Interview with Green Day's Mike Dirnt - Green Day Interview
Posted: 18th July, 2009
Gone are the days when Green Day were mainly known for coordinating their hair die with their band name and their boggy-eyed frontmans far-fetched sprechgesang, as witnessed on their 1994 Dookie album.
Since the turn of the century, having reached 30, the punk trio have taken a more engaged stance, with their 2004 acclaimed album, American Idiot, which they have now followed up with their latest outing, 21st Century Breakdown, released in the spring.
Bassist Mike Dirnt talks us through the making of this new opus, their new found maturity and their uncompromising credibility as punk stars of a new day.
Q: Your new album, 21st Century Breakdown, took five years to make. Why so long?
Well, we had two years of touring the previous record [American idiot] and then three years of working on this one after we finished touring in December05. We went into the studio in February06. We had to take our time to really figure out what we wanted to do; we wanted to find ways of challenging rather than repeating ourselves. Jumping head first is not really our style.
Q: What are the themes and influences on this new album?
The record is called 21st Century Breakdown and basically we have two characters on the record: Christian and Gloria, that kind of speak on each songs, without it being a story but more to identify an issue for each song in the post-Bush era. Because you know, in America, every week we have a different crisis, even though we have a new President and a sense of optimism, were moving to the worst times seen since the depression era.
Q: OK, so is this mainly an album for Americans or is it intended at everyone else as well?
Well, I think anybody can relate to it although thats where it comes from. Just because it was made in America, doesnt restrict it to there. Its not just about America, its about people, who have emotions and feelings, and about how you can kill your dreams if you dont question everything, including yourself.
Q: You cited Queen, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and The Clash, as influences for this album. Hows that? How did these artists influence you?
I think more than musically, all these artists were very inspirational for the work they have achieved overall. Its not everyday that a band or an artist try to write the best record of their career, or try to reach another step beyond as songwriters and musicians. And for us, that challenge was very scary but also stimulating.
Q: Is Hollywood the best place to achieve this?
Well, we only went there for the final recording of the album. But the first writing years we spent in Oakland. Then, we moved in a tiny studio in Southern California, when the producer (Butch Vig) got involved.
Q: With 21st Century Breakdown you continue in the lines of a rock opera, following American Idiot, and the album is quite lengthy (three acts), why so long?
Yeah, this record is about 70 minutes. You know what, I think this record could almost be looked at as three small records put together. We did try to take songs on and take songs off but there just seemed to have a flow each section of the record is very important in describing a full idea or emotion, and in making it a very good musical ride. I also think that we come from an era of making albums when they were still vinyl, and that in a day when people can just download one single off the internet if they want to, we need to make records a little more special that.
Q: If you were to pick one song from each act/section, what would they be and why?
For the first section (Heroes and Cons), I would choose Know Your Enemy because its such a personal question and yet it can also regarded as a global one.
In the 2nd section (Charlatans and Saints), I would pick Restless Heart Syndrome, which is a song about how prescription drugs and over the counter drugs are so advertised and pushed in America that sometimes youre taking pills in order to kill off all nightmares instead of killing your dreams.
And then for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, that would have to be See The Light, because theres got to be hope in a time of crisis even though we dont have the answers to everything.
Q: Who wrote the songs on this album? Did you all contribute ideas?
Billie Joe wrote most of the lyrics, he read them out to us, and then we started brainstorming on arrangements, sequencing, etc Together, we found a logical and natural correlation for all the songs.
Q: Why did you recruit Butch Vig to produce the album?
He had always been on our radar in terms of who we would like to work with some day. And then, we got the chance to meet him, and once we did, we all spontaneously agreed that he was the man for the job.
Q: Did you feel you were stagnating with Rob Cavallo on production?
We just wanted something a little different, thats all. Weve always been very involved in the production of our records anyway, so we wanted someone who was going to challenge us in a different way
Q: Which way was that?
Butch wanted to push the sound of things, so on some songs, theres a lot of piano stuff or certain vocal styles that you would never expect to hear from Green Day. Butch really pushed us into letting these songs out. He let us be emotional, vulnerable and dangerous and prompted not to be afraid of anything.
Q: How would you define your music today- has it evolved from being plain punk rock to something else at all?
Were a punk rock band, thats the scene we came from but I think Green Day is also a great rocknroll band. I am more than biased cause its my band but I think were very ambitious, and I just want to make music for the world, and I want to write great songs and want to make my family proud.
Q: Can a punk band still rock it out past 40?
Yeah, cause the punk scene I grew up in was never ageist. There are no rules to punk rock.
Q: What do you make of all these punk bands reforming: The Only Ones, Wire, to name a few, all these bands suddenly reforming in 2008-09?
Well, I think its alright if they want to get back together. If people want to go and see them, then thats fine. Its like with us- we cant force anyone to buy our records or like our music, we just got to put it out there and see what happens.
Q: Youve been together for 22 years now. Has it always been an easy ride?
We spent 22 years in this band but have all known each other since the age of 5. [laughs]Well, there have been ups and downs, but I think its harder to stick together than to call it quits. A lot of bands give up but weve managed to keep it together, both for ourselves and for the band...
Q: So did you ever feel like quitting?
I wouldnt call it quitting but more take off the pressure of what we do, at times. Were fully aware of the opportunities weve been given, to achieve great goals, and do not want to take them granted. And I am very proud of Green Days longetivity.
Q: Tell us about the musical stage adaptation of American Idiot (produced by the team behind Spring Awakening, due to premiere at the Berkley Repertory Theatre in California this September). Is it the beginning of lucrative retirement plan?
Well, I dont think we did anything for money. I think we do it for art. I dont need any money cause eventually Im gonna die and it will all go away anyway, so I dont care about that. And with the musical, I mean, we saw it, and the people who are doing it are absolutely brilliant at their craft, and to see these kids performing you can tell they live for the stage and for their art, and that is very inspirational for us.
21st Century Breakdown is out now. Green Day will tour the UK from October 19th to November 1st.