Offspring stays in touch with audience

Band connects with fans, reaches out to newcomers

December 15, 2003|By Randy Lewis | Randy Lewis,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Iggy Pop has proven there's punk life after 50 with still-explosive performances at 56, yet the question of how long a punk rocker can stay angry remains relevant to many of his musical offspring.

"I think we have a few good years left," says Bryan "Dexter" Holland, lead singer and songwriter of the Offspring, the Orange County, Calif., punk outfit that will reach its 20th anniversary next year.

"It's always hard to imagine still doing this more than a few years out," Holland, 37, says. "It's just the number: Do I want to be 50 and still singing `Bad Habit,' shouting [profanities]? ... As long as it's still fun and it doesn't feel silly, I guess we'll continue."

If Holland and his cohorts - guitarist Kevin "Noodles" Wasserman, bassist Greg Kriesel and new drummer Atom Willard, taking over for recently departed Ron Welty - were concerned about feeling silly, alternative-rock radio's quick acceptance of the first single from their new album, Splinter, is helping them relax.

"Hit That" brims with the Offspring's signature hooks yet incorporates an atypical keyboard riff and rhythmic undercurrent of punk-meets-disco that adds a new wrinkle to the band's musical legacy. The song's message of the societal cost of splintering families reflects the band's penchant for wrapping social commentary in commercially palatable forms.

The issue of the Offspring's ability to connect with longtime fans and younger audiences was the basis for England's Kerrang! rock magazine giving the band its "classic songwriter" award last year, for "not only Offspring's glorious past, but the band's ongoing relevance."

Holland considers that "one of the highest compliments you can get. Some bands reach a point where their music doesn't feel current anymore, and some bands still sound great, like Social Distortion or AC/DC. To be included in that kind of category is a huge compliment."

Whether the Offspring is bigger now than ever won't be clear for several weeks or months. But with the record industry's overall sales down significantly in recent years, it would seem a long shot for the band to match its career high sales figure of 6 million copies with its 1994 album Smash, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Its 1998 album Americana has sold almost 5 million copies in the United States, and its other four albums combined have sold about another 3 million.

When talking about Splinter, however, Holland is focused less on numbers than words - specifically song lyrics, which he says in the past have taken a back seat to music.

"I always used to think, `I'm in a band - I'm not a writer, a poet or a politician. I make music, and I want the music to be entertaining,'" he says. "But on some of our songs, like `Self Esteem' and `Pretty Fly (For a White Guy),' I noticed that the lyrics could take it up a notch and people could relate to it so much that maybe I should pay more attention to the lyrics."

Those lyrics range from the lighthearted expression of remorse over a night of indulgence in "The Worst Hangover Ever" to straightforward emotional vulnerability in "Never Gonna Find Me" to "Spare Me the Details," a seriocomic tale of a guy whose buddy tells him in painful specificity about his girlfriend's alcohol-fueled infidelity.

Again the topic comes back to staying in touch with your audience.

"I suppose if you're in a band you're probably in a state of semi-arrested adolescence as it is. You don't have to be the most mature guy to be a singer in a band like mine," says the man who set aside his work on a Ph.D. in microbiology at the University of Southern California to pursue a punk rock career.

"Songs about how I hate my teacher or problems-at-lunchtime kind of stuff wouldn't make sense," he says, "but a lot of our songs are about finding your identity, finding your way in life, not taking what people say at face value - issues that are common with young people, but that I think we deal with throughout our lives."

As for the Offspring's place in history, "Noodles and I went to the Warped Tour in L.A. a few months ago because his daughter wanted to meet Simple Plan," Holland says. "We went backstage, and one of the guys says, `If it wasn't for your album Smash, I wouldn't be in a band.'

"I wouldn't go as far as to say that I think we've influenced anyone," he says. "I was definitely inspired by my heroes, like the Dead Kennedys and the Ramones, but I wouldn't want to take credit for anyone else's success.

"Having said all that," Holland adds, "it's nice to hear."

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