Green Day started out as punk rock. And it still is, according to its three members — but it’s punk rock according to their terms rather than some prescribed image of angst, anger, youth, safety pins and hair dye.
“We always want to try to keep reinventing ourselves and come out with something new, without changing clothes,” explains singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong. “Whatever we do in the past, we just ... leave that and go to the next chapter or the next era or whatever.
“I think we’re just acting our age, trying to make something that’s ... where we’re at, at this particular time.”
Green Day has certainly taken punk rock into heretofore unconsidered areas during its 22-year career. Its biggest hit, for instance, is the 1997 smash “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” which Armstrong performed on acoustic guitar, accompanied by strings. In 2004 the East Bay, Calif., group issued “American Idiot,” a full-fledged rock opera/concept album laden with political and social overtones; it sold six million copies in the U.S. and 12 million world wide and won a pair of Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album and Record of the Year for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
The Berkeley Repertory Theater, meanwhile, has turned “American Idiot” into a stage musical by Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”) that opens on Sept. 4.
And this year — after a sidestep into its more straightforward alter ego Foxboro Hot Tubs in 2008 — Green Day has returned with “21st Century Breakdown,” another concept album divided into three acts and focusing on two characters, Christian and Gloria, and their travels through post-9/11 America. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart — and in 24 other countries — in May and was recently certified gold.
Clearly, then, there’s still an appetite for Green Day’s vision of what punk rock can be.
“My philosophy on it is you don’t sort of establish a set of rules on top of yourself,” explains Armstrong, 37. “You do what you want and just be an individual rather than playing just songs that sound like the Ramones or something. I think there’s a lot of clichés that pop up; if we were to put out the same record again and again, I think we’d get really bored.”
Adds bassist Mike Dirnt, 37, “We love what we do, and we work very hard at that. A lot of people don’t seem to understand it. Maybe other bands get big and rest on their laurels or don’t still get together in a small room and practice. For us, that’s fun.”
Green Day — which also includes drummer Tre Cool (real name Frank Wright III)— didn’t necessarily set out to make another concept album after “American Idiot” according to Dirnt (né Pritchard). In fact, the group simply accumulated “a lot of information, a lot of songs that we wanted to put on the record.” But when Armstrong came up with title track for “21st Century Breakdown,” Dirnt says, “we realized that song was embodying a lot of the different themes that were carrying throughout the record,” including some strong anti-war sentiments.
Dividing the new album into three sections, the bassist adds, “kind of make it easier to digest the record and ... give you a sense of figuring it out a little easier.”
Green Day played “21st Century Breakdown” in its entirety during some club shows in the spring, but its current concerts feature a chunk of the album rather than the whole thing and make room for much-loved early hits such as “Longview,” “Basket Case” and “Minority.” They’re more in the mode of what’s generally considered punk rock, but Dirnt says Green Day is well past the point of proving it’s punk cred to anyone.
“Most people who would label us punk have no clue whatsoever what punk is,” he says. “In a nutshell, punk to us is something that has a set of ethics that stands for or against something ... the kind of point of view you live with and see things through. It really means no rules, going against the grain sometimes.
“But I never thought of punk rock being my uniform; I always thought of it as just kind of a cool thing that I was into that didn’t include other people.”
Green Day and the Bravery perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (July 14) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $49.50 and $25 reserved, $49.50 general admission floor. CAll (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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