FatInterview with vocalist Russ Rankin | By Gen Handley
In 2007, much to many fans’ chagrin, Good Riddance announced their breakup, playing a sold-out farewell show that was recorded and released in 2008 as a legendary live album, Remain in Memory: The Final Show.
However, in 2015, after the members joined various other projects, the Santa Cruz, California, band released the severely underrated Peace in Our Time, a return to form and to a scene that they had so undeniably influenced since their 1995 debut, For God and Country.
Good Riddance continue that influence and momentum with their new album, Thoughts and Prayers, out July 19 via Fat Wreck Chords. Below, lead vocalist Russ Rankin discusses the new release, what inspired it, and the impact he hopes it will have on fans’ political consciousness.
What makes this album special compared to the rest of the Good Riddance discography?
Well, it sounds like a Good Riddance album, and we didn’t do much different. It’s very timely, because culturally, in North America, we have an unprecedented amount of divisiveness and vitriol in our day-to-day lives that we haven’t really had in a long time—this album speaks a lot to that. Hopefully, this album is a good way to engage people and recharge their batteries to be more civically involved and aware.
Do you feel like your band’s purpose is to recharge those batteries? To keep your listeners passionate and aware?
I think that’s the role we’ve taken on. I know that the bands I listened to when I was younger, they inspired me and compelled me to be more aware, to take a more active role in the operations of my culture and my country. So, I think that if any music on this album can inspire people to reengage, it’s a great thing. With the 2016 election and everything that’s gone on, there’s a great deal of people who have been fine-tuned or doubled-down on their political awareness, but there’s also a lot of people who were so disgusted that they just checked out. So, if this album can get those people get back involved again, to educate themselves and show up and vote in elections and become more discriminating about choosing the people we send to Washington to represent us, I would consider that a job well done.
What does the title Thoughts and Prayers mean? Are you sick of people offering their thoughts and prayers when disaster strikes?
That’s exactly it—I’m sick of hearing that, especially when there’s a mass shooting in New Zealand and the nation takes steps to outlaw semi-automatic weapons in the same week. Meanwhile, here in America, we’re dealing with hundreds and hundreds of mass shootings and not doing anything about it. Of all the people we send to Washington to shape policy for us, not enough have proposed an automatic weapons ban. So, I got sick of hearing it but also thought it sounded like a great album title and it was timely. Hopefully, it gets people thinking about what you just said. I mean, on Twitter, after another dozen kids get gunned down, some lawmaker is sending their thoughts and prayers. Like, that person is my representative for my area. What the fuck? That person’s not speaking for me, and I want to know how I can change this.
Do you feel like the Good Riddance comeback is complete with this album?
I think so, but I think the last one did too. I think the band has fallen back in the groove of being able to collaborate and write and express ourselves musically in a way that is still timely, vibrant, and expressive.
We’re much older now, and we learned a lot along the way, but at our core, we’re four guys who like to play music together and feed off each other. Our beliefs, socially and politically, are still very much aligned, and all of us are equally disgusted with the state of things.
Why did you write a song in Spanish? Did you want to flex your songwriting muscles a bit?
I did. I always thought that it would be really cool. I love bands like Los Crudos, and I always thought it lent itself to punk and hardcore music really well—and I thought it would be a good challenge.
Why have you chosen the straight edge lifestyle? Was it one drunken night or a particular experience?
It wasn’t as much that I chose it. I had to get sober. Prior to getting sober, all I knew was alcohol and punk rock. I didn’t think it was possible to stay in punk and hardcore and have fun without drinking. Right around the time I got sober, I started going to hardcore shows which featured mostly straight edge bands and realized I could still listen to hard music and go to shows and be crazy without alcohol.
How has the drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle benefited your life and your music?
I don’t know that any of my life in music up to this point would be possible if I was still out there. Sobriety has enabled me to recognize and show up to innumerable opportunities.
Going back to politics. Do you think [the U.S.] is changing and evolving? Or is it regressing?
It’s hard to say. We’ll know a little bit more at the next election. I think that there’s so much evidence of irresponsibility, at best, and lackluster performance of our elected officials. In my opinion, there doesn’t seem to be enough outrage. It seems like America has become complacent and is like, “This is just how it is.” I wish there was a little bit more outrage. I mean, there is outrage, but generally, it seems like entrenched wealth and power is doing everything it can, via mainstream media and the entertainment medium, to prop up the illusion that everything is just fine. A lot of people are willing to silence the back of their mind that’s saying this isn’t right and accept the creature comforts of the status quo. I think that’s unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s about people’s weakness or not wanting to act—it’s just more about human nature. We like the calmer sea, and we don’t like the stormy sea.
I’m happy about the new blood, especially women and people of color, who are in this Congress. I hope that it’s just a harbinger of a more appropriate cross section of what our country is being able to go speak for us and shape policy for us rather than the same rich white people time after time after time.
You mentioned how people aren’t outraged enough. Do you hope this album ignites that outrage?
I definitely hope so. I’m not in any kind of denial of the size of our band and what kind of dent we can make, but if people do listen to it and get engaged and inspired, then that’s a tremendous positive.
Looking back since your first album, For God and Country, how do you think you’ve evolved as a songwriter?
Well, I sort of know what I’m doing now. I had no clue then. We thought we were doing all right, but when we got in the studio for that album, we didn’t know anything. It was definitely an awakening of the arena we were now operating in, the expectations and the preparation needed. We were fortunate to work with great engineers and producers along the way who taught us more than we could ever repay as far as how to prepare, how to separate ourselves from the pack, and how to nurture our own sound.
For me, as a vocalist and a songwriter, I think the easy thing to talk about is that the first album was a hodgepodge of songs that we had kicking around for three or four years, and it was bits and pieces of riffs—like, one guy’s riffs duct taped to another guy’s riffs duct taped to a third guy’s riffs. We thought that was how songs were written. But one thing that was different going from that album to our second album, [1996’s A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion], after a year of touring, being exposed to other bands, and talking to other songwriters was that the second album was me sitting down with a guitar with the plan of writing a complete song. The songs started having a singular thought. That was a completely foreign concept prior to that. That made all of the difference for me.
Any plans for a new Only Crime record?
I think that there is, but I think that it’s going to involve quite a bit of logistical upheaval in the lives of a lot of people who are very, very busy. We have a group text that’s ongoing—and it has been for years—about doing that. I definitely wouldn’t rule it out.
This is a cliché question, but I honestly don’t know the answer: What’s the story behind the band’s name?
A long, long time ago, I used to draw, and I loved photos of live punk bands. I would read MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL, and I remember when Murray Bowles released his book, “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pit?” It had all of these great pictures from shows in the Bay Area in the early 1980s. There were these people flying through the air. I loved the way the bands looked, and it was all so colorful. So, I just started making up bands and drawing them. Good Riddance was the name of one of the bands that I drew.
You might have answered this already, but are you optimistic about the future? Is Thoughts and Prayers an optimistic record?
I don’t know if there ever is an optimistic Good Riddance record. I would like to be pleasantly surprised, but I see a lot of indifference and a lot of “It’s not happening to me, so why should I care?” These are values that are very unfortunately American, a real lack of the social contract that I see in [other] countries I visit. I think that’s going to have to be worked on in order for people to come together to address the things happening not only politically and socially but environmentally to give future generations a shot. Having said that, I try to be optimistic and would love to believe in the best of our people.
Photo by Alan Snodgrass