“There wasn’t a lot [involved in] joining Lookout! in those days,” says Larry. “All of us were outcasts that nobody took seriously. Green Day were so young at the time that the idea of being on a record didn’t really compute with them. So when I said, ‘I want to make a record with you guys,’ Billie Joe’s answer was, ‘Er, yeah, okay.’ And that’s all there was to it. Nobody else was interested in putting out records by them. I was kind of the crazy guy who was willing to do it.”
In 1989, not a single second-wave U.S. punk band had yet signed to a major label. Down at the other end of the market, Lookout! was very much the musical equivalent of Battersea Dogs And Cats Home. At this time, Green Day had no other suitors of which to speak. Like all of the label’s artists, they were not required to sign a recording contract. Once the costs of making each record had been recouped, the band received a 60 per cent share of all profits. When applied to an album, this royalty rate equated to a dollar more per sale than the remuneration that would typically be offered by a major label.
When Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and John Kiffmeyer – known as ‘Al Sobrante’, the band’s original drummer – convened at the Art Of Ears Studios in San Francisco four days after the Christmas of 1989, the two members of Green Day who still occupy their posts were just 17 years old. Despite this, self-sufficiency – the true currency of any Bay Area punk band worth their sodium – already coursed through their veins, with the trio having played concerts in places as far flung as Louisiana and Minnesota. In the confines of a cut-rate recording studio, as ever, necessity was the mother of invention. Along with co-producer Andy Ernst, the three musicians had just five days in which to track and mix their first LP. Despite these limited circumstances, 39/Smooth became one of just three Lookout! releases to eventually sell more than a million copies in the United States alone.