There are good ways to celebrate the release of a new album, not-so-good ways and semi-disastrous ones.
Having your singer go into rehab falls clearly into the latter category.
That was the launch that Uno! got when it was released in late September. It was the first of an album trilogy from pop-punk band Green Day, which started writing songs in 2011 for what would be its ninth album and follow-up to 21st Century Breakdown and couldn’t seem to stop.
It was like a year and a half of writing, but we were writing like five days a week, bassist Mike Dirnt says. We had narrowed it down from like 70 songs and said, Honestly, let’s just give our fans the best of what we have.’ That’s what it was about. We didn’t want to wait three or six more years to play some of these songs live. This was a way to put out some of the diversity of what we’d written and play these songs live without waiting three more years down the road.
The trio’s manic creative streak again was fueled by spiky frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who was functioning on a daily regimen of alcohol and prescription drugs. Beer and weed had long been a staple with Green Day, going back to its first album, 39/Smooth, in 1990, and Armstrong recently told Rolling Stone that two to six beers was his liquid courage before a show, but in late summer 2012 things were hitting the fan.
At September’s iHeart Radio Festival in Las Vegas, Green Day’s singer experienced his full-fledged 21st-Century Meltdown. He wanted to represent punk rock at the festival, but when he was told they had only 15 minutes onstage, he flew into a profanity-laced rage, smashed his guitar and left the stage – which did in fact represent a certain aspect of punk rock.
It was at that point that Green Day’s manager sent Armstrong straight to rehab. It was just a few days before the release of Uno! and two months before Dos!, nixing the band’s ability to promote them with a tour. First-week sales for Uno! were 139,000, compared with 21st Century Breakdown’s 215,000.
It was really, really difficult, because first of all, it was like jumping off a moving train, the bassist says. Second of all, when the record came out, you want to celebrate. I didn’t get a single phone call that day. Everybody was just kind of hands-off and afraid to talk about anything. At the end of the day, it’s like we’re a close-knit band and everybody is kind of dealing with their own (stuff) and we were just working way too hard and the timing of everything coming, it is what it is, but like I said, we’re not a crybaby band. (Stuff) happens, we get over it, we move forward and that was ugly and I don’t ever want go down that path again, but it had to happen, so ...
So, don’t expect the next Green Day album to be the crybaby album.
I’ve been kind of crybaby about other things, the bassist says. A lot of family and friends have died in the last few years, so I’ll cry about that instead. I’m not going to cry for myself. It’s that age, you turn 40 and everyone starts keeling over.
The happy ending for now is that Armstrong managed to detox and now Green Day is able to launch the tour that it tried to do in the fall. Having come through a situation where the three longtime friends didn’t even know if the band would survive, it’s a good feeling.
Oh my God, it’s so good, he says. It’s nice to connect with our fans and get out there and play our songs. We’re playing songs from everything right now and we’re having fun with it. You know, don’t know what you got till it’s gone. It’s great to be playing some of these new songs – and we’re playing the old songs with a purpose.
They finally get to celebrate Uno!, Dos! and Tre! – which was a feast for Green Day fans and as well as the haters, some of whom declared it as a coup de blah. On some sites, Green Day fans made their own lists of how they’d narrow the songs down to one great album.
We had all these songs and we tried a million ways from Sunday to put them on one record and it didn’t make sense, Dirnt says. It was almost like three different styles coming out. One was just grab the world by the horns and unapologetic power pop, and one was just dirty, gritty sort of nasty party record. The third one was coming from a place of self-reflection, maybe redemption and picking up some of the pieces of your life. Obviously, in hindsight, there is a lot of truth on all those records.
Live, he says, We change it up every night. That was kind of daunting. We’re ready to play all the songs at any time, but to the same degree it’s really daunting when you have this back catalog like we have and you gotta know upwards of 100 songs a night. I look at myself and wonder how am I going to play them without a lot of mistakes when I have to know 100 songs a night and live life and not think about them 24 hours a day.
Green Day, which was voted the Best Punk Rock Band of All Time by Rolling Stone readers in 2011, has taken punk to new places, turning American Idiot into a Broadway musical, something no one saw coming when they were singing about teen angst on Dookie.
Broadway and ballads are not the keys to maintaining punk cred.
I don’t concern myself with it anymore, he says. What I concern myself with is having some sense of morals in my own life, and being a good father and trying to write the best music that we can. At the end of the day, people are going to hang on to their (opinions), but I have a sense of who I am and where I come from instilled in me, and I think if you hold on to that, that’s great. But I’m not going to run around pretending I’m 18 for the rest of my life. I think that’s really stupid.
American Idiot (2004) became such a mainstream hit – five times platinum and five times bigger than 2000’s Warning – that Green Day’s fan base comes from all quarters.
Our crowd is really diverse, he says. As long as you have open ears and open eyes, come on into the party. We have fans that have just gotten into us, with 21st Century Breakdown’ or even some of this stuff, where they say, Oh my God, I’ve been waiting for them to put out a record like Dos! forever’ because it has some of that Foxboro Hot Tubs grit to it that they really love. Then there’s people who jumped in at Dookie’ and have been with us ever since then. There’s people who swear by Kerplunk’ and 39/Smooth.’ I say, You’re never late to the party; come on in.’