“I knew I wanted to do something different,” says Billie Joe Armstrong. He’s talking about his search for a new sound after 2016’s Revolution Radio, the album where Green Day got back on their feet after the messiest period of their career. Armstrong wanted to find a way to incorporate the soul-music phase he was going through, which ranged from Smokey Robinson to Amy Winehouse. “I’d always loved British mod music from the Sixties, but I wanted to go to where the source was and see if I could put [soul] through the Green Day filter,” says Armstrong. “It was a lot of trial and error, a lot of pulling my fucking hair out.”
Then it happened: Armstrong was at his home in Newport Beach, California, jamming with drummer Tre Cool, when Cool started playing “a nasty fucking beat.” Armstrong thought of a title: “Father of All Motherfuckers,” which he crafted into a Sixties-style dance-party jam that has him kicking his voice into a Prince-inspired falsetto. “I told my engineer, ‘I might look like a fucking idiot, but bear with me,’” says Armstrong. The song, he says, “was like a unicorn falling out of the sky: ‘I don’t know what this is, I don’t know how I did it, but this is the direction I’m headed.’ ” The song became the title track of Green Day’s new album, Father of All . . ., out February 7th, which has the band experimenting with danceable grooves, wiry riffs, and sounds that can range from New Wave to vintage R&B.
“Billie was pushing himself to get to a newer place,” says bassist Mike Dirnt. “We had to chase that down. Which is par for the course, because nobody digs deeper than Billie.” Dirnt says some songs stay true to their bedrock punk sound, too: He singles out new tracks “Meet Me on the Roof” and “Junkies on a High” as “Green Day firing on all cylinders.” (One thing that didn’t influence the new album? Donald Trump. Though Green Day took on the second Bush administration on 2004’s multiplatinum American Idiot, Dirnt says, “We didn’t want to give a piece of shit like Donald Trump any more airtime than he deserves. You’ve already had your 15 minutes. Fuck off.”)
Green Day’s new direction makes it clear that they still see themselves as contenders in the pop landscape 25 years after the release of their breakthrough, Dookie. While rumors abounded last year that they may celebrate that album’s anniversary with a big tour in which they play it in full, Dirnt says, “Those would be really short shows.” Instead, Green Day will be debuting the new material on the Hella Mega Tour, a summer 2020 stadium run with fellow rock survivors Weezer and Fall Out Boy. “Playing a stadium is pretty sick in itself,” says Armstrong. “But we really wanted to have the biggest rock tour of the year.” The tour, which will be preceded by Green Day solo dates, will mark their first time playing with Fall Out Boy, who inducted them into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, and credited Dookie as a major reason they formed. Green Day, who will close each night, go further back with Weezer, both having broken through in the post-Nirvana era. “I’ve known Rivers [Cuomo] since, like, 1994,” says Armstrong. “We both kind of came up at the same time, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re both still standing.”
Green Day’s stadium status 33 years into their career has made them think about their legacy more than usual. The other day, Dirnt came across a photo taken by Danny Clinch at Woodstock ’94; the trio are backstage, all covered in mud. Dirnt is snarling while a blue-haired, baby-faced Armstrong is holding a beer. “It brought it full circle: Man, it’s been a fucking crazy ride,” says Dirnt. “How the hell I’m vertical and still putting out what I consider to be the best fucking music of our career is beyond me. I’m humbled by it all the time, but I’m still hungry and I still wanna kick a lot of ass.”