The Offspring on longevity, nostalgia and the enduring nature of ’90s anthems

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The Offspring on longevity, nostalgia and the enduring nature of ’90s anthems

Words by Zachary Snowdon Smith

The band are playing Good Things Festival this year.

Smash gave The Offspring their most enduring anthems. The skate punk four-piece have performed hits like ‘Self Esteem’ and ‘Bad Habit’ at almost every live show since the album’s release in 1994. Now, they’re taking the entirety of Smash on the road, performing the album top-to-bottom for the first time.

It’s been challenging to integrate rarely performed tracks like ‘Genocide’ with tunes like ‘Come Out and Play’, which the Offspring have been (coming out and) playing nonstop for 24 years, says guitarist Kevin John Wasserman, better known as Noodles.

“When we set up the tracklist for Smash, we tried to keep it flowing all the way through, so it does work that way live as well,” says Noodles. “The key is keeping some of the precision while giving it the frenetic energy that comes with a live show, but not allowing that frenetic energy to tear the song apart at the seams. You need to keep all those tightly-wound chords together… You need to bridle that energy, but also let it run when that works.”

The Offspring tested the concept in 2012, when they began touring with 1992’s Ignition as their setlist. It’s Smash, however, that has proved their biggest album in numerical terms: 11 million sales, six US platinum certifications and the title of best-selling independent label album of all time.

Smash’s landmark status seemed improbable in 1994, as it earned often patronising praise from critics who attributed its commercial success mainly to its catchy sound. AllMusic declared that Smash succeeded because it had enough heavy riffs “to keep most teenagers happy.” The serious themes explored on tracks like ‘Self Esteem’ (on relationship abuse) and ‘Bad Habit’ (on road rage) seemed mostly to pass professional critics by.

Noodles’ own propensity for behind-the-wheel belligerence has made ‘Bad Habit’ a favourite, he says. He believes Smash owes its enduring popularity to its frenzied, youthful energy and its unmannered style.

“These aren’t just nostalgic songs,” says Noodles. “This isn’t an oldies station. ‘Self Esteem’, ‘Come Out and Play’ – those songs have the same validity today that they did 24 years ago. I see young people singing along with them every night when we’re touring… A song like ‘Bad Habit’ has this youthful aggression to it that makes it sound like it could be from today. A song like ‘Self Esteem’ still has that fun spirit to it, even though the idea of it is devastating.

“There may be some nostalgia to the idea of doing the whole record, and maybe it brings some of the older fans to the show. But for most people, it’s probably just, ‘That’s interesting. Let’s see what that’s about.’”

The Offspring last played Australia in 2013 at Soundwave and with the Vans Warped Tour. At Soundwave, the band headlined the second of nine stages, while Metallica played the first.

“We were worried that no one would be watching us play if they could go to the other stage and watch Metallica, but it worked out well,” says Noodles. “We had great audiences every night, and so did Metallica, of course. It was a big, huge, tons of energy, great festival.”

The band is also preparing a return to the studio – their first since 2012’s Days Go By. Spring of 2018 was devoted to writing and composing, and now the band must find time to pare their new material down to the size of an album. No Offspring record is without an out-of-left-field track or two – think ‘Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)’ – but it’s always challenging to resist getting too eccentric, says Noodles.

“I can’t believe it’s been five years since we’ve come to Australia. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. We always have the best time down there. It’s a great place to tour: great people, great beer, great atmosphere.”

The Offspring will perform as part of Good Things Festival in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane this December.

Image via Sam Jones.