Words: Miljan Milekić
For more than three decades, Good Riddance have been a staple in the California punk rock scene. Recently, they released another powerful album – ‘Thoughts and Prayers,’ and once again proved their legendary status. We had a chance to catch up with frontman Russ Rankin and talk about the new record, music scene in Santa Cruz, as well as the situation in the US. Read it below.
First of all, congrats on a new album. To be honest, I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I’d say it’s one of my favorite Good Riddance works. Did the record manage to meet the expectations you set for yourselves?
Russ: I think so. We felt like ‘Peace In Our Time’ was a solid release, and we felt like we wanted to try to top it. We never want to create a new album, and put in the time and sacrifice, unless we believe we have something relevant to offer.
‘Thought and Prayers’ is also the highest-charting Good Riddance release ever. I know that chasing chart success was never your intention or a motive for making music, but how does it feel to see the crowd all over the world resonate with the album? Is this reaction something you expected to be happening thirty years into your career?
Russ: No, it took us all by surprise. When FAT told us about Billboard, I asked them if this was normal, or expected, and they said no. It’s nice to know that, with all the changes to the music industry, and the fact that we aren’t a shiny, new, band anymore, we are pretty stoked!
With the album gaining so much traction, and sold-out shows you play in Europe these days, do you feel like your messages are reaching people, and that more and more people are resonating with the things you say
Russ: Our shows are generally well-attended, in Europe, and other places. We will know more in 6 months or so when the album has had time to affix itself to people. When you see entire rooms full of people singing along to your songs, you know you’ve created something that people are attaching themselves to. The new songs, so far, have gone over about how we would expect for the release still being relatively new. We are just trying to get the word out about the new album, and trying to create some excitement around it.
There was a Reagan era, there was a George Bush II era, and now, we are in the Donald Trump era. All three were awful for the people in the US, but all of them caused some of the best works in punk rock, but also activist music, and art in general. Do you feel like bands such as Good Riddance and punk movement, in general, can play a role in the social movements and contribute to the change?
Russ: I absolutely do. I wish we still had things like ‘Rock Against Racism,’ or ‘Rock Against Reagan,’ but times are different now. With social media and endless distractions, I think it is probably difficult to get people to come together and focus on the bigger picture. Activism requires a degree of selflessness and group-think that is more difficult to attain in today’s climate. There is also a lot more money in punk rock, and numerous high-dollar sponsors sniffing around, so antiseptic, non-threatening, events like the Warped Tour are what we get nowadays. Still, there are a lot of activists at Warped Tour, and other festivals and I think that this type of music can still inspire people to become activists in their own ways and to become curious about the world, and question the things they’ve been told by the culture industry.
I actually intended to do this interview a while ago. I almost sent the questions, but then, I saw the news about the El Paso and Dayton shootings. You are very vocal about gun control and everything that could make events like this stop. How long do you think this fight will go on and keep falling to deaf ears, before any significant move in the right direction? What else needs to happen before people in power take action?
Russ: I think that there is too much money in politics, meaning, it’s become standard for lobbyists to be able to write a policy for this country, and the people we elect to represent us in Washington D.C. have become accustomed to the extra money they can get if they go along with it. I think it starts with overturning Citizens United, and then a scourge of career politicians who are in Washington to collect lobbyist dollars, rather than do the work they were sent there to do. I believe a majority of Americans would be fine with banning military-grade assault weapons. I think that the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution was written when rifles could fire one bullet every minute and was written regarding the assembling of militias. Somehow, it has become a thing that, the more and bigger guns you have, the more American you are. I don’t get it, probably never will, but it’s clearly a problem.
I think that the way the idiot who thinks he’s the president has emboldened a dangerously deluded fringe of white, male, Christian, nativists, is the biggest threat to our country. What can we do about that? Hopefully, elect people to shape policy for us who don’t allow that garbage to go down at the highest levels of government. I think this moron should be impeached, for no other reason than this behavior is abhorrent, embarrassing, and unfit for somebody in their position. I think that when people are looking to their leaders, and they see a xenophobe, boasting about their sexual conquests, and making fun of people with disabilities, they are bound to lose a little faith in our current system.
