The Offspring: Greg K, left, Dexter Holland, Noodles and Pete Parada. (Sam Jones )
"Days Go By" is the first album since 2008 for the Offspring, and the title's twilight tone makes you wonder what message is being transmitted from the skate park in Huntington Beach. Nostalgia for guitar solos? A lament for long-gone platinum sales? Or maybe just the end of summer school?
Dexter Holland, lead singer of the Orange Country pop punk stalwarts, considers the question from the driver's seat of a customized black van with leopard-print upholstery. As he drives toward the Huntington pier he explains that the theme is one of resilience and perseverance — a less-biblical message of "This too shall pass."
"I really struggled with the title and trying to find something that would wrap all this together with some cool, nifty title like [the Ramones classic] 'Rocket to Russia,'" Holland said. "But everyone is going through hard times these days, and maybe it's cheesy or naive, but I think it's important to say, 'Things are going to get better.'"
Well, if not better, at least different. Holland, just four years shy of his 50th birthday, says a recurring conversation he has with generational peers is about the shifting ground beneath their feet. The band is doing well when measured against contemporary counterparts, but it's not a pretty picture if you judge them against their own past — say, the pre-Napster days when CDs like "Smash" could spin platinum and gold.
"Our sales might be down 90%, and that's no exaggeration, but hey, we got luckier than any band, so I'm not moaning about it," Holland said. "Everybody I talk to is saying, 'I got to figure out what I do next. I saw a guy that used to run Epitaph Records in Europe, he just came to a show because we're friends. I hadn't seen him in 10 years, and I asked what he was doing, and he's a wine distributor now."
Aging well is tricky in music, where of-the-moment imperatives will always trump vintage thinking. The Offspring made its name with radio-ready punk pop ("Come Out and Play," "Self Esteem," "Gotta Get Away") that sold 18 million albums in the U.S. and took it all over the world; it just returned, for instance, from a somewhat surreal Russian festival gig.
"I think [the promoters] might have been Russian mobsters," Holland said, "and I'm not joking."
Their focus right now is the busy weekend close to home. After a scheduled Friday visit to "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," the band will be co-heading (with Marilyn Manson) Saturday's final night of the Sunset Strip Music Festival. It will be playing the old favorites but also trying out some of the new sounds of "Days Go By," its ninth studio album.
"They say as time goes by time goes faster, and this year's been a whirlwind because we were really trying to get the album done and we finished that in March, and then it even got more hectic," Holland said. "Then it was shooting videos, doing photos, then a month in Europe doing festivals.... It's just one thing after another, but that's great, we're not complaining."
The new Offspring collection shows a restlessness that producer Bob Rock fostered, which allowed the band to do the straight-up rock of the title track but also, say, the intriguing reggae investigation of "OC Guns."
"People say, 'Don't you get sick of playing 'Self Esteem' and 'Come Out and Play,' and truthfully, you do, there's a point after maybe 500 times where you get sick of it, but then after a couple hundred more times it becomes part of your DNA," Holland said. "That's where I am now. I enjoy it every time."
The band since the 1980s, has included Holland on vocals, Kevin "Noodles" Wasserman on guitar and Greg Kriesel on bass. Since 2007, Pete Parada has been in the mix as the drummer. The Offspring got its start by being shut out from the Orange County punk scene (Holland and Kriesel were teammates on a high school cross-country team in 1984 when they couldn't get tickets into a Social Distortion show and, sulking, pledged to start their own group), and credibility has always been elusive for a band that is more bratty than badass.
The class-clown spirit (and the leopard-skin upholstery) are hard to miss in "Cruisin' California (Bumpin' In My Trunk)," the new single that is a sonic spitball — it starts with a Ramones wink, veers into LMFAO ludicrousness and seems to have some Katy Perry bounce in the background. Holland and company assumed people would hear a spiritual sequel to "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" or "Why Don't You Get a Job," but instead they got slapped by fans who missed the punch line.
Holland shrugged it off. The Offspring is used to haters.
"Coming out of the punk scene there was always such a backlash that we never felt like the golden boys of Orange County. We felt more ostracized probably, for us the plan was to always keep your head low, even when things were going great," Holland said. "Bands eventually outlast their critics though. Or, well, they don't."