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Can music change the world? What’s feeding Australian’s enduring appetite for South Californian punk? Sometimes you’ve got to ask the heavy questions.
When he’s not letting loose with annihilating assaults of hardcore punk, Good Riddance’s Russ Rankin seems as good as any to ask. Alongside their Fat Wreck Chords contemporaries, his Santa Cruz outfit set the tone for ‘90s punk. He’s been traversing the world of music for two decades and hasn’t lost conviction. It’s tempered sure, but Rankin’s still brimming with that self-same defiance.
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Music might not be toppling those in power he shares. In fact, he suggests most people are attending his concerts purely to have a good time. But at other moments, the kind every punk politico savours, something connects. A feeling stirs inside, as Rankin puts it an urge to do something. Music sets people in motion. It sparks a burning desire and whether listeners are driven to run for office or simply think about The Message, we’re better for it.
Conversation turns to an equally lofty question. It’s an inquiry into what fuels Australia’s fixation with punk. Specifically, Russ’ own Californian strain. He’s got a theory or two. But we can’t give it all away at the beginning, can we?
Hysteria: Good Riddance really began to hit its stride in the mid ‘90s, a period where there was a lot of great music which had been in the underground throughout the 1980’s was bubbling toward the surface. How do you look back on that period now?
Russ Rankin: I feel like it all happened real fast … we were probably–we were at the right place at the right time. We were finding ourselves as a band but also, we were just working really, really hard. We were trying to get a record deal and play outside of our hometown, to be a real working band.
We were so fortunate to land on that label [Fat Wreck Chords] at that time because who knew what was gonna happen y’know? We got on there and within just a year or so it was massive! I don’t know how different our career would have been had that not happened. I think some of it was just being in the right place at the right time.
We were at that point as a band where we were working really hard making sure that we were noticed. We were fortunate. Bands on Fat Wreck Chords, Epitaph and a couple of other labels seemed to just blow up right around ’95-’96.
H: Good Riddance have been the outspoken advocates of a number of causes over the years. Animal rights, planned parenthood, US militarism and government oppression to count just a few. With 2018 shaping up to be another big year of protest in popular music, what do you see as the biggest issue facing the world right now?
RR: It’s hard to pick one. There’s a lot of stuff going on and I think that with what’s been happening in our country it’s hard not to be a little bit myopic. When I first started there was the problems that there always are but Bill Clinton was president. The United States were pretty fat and happy. Nobody was shooting kids in school on a daily basis. It was a different time.
But a lot of systemic problems that have always been a problem for our country are still here. There’s entrenched wealth and power. People who are disenfranchised just sink more and more. But I think one of the cool things that happened out of our last election—the one thing that was cool about it—was that people really woke up to the fact that we need to participate more in what’s happening.
We have a problem. I don’t know if you know. Our voter turnouts for elections for president are…
But one of the things I’ve noticed in the past year and a half is that people are hitting the streets. People are making themselves seen and heard in pretty big numbers! I think that’s promising.
[ Russ Rankin ]
H: Very low…
RR: It’s typically in the low percentages of eligible voters. So basically, a very small portion of the population is deciding the important things. Is that just because of misinformation or is it just because people are marginalised out of the system? Is it because we don’t have a free press and people don’t know they have other choices? There’s a lot of things to think about.
But one of the things I’ve noticed in the past year and a half is that people are hitting the streets. People are making themselves seen and heard in pretty big numbers! I think that’s promising. That kinda stuff happened in the ‘60s. it was before I was born but I’ve seen the footage of it. It’s sort of cool to see it happening now.
H: Do you think music can do something more than escapism? Can it change the world for the better?
RR: We have a saying here that I don’t know if you do in Australia. “The jury is still out.” It’s like it’s hard to tell.
For me personally, because I was drawn to political punk and hardcore, protest has always been intertwined with my involvement in music. But I know that that is not the case for everybody. Some people just want to be entertained. Some people just want a break from the daily monotony of life.
I like to think punk music has the ability to change the world. But until we start running for office and are being put into positions where we’re able to shape policy I don’t know how much real change we can affect. But it’s power could be in inspiring people to get involved. To vote and to volunteer, to maybe run for office themselves.
I’ve heard, just myself personally, from dozens of people who are teachers because of punk music. To even play some of our music and other band’s music in their classes when teaching kids about the world, politics and things like that! I know some people who have been inspired to run for local office–City Council, School Boards and stuff like that–because of punk music. They feel like they have to do something, and they do it!
So I think that those things are all side effects of having a vibrant punk and hardcore scene. A space where there’s expression and there’s questioning of the status quo and all the ideas that were taught to us when we were too young to think for ourselves.
