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O.C. Pop Beat

Helping Make Offspring a Smash

August 25, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Everything he taught the Offspring stems, he says, from his philosophy of recording and song-arrangement: "It's the carrot in front of the donkey, the donkey being the listener, and the carrot being whatever you have at the moment to keep the donkey's interest.

"There are no statutory requirements for people to listen to records. You have to entice them. Everything in the record has to have a reason for being there, and you weed things out that are distracting or take away from the flow.

"There's a fine line where ultimately they are the artists' records, and I see myself as a collaborative artist working with them to bring out the essence of what they're doing. But I'm also an advocate for the listener. I speak up for the listener, and steer things in a way that's going to make it accessible to the listener."

On "Smash," the results of that philosophy are often thrilling.

The recording avoids the stereotypical grind and slab-like density of many punk and hard-rock albums. Often, sections of the band will drop out, leaving just a single naked element (Holland sings one verse of "Bad Habit" a cappella, for instance). Sometimes, a hole of silence is punched into a song for dramatic effect. Many songs contain passages that gather force by increments, perhaps beginning with just a beat, then a scraping guitar riff, then an accelerating drum pulse, joined a moment later by a momentum-filled bass line.

Instead of stampeding the listener by coming on all in a rush, the Offspring give you the pleasure of watching inevitability in motion. When the rush comes, you've seen it approaching, and the anticipation makes it that much more satisfying when it arrives.

One thing neither Wilson nor the band saw coming was a platinum record.

"I knew that material-wise, we had a lot to work with," says Wilson. "I knew it was going to be a relatively hot record when we cut 'Gotta Get Away' (though he adds that he wasn't excited by what proved to be the breakthrough hit, "Come Out and Play," until the band worked in the spoken hook, "you gotta keep 'em separated," late in the recording process).

"I told them, 'This is going to be the biggest-selling record Epitaph (the independent company that markets the Offspring) ever had, and they thought I was full of (expletive). I told them it would sell at least 150,000 (a total that, as recently as April, was a benchmark for a major punk hit). They thought I was nuts."

Now everybody knows better.

Wilson thinks punk's rise has to do with the nation's nervousness in the face of perceived social decay and economic decline. "I think punks are generally well-meaning, intelligent people who are failed idealists. In the '80s, you had all these (punk) songs about where the culture was screwing up, and nobody wanted to listen because of the big sleep of the Reagan era. Now the industry and people have caught up. Things have gotten dire enough so that the issues punk rock addresses are viable with the general public."

If his analysis is right, what's dire for America may prove beneficial to his own bank account. He is anticipating plenty of work, figuring that the music industry will rush to punk the way it rushed to grunge bands in the late '80s and early '90s.

"The recording projects are starting to show up. I'm kind of sought-after. I've kind of run my course with (television) for a while. I may come back to it, but right now it's kind of flat for me. Doing sound in television is not a very respected thing. Sound is an afterthought of television.

"The game plan is, given the right sequence of events, I can make enough money in the next couple of years so the lifestyle will be our choice," adds Wilson, who lives near Santa Cruz with his wife, Margo, and sons Tai and Montgomery, who is 6.

"It's going to mutate, but punk rock has been revitalized or reborn, and it's been discovered by the populace. There's an honesty to the music that, when it's done well, is very enjoyable. I don't think it's going to run its course."

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