Punk rock is supposed to be about attitude," says Dexter Holland, singer of the effervescent hardcore band the Offspring, who recently whipped suburbs nationwide into one happy mosh pit with their hit "Come Out and Play (Keep 'Em Separated)." "It's not about musical proficiency. It's not really that big of a deal if we get bumped onstage and miss a chord or get cramped by stage divers or get hot and sweaty. It's all part of it. It's like controlled chaos."
Controlled chaos, harmless hormonal surges, Offspring ecstatic sing-alongs and platinum albums are what make up '90s punk. The Offspring, the Southern California quartet that can now be found swimming in MTV's Buzz Bin, are at the fore-front of the user-friendly punk revival. The band's motorized windup tunes take up where '80s hardcore bands like the Adolescents and Vandals left off, but the Offspring drop in Ozzyesque vocals, a slithery surf edge and plenty of gum-cracking pop. It may be far from the sneering hiss of punk circa '79, but considering that most Offspring fans were just cutting teeth when Johnny Rotten pronounced punk dead, no one's really screaming blasphemy.
"We use punk as an energetic backdrop, then try to throw some different things into it," says Holland, 28, whose real first name is Brian. His blond hair is out of its usual braids and loose under a beige fishing hat. Holland is visibly frazzled after the band spent all night in a rental car driving from Reno, Nev., to Tucson, Ariz., after their tour bus broke down. "Punk rock has some inherent problems. The music itself tends to be monotonous, and there's walls of guitars with nothing to break it up. In our songs we take breaks, leave out the guitar and let the vocals go by themselves. I'd call our sound listenable -- not palatable. We try to make it so after five songs, you're not just grated."
At Tucson's Downtown Performance Center, 400 sweaty teens sing along to the Offspring's anthemic lyrics like "I'm not a trendy asshole" while a mosher jumps onstage and accidentally knocks over the mike stand. He stops midskank, puts it back up carefully, then throws himself back into the audience in a pat show of defiance.
"I think the suburbs make great punk," says Holland, who, along with guitarist Kevin Wasserman (punk-rock name: Noodles), bassist Greg Kriesel (punk-rock name: Greg K) and drummer Ron Welty, grew up in the Republican stronghold of Orange County. The four were influenced by local bands like TSOL, Offspring the Adolescents and Agent Orange. "Kids get real bored, there's nothing to do. You can't get away from the boredom and the conservativeness of it. You really do sense it, growing up, and you really don't want to be a part of that. Anything to shake things up, and punk rock's a great way to do that."
Noodles, whose their glasses magnify his eyes to twice their size, sees it differently. "I don't know if it was so much a reaction against our conservative surroundings or us just bonding as geeks."
The Offspring came together in 1986, the same year Black Flag split up. Kriesel and Holland met through their cross-country track team at Pacifica High, in Garden Grove, Calif.
"We decided we all wanted to be a band and liked punk rock, so we went out and bought instruments and divvied up who would play what," says Greg K, 29, who lives with his mom in the very house that the Offspring still practice in. "We didn't know how to play, though, so that took us a while. We just played covers every weekend."
Neighborhood acquaintances Wasserman and Welty joined after the original guitarist and drummer left. The Offspring went on to release a homemade EP and an album on the independent Nemesis Records. It sold 2,000 copies. Epitaph Records, an indie label owned and run by Brett Gurewitz, guitarist of the Los Angeles hardcore band Bad Religion, signed the Offspring in April '92, and the band released Ignition later that year. Songs on that album made it into surf and skate videos, paving the way for the success of this year's Smash. Released in April on Epitaph, it is now platinum.
Now, Welty has quit his job at the yogurt-and-muffin shop, Noodles has packed it in as an elementary-school janitor, Kriesel has left the blueprint shop in which he worked, and Holland is on temporary leave as a graduate student of molecular biology at USC. "My thesis is on how to clone a virus," Holland says. "I probably have a year to go on it. But I don't want some weird angle on this story between cloning viruses and punk rock."
Unfortunately, some of the more recent angles on the band aren't half as creative. The Offspring are already receiving obligatory complaints of sellout. Says Holland: "At the end of the show last night, some guy said, 'Hey, there's more to music than MTV.' It's funny he would say that. Look at that show: It was $5 to get in, a total punk-rock club, we play without any sleep and bury our MTV song halfway through the set."
Such criticisms don't concern Holland too deeply, though. He's pretty clear on where the group stands. "We are definitely a punk-rock band," he insists. "We've been playing this music for over seven years, so it's not like we're part of some movement. We just happened to get a song on the radio this year, and so did Green Day. Some people are even asking if we're the new voice of Gen X. We don't want to be known as the fathers of '90s punk rock."
But at 23, Welty is the father of a 15-month-old boy. Single dad Noodles, 31, has a 41/2-year-old daughter. "I still have attitude," says Noodles, "but I just cuss a lot less. My life is punk rock, Barbies and Disneyland.
"That's fine with me," Noodles continues. "You don't want to limit yourself. That's what I loved about punk rock so much. It was so liberating. It was all these new ideas -- a lot of politics, a lot of humor. A lot of great bands came out of that. The Dickies were one of my favorites. There may not be a whole lot of social commentary or stuff on interpersonal relationships, but, shit, they had fun."
This story is from the September 22nd, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.