After winning five Grammy awards, nurturing its 2004 concept album “American Idiot” into a Tony-winning Broadway musical, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 and even launching a line of Converse Chuck Taylors, there aren’t many worlds left for Bay Area trio Green Day to conquer.
But the members have still kept their guiding tenets’ punk rock simple, as on the existential question bandleader Billie Joe Armstrong asked himself before jumping into their latest effort, the Gary-Glitter stomping “Father of All Motherfuckers”: “How do you start a party in the middle of the world crumbling, right in front of your eyes?” he wondered, calling Donald Trump “the most toxic, polarizing politician — not only in my lifetime — but I have to say, since Adolf Hitler. I think that he’s very dangerous for our country right now, and I think that Mitch McConnell is even more dangerous.”
This interview was conducted several weeks ago, before the apocalyptic threat of the coronavirus had taken hold.
But key lyricist — and father of two sons who have both entered the music business — Armstrong was already worried on socio-political fronts including: rampant effects of climate change (“We’ve had the deadliest fires in human history that just happened in Australia”), students being put through terrifying active-shooter drills at school (“Kids have to start wearing bulletproof backpacks now”), and the insidious part that social media plays, amplifying the public’s feelings of anger, fear and frustration.
”Now suddenly — not only does everyone have an opinion — but everyone thinks their opinion matters,” he says. “You have to take a break.”
Through his visceral, sometimes subliminal wordplay, and aided by pop-savvy co-producer Butch Walker, Armstrong delves into these topics and more on “Father”; in conversely Phil Spector-huge anthems like “Stab You in the Heart,” “Meet Me on the Roof,” “Take the Money and Crawl” and the rousing kickoff single “Oh Yeah,” which boasts a sampled chorus from Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).”
“I didn’t want to make some ‘American Idiot Part Two’ type of thing, because we’d just be repeating ourselves,” he says. “So the record is really trying to dive into the history of rock and roll, whether it’s Little Richard, Martha and the Vandellas, or even Prince.”
The perfect backdrop, he adds, “for the toxic s—- that’s inside the album, if you really peel back the layers of the party that’s going on.”
It’s truly unlike anything in their propulsive, power-chord catalog.
Another core Green Day philosophy: Think globally, act locally.
Bassist Mike Dirnt applied it to his East Bay restaurant, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, and Armstrong has worked it into his guitar shop in Oakland. Together, in 2015, the two childhood friends started Oakland Coffee Works, which today offers sustainably-grown organic beans and eco-friendly 100% compostable bags and single-serve pods.
“Years ago, a friend of mine and I were roasting coffee in small batches, and after a while we realized that the only coffee we were drinking was our own,” says Dirnt.
The coffee is sourced high in the Peruvian Andes, he adds. “When it came to packaging, I flew to New York and L.A. and met with packaging people and compost-testing labs, and now we’re giving people an option to have that packaging come from plant-based materials. And ‘certified compostable’ means that it has to break down in 90 days or less.”
Dirnt and Armstrong’s other beliefs mirror each other. Live your life with purpose, they both say in separate interviews, and never phone in some half-hearted performance or song idea.
“It’s a testament to our blue-collar roots, but it’s also a testament to Oakland and the Bay Area,” Dirnt says. “And going all the way back to Tower of Power, the Bay Area is not really inspired by other places. It’s always had its own flavor.”