Success changes people. He spent years slumming in a South San Fran housing project, jumpin the BART turnstile for free rides to Daly City and breaking into more cars than he cares to remember, so youd think that playing guitar and singing in Rancid -- one-third of the mid-90s pop-punk triumvirate with Offspring and Green Day -- would see ol Lars Frederiksen putting on a few airs. Naw, this Campbell, California, hellcat is still doing half a carton of smokes for breakfast, rocking the 6-inch-high Mohawk and getting the occasional bottle broken over his head in back-alley fisticuffs. What else am I gonna do, work as a bank teller? he says from somewhere in the Bay Area. No ones gonna give me a job, the way I look.
The remarkable thing about the 31-year-old Frederiksen is that platinum status has only made him more grateful. In fact, theres something celebratory about the motley crew he threw together for his new side-project, the Bastards. The band members -- Frederiksen (guitar), Scottie Abels (drums), Big Jay (bass) and Unknown Bastard on background vocals -- stack their sound with double-tracked guitars and seasoned but rough-and-raw chops, the way self-respecting gutter-punk oughta be played. Like a biopic of the whole 80s90s Cali scene, their recent album Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards (Epitaph) blazes and flares with shout-alongs, anthems and fight songs that tell the tale of one mans struggle through the underground. Frederiksen credits much of Bastards to Rancid front man Tim Armstrong, who co-wrote the album but doesnt tour with the band. Tims my brother, he enthuses. Hes also, like, the best songwriter in the world.
Like any punk treatise worth its salt, Bastards is a filth-rimmed middle finger at the homogenized, Starbucks-guzzling, PalmPilot-wielding society weve become, and at times Frederiksen isnt any easier on himself: An Army of zombiesits you, its me. If the last Rancid long-player was a tacit big-up to the Clash, the Bastards have honed in on a distant yet familiar strain of American punk. Think back to that first Avengers record, or better yet Mommys Little Monster--era Social Distortion. Well, he says, Im a huge Social-D fan, so I dont have a problem with that.
But as on-the-money as Bastards is musically, theres no denying Frederiksen is in love with the past, and for that reason theres a faint air of post-party sadness to the record. Take the chorus of the hair-raising call-to-arms Wine and Roses, for example: Bring back the days of riot squads and fire hoses; the roll call of old friends and partners in crime (some departed for good) in Skunx; or the going back before his own time in Vietnam. That was to pay homage to the blue-collar kids like me who were drafted whether they wanted to go or not, he says. Its a true story about [an expat soldier] I met in Birmingham, England. He was there because he didnt feel like he belonged here anymore.
Uh-huh . . . its okay to protest the war machine, but lamenting soldiers who failed to get a heros welcome? Seems a little too, well, patriotic. Then theres the curious line in To Have and To Have Not that goes Just because I dress like this doesnt mean Im a communist -- Frederiksens anxiety that combat boots, spikey hair and tats might send the wrong message flies in the face of the first punkmandment: Thou Shalt Not Give a Fuck. And what about the flabby fatalism of Ten Plagues of Egypt? Says Frederiksen, Its about Armageddon and shit. That songs a good example of lyrics meaning whatever the listener wants them to. Hey, that wishy-washy answer isnt protocol, either. Punk is nothing if not in-your-face.
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So isnt all this yearning for the bad ol days a sign that punk may have outlived its usefulness? Punk isnt going anywhere -- thats the biggest load of shit I ever heard in my life, he spits. The 90s were mellow in this country, and that may not have been the best thing for this music, but Im really optimistic now that George W. Bush is in office. Hes gonna give me plenty to be pissed off about.
Having seen two waves of punk come and go, Frederiksen acknowledges the possibility that, in line with the law of diminishing returns, the next wave will be even more impotent than the last. Its a different place now than it was in 1976, when the Ramones started it all, he says. In my opinion, the faces may change but the attitude always remains the same. Though what exactly that attitude is, or will become, remains vague -- unless you ask goofy questions like whether any responsibility comes with whipping moshers into a frenzy.
No, cuz Im not a role model. Im not fuckin Michael Jordan, and were not flag carriers for anyone. Were only doing this because its the only thing we know how to do.
Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards appear at the Palace, Thursday-Friday, April 5-6.