpans. “It’s a lot of fun making babies…”)
Crucially, too, they made the most of Green Day’s biggest asset of all: their unwavering, unbreakable bond – and how much they simply love playing music.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Okay, we’re gonna get the band together and we’re gonna do this!’” Billie Joe explains of their natural inclination to jam and rehearse during ‘time off’. “There was no definitive moment where it was like…” – he clenches his fists and puts on a dramatic voice – “‘And now we are going to make magic together!’ It was more like, ‘Let’s make a mess and see where this thing goes…’”
Billie Joe Armstrong recently bumped into Morrissey in Los Angeles. Just days ahead of Green Day’s meet-up with Kerrang!, the band were already in town getting the behind-the-scenes wheels in motion for their then-top-secret new album, and the frontman decided to reveal its title to one unsuspecting Moz. The name caused quite the reaction.
“He almost spat out his drink when I told him the title,” Billie Joe chuckles with a proud smirk across his face. “He goes, ‘Oh my gosh, whatever happened to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?’”
Father Of All Mother Fuckers is a bold title…
“Be bold!” comes Billie Joe’s lightning-fast response. “Be brave!”
It’s a succinct and empowering comment that perfectly sums up Green Day in 2019. Having known “from the get-go” that he would be heading towards new directions this time around, inspiration for Billie Joe came organically – starting, as always, with the music, and then with that title.
It all began early last year, when Billie Joe and Mike formed a cover band – The Coverups – with Green Day’s longtime touring guitarist Jason White, tech/manager Bill Schneider and sound engineer Chris Dugan.
“It’s important to just keep playing and having fun,” points out Billie Joe. “Not everything has to be playing music for something that feels like a job, so we pulled out a bunch of covers with some friends. All my friends are very talented people, which is kind of amazing. It brings a lot of joy, playing rock’n’roll. And you also learn new stuff by playing other people’s stuff.”
With four shows under their belts (The Coverups have since performed a handful more), Billie Joe and Mike regrouped with Tré for one of their many, many jam sessions. At first, the trio played through old albums: 1994’s Dookie, which celebrated its 25th anniversary several months prior; its 1995 follow-up Insomniac; later, throwing things back to 1991 second LP Kerplunk. Posting selfies from the studio, along with the setlist for what they’d played that day, they subsequently left their millions of followers wondering what the hell was going on – and feeling pretty damn jealous about missing out, obviously.
“Of course we’re going to fuck with the fans over it!” quips Billie Joe
Once warmed up accordingly, Green Day scrapped playing their own material in favour of… well, nothing, really.
“The point was just to hang out and play music together – but hang out first,” the frontman emphasises. “We got together and jammed, and it was noise. We did these long jam sessions and we put up lights and video all over the rooms, and it was just fun. It felt more like a happening than it did rehearsal. And I have to say, none of it really sounded good. It was just fun and we were making a mess. And I think with Green Day, the first thing that comes to mind with making a record is making a mess first.”
“It’s all accumulative, you know?” Mike adds of how – and, indeed, if – these “happenings” contributed towards Father Of All Mother Fuckers in any way. “If you immerse yourself musically and you’re jamming with people, you’re always finding new gems. The more musical you are, the better.”
“There’s no real purpose,” continues Billie Joe. “I don’t do anything with any purpose (laughs). I mean, I try to live my life with purpose, but I think it was very simple: just get together and play.”
During this time, the self-professed “total audiophile” also found himself discovering new music, and sending out playlists to Mike, Tré and his friends to let them know what was going on between his headphones.
“There were songs in there that I was like, ‘I’ve never fucking heard this before – this is crazy,’” says Mike, praising his bandmate’s thirst for new musical knowledge. “Getting in these different, creative headspaces and digging deep. And we all individually dig into new places on our instruments, because that’s just what we do. We love to chase down new things. I was buying these crazy ’70s hip-hop records and playing along with them. I didn’t even know what they were called – some of it was just drum rhythms. It was cool.”
“It was really getting into stuff like Motown and soul,” Billie Joe adds. “And hip-hop beats, per se – [though] no-one’s going to start rapping anytime soon!”
These playlists inspired a “dirty and mischievous” vibe between the members. And with new producer Butch Walker (Weezer, Fall Out Boy, Brian Fallon) added into the tightly-knit mix, Green Day collectively began exploring things that they’d never tried before “with rhythms, and creating space between vocal and drums”. It was a partnership that added new layers, and taught the band fresh ways to approach their craft.
“Do you want to go back and do the same old thing?” Tré muses of their mindset coming out of Revolution Radio and into Father Of All Mother Fuckers. “We don’t want to do what everyone would expect us to do, so it was just kinda mischief and making it fun. That was the bottom line of it.”
“There’s a very fine line threading the needle for us, because we do want to try new things, but we always want to make sure it’s absolute Green Day, you know?” says Billie Joe. “It’s a very fine line – clever and stupid (laughs). But Green Day’s credo is mischief, no matter what. We’re always down for mischief and we want to fuck with people… to the point of it being abusive!” he teases as Mike and Tré snicker beside him.
This freeing mood also leant itself to the content of Father Of All Mother Fuckers, leaving the frontman feeling open to inspiration from all angles. As he penned the title-track, and two other songs called Junkies On A High and Sugar Youth, Billie Joe suddenly realised that he was on to something special. And, curiously, it was the names that would inform his lyrics.
