Two decades, three Grammys and 20-million-plus albums sold since they rose from the punk clubs in Oakland, California, to international superstardom, Green Day are sharper, edgier and more ambitious than ever. As they prepared for this week's release of their eighth studio album, 21st Century Breakdown, Rolling Stone's David Fricke joined Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool at home to look back at how their close bond and drive have helped them survive — and where it is leading them now.
21st Century Breakdown, which earned four and a half stars in our last issue, is Armstrong's most personal and emotionally explosive album yet. For months, the singer-guitarist kept the lyrics to the rock opera (part classic-rock grandeur, part punk assault, part pop euphoria) from Dirnt and Cool, ultimately revealing the story of two characters named Christian and Gloria struggling with religion, insanity and a culture gone wrong. The topics are heavy, and Armstrong's total immersion in the music reminded producer Butch Vig of a brilliant mind he'd worked with on 1991's Nevermind: Kurt Cobain.
"I saw the same thing in Kurt," Vig tells RS. "When he played, it was like he was free. And Billie Joe has told me that: When I'm onstage, I'm free, I'm not thinking." Read the whole story in our new issue, on stands now.
Plus, in an exclusive Billie Joe Armstrong Q&A, the singer-guitarist opens up about the band's dark period after Warning, addressing his demons in song and the punk bands that changed his life, from Operation Ivy to Hüsker Dü.
Go behind the Green Day cover shoot in an exclusive video, where the band chats about taking Breakdown on the road. "Working out the album live was kind of the best therapy for us after recording, because it was a huge process," Dirnt says of the band's Bay Area warm-up gigs. "It was the first shows we'd done as Green Day in three years, and it was terrifying," Armstrong adds. Talking about the group's massive summer tour, he says, "We want to give Springsteen a run for his money. I think his longest show may be five hours — I think Green Day's got six."
Don't miss photos from our cover shoot, and look back at the band's rich history in two photo galleries: