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Punk as Folk: Rancid

“Me and my son have a little ritual: listening to Joe Strummer in the morning, his solo records. He loves that,” Frederiksen said. “I put on the Ramones, though, and he starts going crazy, throwing stuff around.”

Bassist Matt Freeman also has two boys, so Rancid’s genetic legacy is safe even as the 18-year-old band’s musical one continues to grow. Its first album in six years, “Let the Dominoes Fall” (Epitaph), features 19 songs that are as familiar as they are great, a kind of punk rock folk music that is filled with intimate signifiers that only long-established musical forms and scenes possess.

“I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m a huge folk fan,” said guitarist-vocalist Tim Armstrong. “The spirit’s still there, the commonality, the chord changes. I agree with you 100 percent.”

The acoustic roots of Rancid’s songs are equally apparent on “Dominoes”: “Civilian Ways,” “Skull City” and “The Highway” all sound like hopped-up folk tunes, while “New Orleans” has a honky-tonk vibe and “Liberty & Freedom” sounds like Johnny Cash doing ska.

“Basically, every Rancid song is written on acoustic guitar,” Frederiksen said, “and it goes back to Tim writing songs with his guitar in Operation Ivy,” the influential ska-punk band Armstrong and Freeman were in previously.

Folk music indicates community, and Rancid is nothing if not a gathering of friends, which includes new drummer Branden Steineckert. Several songs on “Dominoes” — including the anthemic first single, “Last One to Die” — profess the musicians’ everlasting love for one another, for punk rock, for Rancid.

“We’re here, we haven’t gone nowhere, we aint going nowhere because we’re a really close band,” Armstrong said. “Even when we weren’t making a record, we’re still like family and we’re still in touch with each other on a personal level. … Even if some of the songs [on ‘Dominoes’] are political and heavy, you get the sense that we really love to put these songs together.”

Frederiksen echoed Armstrong’s statements about Rancid and punk being like a family.

“If you’re coming to punk rock, and punk rock is choosing you, you’re an outcast in the first place,” he said. “And it’s amazing that this whole community was built by outcasts. …. It’s the coolest thing in the world to be part of that, to feel like you belong in a community.”

» Ram’s Head Live, 20 Market Place, Baltimore, Md.; with Rise Against and Billy Talent, Fri. July 24, 7:30 p.m., sold out; 410-244-8854.

» Stream all of “Let the Dominoes Fall” here.
» Read Rancid’s track-by-track commentary on the album here.
» Watch the Webisodes about making “Let the Dominoes Fall” here.


» EXPRESS: Tim, you said Rancid is back to doing what it does best and that “Let the Dominoes Fall” is your favorite record yet. Was there something about 2003’s “Indestructible” album that you didn’t like?
» ARMSTRONG: I love making records with Rancid. It’s a time when we can all get together and get down. I love “Indestructible,” but it was a tough time for me personally. [He and his wife, Brody Dalle, were divorcing.] But six months later, I was making another record with Lars Frederiksen called “The Viking” — I co-wrote and produced that for Hellcat. Then I did a Transplants record, then I worked on a solo record called “Poet’s Life,” so I’m always doing something and moving forward, always.

» EXPRESS: Why all the separate projects? Most of your and Lars’ solo songs could have been Rancid songs.
» ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. When I’m working on a record — just personally, as a songwriter — everything goes into that record. There’s a song on “The Viking” called “The Switchblade” that could have been a Transplants song. Whatever I’m doing at that time, it’s the most important record. So, we started working on this Rancid record at the end of 2007. I try not to write anything for the Rancid record, if that makes sense. After the solo record, I went to Spain for four or five months, and of course [I was writing] music out there, but I really waited to get back in the room with Rancid, with my crew, to start working on the record. So, I didn’t really bring any songs to the table. … For a week in October 2007, a week in November and a week in December, we went out to Utah where Branden lives, in his home studio, and we wrote a lot of the record. We kept writing in 2008, but the focus was writing the record together.

» FREDERIKSEN: Like Tim was saying, we don’t need a Rancid record as an excuse to hang out. We’re together all the time, whether it’s hanging out or doing whatever. We were on tour for almost a year in 2006 and then again recently, and we just like playing music in a band together.
» ARMSTRONG: We spent three weeks in Utah, when it was all said and done, and we all lived at the Skywalker Ranch for three weeks [to record it], like we did in the old days. … We used to write together a lot, because we were always together. And the great thing about this record is we really got to spend a lot of time together, and I think that comes across with the way the songs came out.
» FREDERIKSEN: Back in 1994, 1995, Tim lived in this apartment, and we used to go in this stairwell at 11 o’clock at night — because it had good acoustics — with our acoustic guitars and just sit there and hash out and write songs.

» EXPRESS: You guys recorded 29 songs for “Dominoes” and 19 made the CD. Will those 10 other songs surface at some point?
» ARMSTRONG: Always.
» FREDERIKSEN: We put out a collection of “B Sides and C Sides,” and there will probably be a “D Sides and E Sides” coming out. They will see the light of day.
» ARMSTRONG: Someway, somehow.

» EXPRESS: How much input does Epitaph boss Brett Gurewitz have when he produces Rancid?
» ARMSTRONG: This is how good Brett Gurewitz is as a producer. He heard “Civilian Ways” [a song inspired by Armstrong’s soldier brother returning from Iraq] and it was maybe going to be a track on the acoustic record, and he said, “No, man that should be on the real record.” So, we don’t really know what’s going to happen; we just bang out these tracks and where they land, they land. And Brett Gurewitz has a huge role in that. he sequenced “Life Won’t Wait,” he recorded all the vocals for “Out Come the Wolves” and he didn’t get any credit. He’s a huge player in developing these records.

» EXPRESS: Isn’t it strange but also comforting to know that this music and scene that inspired you so much as a teenager can still be so motivational and creative in your 40s?
» ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I see what you mean. We fell in love with the sound. Going way back to when I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was play music. I would spend my last $3 on flyers for Operation Ivy to put up on [telephone poles]. I just wanted to be in a band and have my friends come out and see us. … And I fell in love with the Ramones in the ’70s when my brother bought those records. I was a little guy — 13 or 14, worshiping that sound. And all bands will always be compared to the Ramones to me. That bar is set really high. I don’t think any band will be as great as the Ramones. … But I love seeing kids now interpret punk rock,. Punk will never die because there will always be kids interpreting and bringing their own perspective to it, no matter what neighbor hood you come from, whether poor or rich.
» FREDERIKSEN: The thing I loved about punk rock, it didn’t have any barriers. .. The music i was listening to was all about unity.. … It didn’t matter where you came from, or who your parents were, or what color your skin was, or what your sexual preference was, if you’re male or female. If you’re coming to punk rock, and punk rock is choosing you, you’re an outcast in the first place. … We love a lot of new bands, too. The good thing about punk rock is that you can listen to a band from 30 years ago and they sound like yesterday. But bands like Society’s Parasites, Streets Dogs, all sorts of bands.
» ARMSTRONG: I got friends who are my age — I’m 43 — who say punk rock is dead. Really? Why don’t you come to some of these house parties and backyards, get on the mic, stop the shop, make an announcement: “Excuse me, everybody, punk rock is dead” — to a bunch of 17- and 18-year-olds in a backyard somewhere.

Photos by Rachel Tejada (B&W) and Rob Naples