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Emerging from the prolific hardcore scene in California in the late 70s and early 80s, Social Distortion have remained the poster children for defiant contrasts throughout their 40+ year tenure; as punk rock royalty whose appeal transcended into the mainstream while honing their uncompromising and versatile blend of punk, blues, country, and rockabilly, Social D also outlived the very scene that skyrocketed them into the zeitgeist – and that’s not even scratching the surface of multiple lineup changes, addiction and rehab, and early career naysayers.
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From their 1983 debut album Mommy’s Little Monster to avidly touring the globe, the elbow grease lining any Social D release or live show affirms the group’s constant pursuit of seeking beyond their comfort zone against the ever-changing backdrop of the music industry. And now in 2023, not only are Social D imminently hitting the road to visit New Zealand and Australia with fellow SoCal punk icons Bad Religion – there’s also some fresh new Social Distortion material tantalisingly on the cards, as frontman and remaining founding member Mike Ness recently shared with Hysteriamag.com.
“It’s a perfect match,” says Ness of the impending tour with Bad Religion. “We’re both Southern California bands who got started around the same period of time, and we’re some of the only ones who survived.”
For Ness and the industry at large, the reality of heading back to Australia or international touring in general posited a pipedream for a long period of time thanks to the ongoing pandemic. But the eventual return to the stage in Europe after endless months of paused plans allowed a fresh new Social Distortion chapter to unfurl.
“I think not being able to do something for a couple of years definitely built up angst, no matter what you do, you know what I mean?” muses Ness of the pandemic years and returning to performing. “But coming back to it – everything almost felt new again.”
“Our first show back was incredible,” Ness continues. “It happened to be in Europe, so it made it even more spectacular, just because it’s so different there. And I think the first show was in Milan, the crowd was singing so loud, and I was like: ‘Oh my god, this is probably going to be the best show of the whole tour’. But then we got to the next city, and they were doing it there as well! It was just a celebration the entire time.”
With seven studio albums up their sleeves and countless gigs in their wake, there’s certainly no phoning it in when it comes to planning the delivery of their high octane live shows – and a Social Distortion setlist still gets significant attention after all this time.
“We give our setlist a lot of thought,” says Ness. “Usually my drummer helps me with it, he’s good with the pacing of it. We try to get a little bit from each record, but for these upcoming shows we have pulled out a couple of things that will be surprises too. I don’t want to give it all away, but we’ve dug up some that are over 40 years old! It’ll be a combination of old stuff, new stuff, and everything in between.”
And what’s exciting for me is the writing for this record,” Ness continues, “I kind of went back in time to I was doing a lot of writing like this. Before I wrote White Light [White Heat, White Trash], it was really heavily inspired by the first wave of punk, the late seventies New York Dolls and Ramones, and just stuff a little more primitive and fun.
[ Mike Ness ]
“We definitely try to make our setlists a journey.”
Emerging at a time when punk and hardcore began to thread its way into new sonic territories, particularly with the influx of Southern California bands blazing the charge in the early 80s, Ness’s birdseye view of the changing musical environment over the years as the sole remaining founding Social D member has also led to him witnessing a unique factor for any band, let alone one steeped in punk: the ongoing multi-generational appeal that continually latches on to Social Distortion.
“It’s kind of a weird phenomenon,” says Ness of Social Distortion’s timeless appeal. “I wish I knew what it was, but the songs are kind of timeless. And with that, I guess it’s that I’ve always tried to ignore trends – and that’s kind of worked to our advantage.”
“If someone has grown up with our music and they’re passionate about it, then as they get older now they’ve got kids and they’re like: ‘Well, I want my kids to listen, they’ve got to hear this!’, they just want to share it. And sometimes it’s the other way around!”
“But there’s definitely one thing they all have in common, they’re just real music lovers.”
Ness’s journey from a teenager playing rebellions punk rock, hellbent on proving anyone wrong who tried to deter him, to traversing significant personal hurdles and pulling himself out of the abyss as the public watched from afar has certainly never faltered his creative drive or his undeniable status as one of the true rock’n’roll greats to ever swagger onto a stage. And for Ness, he is finally at a point in his life when he can still rockstar with the best of them – but on his own positive terms.
“I think that I’m just at a place in my life now where I’m a lot more relaxed and a lot more at peace, so that makes me enjoy what I do more,” says Ness. “I had some growing up to do, even in my 40s and 50s, and it just feels good to be at a place in life where you’re not afraid to just be yourself, and to appreciate that in other people.”
With crowds in New Zealand and Australia already appreciative themselves of the rock’n’roll fever dream that is having Bad Religion and Social Distortion co-headlining all over town this February, there’s also another reason to celebrate. Yep, the drought is broken, and we can 100% expect to witness some new Social D material at last.
“I can tell you that we’re doing three of the new songs in the set,” reveals Ness. “And two of ’em are my favourite. Well, I don’t know which one’s my absolute favourite, but yes, we are scheduled to, as soon as we get back from Australia, go into pre-production. We just have to finish with the arrangements and everything and then go right into a studio – it’s finally happening!”
“And what’s exciting for me is the writing for this record,” Ness continues, “I kind of went back in time to I was doing a lot of writing like this. Before I wrote White Light [White Heat, White Trash], it was really heavily inspired by the first wave of punk, the late seventies New York Dolls and Ramones, and just stuff a little more primitive and fun. And I’d say, when you hear the new stuff … well, you’ll see!”
And see you shall when Social Distortion head here in February, with fellow legends Bad Religion co-headlining for good measure. And, as Ness puts it: “it’s about time!”.
Social Distortion and Bad Religion Dates
Wednesday February 15 // Trusts Arena / Auckland
Friday February 17 // Riverstage // Brisbane
Saturday February 18 // Hordern Pavillion // Sydney
Sunday February 19 // Margaret Court Arena // Melbourne