"Check this out," exclaims Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, "we're better than we've ever been before." Bassist Mike Dirnt does him one better: "We're the best live band in the world." Given the jovial, cut-up mood of the band at the moment, you'll have to judge for yourself how serious they are about such statements, but fact is that Green Day -- Armstrong, Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool -- have just released what may well be the best album of their decade-plus career, Warning. It also happens to be their least punk and their most serious, both as musicians and songwriters. Although still dedicated to the DIY ethic that reared them (they produced the album themselves), Warning finds Green Day growing out of adolescent snot-core and into the lost Beatles album they always had in them. And for all their hesitancy to step back into the limelight after a two-year layoff ("We have lives now," complains Armstrong), the guys are unabashedly over the moon about their latest offering.
How would you describe the personality of your new album?
BILLIE JOE: Vulnerable, yet thought-provoking. Oh, I don't know . . . it takes me a year to figure out what the hell a record is about. I'm finally able to look at Nimrod and see what that was all about. I think Warning is the best record we've ever made . . . but I'm a little biased.
Warning does sounds like the most revealing album you've ever made. Certainly the most serious.
BILLIE JOE: I feel everything we've done has been serious. I think our antics sort of get in the way of what people think. But I think this one, for me personally, was a lot more articulate than the last one. The last couple of records I feel were sort of reacting to a time period, but this time I think we're making an action, and I think we're making bolder statements than we ever have before.
Songs like "Warning" and "Minority" almost border on political.
BILLIE JOE: When you start getting into your politics it's like you have to be vulnerable and you have to be sort of sensitive. Because if it's always like straight aggression all the time, there becomes no empathy for the stance that you're taking. You're not telling people to think, you're telling them what to think. And also you have to be honest with yourself on that, too.
So, do you think there's a "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" on this album?
TRE: Twelve of them.
BILLIE JOE: No, we didn't want to repeat that. We didn't want to write another "Basket Case" after we did that.
You didn't preview any of the new songs on your Warped Tour dates. Why not?
MIKE: You really don't want to stop in the middle of the set to go, "OK, here we go. Everyone focus, because this is a new song." It's kind of like letting somebody smell something. Like a fart.
So what are the touring plans now that the album's out?
BILLIE JOE: We really don't know what our touring is going to be like. I mean, I have so much at home. [My wife] Adrienne and me were sitting here talking and we were like, "We're adults." I have to be home. I have a two-year-old and a five-year-old, and when I leave things fall apart. It's just too much for one person to handle. But I don't hate touring though -- I love touring.
What about recording? You produced yourselves for the first time on this record. What was that like?
MIKE: It was like giving birth to a twelve-pound child.
I'm not sure you're entitled to say that . . .
MIKE: OK, it was like pissing out a one-pound kidney stone.
Were there moments when you came close to freaking out in the studio?
BILLIE JOE: Oh yeah, but I think that needs to happen if you're going to make a good record.
TRE: You just gotta pay like, 300 percent attention to every aspect and every detail, all the time.
BILLIE JOE: I once sang one of the newer songs in my sleep. Adrienne caught me.
TRE: Were you singing loud?
BILLIE JOE: I always sing loud.
So what keeps you motivated still after eleven years together?
BILLIE JOE: Coffee.
Really? I heard that you recently suffered ulcerated vocal chords, and had to give that up.
BILLIE JOE: It's ninety-nine percent better now. I just went to the doctor a couple of days ago. I had acid reflux, so I started getting these sharp pains in my throat. I had to quit drinking coffee, quit drinking alcohol, Mexican food, Italian food -- all the fun stuff. I was such a grubby little bitch, no one could be around me. But the funny thing is I totally started drinking again while we were on tour and now it's ninety-nine percent better.
Johnny Ramone once said that he's still angry -- he's just an older, angrier guy. Do you find the same to be true about you?
BILLIE JOE: Yeah. I'm ready to rage. I'm so filled with anger. But I think the anger is just more channeled into things -- you try to create something positive. I mean, if you don't, then you do turn into an angrier older man, and I don't want to be an angry older man, because to me it sounds like a bitter old fart.
TRE: I, on the other hand, believe that the older I get, the funnier I think that I am.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your band?
TRE: People think that we're just these good-looking guys with these really big d---- that play really hot f------ rock & roll. But we're sensitive, and we have feelings too.
BILLIE JOE: And we have our ugly side also.
TRE: People just think we're just a bunch of really good guys going around helping people.
BILLIE JOE: People think we really look good. I think that's the biggest misconception people have.
MIKE: They think we're just a great band. [All laugh] They really don't know . . . We're better than that.