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The Offspring's 'Smash': The Little Punk LP That Defeated the Majors

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Courtesy The Offspring

Gurewitz: It was overwhelming and kind of scary. At the time Epitaph was a company of maybe five or six people, myself included. And we had to meet this incredible demand. We had Offspring records filling my entire building on Santa Monica Blvd., from the floor to the ceiling. The inside of the building looked like a Rubik's Cube of pallets of Offspring vinyl, cassettes and CDs. Then we had another building downtown that was also filled, and rental space in external buildings. At one point the thing started selling so fast that we made an arrangement for the pressing plant to start shipping directly to the central warehouses of the major record chains, bypassing the distributors entirely. It was just this huge sucking sound of Offspring records being pulled out of the pressing plants and poured into the stores. It also played into my decision to leave Bad Religion. Smash was gold or platinum already, and I had just written what I felt was my best record ever [Bad Religion's Atlantic-released Stranger Than Fiction]. I was 32 years old, and it felt like the universe was telling me this was the optimal time to make a change.

Rick Sims, former singer and guitarist, the Didjits, "Killboy Powerhead" co-writer: I heard from a couple people, "Hey, did you know the Offspring covered your song?" And I was thinking, "That's great. They like the song." I didn't think about calling up and going, "Where's my money?" But then a friend said to me, "Well, do you also know they've sold, like, 50,000 copies of that record?" So finally I called Epitaph and talked to Brett. I figured I could be looking at a few thousand bucks! And he was like, "Hey, yeah, it looks like we owe you some money." I didn't even have to really ask him for it. I just said, "Great! I'll take money!" Then I asked him how many records they'd sold. He said, "Well, it's gonna go gold next week." My jaw hit the floor. So do I like their version of the song? I loooove their version of the song! I'm still living in a house that the Offspring paid for. I'm still driving a car that the Offspring paid for. I have a retirement estate that the Offspring paid for.

Gurewitz: It was big. I was confronted with every major label around coming to me, saying, "This is bigger than you can handle." "You should do a joint venture with us." "You should sell half your company to us." "You should sell this album to us." But I decided to stick to my guns and stay indie. But what that meant was spending everything. I literally had to take out a second mortgage on my house to get the cash to press enough albums. I put everything on the line believing that an indie could do it as well as anyone.

Noodles: At the time Smash started taking off, Epitaph didn't have all the resources that a major label had to work a record. They didn't have the radio people, they didn't have all the press people. There's a lot of little side things that go into making a record and putting it out there. So we spent a lot of our money on that kind of stuff, trying to work the record. And in doing so we weren't only investing in us, we were also investing in Epitaph. So when it came time to renegotiate our contract we thought we deserved more than Brett was willing to give us. He was very hesitant to make anything other than a fairly standard deal. And we felt that we had done something incredible and deserved something more than that.

Holland: On the one hand Epitaph was trying to do the best they could with their label and they maybe took some liberties that they shouldn't have. On the other hand, we felt like, "Well, if we're 95 percent of your sales, we should treated accordingly."

Noodles: And then [Gurewitz] was jetsetting around with guys like Richard Branson! The tension got to be too much.

Gurewitz: I never wanted to sell my label to a major label. I never wanted to sell the Offspring to a major label. I mean, I've been doing this since 1981. It's 2014 and I still haven't sold my label. But I don't blame them for thinking it. Maybe someone told them that and they really thought it was the truth. It was a confusing time.

Holland: We were trying to handle it as best we could. We were the ones bending over backwards to try to stay on the indie label and not jump to the major. Because that felt like the right thing to do. We were part of a label that had a scene of bands that we were really good friends with. And at that point nobody stayed on an indie, whether it was Beck or Nine Inch Nails. They all went to majors. But we were trying hard to keep this thing going. We tried to work it out for, like, a year-and-a-half or two years. But we couldn't.

Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Noodles: So we ended up making the Columbia deal [prior to 1997's Ixnay on the Hombre]. And all of a sudden we were taking a lot of heat for moving to a major, and also for this music getting popular. Then you had guys like Billie Joe [Armstrong] and Green Day, and they were taking a lot of heat too. Like, "Oh, man! Those guys are selling out! They're not punks!"

Holland: Isn't it ironic? You start a punk band because you feel like you're being ostracized. Then your punk band gets big and you get ostracized again.

Gurewitz: One thing I definitely regret is the words that were spoken in the press. I wish I would never have said a disparaging word about the Offspring. And I wish that they had never done the same to me. But emotions got heated. But really I don't think any musician ever deserves to be judged by people for making any business decision for themselves. The fact is the Offspring signed to Sony. They weren't having cockfights in their backyard. They weren't spilling oil off the coast. They signed to a major label. Who gives a fuck?

Holland: Was there some tension with people, with some other bands? There was a little weirdness. There had always been sort of friendly rivalries but once things got really big maybe there was a little jealousy too… At some point there was also a thing where [veteran Orange County punk band] Agent Orange said we stole from them. [Robbie Fields, who held the copyright for Agent Orange's "Bloodstains," claimed that the Offspring lifted a portion of the song's guitar solo for the Middle Eastern sounding riff in "Come Out and Play."] That was really a shame because we were fans of Agent Orange. And of course I was familiar with their music, but to say that we were stealing was just not true at all. We were talking about something that was really taken from surf music. Dick Dale or whatever. It really had nothing to do with that band. And to see it come back at us that way was really eye-opening, like, "Wow, things have really changed for us now." Before, we couldn't get noticed and now here we were, a target.

Gurewitz: It didn't turn into a lawsuit but I do remember there was a lot of complaining and a lot of noise. I thought it was unfounded.

Holland: Eventually somebody official looked at the complaint and said, "This is ridiculous. This is not the same at all." So we were totally vindicated in the end. But it was kind of an unfortunate thing. Years later we actually covered "Bloodstains" [for the soundtrack to the 2000 David Arquette film, Ready to Rumble]. That's funny. Right?

Gurewitz: The thing people need to remember is that, today, indie is just seen as a style of music. But back then it had a qualitative definition. And there had never been an indie rock record as successful as Smash. It raised the sea level not just for the Offspring and Epitaph but for the whole network – the independent record stores, the distributors, the labels, the promoters, the magazines, and on and on. It was like this giant shot of B12 for the entire indie sector. And that was part of the significance for me. It wasn't just, "Hey, let's bring punk rock into the mainstream." It was, "Let's bring the ethos of punk rock into the mainstream."

Holland: It was a crazy time, and it was a complicated time, but that just goes with the territory. I'm proud of what we were able to do with Epitaph, and I would be the last guy to ever complain about any of it. Fuck, I'm a singer in a rock band – I have the best job in the world!

Noodles: If there's any real legacy to Smash it's the independent spirit of that record. Because we took on Goliath with Epitaph. Hopefully that has resonated. But who knows? Recently I saw Macklemore on The Colbert Report – and I like Macklemore – and he was talking about all the success they had. He was saying how they put out this independent record, how they hired their own radio people, their own everything, and how it's the first time that it's ever been done. In 2014. And I just said to myself, "Eh, maybe not so much. Maybe it's happened before…"

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