“Song titles were really big on this one,” he explains. “We have one song called The Art Of The Deal With The Devil – Trump wrote a book called The Art Of The Deal, back in the ’80s or something. It was just these titles that make you laugh. That kind of stuff would lead into lyrics. It’s like a puzzle, just trying to put it together.”
Why is the album called Father Of All Mother Fuckers, then?
“Um…” Billie Joe ponders with a grin. “It’s just a badass title! I think it was Kerry King from Slayer – they have an album called God Hates Us All, and someone asked, ‘Do you really think God hates us all?’ And he goes, ‘I don’t know! It’s just a badass title!’ (Laughs) As soon as the title came up, I was like, ‘Oh man, this is good.’”
When and where did other titles spring to mind?
“You’re really good about writing shit down,” enthuses Mike, turning to the frontman.
“I’ll write everything down,” Billie Joe nods in response, sliding his phone out of the pocket of his black jeans and opening up the notes section. “Let’s see. What was the last one? I think I wanted to call one song Everyone Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Face.”
But that didn’t make the cut?
“No,” he laughs. “It didn’t make the cut.”
Continuing to scroll through the app, Billie Joe’s eyes suddenly avert to the top of his phone screen. He looks at Kerrang! with a sassy flicker.
“Your time is up, by the way,” he jokes.
“Oh my god!” erupts Tré as the frontman cackles playfully. “That’s fucking cold, Billie! Damn!”
Sorry, folks. Guess that’s your lot…
For all Green Day’s enthusiasm, there is something about Father Of All Mother Fuckers that is troubling Tré Cool.
“I’m worried the apocalypse is going to happen before we put the damn record out,” the drummer considers. “This is sort of like a soundtrack to losing your shit while the apocalypse is happening around you. Shit is so tough out there, and it’s weird out there. So I think if those two things align: the record comes out, then the world can end.”
So the apocalypse can happen the day after the album is released?
“Well, we need a tour,” replies Tré sensibly. “And then the world can just fuck off.”
While he’s only really half-joking, Green Day are of course acutely aware of what currently feels like impending doom in the world around them. They’ve touched on that on previous albums, of course, and Billie Joe does allow his politics to make a mark through his songwriting across the band’s new material – though perhaps in less explicit ways this time around.
“It’s coming from a place of feeling like you’re out of control, and you’re not in charge of your own body anymore,” he explains. “It paints pictures or vignettes of what life is like for me and for other people that, I feel like, are desperate. And I mean that in an empathetic way, where people in America have become very desperate with their situations. There’s factories being shut down, gentrification…”
Billie Joe points to his own upbringing, in Rodeo, California in the ’70s, and how his working-class parents – his father was a trucker, his mother a waitress – could afford to house their six children.
“That is an impossible thing to do right now,” the frontman sighs. “That’s what scares me a little bit more – what’s going to happen to people in the future. Millennials trying to buy a home, or to have something that they can call home, because everybody’s being kicked out of their homes…”
“…because they decided to get educated and they spent the rest of their life in debt, or they broke their arm and didn’t have insurance,” adds Mike solemnly. “There’s so many things.”
As for any token mentions or references to The Donald – a name that is spoken of for a grand total of approximately 10 seconds in our 45-minute interview? Understandably – and unsurprisingly – the answer is no.
“I draw no inspiration from the president of the United States, because he’s just… there’s nothing,” Billie Joe shrugs. “Trump gives me diarrhoea, you know? (laughs) I don’t want to write a song about it!”
Nevertheless, the country’s leader has left Green Day feeling incredibly unsettled – and it’s a topic they address on Bulletproof Backpack, a song that, for the first time ever, sees Billie Joe sample another musician’s work (Joan Jett’s Do You Wanna Touch Me).
“It’s sort of about being freaked out around the polarisation that we live in right now,” he explains. “Whether it’s kids getting shot in schools, or the closest thing that America has ever seen to fascism. Light stuff…”
Its whimsical, dreamy ‘Everybody is a star…’ chorus also has a very 2019 meaning.
“I just feel like with all of the chaos going on, no-one ever hesitates to take a good selfie,” Billie Joe concedes with an eye-roll.
And while the songs may never outstay their welcome across the 26 minutes of Father Of All Mother Fuckers, Green Day’s hopes for the album – and what fans will take from it – are profound and long-lasting.
“Freedom,” for one thing, is Tré’s main goal.
“Freedom, totally,” nods Billie Joe. “Freedom to dance. I think that this is going to be one of the hardest records we’ve ever made, meaning the sound is hard. But not trying to recreate Insomniac or something like that. It’s just different, and that, to me, is super exciting.”
“It is fucking exciting,” agrees Mike. “I’m ready to fuck shit up (laughs). It’s going to be fun. We wanna go out and have a fucking great time and enjoy our fucking touring, and enjoy our life in these absolutely fucking chaotic times that we have right now. We’re losing our minds anyway – we might as well go out with a bang.”
“I firmly believe that Green Day is the baddest band on the planet, so that’s what I’m excited about,” beams Billie Joe, “and I think that that’s what really comes across on the new record.”
Father Of All Motherfuckers is out now. Green Day are touring the world with Weezer and Fall Out Boy on the Hella Mega Tour in 2020.
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