A few days ago there was a news piece about a motorcycle backfire causing panic at Times Square as people mistook its sound for gunfire. I remember an episode of ‘Friends’ literally joking about a similar event, but now, in 2019, we had it happening for real. Is it really possible that the USA reached the point where the people are in a constant state of fear and panic? Is there any solution on the horizon?
Russ: It’s getting to the point where Americans are becoming inured to it, which is dangerous. It could become like the for-profit health care industry – something awful that we all just accept as something we have to live with. I think that banning assault weapons is a start, and I also strongly believe that the media ought to agree to never, under any circumstances, release the names of these shooters. I think it grants them the fame they are seeking, and it emboldens and encourages the next ones. I think Congress has to impeach the idiot, and I think the country needs some conciliation from its leaders, rather than partisan vitriol, and nativist rhetoric.
How ironic do you find that the people who hide behind Christianity, which in theory should be preaching peace, love, and acceptance, the people who call for “thoughts and prayers” after every tragic event, are the same people who promote guns, same people who call for violence and hate on immigrants, racial and sexual minorities, and putting brakes to any social change? What do you see as the reasons for it?
Russ: Fear. Fear of the other. Fear of change. Fear that a wider, richer, world may exist than the myopic one people have been taught to believe. Bigotry is learned. Nativism is learned. These are characteristics and opinions which have to be implanted and cultivated. Do we get rid of Fox News? Do we force Americans to travel? I saw a map of the US, and it showed the highest density of support for the idiot after the 2016 election, and somebody superimposed it on the US map which showed the highest density of people who don’t have passports. Surprise, surprise. Plus, any white, Christian, nativist, who whines about immigrants, as they stand on stolen land, is misinformed, in my opinion.
Back to the music side of things – on the new record, you once again worked with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room, and it turned out amazing. What’s the best thing about working with them, that brings you back every time?
Russ: Bill has two things that keep us going back: he was a seminal figure in the era of punk and hardcore music that directly inspires us, and he is an incredible engineer and producer. He knows the music we grew up with and played on a lot of it. He knows which bands and artists to reference to get us to render a specific performance. Also, after 20 years together, we have become really good friends with him. The whole experience is great, even after the figurative tape stops rolling.
If I’m not mistaken, everything you ever released was via Fat Wreck Chords. How much support did you have from the label over the years, and what’s the main reason for you to stick with them for decades?
Russ: We were incredibly fortunate to land on FAT when we did. They took a chance on us, even though we were relatively green as far as touring and figuring it all out. They have given us a platform, and tremendous freedom to use it. They never tell us what to do, but instead, ask – “How can we help?”
Growing up on the opposite side of the world, Santa Cruz seemed like a place to be. Not only it had the Santa Cruz Skateboards company, but also we knew it for Good Riddance, Swingin’ Utters, Craig’s Brother, and The Expendables, which is pretty amazing for the town of that size. However, in the last couple of years, I don’t see much going on in the scene. is there any new blood we should pay attention to? Do you think that the hype around your new album and recent releases by other bands can be a kick in the but for the scene and some new bands coming up?
Russ: I think that Santa Cruz has always been a fertile place for artists and cultural refugees. It’s a strange pocket of California. There’s the touristy beach town vibe, the college town vibe, and there is a tangible throwback, ’60s hippie revolutionary vibe. For me, I grew up surfing and skateboarding, and, in Santa Cruz, that world always intertwined with the punk world. I read Thrasher Magazine religiously growing up, and there were always articles on bands, and I would go buy the records they talked about. At ramps, or at Derby Park, someone would always have a boombox, and I would skate while we listened to Agent Orange, DRI, Die Kreuzen, etc. When I was growing up, the biggest and greatest band we had was Bl’ast!, and the fact that they were nationally known, and toured, was immensely inspirational to us. Santa Cruz will always create its own unique sounds, and hopefully, younger bands will continue to push themselves to get out and tour.