If the past three years have witnessed the transformation of Rancid from
down-on-the-street punks to financially sound rock stars, you certainly
couldn't tell by talking to guitarist and singer Lars Frederiksen.
Like such noteable rockers as the Clash, Mike Watt and Bruce Springsteen
before them, the members of Rancid do their best to reflect their working-class
"People who just work for a living always seem to be the ones who get
caught up in the big political bullshit, or the religious bullshit, or the
racist bullshit," said the 26-year-old Frederiksen on Wednesday from his East
Bay home in California. Such class-consciousness is the driving force behind
the song "New Dress" from Life Won't Wait (June 30), Rancid's eagerly
anticipated fourth album and their first collection in three years.
"The chivalrous ones are never represented," Frederiksen blasts in the
song, over a phalanx of buzzsaw guitars and gristly bass.
"The person who seems the littlest in the picture is always the working
class, the ones that make the whole fucking country breathe," said the
singer/guitarist, who was battling a nasty spring cold. "But it doesn't even really
matter to them. They just want to live their lives and have a family -- do what
they've been doing for thousands of years."
All four Rancid members -- Frederiksen, Tim Armstrong (guitar/vocals),
Matt Freeman (bass) and Brett Reed (drums) -- hail from blue-collar
backgrounds, something Frederiksen said fostered an appreciation for unions
and other groups born of this community environment. That world view has
carried into Rancid's songs, which bear an obvious affinity for punk-rock's call to
arms (and an oft-noted debt to their musical and spiritual forebears in the Clash)
but also feature purposefully etched characters who possess a kinship with the
people who inhabit the work of American folk heroes such as Woody Guthrie or
With the 22-song Life Won't Wait, songwriters Frederiksen and
Armstrong have also begun projecting their working-class perspective beyond
the confines of what was in the past a largely punk-rock-centered universe.
Songs such as "New Dress," "Warsaw," "Hoover Street" and "Lady Liberty,"
for example, cast their gaze globally. "Little man fight big man's wars,"
Armstrong observes bluntly in the ominous title track.
Naturally, Rancid's celebrated mix of punk and ska takes center stage, but
along the way they mix in Motown melodies, Stax horns, rockabilly rhythms and
even a Chuck Berry lick or two; guitars, drums and organs are joined by bells
The bandmembers employ their most varied musical palette to date to
underscore the emotions and characters of each song with a deftness unseen
in the work of many of their punk brethren.
While Rancid's links to the laboring class are undeniable, the band
ultimately fashioned its sense of community within the walls of punk
clubs rather than on factory floors or in union halls. That sense of
fellowship is still evident in songs such as Life Won't Wait's
"Leicester Square" and "Backslide," which rally listeners with a sense of
bonding even as they impart tales of individual struggle.
Frederiksen said punk-rock offered him a haven even when his own house
showed no such support.
"When I was growing up, I didn't have the best home life," he said. "But
when I went to a show, all those things went out of my head and I was home.
The band and I were one. You were in Black Flag that night. You were in
G.B.H., you were the Circle Jerks. It wasn't like, 'This is us, this is
you.' It was, 'This is us!' "
Many of the kids involved in today's punk scene appreciate that Rancid give
back to the punk community that nurtured them, according to Jan Taatjes, head
of direct sales at Lookout! Records, even as the band sells a half-million copies
of an album such as 1995's ... And Out Come The Wolves, which has
moved 663,000 copies on the strength of songs such as
Bomb"(RealAudio excerpt). In 1992, Lookout! released Rancid's
debut EP, but the label is even more famous for issuing Energy (1989),
the album by Armstrong and Freeman's groundbreaking ska-punk outfit
"What I see are a lot of kids just putting together the idea that Rancid
were in Operation Ivy and grasping for the first time that this isn't some
new band that was manufactured," Taatjes said. "It shows a lifetime of
commitment, as corny as that sounds. It shows that they weren't in it for
a quick buck, then quit. It shows that they weren't just touring in their
youth when they had a lot of energy and felt rebellious."
Though it's been three years since their last release, the spurt-like sessions that
gave birth to the new album began as far back as 1996. It's then that Rancid laid
down an early demo for the disc's first single, "Bloodclot." Over the next two
years, the group ducked into recording rooms in Jamaica and the four corners
of the U.S. -- San Francisco, New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles -- where
they worked in what Frederiksen calls Armstrong's "guerrilla home studio,"
"It was very fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, but that's what we wanted to
do," Frederiksen said. "I think that's the only way we could have made
The band's hit-and-run strategy not only emulates the free-flowing,
improvised battle plans of heroes such as reggae producer/musician Lee
"Scratch" Perry, but it also helped Rancid create a tightly interwoven album
that spotlights a plethora of sonic textures.
While Frederiksen claimed that there's no overarching tactic for creating
Rancid's working-class tales, he says the band tries to eschew didacticism in
favor of individual observation.
"There's the Crass or Conflict way to tell you this is right and this is wrong,"
Frederiksen said, referring to two of punk's archly political bands. "Then there's
the Bob Dylan way, where he tells you a story. But there's no right or wrong
way. We just talk about personal things, things the way that they affect us and
how we see it. We never wanted to force-feed our ideas down anybody's