Punk idealism has a way of withering in the spotlight. Not so for Rancid. The California punk veterans have managed to survive it all, and with their rocker ethics intact: the rise to mainstream prominence in the ’90s, followed by the inevitable backlash from the punk world; the ambitious, fan disenfranchising album (1998’s Life Won’t Wait); and then the reactionary fan make-up album (2000’s Rancid). The band breaks a five-year absence from the studio with this summer’s Let The Dominoes Fall, accompanied by a two-month-long tour with Rise Against, which includes a date this Friday at Myth Nightclub. Singer/guitarists Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen talked with Decider about staying the course on the long, strange punk-rock trip.
Decider: How do you think Rancid has managed to stick it out for so long?
Lars Frederiksen: We put all the kind of business shit secondary. We’ve always put the weight on the friendship [and] being able to communicate with each other and not rushing the process. When we feel it’s time to do something, we do it. We don’t go, “They’re saying it’s time for us to do this, so now we have to do it.” The secret is not succumbing to the pressures from anybody else. We’ve just always done our own thing because that’s what we’re accustomed to do. When we were 12 years old and someone called us “faggot,” we just kept walking. You get conditioned at an early age to just keep walking and do things on your own path.
D: At this point, is friendship more important than making music?
LF: It’s never been anything but that. We’ve always taken care of each other. We all came from these fucked-up dysfunctional homes, and we made this family unit out here. That’s first and foremost. I think that’s one of the values that we all possess.
Tim Armstrong: Music is just something that we do. Me and Matt [Freeman, bassist] have played music together ever since we were kids. But friendship and being the godfather to Matt’s son, that’s the real deal. Having these dudes as brothers, being part of a crew, a family—that’s No. 1.
D: Rancid is still rooted in working-class concerns, despite punk’s ascent into middle-class suburbia. How important is it to keep your blue-collar grounding?
TA: That’s always going to be our roots. We’re always going to see it from that perspective.
LF: You come from that place. You grow up, you live through it, you see people die through it—it’s your experience. It’s always going to be a part of you. It’s not like graduating from college or high school; you don’t just graduate from the way you grow up. That just doesn’t work. You’re always carrying it with you: the same ideology, the same thought process. You’re going to mature—because that’s just what happens in life—but the thing with us is, that’s where we come from. We’re not out there trying to make rap records. We know how to play punk rock. That’s what we are. That’s what we know. That’s our point of view.
D: You played with The Ramones at their last show and Tim put out Joe Strummer’s last three albums. How much of an impact was it having direct contact with those legends?
TA: How fucked would we be if Joey Ramone goes, “I don’t like you. You guys suck?” I would cry. I would be a 29-year-old grown man crying in Lars’ arms.
LF: I’d be consoling him, but crying just as hard.
TA: The Ramones didn’t have to do that, but they embraced us. The same with Joe Strummer, super fucking cool. What’s really great is doing the same and working with younger bands, really young bands. I like working with bands [with members] that are 19 years old, 18 years old.
D: Is that part of the inspiration for you to run your own label, Hellcat Records?
TA: For me, it’s very important. I can’t speak for everybody. Some people my age don’t think punk is punk anymore. I’m like, “Really? It’s not punk anymore? [Why don’t] you go down to some neighborhood to a garage or a backyard party with 200 kids and you get on that microphone and you stop the show and go, ‘Yo! Yo! It’s not punk anymore!’” [Laughs.] Maybe not for you, God bless you, but for me, there still is shit going down.