Rebel Waltz

 

The scourge of punk purists and those self-appointed guardians of the "underground", Californian skate punkers The Offspring committed the mortal crime of selling 11 million copies of one of their albums (1994's Smash). In a country where you can get severely beaten up for any perceived loosening of your "credibility" (e.g. Jello Biafra), the band should really have been dragged through the streets of Orange County for their crimes against punk-dom; but instead they've just flicked the fingers at the hardcore element and continued on their merry MTV crossover way.

Because they have the best-selling rock record ever released on an independent label, The Offspring will always be a footnote to musical history and an answer in so many pub quizzes. Now together since 1984, the nucleus of the band is singer/ guitarist Dexter Holland (who also has a doctorate in molecular biology, education fans). After hanging out on the So-Cal hardcore scene for many a less-than-fruitful year, there was a rapid change in direction and purpose when they signed to Brett Gurevitz's Epitaph label (Gurevitz initially set up the label to release material by his own band, Bad Religion, and also to help him over his crack cocaine addiction).

The first single off Offspring's Smash was Come Out And Play, which went triple A around about the same time as Green Day's Basketcase, hence all the "Punk's not dead" headlines of the time. When the album went on to sell more than Nirvana's Nevermind (and how many punk bands can say that?), the usual hassles about money started, and The Offspring soon saw themselves leaving Epitaph and in the process accusing Gurevitz of using "independent" music as a smokescreen for his real corporate interests. The band then signed to Columbia and released the not-bad-at-all Ixnay On The Hombre album in 1997, just after recording a great version of The Damned's Smash It Up for the Batman Forever film.

Now back with a new album, Americana, we asked Dexter Holland about life in major label-land. "It's fine you know, but it's still an important thing to us to control our own destiny," he says. "We've had complete creative freedom our whole careers. The last album was such a progression for us - musically, touring-wise, artwork and video-wise (video-wise? - BB) as well as dealing with another level of record company. At every level we had wild new challenges and it was fun."

What about the hardcore allegations of "sell-out"? "It's a really strange scene, the whole So-Cal scene, but the thing about that scene is, the band and the audience are eye-to-eye; we're not on a pedestal. The audience is part of the show. That's where we come from. We stayed that kind of band for almost 10 years before anything ever really happened to us. Even though things have changed, that's still the core of what we are." What's the new album all about? "Lately, I've been into this warped sense of Americana," he says. "The whole daytime talk show culture fascinates me. It seems like the stuff that used to be the fringe is more and more the everyday reality." A bit like your band? "Yeah. But it's more if America was barbecues, big cars and life in the suburbs in the 1950s, it's now totally a freak show." Again, a bit like your band? "Cut it out."

Despite his experiences with indie labels in the past, Dexter has decided to plough a fair amount of money into his very own label, Nitro, which to date has released albums by Dutch hardcore band Guttermouth as well as AFI and The Vandals. "A lot of the fun is meeting musicians in other bands, getting to know them and making friends with them," he says. "It's really cool watching these groups grow, get better and more popular and know you were able to do something to help. That's punk rock."

Americana is on the Columbia label. The Offspring play Dublin's SFX tomorrow night (9th)