What I’d like is if every time we played a show people went out and demanded this, that and the other thing from those in power. I would love that. But that’s not realistic. People are just there for a good time and I gotta let that be okay.
H: Good Riddance haven’t recorded a full-length since 2015’s Peace in Our Time. Are there any plans on following up or recording again?
RR: I would not be surprised. But we don’t have anything set in stone.
I like to think punk music has the ability to change the world. But until we start running for office and are being put into positions where we’re able to shape policy I don’t know how much real change we can affect.
[ Russ Rankin ]
H: So it happens when it happens?
RR: Yeah. I think the chances are good because of the way our band works–probably a lot of bands I don’t know. You do an album and you tour a bunch. By time about a year and a half passes you’re sick of those songs. You’re aching for somebody to come in with a new riff or something new.
Up until Peace In Our Time we’d been back for two or three years playing songs from a long time ago. The cool thing about having a new album is that we got a chance to sprinkle our live set with some new material, which was great for us. Fortunately, the audiences seemed to like it too! We don’t intend to stop playing anytime soon so I would not be surprised if there was some new stuff.
H: There’s an Australian Tour kicking off very soon! You’re juggling quite a hefty discography. What’s the set list going to be looking like when you come down?
RR: I feel that it’s a really good mix of everything. I feel like we have albums that we personally feel are our favourites. We also know we have some albums that have sold more than others so, therefore, we gotta play more stuff from them. Every band’s got songs where they know that if they don’t play it the fans are gonna riot. You gotta play the hits!
We released an album called Bound By Ties of Blood and Affection, it came out ion 2003. That was probably the least widely purchased or sold so I don’t know if we have anything off of that. But other than that, everybody’s going to hear the songs they want to hear. A lot of stuff off of Modern Rebellion. A lot of stuff off of Operation Phoenix. A lot of stuff off of Symptoms of Levelling Spirit.
H: Good Riddance has always had a really strong relationship with Australian audiences. Do you have a favourite Australian punk band or guilty pleasure?
RR: I always find it really sad that I don’t know a lot of Australian punk bands. I mean I know of several, but you know for the longest time I thought The Fix was Australian! But it turns out they’re not. That was sort of a drag because I always thought they are really one of my favourite bands. But they’re not. Kevin Bloody Wilson doesn’t count…
If anyone comes and hangs out with us, it’s really humbling and we’re super grateful and stoked.
[ Russ Rankin ]
H: To put it another way, Australia is a small country and it often receives these big cultural transmissions from the US or the UK. Especially with punk. What is it with punk that you think resonates with the Australian psyche? It’s an element of our musical fabric even if it’s not always getting out to the rest of the world.
RR: I don’t know. I have theories, but they are not based in any solid fact or science. My experience is that playing in any of what we would call ‘Commonwealth Countries’ there’s always this undercurrent of, “Fuck you!” Especially for younger people. And I don’t know if it just comes with like, “Why is The Queen of England on my money!?” I don’t know If it’s one of those things. But you get the same thing in the UK or even Canada.
So there’s that and then there’s this idea that punk music crosspollinated with things like surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding. When you go to a country where there’s a lot of any of these going on you’re going to have this kind of music. The videos they’ve watched of their favourite surfers and skateboarders or whatever, a lot of those have punk music in them.
When I was growing up I was a skateboarder and so was everybody else in my town. I would read Thrasher Magazine and there were pictures of skateboarders but there was a part in the back about bands. My first few purchases of punk records were stuff I had found in Thrasher. I think there’s always been a cross-pollination of those two cultures.
In Australia, there’s a lot of surfers and lot of skateboarders there. I think a lot of those people are familiar with and get into punk music through videos, magazines and, from back in the day, surf movies.
H: One last question before we close off. Is there anything you want to throw out to our readers ahead of the Australian tour?
RR: Just that we’re really humbled by the support and the fans that we have down there. We’ve all had such a blast, Australia’s treated us so well. I know it’s kind of a down time for music there.
I’m not sure how well these shows will do but hopefully, people will be able to spend a little of their hard-earned money and come hang out with us for a couple of hours. If anyone comes and hangs out with us, it’s really humbling and we’re super grateful and stoked. We have the best fans and we got a lot of them in Australia!
GOOD RIDDANCE AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2018:
Friday 20th April // Crowbar // Brisbane with Driven Fear & Fake News
Saturday 21st April // Manning Bar // Sydney with Beerwolf & New Trends
Sunday 22nd April // Cambridge Hotel // Newcastle with Hack The Mainframe & Rage
Wednesday 25th April // Amplifier // Perth with Alex The Kid & Castle Bravo
Thursday 26th April // Enigma // Adelaide with The Lizards & Thrashboard
Friday 27th April // Corner Hotel // Melbourne with Cold Ground & Judas Wolf