“Cautiously optimistic – anxious as well,” Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt responds when asked how he’s feeling in the wake of the greatest crisis his band has ever known: the public meltdown of singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong during Green Day’s set at the iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas last September and Armstrong’s subsequent trip into rehab for alcoholism and addiction to prescription medications.
“I’m excited that everything is going to take off again,” Dirnt continues, referring to Green Day’s return to touring in a few weeks, officially starting in Chicago on March 28th. “I just want to make sure we get one foot in front of the other and do it right.”
In the new issue of Rolling Stone, Armstrong breaks his silence in an exclusive interview. He describes in frank detail his collapse in Vegas, the dangerous habits and emotional turmoil leading up to that day, and his ongoing recovery. Armstrong also talks candidly about the state and future of his band, including the impact of his troubles on Green Day’s recent triple-album gamble, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!
Dirnt also spoke to Rolling Stone for the piece, revealing his worry for his childhood friend and their first, serious conversation together after Armstrong emerged from rehab. In these additional, exclusive excerpts, the bassist describes his memories of that day in Las Vegas, Green Days’s first rehearsal with a new, healthy Armstrong and the manic ambitions and workload that nearly drove the entire band to the brink of sanity.
Did you see warning signs, before the Las Vegas incident, that Billie was headed for a meltdown?
We all turned a blind eye to it – “Everyone, deal with your own shit.” Because we were working so hard, since [2004’s] American Idiot. We haven’t stopped moving forward: the  Network record, Foxboro Hot Tubs, the [American Idiot] musical, the live records, 21st Century Breakdown. There is so much stuff we have written and done, in between records, that hasn’t even come out. I look at it and go, “What kind of pace is that?” Anybody would crack under half of that.
Billie is very driven. Billie is music – period. I love him for it. I’m blessed to play with my best friend and do everything I can to support this band. But there are times when we’re like, “Do we really need to climb another mountain, right in the middle of climbing this mountain?”
What was it like for you that day in Vegas, even before the show?
It was very tense back there. They locked us in a room for about six hours. [Pause] I won’t say “locked.” But I didn’t want to hang out in the hallway with everybody’s entourage. I felt like a rat in a cage. It was a confined space with a lot of weird people around, people we didn’t know wandering in and out [of the dressing room].
When Billie showed up, it was, “You’re not right. What’s going on?” I kept an eye on things, and it just went progressively downhill. Me and Billie – we don’t play like 12-year-olds anymore. But at one point, I was like, “Let’s goof around.” Somehow, we ended up wrestling backstage. I thought, “If I can just get some of this out of him . . . ” But with the mood depressants and alcohol, it doesn’t end up in a jovial party.
What was going through your mind as you saw Billie lose it on stage?
You know, truth be told, I agreed with what he said, outside of mentioning anybody else. I know that’s not Billie. But the bigger side of it – I actually agreed with the rant. But I was watching my friend and going, “You’re out of your fucking mind.” And we were dealing with a shitshow.
The world has seen past much larger things. The world has laughed with us enough to know that they can laugh with us now, to somehow understand. We have a sense of humility.
Billie told me that right after Vegas, before he went into rehab, you read the riot act to him about his behavior and the effect it was having on others.
For me, it started off as concern for my friend. Then it turned to anger. Then it came full circle to “I’m angry for what you’re doing to you. Whatever the fuck is going on, that’s not you, and it’s gone so far down. You’re doing it alone, and you’re not letting us in.” Sometimes you have a friend or loved one that needs you to shake them. They don’t see a path out.
Ironically, this happened the week you released the first of your three new albums – one of your most ambitious projects as a band.
Not one person called me and congratulated me on the day [Uno!] came out. Everybody was afraid to call and say anything to us. I went through a bit of a depression. Thank God, my wife was there for me and able to help me process my emotions.
Billie mentioned that you, he and Tré got together for a rehearsal in November, not long after he finished rehab. What did you play? Did he seem better, stronger?
Honestly, the first time we played, it was just six or seven songs, just to get out hands on our instruments in the same room together. It sounded good. It sounded fine. But we weren’t really . . .
Playing with purpose?
Exactly. It’s like going out in your yard, firing up your weekend-warrior hot rod: “Well, it fires up.” And you put it back in the garage. There was a deeper concern, a deeper emotion. We were unresolved.
But we all play a lot. I played my bass for four hours [straight] a week ago. And I play every day, for at least 40 minutes, just on the couch.
Can you tell that there is something different about Billie now?
The biggest change right now is in our lives, especially for him. We were forced to stop, let the dust settle and reflect on everything in our lives, not just our accomplishments. Listen to the silence. Listen to your life. Be present, not just think about what’s going on next week, next month.
How do you think that will affect the music you make next, the new songs Billie is sure to write?
The one thing you get with this band is reality. The party was there when we were younger. Who knows where it’s gonna go from here? But it’s always honest. When I listen to songs, I can smell a rat. I like songs that speak to me with some deeper truth.
When you go back on tour, how do you expect the backstage action to change, to enable Billie to maintain his sobriety while still having fun?
It’s obvious. The backstage doesn’t need to be a bar. And that’s OK with me. That’s just time-killing, coping mechanisms. Also, we don’t have to say yes to every opportunity in front of us. We did something like 228 shows for American Idiot and 190 for 21st Century Breakdown. And that doesn’t include band practice five days a week in between.
My thing is, good, bad or ugly, I gotta support my boy. I’m gonna back him up, and then I’m going to take it the next step further with him. And we’re gonna do it offstage, too.