Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt is in Las Vegas, Nevada, yet as he sits down for a chat, he’s rapt about getting sweatier than usual during Green Day’s show the night before.
“It’s funny because you’re a mile high when you’re in Denver, and I don’t usually sweat that much. After three songs I’m like, ‘Why am I so cold? Oh I’m sweating like crazy!’” he laughs heartily.
After swapping stories about our respective sweat patterns, we’re vesting excitement about the band’s upcoming Australian tour. He quickly becomes contemplative, though, when he’s asked about whether our country reminds him of home in California.
“Yes and no,” he says thoughtfully. “It’s completely different, but there are parts of Sydney that remind me of Berkeley, like the houses and certain neighbourhoods. One thing I like in general about Australia,” he pauses here, framing the right picture, “is that you really get rock ‘n’ roll, but you also know how to have a good time and not take yourself too seriously.”
Dirnt’s certainly had a blast touring on twelfth album Revolution Radio, now out for over six months. It’s not only the record itself but the phenomenon that suddenly triggers a stack of memories.
One thing I like … about Australia is that you really get rock ‘n’ roll
“I think back on Revolution Radio, the studio and where we were at, because it was so immersive with me, Billie (Joe Armstrong, vocals and guitar) and Tre (Cool, drums) that it came from such a pure place. When I hear a song off Revolution Radio… Billie wrote that from a personal place. But I think about where I was at… you know my wife was struggling with breast cancer. I tend to get a little choked up during that song because I realise just how many blessings I have every day.
“But when I think of the words… I always thought of radio as a connection to other people. People talk about satellite radio and their playlists, but that to me isn’t the same as listening to the actual radio… You feel like you’re a part of human experience.”
Then, the musician rewinds us playfully to being a kid in the ‘70s. He chuckles, “I had a little clock radio next to my bed, and there was a rock ‘n’ roll station that played anything from Smokey Robinson to The Beatles to AC/DC. I’d have that thing on 24 hours a day in my room… Through osmosis I just became a big fan of good songs.”
It’s the veterans’ early experiences that we’re just starting to touch in the trio’s Spotify documentary The Early Years, released in March. It reveals moments from the first, weird conversation Dirnt had with Armstrong in fifth grade at their school cafeteria, to the reality of “a grossly undocumented scene”.
The bassist chuckles before asserting, “What we needed to do was take all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together for everybody. The Early Years is some of that footage, but we’re actually releasing a full-length documentary.”
“We started doing one about the early years of Green Day, and realised that we needed to focus on our scene first, because there’s no anchor to where we start. So we spent the last four years doing Turn It Around, focusing on mainly five or six bands from the scene, and it was created by the people that were there too. It’s a precedent to The Early Years that you’re talking about. A lot of the footage came from the 165 interviews we did for that.
924 Gilman St, where Green Day and many East Bay punk bands expressed their voices, vitally resisted the racist, egotistical culture spreading through California.
I got beaten up or chased down the street a lot for looking different
“The scene that we grew up in… It didn’t really have costumes,” Dirnt’s fondness for Gilman seeps through. “It was about people having a place to get away from their fucked up lives, and be lost kids and adults together through creative expression.”
“I think we’re in a better place now than when I was a kid. I got beaten up or chased down the street a lot for looking different,” he continues bluntly. “Things aren’t quite the same anymore. As much as I miss seeing somebody across the street at a bus stop and going, ‘Oh I bet they like the same music as me, we can be friends!’… I think people in general are a lot more accepting of each other’s differences in cultural choices.
“You can really see that at a Green Day concert, when there’s a farmer who’s just out to drink a beer and see a big rock show, but then you have kids who are in their local punk scene. These two people would never hang out in a million years, but for some reason they’re having a human moment together.
“It’s not just about staring at the band.”
Lawrence “Larry” Livermore and David Hayes captured the inclusive power at Gilman by founding Lookout Records and released Green Day’s first two EPs 1,000 Hours and Slappy, before debut record Kerplunk which changed everything.
The first show we ever played was actually at Billie’s mum’s restaurant
While The Early Years delves into when Dirnt and Armstrong met Livermore while doing a show to five people in the mountains, it doesn’t reveal their very first gig. Here, the musician happily fills in the blanks.
“The first show we ever played was actually at Billie’s mum’s restaurant. We just wanted to get in front of people. It didn’t matter, and to some degree it still doesn’t… If we feel like we need to go play a dirty club, we’ll just borrow some equipment and go do it. A lot of that doesn’t see the light of the day, other than the people that were there. I think that’s one of the things that makes us so vital around our instruments.”
Green Day ultimately have an unrivaled chemistry, one that constantly inspires Dirnt over three decades on. He begins by reflecting on Cool, who he met at a house party wearing lipstick.
“Tre has always evolved as a drummer. How can I say this?” He sighs briefly. “I have always been a fan, even though I’m in the band with him, of the way he plays. I love listening to him jam, and he makes it look very easy because he’s got really good posture.
You know, that moment can only happen with your best friend
“One thing I also love is that the way he plays allows me freedom because he hits more cymbals than any drummer I know. That allows me to do different things, but he can still back it up with what I’m playing. Tre started off as one of the greatest drummers I’d ever seen, certainly at his age. He just continued to get better and better. ‘You’re not making this any easier on me, buddy’,” Dirnt laughs.
“I’ll never get tired of it, same with Billie.”
It’s contemplating his unique friendship with Armstrong that brings the man full circle. He muses, “You know, we’ve grown up together from being just goofy, rhetorical kids to being potheads, to growing out of that to being parents and watching each other raise our children.
“We can still be goofy with each other, probably like with nobody else. But we have great conversations about really meaningful things. We always wanted to grow up at some point and be intelligent, evolve as men and human beings. It’s a journey about improvement, never perfection I guess,” Dirnt chuckles.
“Every once in a while, we’ll have moments with one another and I’ll be like, ‘You know, that moment can only happen with your best friend’.
Get ready for a monster set when the ‘80s punk mainstays bomb our shores in May with new and old favourites on their Revolution Radio tour, kicking off in Perth on April 30 – full dates and tickets here.
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