Green Day: Billie Joe Armstrong Talks About 'Dookie' - Rolling Stone
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International Superstars: Green Day

Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong talks about the hits

Tre Cool, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt of Green Day.Tre Cool, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt of Green Day.

Tre Cool, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt of Green Day.

Patrick Ford/Getty Images

Green Day are ten years old. More than a milestone, the anniversary is an accomplishment for a band deemed so juvenile and snotty their critics wondered whether their fans would grow up before they did. But – more so than most rock & roll bands – when they started out, these Northern California punks were their audience.

They created music for a generation of latchkey kids who grew older only to find themselves unconvinced that growing up held any of the advantages they imagined it would back when they were dreaming of first dates and drivers licenses. Green Day not only tapped into the know-it-all attitude and the angst, as well as the sorrow and worry of adolescence, but, most importantly, the goofiness, absurdity and humor of it all — something that set them apart from the grunge era’s profound earnestness.

As they proved with last year’s Warning, their most melodic and well-crafted album, Green Day are capable of keeping the fans that have grown up with them, while gaining new ones. Their latest release, International Superhits!, gives Green Day and fans a chance to look back, compiling all the singles from their smash major-label debut, Dookie (1994), onward, including two new songs, “Maria” and “Poprocks & Coke.” And while a new Green Day record is still down the road, Billie Joe, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool are working on new material and combing through the archives for a possible B-sides release, but their immediate plans are to “be happy about the greatest hits record until we start thinking about something else.”

What was your impression listening back to the older songs?
It still sounds like us, and it’s not like we’re all of a sudden some polka band or something. It sounded good and it still sounded pretty relevant, which I was surprised by. I think subconsciously we knew we were going to be playing those songs for a long time so, we didn’t want to paint ourselves into a corner and just have songs about being teenagers. They still hold the same relevance that they did and that’s good ’cause ultimately you want your songs to stand the test of time.

It seemed that every article written when Dookie came out contained the word “bratty” or “adolescent.” Did you guys ever feel doomed to an eternal adolescence?
You can’t do anything about what people’s perceptions are of you. You just have to be comfortable with your own perception of yourself and not give a shit what people say. I love what I do. I love playing music. I love doing it with Mike and Tre. I think we have a great band, and, as long as that doesn’t get skewed, I think we’ve been all right.

So how do you age gracefully in rock & roll? Who are your models for that?
Not a lot and the ones that are, are not really big characters. The Stones, yeah, but their music got pretty crappy after a while. There’s people like Neil Young. I think people look older and dumber when they start carrying on like, “Oh, I get to be a kid for the rest of my life.” So I don’t know. I think someone like [Fugazi’s] Ian MacKaye has done really good, and he still stays vital. I think someone like Eddie Vedder has grown up in such a great way without giving anything up.

So how do you think you’ve done?
I don’t know. I don’t really have a perception of myself. I’m really proud of my band, and I still think that we’re one of the better bands that are out there right now.

What are you most proud of?
I think that we’ve stuck to what we believe in. I don’t feel like we’ve whored ourselves. Everything that we’ve achieved has come naturally to us. And everything that has come to us, it wasn’t about some huge marketing plans. I think people genuinely liked our songs. A lot of bands have to trade in their integrity to get what they want, and the gross thing about it is that they have no problems doing it at all. I think we’ve accomplished a true sense of independence.

And it is so different now: Nobody bats an eye at seeing rock stars in commercials.
It really is. Bands drop like flies. They start out with these intentions, these ideals, and then, all of a sudden, they’re in a Nissan SUV commercial. It’s kind of sad.

When Green Day started you suddenly had the burden of the punk rock world on your shoulders. Did you ever feel trapped because you were expected to live up to a certain set of ideals?
I think that when you get older, one thing you learn from something like punk rock cred is how do you establish that when you get older into being an individual, making your own decisions. I’ve never done things like car commercials because I don’t want to, and I don’t ever want to feel like I’m selling a product for somebody. It’s a lot to feel like you’re selling your own product but to be doing a deodorant commercial — and you have to wonder where you’re putting your money and what industry you’re surrounded in and getting involved in. Who’s behind it? Whether it’s a company or the tobacco industry or something like that, it’s just kind of scary. People will go to great lengths to take these career jumps. I’ve seen a lot of people who are doing the same thing even from September 11th, which I find just really low. I mean, I understand that people really want to help. People who actually are from New York, people like the Beastie Boys, them saying something made sense, but there’s also people who are using it to catapult their career. At least looking back on my career I can say I haven’t done that.

So is there anything you’re not so proud of?
Not really. I don’t think so. I’m thinking hard about that too. You know, part of my problem is I play devil’s advocate with everything I do. I’m always a pessimist at first, like, “Man, we’re not old enough yet to put out a best-of record. To reminisce is to die.” But then I think, “There are some pretty damn good songs that would be on it and there are people that would like to see a collection like that, and it would be really cool to look back on it and to pat myself on the back for once in my fucking life” [laughs].

So did listening to any of the songs bring back any particular memories
Mostly in just recording situations. Listening to “Longview” — we recorded that song after getting off the Bad Religion tour, and we were really tight. We played that song every day for two months and felt really good about it. Listening to the later stuff, we really evolved into something different, and it was all really natural. We weren’t trying to keep up with the times — we weren’t trying to make a rap/metal record to keep up with today’s youth or whatever. We did what we wanted to do and people happened to like it, and we’re really grateful for that.

After Dookie you had talked about being really disappointed in music and less enthusiastic about it. So is Insomniac [1995] a hard record for you to go back and listen to?
Yeah, listening to that stuff — we were going through an identity crisis a little bit. We felt like an underground band, but we were a mainstream band so there’s that thing we had to deal with. And that’s something I wish I could have enjoyed more and kind of say, “Fuck it!” a little bit. But I think music requires having that kind of intensity, especially if you want longevity. You have to go into those moments where you’re unsure of yourself but you’re making the best decision that you can. And you have to go on your instincts most of the time.

Did it end up being the record you had wanted to make?
I definitely wanted to make that kind of record at the time. I’d always do everything differently later on. That’s for every record. When I was doing Insomniac I didn’t want to do anything that sounded like Dookie. When I was doing Nimrod I didn’t want to do anything that was like Insomniac. With Warning I didn’t want to do anything like I did before, and now I don’t know what the hell I want to do.

What did you think of your Behind the Music episode?
I thought they sort of over-dramatized a couple of things, but that’s what those shows are. They have to compete with Friends, so whatever. You know so there’s really no drama, there’s no drug stories, there’s no hitting bottom, there’s no real “no one likes us anymore” or “our kind music is out of fashion.” There wasn’t really a strong argument for any of that kind of stuff, so they had to make a strong argument for selling out, which was way over-dramatized for actually how it was.

You guys don’t even have any internal quarrels to drive the plot, like Fleetwood Mac?
No, we haven’t slept with each other [laughs]. There’s been no rehab. I don’t know, I guess we’re kind of boring in that way. [Behind the Music] is always fun to watch. It’s just a little different when you’re watching your own.

The other night you were one of the multiple choice questions on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

The question was: Put these groups in order of who recorded earliest: Pink Floyd, Blondie, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day. That has to be another indication that you’ve “made it.”
Well, that’s if the person answering knows who the hell you are. That’s pretty neat.

So the only thing left is to get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in another fifteen years.
Oh god, I don’t know. I don’t think so. That might be a pretty sad day for us getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame [laughs]. And I still gotta turn thirty.


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