The punk world has changed a lot since Good Riddance last graced our stereos with 2003's Bound By the Ties of Blood and Affection. Anti-Flag signed to a major label. Green Day went political. In that time, Bush won another election, the War on Terror was renamed, â??The Long Warâ? in a manner eerily reminiscent of "The Cold War" and, just maybe, Iran moved onto the cusp of producing WMDs. Three years has been a long break for Good Riddance. And one that saw them reunited with drummer Sean Sellers. But, with a new album on the horizon and a jaunt across Europe behind them, Russ Rankin and co. are placing themselves firmly back on the radar.
Scene Point Blank took some time to catch up with the front man to about Punk Voter, PETA, Congressional House Bill 4437 on immigration, straight edge and the state of the US mass-media. Oh yeah, and we talked a bit about the new album, My Republic as well.
Scene Point Blank: Hey Russ. Thanks for taking the time to talk to Scene Point Blank. How are you?
Russ Rankin: Doing great, thanks.
Scene Point Blank: So, you're working on a new album, My Republic due for a June release. How's that been going? Are you exploring any new avenues?
Russ Rankin: Nothing too drastic - I think it's pretty much a classic GR album. Lots of melody but it's definitely not a happy record. It reminds me of older California punk rock bands like The Adolescents, D.I., TSOL etc.
Scene Point Blank: How's it been playing and working with Sean on drums again?
Russ Rankin: Fine. Sean is a great drummer and he picks up on things really quickly plus we already have a comfortable working relationship with him from before.
Scene Point BlankYou did some backing vocals on the latest Comeback Kid album. How did that come about? How was the experience?
Russ Rankin: They were recording with Bill Stevenson at the blasting room and they'd taken my other band, Only Crime out for some shows and they were all GR fans so they asked and I was stoked to do it.
Scene Point Blank: What bands were you listening to in and around the time of recording?
Russ Rankin: The same as always: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Bad Religion, Pennywise, The Germs, X, etc. You've just finished a European tour. You didn't stop off in the UK this time around. Any reasons why? Any plans to return to the UK after the new album is released?
Russ Rankin: We wanted to explore more Eastern European countries and our window of time was such that we couldn't fit those in and the U.K., which sucks because we love playing the U.K. So hopefully sometime this year we'll be back over.
Scene Point Blank: How do you find playing Europe? Any major differences between playing Europe and the US?
Russ Rankin: Just the cultural differences. The cities are older and the people seem to be better about not getting drunk and trashing their clubs.
Scene Point Blank: What do you think of the recent spate of punk and hardcore bands signing to major labels? Anti-Flag, for example, have been strongly criticised by many in the punk community for their decision to sign to RCA. Do you think anti-establishment / anti-big business bands like Anti-Flag have a place on major labels? Can you ever imagine GR going down the major label route?
Russ Rankin: It's definitely not for me to say what any other band should or shouldn't do. GR is never going to be on a major label but every band's got to do what they think is best for them. I have a lot of opinions about this whole phenomenon but basically I just wish all these bands the best of luck with their choices - the punk band on a major label thing usually doesn't end well.
Scene Point Blank: Politically, it seems like Good Riddance have become more visceral over the last few albums or so. At the same time, I've heard it said that your music isn't as angry as it used to be. Do you agree? Care to explain why?
Russ Rankin: I think our music isn't as overtly aggressive as it was say on Operation Phoenix but I don't think that our attitude has cooled or anything like that. I don't really know why - I think we are just getting back to our roots in a way. Being from California and growing up on the music we grew up on, I think this is more our "sound" than some of the stuff on Phoenix although we really like to play a lot of those songs
Scene Point Blank: Politics has always been an inherent part of what Good Riddance does. Mind giving a brief oversight of the values the band holds and promotes?
Russ Rankin: As individuals, I think you'd get a pretty mixed bag on that, although we more or less lean to the liberal side of things. That being said - I think the only thing we, as a band, really support is the animal rights movement generally and organizations like PETA specifically
Scene Point Blank: What do you think about bands like Green Day, who've never been political entering themselves into that arena?
Russ Rankin: Everybody ought to have the right to change their minds and really, the current administration here in the US has served to polarize and politicize a lot of people who were previously uninterested in the political arena.
Scene Point Blank: I suppose I should probably ask the same thing about Punk Voter as well. Given that one of the goals of Punk Voter is, â??to educate, register and mobilize over 500,000 of today's youth as one voice,â? is it not counter-productive for that education to exist at a predominantly anti-Bush / anti-Republican level? The Democrats have used their own selection of monsters as presidential candidates in the past, yet Punk Voter and many of those involved with it seem to ignore this part of US political history.
Russ Rankin: Yeah - I was supportive of the idea of punk-voter as a way to interest a lot of young people who've been effectively marginalized in the past in politics but I wasn't as excited about the Democratic ticket as a lot of these people were. I am not a Democrat and I frankly have an equally low opinion of the Democrats as I do of the Republicans.
Scene Point Blank: You've been a pretty big supporter of PETA over the years. You're a vegan so your support for their morals is understandable, but do you agree with some of the tactics they use to spread their message? The controversy surrounding the recent, â??Your Daddy Kills Animalsâ? comic comes to mind.
Russ Rankin: PETA is an easy target and I would just remind people that those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I have no problem supporting PETA and I think they have done more than any other group to raise awareness of what is going on in the world, as far as needless animal suffering is concerned.
Scene Point Blank: What do you think of the current state of straight edge? It seems that, for some people, it's treated with an almost religion-like fanaticism, like it's the only way people should live their lives. There are stories floating around about kids being attacked because they're smoking or drinking. What do you think of that?
Russ Rankin: I think it's stupid. When I got involved in straight edge about a million years ago it was a positive movement. It wasn't about intolerance, hatred or judgment. The saddest thing is how many of these holier than thou edge kids end up selling out after being edge for only a year or two.
Scene Point Blank: Can I ask for your views on the Congressional House Bill 4437 on immigration?
Russ Rankin: I think we are still a long way from forming any sane legislation on this. I think we ought to grandfather in anyone who is in the US illegally right now provided they have no criminal record in their countries of origin or here, that they are willing to pay taxes and have a government record, ID, etc. I think we could better fortify our borders as far as regular surveillance and patrols but I am not in favour of building walls or fences or any of that stuff.
Scene Point Blank: Given the chance, what current law or legislation would you change? Is there any reason why you feel this law stands out against others?
Russ Rankin: I think that the US ought to ban the death penalty completely. We are the only industrialized western democracy that still murders our citizens - it makes me sick.
Scene Point Blank: You've always maligned the nature of the US media. Do you feel that the media is responsible for creating the air of fear and support of right-wing Conservatism prevalent today, or does it only exist in that form as a reflection of the views of an average American?
Russ Rankin: Both. We no longer have a free press here in America. The corporate owned media has become little more than a 24-hour Bush apologist network band, paid advertising for our various wars. The media is complicit in selling a vision of the world that ultimately serves the president's wealthy friends and entrenched corporate power by creating an atmosphere of fear and sloganeering patriotism while condemning anyone who openly disagrees with this administration.
Scene Point Blank: Finally, any bands you've been playing with or listening to recently that deserve a shout out?
Russ Rankin: Los Dryheavers
Scene Point Blank: Well, Russ, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Any famous last words?
Russ Rankin: Thanks for all the support!
Good Riddance's new album, â??My Republicâ? was released June 13th on Fat Wreck.
Words: Neil F.
Graphics by Matt.