Nobody rocks a pair of knockoff Wayfarers like Colleen Green. Onstage, they protect her sleepy eyes from the bright lights, placing a thin plastic veneer between the punk auteur and her followers: slackers with medical marijuana cards who relate to her anti-cool, grunge appeal.
“Colleen Green isn't a band, it's a person,” she says, with the same directness she applies to running her DIY empire out of a bedroom in her brother's West L.A. apartment, where she lives rent-free. The 30-year-old Massachusetts native books her own shows, designs her own comical merch (T-shirts doodled with stick figures and marijuana leaves) and uses a quirky drum machine as her only backing musician. And while it sounds like a weed-friendly pun, her real name is Colleen Green.
Since moving to L.A. in 2010, Green has become a regular at punk venues such as the Smell. With her drum machine and colorfully tagged guitar, she has amassed a cultish following, transforming her into L.A.'s stoner-punk fetish.
In 2013 alone, she performed more than 200 shows, on the heels of releasing her second LP, Sock It to Me. “She is tireless,” says her label rep at Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art.
Now Green is poised to break out. On Feb. 24, she'll release her second album on Hardly Art and third overall, I Want to Grow Up, which brings her deeply personal storytelling into focus on what could be the year's loner punk masterpiece. As its title declares, I Want to Grow Up is the sound of Green entering adulthood, like her heroes Blink-182 in 2003 — except when Green addresses issues such as anxiety and romantic woes, she doesn't pummel her audience with dick jokes.
Green grew up in Dunstable, Massachusetts, a rural town 40 miles north of Boston. After moving to Oakland in 2008, she quickly became a part of the Bay Area's blooming garage-rock scene, occupied by stoner-punk acts such as a rabbit mask–wearing freak named Nobunny.
“We struck up a friendship revolving around music, weed and just being fucking weirdos,” says Justin Champlin, aka Nobunny, who gave Green her first solo gig, opening for him at the Five Star Bar in downtown L.A. in 2010. Before that, she played guitar and sang in Oakland-based punk band The Have Mercys.
As a solo act, Green's shtick includes cheeky humor, such as titling her first LP Milo Goes to Compton after The Descendents' Milo Goes to College and doodling herself on the album cover like a Mike Judge cartoon sketch. The Milo tape, originally self-released by Green in 2010, included a fuzzy, drum machine–driven track called “I Wanna Be Degraded,” a wink-wink sexual riff on The Ramones' “I Wanna Be Sedated.” It caught the attention of Hardly Art and Burger Records, which promoted Green's cassette releases as part of their teenage stoner empire.
“There's this attraction to her 'whateverness,'” says music booker Davis Powers, who booked Green's national TV debut on Last Call With Carson Daly in November. During her set, Green wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “Scott Raynor.” It was her way of telling America that Blink-182, Green's most noted influence, was coolest between 1992 and 1998, when Raynor was their drummer.
Green's latest single, “TV” (not a cover of the Blink-182 song with the same title), siphons the distorted loner appeal of Weezer's “In the Garage” into an infectious, '90s alternative hook that repeats: “TV is my friend/And it has been/With me every day/From an early age.” The track is an ode to Green's synthetic BFF, a tiny TV set she uses to watch rented videotapes.
To help produce I Want to Grow Up, Green enlisted a kindred spirit in guitarist Jake Orrall of fuzz-rockers JEFF the Brotherhood. The album marks Green's first time in a proper studio with a full band, including Casey Weissbuch of Diarrhea Planet on drums.
“Her melodies resonate with my high school self,” says Orrall, who produced a shredding guitar record that adds clarity to Green's whisper-in-your-ear vocals, which for the first time aren't buried beneath layers of fuzz.
“This record's a culmination of things I've been thinking about for the past five years,” Green says. “It's about disease, health and being able to move on from things that are devastating in your life.” In 2009, Green was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an incurable autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness and fatigue. “It was an awakening,” she says. “I realized how fragile our lives are.”
I Want to Grow Up is like a Facebook timeline displaying Green's history over the past five years, which includes an attempt to get healthy by kicking her weed habit. “It's not good for you. It's a chemical, and it affects your central nervous system,” she explains. Green recently lost her “rec card,” her legal access to medical marijuana. “I'm pretty sure I threw it away in an attempt to quit smoking.”
High or not, Green's hook-filled music continues to develop like a Polaroid, coming more into focus on each record and revealing an artist who is hyperaware of herself and her influences. Her sound is a byproduct of her CD and vinyl collection, which include Sublime, The Descendents and fellow Massachusetts native J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Her taste and musical palate are defiantly uncool. “The first time I heard Sublime was on 107.3 WAAF. I was 11 years old, and it changed my life,” she says sincerely.
In other words, Green is the antithesis of highbrow. “I like being away from all the hip shit,” she says, referring both to her West L.A. residence and her punk distaste for all things fashionable.
Featured in Spin's “Artists to Watch” for February, and clearly on the tipping point of becoming a buzz act, Green sounds wary. “I don't ever want to get a big head. [Last Call] was a lot of attention. It's weird to deal with because I don't know what to say. What if you become an asshole? It's a scary thought.”
Authenticity, both as a stoner and a punk auteur, is still Green's most durable currency. Her live show will feature her solo, with a few programmed beats to support her new music.
And whether she's serious about kicking pot or not, she doesn't plan on ditching her stoner fan base. She's celebrating the release of I Want to Grow Up with a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” on Feb. 24 — at 4:20 p.m., wink-wink.
COLLEEN GREEN ALBUM-RELEASE PARTY AT HM157 | 3110 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights | Fri., Feb. 27, 8 p.m. | facebook.com/colleengreen420