Rancid Rock The Working Class On Life Won't Wait

Album reflects Motown, Stax and rockabilly influences in band's punk-ska sound.

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

roots.

"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

Springsteen.

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

and harmonicas.

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

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Rancid/Time_Bomb.ram">"Time

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

Operation Ivy.

"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,"

Bloodclot.

"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

this record."

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

throats."