These days, it is easy for a punk band to be angry. Racist policies, regressive civil rights, a global pandemic shitstorm—it would be difficult for any artist not to be outraged by what is taking place around the world. With the exception of a couple of songs, San Pedro’s Bad Cop/Bad Cop have managed to resist the omnipresent dark cloud, channeling a more empowering energy into their solid new album, The Ride, coming out on June 19 via Fat Wreck Chords.
Whereas their previous release, Warriors, was politically charged and fiery, the band shifted their attentions inward for the new record, focusing on self-love and acceptance as the central theme for its 12 well-crafted songs. This theme was influenced by some recent turmoil and personal reflection, including a needed stint in detox as well as a scary breast-cancer diagnosis for co-singer and co-guitarist Stacey Dee.
While leaving the studio after a rehearsal with her bandmates, Dee spoke to New Noise’s Gen Handley about her “wild and super-bumpy ride” and how that influenced their bar-raising new album.
How did you approach the songwriting for this record?
We didn’t want to just do another political record like Warriors. For this one, we were simply focused on writing really good songs. I started listening to artists that I never listened to before. A lot of old stuff like Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, The Damned, Joni Mitchel, the Stones … stuff I always should have listened to [laughs]. This is the stuff that I should learn from, because this is where alternative music has come from. I got super inspired to write the new songs for this album.
Plus, we took a really long time to make this record…
Over a year?
Yeah, it took a whole year. Well, we came off tour in October after Fest in Florida and had plans to take a month off before starting the new record. We did five songs in December of 2018, and then I found out I had cancer. I jumped into the new record having just found out, and I was very emotional.
We didn’t have a lot of time to make Warriors. On Warriors, it was so fast—it only took a month to write and record. So, with this one, we wanted to take our time. We wanted the making of the record to be a romantic experience, like in the old days. It took some time because I had breast cancer surgery in April, and ten days later, we went on tour for a month in Europe. Then, a few days after we got back, I was at a birthday party and got asked to play guitar for the Gimme Gimmes in Europe, which started a week later, so I had to leave again, further putting the record on hold.
I got home a month later, in late July 2019, which is when we jumped back into making the record. We really honed in on the songs and on making them as good as they could be. That took a while, too. We had a really fun time with [Fat] Mike and Johnny [Carey] making the record. We had sleepovers at Johnny’s house, working late into the night, singing around the piano and getting up early the next day to start again.
Mixing took a while, too. Everything just kept getting pushed back, and even though it was frustrating, we knew that what mattered was the quality of the record. We wrapped it all up in February 2020. We wanted to make something great … and I really do believe we did.
Did you ever anticipate you wouldn’t be able to tour for it?
No [laughs]. Who would ever guess that something like this was going to happen? This is unheard of in our lifetime. I hope things open up and we are able to play these songs live—I’m sure we will.
What are you doing in the meantime?
We’re just practicing and learning the songs on the new record. It’s good morale for us to be just playing—it feels good. So, when the time comes, we need to be ready and seasoned to play the new songs.
I hope that during this time, people listen to the record and learn the songs so that when we do go back out on tour, people will be singing along to the new songs rather than suffering through them [laughs].
Where did the album’s name come from? Is it a metaphor for life?
Totally. This record is more self-reflective and filled with self awareness and self love. It’s a subject Jennie and I talk about a lot. After my cancer, I found I needed to learn to love myself, or that shit was going to come back. Jennie has a brilliant lyric in her song “The Mirage,” that says, “there’s no destination, there’s only the ride.” How beautiful is that? It really summed the whole record up for us—it’s life!
This might be a big question, but what’s your ride been like?
I had a loving family, but they were very rock ‘n’ roll and liked to party, so growing up in that was a little confusing. I always kind of wanted a normal life with a white picket fence, but my dad’s a singer-songwriter and my mom worked for Bill Graham [promoter] in San Francisco. I grew up wearing rock t-shirts before I even knew what those t-shirts meant. But, my family were partiers and they got into drugs, which taught me it was okay to get into drugs.
Music saved my life. I had been playing piano my whole life, and I started writing songs when I was in fourth grade. And then, when I was 20, I finally picked up the guitar, and that changed my life because that has been my main writing tool.
