The PV Q&A: The Offspring's Dexter Holland On Making Punk Music As the 'Days Go By'

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Interview by Tom Lanham

Multiple meanings can be ascribed to the title of the latest album from Orange County proto-punk outfit The Offspring. It’s called Days Go By, it’s their ninth in a nearly three-decade career, and it offers more of their stock-in-trade satiric anthems — ala the definitive breakthrough hit “Come Out and Play (Keep ‘Em Separated)” from 1994 — like “I Wanna Secret Family (With You)” and a sunshiney “Cruising California (Bumpin’ in My Trunk).” But at a wise, old 46, spike-haired frontman Dexter Holland is no longer a snot-nosed three-chord brat — he’s a licensed pilot and, as of 2009, a certified flight instructor who’s jetted solo around the world, and he still frequently donates his time and plane to charity, airlifting needy patients to distant hospitals when necessary. He’s also launched his own brand of hot sauce, Gringo Bandito, from a tasty recipe it took the accredited molecular biologist over two years to perfect. And now, his own daughter, Alexa Holland, has moved to Austin and entered show business, too, under the abbreviated folksinger moniker of Lex Land. Days, indeed, have gone by. But in many ways, Holland remains pretty much the same...

PureVolume: So your daughter’s released her first album, eh?
Dexter Holland: Can you imagine that? She’s out in Texas, though, so I haven’t really been seeing her too much lately. But Austin’s a pretty happening place for her to be. Her stuff is definitely more acoustic-folksy, and she definitely knows what she wants to do. And I tried to discourage her from going into music when she was a kid, but what are ya gonna do? So I just appraise her music and support her and be cool about it, and I believe she’ll find her own way. Like we all do. But my initial advice to her really was ‘How ‘bout you stay in school?’
PV: You’ve always employed a lot of humor and satire in your songs. But much of Days Go By is really angry and political, as in “The Future is Now,” “Secrets From the Underground,” and album closers “Dividing by Zero” and “Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell” – a nice “Dr. Strangelove” reference.
DH: Well, on our last record we had a song called “Shit is Fucked Up,” and that’s what it seemed like at the time. But it seems like things are even crazier now. But it’s different sides of the same thing – in the title track, ultimately, I wanna offer some hope to the world. Like ‘Hey, we know things suck, and it sucks for everybody. But you’ve gotta keep in mind that things will get better, that this, too, shall pass.’ But there is a flip side to it, like “Secrets From the Underground,” where I’m saying that a lot of people have gotten hurt, but now it’s gone beyond the hurt to where people are just fucking pissed. And you have Occupy Wall St. and what have you, but it’s kind of a warning that we’d better address this injustice now or there’s really gonna be an uprising. And we’re trying not to be too blatant or too specific, because I think things should be open to interpretation. But “The Future is Now” is about the dangers of technology. Is all our technology bringing us closer together? Or isolating us? It’s a crazy time. It really is. And it was laughable four years ago, and now it’s more like… well, maybe ‘scary’ is the word. And that’s always the tricky part. You wanna talk about what’s going on, but if you get too specific, then it comes across as heavy-handed or grandstanding. And I didn’t want that, so I tried to keep it vague enough that it was still open to interpretation.
PV: Punk and politics have always gone hand-in-hand. Are you really angry these days, like a ‘70s punk would be?
DH: I think we all are. Well, not everyone’s getting it. But it’s not about me being on a pulpit. I’m just throwing some things out there and seeing what people are hearing.
PV: At one point, Days Go By producer Bob Rock sent you alone to Vancouver on a writing assignment. Were you having trouble?
DH: Well, frankly, it’s always trouble – writing. I get stuck on the lyrics. The music just tends to happen, we keep on rolling, and then at a certain point, you’re looking at a blank page going ‘Jeez – I don’t really know what this song is about yet!’ So we were probably about halfway through the record, and Bob said ‘Why don’t you go up to Vancouver?’ He just thought getting me out of town might help. And it did. I woke up in a hotel room one day, didn’t have any distractions, and I hammered out a whole song in a day.
PV: But the song you came up with there, “All I Have Left is You,” is one of your most diary-honest. And in the CD booklet, its lyrics are accompanied by the photograph of a left hand – presumably yours – with no wedding ring. Did you and your wife split up?
DH: I’ve been divorced for a little while now, yeah. And as a guy in the band, I’m writing about things that… well, maybe part of it is to talk about where you are, personally. But its not just that. It’s more like I wanna write a song for when people feel a certain way, something that they can relate to. So it’s not like ‘Hey – listen to my story!’ I’m also trying to involve an audience.
PV: But other songs, like “Dirty Magic,” hint that you’ve found someone new. True?
DH: I’m not going to parties stag – everything’s good in my world. And I actually met her at a flying event. She wasn’t there as a pilot – she just happened to be there. We met at a party and just kind of hit it off. And she loves the flying, which is great. She’s a great gal, and she likes all the same things I like to do, and that just makes it really fun to hang out.
PV: Ever just jump into your jet and take off somewhere exotic with her?
DH: Oh, yeah, for sure. I have a little four-seater piston-propeller airplane, and we took that down to Baja, way down, not quite to Cabo. We just hopped in and the two of us went down there, and it was great because it’s so desolate out there. And just the two of us in a tiny plane, cruising over the desert? It felt like “Mad Max” or something.
PV: Well, The Offspring still manages to sound reinvigorated, firing on all six. But it can’t be easy, writing vital new punk anthems as the – ahem – days go by.
DH: That’s a funny way of thinking of it. But you know, what’s the last real genre to come out, really? I would go back to reggae, probably – rock and roll, country and reggae. And ever since then, it’s been kind of like, however you can slide one part of it into another part is how you become original. You’ve gotta take all the ingredients and make it taste like something fresh. Just like my hot sauce!

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