Only a handful of bands get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the first year they’re eligible these days. When Billie Joe Armstrong learned that Green Day were one of them, he could barely process the news. “I had to go for a walk,” he says. “I wound up at this cafe and I sat down and my son met up with me. I told him and he was like, ‘Oh my God. No way.’ It just took some time to sink in. We’re in incredible company and I’m still trying to make sense of this. It’s just incredible.” The singer spoke to Rolling Stone about the induction’s significance and looks back on 25 years of Green Day.
What does this mean to you on a personal level?
For me, rock & roll is not an outdated term. To me, it means freedom. It was a way for me to express myself and I’m eternally grateful for the fact that I’ve been able to do that pretty much my whole life. It’s never lost that meaning for me, whether I’m a fan myself or for Green Day fans. It’s just the most liberating thing in the world. The fact that we’re getting recognized for it in the company we have, it’s just an incredible feeling.
It must be strange to realize you’ve now been in the band for 25 years.
I was talking to [Green day bassist] Mike [Dirnt] and we were trying to figure it out. The first thing that we put out [the EP 1,000 Hours] was in 1989 and he was 16 years old. I’d just turned 17. We were still in the middle of puberty for God’s sake. The fact that we kept on hanging on to this thing we believe in for so many years is incredible. It’s unique that we started so young. It’s almost freakish. We were weird little kids. We got to be weird together and create this thing called Green Day for so many years…Literally, what a strange trip.
We’re all in a surreal state right now.
When you started playing little punk clubs in California, I imagine the furthest thing from your mind was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
We’ve known each other since we were 10. We came up as the MTV kids. I think at some point, when we started getting into punk rock, we thought it was never going to go this route. We never thought we’d actually get on MTV. The stuff that was on there was all surface. I don’t know, man. It’s just a trip.
You’ve been to many Hall of Fame events in the past, but I would guess this one will feel a little different.
The first time we ever went, we played in the place of the Ramones and did a bunch of their songs. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has always held something for me because my heroes were in there. I know it’s still a young institution, but I look at classic rock records as being the modern classics. I look at Tommy by the Who and think that should be played like someone interpreting Beethoven. That’s what rock & roll has always meant to me. It’s the modern classics of the 20th century and now the 21st.
It’s pretty cool they’re taking you in the same year as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
Oh my God. It’s great. I’m so happy for her. One of the first records that Mike and I had, it must have been 1983, was I Love Rock and Roll. The way that she is just this badass woman and probably the shit she had to deal with in a male-dominated rock scene, it’s just an honor to be side-by-side with her.
You’re also a big fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, right?
Yeah. I don’t know if you’re aware, but I have this baby blue guitar that I’ve had since I was 11 years old. When I was in high school, I put “BJ” on it and it’s in the “Basket Case” video. I did it because Stevie Ray Vaughan had a “SRV” on his pickguard. It’s just bizarre the way things worked out and did this full circle.
Is part of you bummed that so few of your favorite punk bands have been inducted?
No. It’s not about them [laughs]. I don’t know. I look at it like eventually they will be. Think about doo-wop groups and blues bands and country musicians that wind up getting in after the fact. They’ll get in. I’m sure they will. But it’s not my responsibility [laughs].
It’s cool it’s back in Cleveland next year. There’s always a real great vibe at Public Hall.
I was there the year that Guns N’ Roses got inducted. That was just a trip.
I’m sure there will be less drama this year than that one.
Yeah. I look at Mike and [drummer] Tre [Cool] and what we’ve done and I look at our fans and how everything is just still intact and our relationship is still there. Me and Mike live a couple of blocks from each other. We’ve lived a couple blocks from each other our whole lives. Sometimes I think about the way we met. It happened because our school district went bankrupt. They had to close down one of the schools and it created a middle school that was fifth through eighth grade. Mike went to school across town from me, but we ended up in the same location. Thank God for bankruptcy.
Standing at the podium together will be a big moment.
Yeah, with him and Tre, just…shit. Standing there next to each other and taking it all in. We’re all in a surreal state right now.
It’s great you guys are still an active and relevant band. So often that’s not the case at these things.
We’re family. I’ve always wanted to have that atmosphere where we run things because of the way we learned to do things through the punk years. It’s always been run in a collective way where we’re able to say the things we need to say, but also be able to listen to each other. It’s not perfect. Nothing is perfect. We have this bond and it’s about the music. We’re a gang and we’ve always been that way.
I look at classic rock records as being the modern classics.
It’s crazy to think it’s been 10 years since American Idiot, which came 10 years after Dookie. It feels like these last 10 years went much faster than those first 10.
It is weird. Time gets sort of squeezed together the older you get. I wish it wasn’t like that, but it is. I like getting older. If you’re going to try and fight age, you’re going to lose. There’s no fucking way. The only thing is that you can take that childhood dream with you. I never want to lose that. It’s that glimmer that’s always in our eyes. It’s why we love what we do.
The band last played in March. What are you doing in the downtime?
We have a lot of heavy stuff going on right now. Everyone needs to be with their families. We keep in touch with each other. If I was to say, “Hey man, let’s make a record right now!” they’d be like, “Are you out of your fucking mind?” I realize that. It’s good to have a little bit of distance from the creative process because you end up wanting to get back to it even more when the time is right.
Are you thinking you might start writing or recording next year?
I think of next year as us kind of regrouping and getting together more. I want to make sure that everyone’s head is in the right place and wants to start doing it again. I think this is a great time for us to reflect. With the Hall of Fame here, we can look back with gratitude and reflect with gratitude without feeling like it’s some nostalgic trip.
We’ve always kept moving forward, no matter what. That’s exhausting. Also, Mike’s wife is just recovering from breast cancer. And [guitarist] Jason White [who was recently diagnosed with tonsil cancer] is going through the same battle right now. We need to be there for each other in a different way rather than standing next to each other and playing really loud.
Are you going to perform at the ceremony?
Yeah, I think so. That’s the plan.
How do you pick three songs when you have so many?
I don’t know. We’ll get there. It’s hard because there’s the Lookout years that are important to us. It would be nice to play something from those years that’s meaningful. We’ll see.