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The Offspring Stays a Bit of a Wild Child

The members of the Orange County punk band remain close to their fans by taking an irreverent stance and living their lives like regular guys.

November 30, 2000|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Kids love that, for sure," he adds. "They're not bummed we're pro-Napster--they were really excited about that. I think they recognized the effort."

That one-of-the-gang attitude is the foundation of the Offspring's bond with fans--a bond that continues despite the band's fame.

That means when they're not busy in the recording studio or on tour, the four musicians still enjoy doing the kinds of things they did before they became punk-rock kingpins.

"We went down to that place--what's the name?--Liquid Den [a club in Long Beach] the other night to see one of our friends' bands," Holland says. "That stuff's fun, and it's the kind of stuff I still like to do. I like going to clubs, getting a beer and watching the band. We can definitely still do stuff like that."

Doesn't he get mobbed by fans?

"I think it's how you act as people," Holland says. "If you walk around with bodyguards, it would be much more of a scene to go anywhere, and then we'd have to say, 'Oh, we can't go anywhere.' "

Adds Kriesel, "A lot of it is what you make of it: If you want to be a rock star, you can be a rock star."

Rockers With Wives and Children

Their lack of interest in the trappings of stardom is one reason they all still reside with their wives and children in Orange County--Kriesel and Holland in Huntington Beach, Wasserman and Welty as proudly and purely Orange County as they come, living on unincorporated county land near Tustin. Each has one child--Holland and Wasserman have girls, Kriesel and Welty boys, with whom they spend much of their free time.

Another big reason the Offspring has reached commercial heights no other punk band except Green Day has hit is that the band has been successful at coming up with hit songs--such as the breakthrough "Come Out and Play" and the new "Prankster"-- without abandoning punk's energy and attitude.

"Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" may have been a borderline novelty tune--although it did have an underlying point about bandwagon-jumping--but it also contains at least a half-dozen distinct melodic, rhythmic or lyrical hooks.

Such hook-filled modern-rock radio staples as "Pretty Fly," "Come Out and Play" and "Why Don't You Get a Job" naturally figure prominently in the "Conspiracy" tour set list.

But a few days after the rehearsal, the song that truly galvanizes the crowd at the Great Western Forum, the opening date of a tour that has moved on to the Midwest and East on its way to Europe, is "The Kids Aren't Alright." The song, from "Americana," is about the crumbling of the suburban American Dream.

Now the neighborhood's cracked and torn

The kids are grown up but their lives are worn

How can one little street

Swallow so many lives?

It's the kind of lyrically evocative, philosophically meaty song with which the Offspring typically counterbalances the lighter material on each album that tends to get the most radio airplay.

Such songs have won the band critical accolades--Rolling Stone praised "Americana" as "a raw, ragged indictment of American culture"--that help offset the barbs sometimes tossed its way, by critics as well as those punk purists who scowl at any sign of commercial success.

The group also wins points from its peers for being unafraid to exhibit its sense of humor. "They're keeping the punk spirit alive," punk godfather Joey Ramone told the Chicago Sun-Times last year. "Everybody takes themselves so seriously today; it's pretty pathetic. . . . The Offspring are kinda cool, kinda fun."

Adds KROQ-FM (106.7) music director Lisa Worden, "They just write great pop songs. They've found a way to have success with the novelty songs as with more serious, harder-edged songs [like] 'The Kids Aren't Alright.' . . . Ever since we started playing 'Come Out and Play' and 'Self-Esteem' they've built up to be one of our Top 10 bands, and the Southern California audience loves them."

The Offspring also frequently ranges far from the punk-rock template. "Conspiracy of One," which came out in mid-November, has several songs that veer from the mile-a-minute tempos and "society bites" messages that constitute standard punk fare.

"That's part of what keeps it interesting for us," Holland says. "We love the real fast, hard, melodic stuff, and there's always tons of that on every record, but I think we'd get bored if that was all we did. So we always try to do a few songs that are different."

On the new album, that manifests itself in "Denial, Revisited," a heavy-rock ballad in the "Gone Away" mold about the end of a romance.

"We liked the idea of writing something that was . . . what's the word?" Holland says, pausing, "I hate to say heartfelt, because that sounds a little cheesy. . . . The idea with this was to actually try to make it feel real without being wimpy. We tried to get across the idea that ending a relationship can be painful, but in a real way and not just a testosterone-packed [way]."

Constant Debate on Growth of Music

How far will the band's sound stretch before it's no longer punk, or no longer the Offspring?

"That's something we argue about all the time," Holland says, laughing. "Ultimately we have to do what feels right for us. It's definitely necessary for us to grow, so we have to change a little with each record."

Odds are such changes won't find the Offspring joining the legions of punk/hip-hop bands that are all the rage.

"I remember friends telling us back in the '80s we either had to get a synthesizer and start playing heavy metal or else we were never going anywhere," says Kriesel.

"I think it's kind of the same thing now. This is the kind of music we've always liked and always made. We'll extend it a little bit, but I think the spirit of what we started out with will always stay the same."

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