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 you‘d 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 one’s 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, there‘s 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 ’80s‘90s 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 man’s struggle through the underground. Frederiksen credits much of Bastards to Rancid front man Tim Armstrong, who co-wrote the album but doesn‘t tour with the band. ”Tim’s my brother,“ he enthuses. ”He‘s 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 we’ve become, and at times Frederiksen isn‘t any easier on himself: ”An Army of zombiesit’s you, it‘s 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 Mommy’s Little Monster–era Social Distortion. ”Well,“ he says, ”I‘m a huge Social-D fan, so I don’t have a problem with that.“
But as on-the-money as Bastards is musically, there‘s no denying Frederiksen is in love with the past, and for that reason there’s 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. ”It‘s a true story about [an expat soldier] I met in Birmingham, England. He was there because he didn’t feel like he belonged here anymore.“
Uh-huh . . . it‘s okay to protest the war machine, but lamenting soldiers who failed to get a hero’s welcome? Seems a little too, well, patriotic. Then there‘s the curious line in ”To Have and To Have Not“ that goes ”Just because I dress like this doesn’t mean I‘m a communist“ — Frederiksen’s 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, ”It‘s about Armageddon and shit. That song’s a good example of lyrics meaning whatever the listener wants them to.“ Hey, that wishy-washy answer isn‘t protocol, either. Punk is nothing if not in-your-face.
So isn’t all this yearning for the bad ol‘ days a sign that punk may have outlived its usefulness? ”Punk isn’t going anywhere — that‘s 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 I‘m really optimistic now that George W. Bush is in office. He’s 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. ”It‘s 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 I‘m not a role model. I’m not fuckin‘ Michael Jordan, and we’re not flag carriers for anyone. We‘re only doing this because it’s the only thing we know how to do.“
Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards appear at the Palace, Thursday-Friday, April 5-6.