In my 30s, I got married to a good man, but it wasn’t a good marriage, and while married, I got addicted to Xanax, taking it pretty heavily for eight years. During that time, the only thing I could focus on was the band. And just as Bad Cop/Bad Cop was getting started on Fat Wreck Chords, I had a massive bottoming out in front of everybody at the Fat 25th Anniversary tour.
I guess I fought everyone, left the tour, and was flown to Vegas for a few days and then back home. When I got home, the band told me I needed to get help or me being in the band was over. That’s when [Fat] Mike and Erin [Burkett] stepped in and paid for me to go into detox to get better… and I did. They’re just amazing, amazing people.
After that, I was gifted with the chance to change my perspective on life completely—I went from being very negative to a happy, healthy, and positive person. With the addition of breast cancer and getting really sick twice with sepsis in 2018, it’s been a wild and super-bumpy ride, but I wouldn’t change anything [laughs].
How many songs were written for the new album? Any left over?
Yeah, I guess we do have a few left over. I think we had 18 songs all together.
Would you ever release a b-sides record?
Shit, it would be fun to do that if we could pull up all of the old stuff. It would be cool to see if anyone liked the stuff we left off [laughs].
Self love is a major theme on this record. Is that the result of those recent experiences you mentioned earlier?
One hundred percent. I mean, I was a smoker; I drank Coca Cola; I ate a lot of processed foods. I did not care for myself or have any sort of connection with myself—mind, body or spirit.
Through all of it, I finally saw that I was worth it. My example in life was to party. Nobody really taught me I was worth having a great life. Now, I’m really, really interested in having a great life, and I do the work that makes sure that I do. Meditation, journaling, gratitude lists, yoga, affirmations, self love, and pushing myself to see that I deserve good things has changed everything.
Now, life seems magical at times. I am the one that chooses my perspective, and I choose to be happy. I’m really grateful to be Stacey Dee in this lifetime.
Is the Sidewalk Project still going? What has that brought you?
The Sidewalk Project is very much a thing. We are growing more and more every day. We have chapters in L.A. (Skid Row and Venice Beach), Orange County, San Diego, Las Vegas, Arizona, and even in Australia. We are about to get an office, as we have recently become the first state-funded needle exchange in California in 26 years.
Even during COVID, we have been working on the streets providing food, masks, hygiene kits, fem-care kits and well-being kits, as well as providing harm reduction in the form of needle exchange, condoms, and even marijuana to our houseless communities. I am extremely proud of our organization.
Shortly after I got off of Xanax and hard drugs, I co-founded the Sidewalk Project with Soma Snakeoil (artist, writer, activist, and Home Street Home co-creator) and Emily Neilsen (Punk Rock and Paintbrushes). The three of us knew we wanted to do something. And because we’re all artists, we decided we wanted to provide art and music to our houseless communities.
Knowing that there are so many houseless artists who may not have the ability to create anymore, we wanted to bring that ability back to them. A full Sidewalk Project event is filled with creating art on the streets together and creating connection and well-being, singing songs together, playing guitar together. This is on top of providing clothing and food, fem-care and hygiene kits, needle exchange, and harm reduction.
My last question is, how long have you been a part of the punk community? What has the scene meant to you?
I’ve been a part of it since I was 15 or 16 years old—I’m 44 now. The skateboarders in my neighborhood turned me on to bands like Operation Ivy, early Green Day, The Toy Dolls, Fugazi, The Odd Numbers and some Minor Threat. The punk community was a place where I finally felt at home. I grew up listening to a lot of hip hop too, but I didn’t see it as a place for me to be effective. In punk rock, I was around people who were equally as strong, equally as opinionated, equally as weird [laughs]. Equally as funny and equally as down to get crazy.
Actually, my love for punk rock music goes back further to when I was really young. The first band I got into as a little kid was The Go-Go’s. They were the first band I chose as my own outside of what my parents listened to. They were the first concert I ever went to—my mom and dad took me to go see them on their Beauty and the Beat Tour in 1981 where they played at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. I was six.
I fought my way up to the front of the stage by myself and put my head on it, watching Jane Weidlin play guitar. It was then I thought, “That is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” and it was [laughs]. So, I guess punk rock has always been in my veins.
Pick up a copy of The Ride here
Photo credit: Alan Snodgrass