LOS ANGELES, April 7, 2013 — Russ Rankin is the lead singer of the Santa Cruz punk band Good Riddance. Russ discusses Good Riddance, from beginning to present in Part I of a two part interview.
Kevin Wells: What bands made you want to start your own band?
Russ Rankin: Probably Bad Religion. When I heard the lyrics that they were writing, it was making me think a lot. I thought it was brilliant to use music as a tool to express thought, conscious thought and ideas and I thought it would be cool to have a forum [myself]. So I think that was the first time I thought about singing in a band with the melodies and the lyrics of Bad Religion.
KW: How did Good Riddance get together?
RR: I had some friends that were playing music and they wanted me to sing for them. I never sang in a band and thought, “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” They were playing just kind of random music and I said, “I’ll sing for you guys if we do these Sex Pistols covers,” because that’s the band I was really into at the time. And so we started doing that at parties and we called ourselves Good Riddance, but we didn’t really do much more than play covers at the occasional party. No one else in the band was really that serious about it.
At the same time, there was a thrash metal band in town, called Rude Awakening, and Luke [Pabich] was one of their guitar players. Our guitar player broke his wrist skateboarding and we had a show scheduled, so Luke filled in. He and I started becoming friends and when Rude Awakening broke up, Luke was getting more and more into punk. He wanted to join our band and once he joined our band, that was in 1990, that’s when I would say Good Riddance really started as an actual band.
We were writing original songs and Luke and I both had a pretty good work ethic. We wanted to play outside of our hometown. We really wanted to make it work. So, he and I started going from there and replaced some band members, tried to find people who were a little more motivated and willing to work. So, that’s kind of how it started. I would say, 1990 as a serious band.
KW: What was your favorite Good Riddance record of those you’ve recorded?
RR: Symptoms of a Leveling Spirit. There was a lot of good, happy stuff going on in my personal life and that was probably the highest epic that Good Riddance ever achieved as far as, I guess, what you could call success. That record and the tour that followed it that year were the biggest we ever got. As far as press, every town we showed up in, there was an article on us.
I did tons of interviews. Fat Wreck Chords put a ton of weight behind it. You could really sense it. We got bumped up to the bigger rooms in every city, sold out most of our shows. We went to Europe and got bumped up to the bigger rooms over there.
And that record was the first time where, as a song writer, I really felt like I knew what I was doing and was able to sort of push boundaries a little bit and the songs turned out the way they sort of seemed in my head when I was first starting to write them. So that was a really cool experience. The record came together, I think, really well and it sounded really good. The lineup of the band was strong at that time. So that would be my favorite experience as far as the whole process from writing to recording and the whole year and a half of touring.
KW: Why did you guys stop playing initially back in 2007?
RR: We recorded a record, My Republic. I think it was released in 2006. We hadn’t been doing much because around 2002 Luke, our guitar player, wanted to go back to school, full time. So that basically pulled the rug out from under from us as a full-time touring band. We were like, “that’s cool, if that’s what you want to do.”
It forced us to look at other places for jobs and regular work. At the same time, our bass player was having children, Luke was starting to have children. There just wasn’t a lot of time for us to do stuff. We went from being a full-time band that was touring all the time to barely touring at all while Luke was in school.
We were talked into writing another album by [Fat] Mike, who was running Fat Wreck Chords. He said, “I think you guys have another good album in you, you know, I want you to really start thinking about writing another record.” I said, “Well, I’ll start writing and we’ll see where it goes.” The stuff I was writing, I really liked it. I played it for the other guys in the band and they liked it too.
Anyway, we put that record out. We felt really good about it. We felt it was a really strong record. Nobody really bought it and then we went out on tour and nobody came to the shows. And that’s when we realized, “Oh, okay. We could either walk away with some dignity or we could be that band.” Like Spinal Tap, Spinal Tap and the Puppet Show. We didn’t want to be that band. We’d seen that happen to other people.
Basically, music is always changing and people like different things and different styles. We always did the same thing and we weren’t really willing to change our style or look or stage costumes or whatever or anything like that to try to please a different audience. So the writing was sort of on the wall for us there. We decided to stop.
We decided to play some shows that were final shows because a lot of our favorite bands had broken up in the spur of the moment on the road and we never got a chance to see ‘em for a last time. We wanted to give people an opportunity, who appreciated the band, to have one last time to come and see us. And for those shows we pulled out all the stops and played 30-something songs.
(More upcoming in Part II of this interview.)
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