Matt Freeman has to be one of punk’s busiest bassists. When he’s not occupied with his main outfit, Rancid, he’s playing for groups such as the Transplants, Social Distortion and Devil’s Brigade, his latest psychobilly spinoff with Tim Armstrong and X drummer D.J. Bonebrake. For their eponymous debut, he even taught himself slap ’n’ pluck upright bass. “It was a lot of work,” he says, “but believe it or not, I work really hard at electric bass too; I don’t take anything for granted.”
You had a serious health scare recently, right? Yeah, almost five years ago. Long story short, I quit smoking in 2003, and I was a militant smoker, to say the least. I smoked two to three packs a day. So about a year later, after I got married and had a child, I went to the doctor because I had this cough that wouldn’t go away. And the doctor said, ‘We’ll take an X-ray, but it’s probably just a cold or something.’ So four months passed, and in April of 2005 I go back in for something else, and it turns out they’d lost the X-ray. So I had all these scans, they found this mass in my lungs, and I was diagnosed — without them having a piece of it — as having lung cancer. And I actually believed the doctor because I knew how much I’d smoked.
What happened then? After all those years of watching “ER,” I got a second opinion. And the bottom line was, I had to have two surgeries. So I dodged a bullet — they took this thing out and it was benign. It was just a piece of bad scar tissue. But having that surgery was no joke; it really knocked me out for a while. But I got better. I’m all good now.
What are your first thoughts when a doctor diagnoses cancer? To be honest, I went through a period where I flipped out a little bit. But then I really just went into fight mode, like, “OK, to hell with it. I’m gonna beat this damned thing!” Dark thoughts? I didn’t even go there. Any time my brain started to go there, I tried to sound like George C. Scott in “Patton” — “Just fight, baby!”
Is that why you’ve started Devil’s Brigade? From realizing you don’t have forever? Yeah. And I get it — you really don’t have forever. You’ve got to do what you can do, and you’ve got to be happy for what you have. So I couldn’t be happier, really.
IF YOU GO
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Contact: (415) 255-0333, www.slimstickets.com