Say Hello to a New, Older, and Less Mature Green Day

Photo: Pamela Littky

It’s mid-January, and Tre Cool is looking forward to the National Hockey League’s All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. The Green Day drummer is hoping to drive a Zamboni at some point during the weekend. “It’s like a fancy lawnmower that squirts water, and I’m driving the motherfucker,” he says. I ask if he needs a special license to drive one. “Just a license to fuck shit up,” he fires back.

Cool and his long-time Green Day bandmates—hyper, pointy-haired frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and stoic, always-sleeveless bassist Mike Dirnt—are prepping for a whirlwind year. They’re co-headlining with Weezer and Fall Out Boy on this summer’s high-profile Hella Mega Tour, but first they’ll release their 13th studio album, Father Of All Motherfuckers. Gone are Green Day’s early-oughts days of nine-minute medley epics, hour-plus album runtimes, and sobering sociopolitical narratives.

With 10 tracks that run just over 26 minutes, Father is a frantic coke binge, a glammed-up garage-rock record that’s committed more to revelry than revolution. I wonder if, at this stage in their career, it’s hard to tap into that shithead-teenager mindset. “We’re still in our high school band,” laughs Cool. “What you’re hearing is a new, older, less mature Green Day.”

Father marks the first record for which the band worked with producer Butch Walker, who scaled back their tendencies for the grandiose and nudged them towards something that felt more intuitive. “It was very freeing,” says Cool. “[Walker] is no-nonsense. You lock in a sound and go. You don’t chase your tail looking for that perfect sound.”

The approach is somewhat surprising. Walker’s work with acts like Fall Out Boy, P!nk, and Avril Lavigne has carved space for their records in the sweet spot between pop and punk. He helmed Taylor Swift’s prescient country-to-pop shift with 2012’s Red and catapulted English rock band The Struts to international fame with their dancey rock jam “Body Talks.” Father borrows sonically from that 2018 Struts single, especially on the titular opening track with Armstrong’s overdriven falsetto vocals and dirty-sleek guitars.

Green Day have zig-zagged from basement punks to acoustic balladeers to pop punk trend-setters, but pressed for a high-water mark, there are two obvious answers: 1994’s slacker-hymnal Dookie and 2004’s anti-American treatise American Idiot. The latter remains their most influential and memorable, not least of all for its accompanying red-white-and-black aesthetic. It was clear, scathing, and distinctly repulsed by George Bush’s jingoism and American imperialism. But while the band has repeatedly shared their disdain for the current American president, Father doesn’t waste breath on him.

There are two frames of mind on art post-Trump: it either absolutely should, or absolutely shouldn’t, be informed by his presidency. Green Day circa-2004 might have opted for the former. In 2020, they’re opting for the latter. “The last thing we wanted to do was make a record about that idiot,” says Cool. “Just because we have a tyrant, fascist asshole in the White House doesn’t mean that we have to sacrifice our art.”

He admits, though, that things are bad. Really bad. “The pendulum swings, and it swings a little higher,” he says. “I think it goes back and forth, and right now, it’s at the height of the bad side of history. Right now, the racist rhetoric and all that stuff that was hiding under the rocks, now they’re emboldened and they’re out there. They feel like it’s their moment. But the pendulum’s gotta swing back the other way. Hopefully it’ll swing a little bit harder, and people will be even more aware and more conscious of their environment, their society, and the place where they live.”

For Cool, it’s important in the meantime to focus on amplifying the things that make us feel good, even for a moment. The drummer rhymes off his strategies: listening to records, time with his family, being around water. “Oh, and hard, hard drugs,” he chuckles. “There’s certain drugs I think should be mandatory. Everybody should drop acid at least once, and take mushrooms a couple times.

“When things are this bad, you want to just party. It’s like dancing through the apocalypse. This might just be it for this planet, so who knows. Let’s go out with a bang.”

This approach is understandable. If you committed your band’s entire existence to very visibly raging against the American machine and 16 years later, things had gotten worse, you too might be resigned to defeat. But Cool caveats that this isn’t a total withdrawal; Nazis still need to be punched. But they can’t steal away our records and our families and the ocean and drugs.

“They can’t take those away from us,” Cool says. “They cannot take away your joy. They cannot take away your heart, as long as you just wear it on your sleeve. As a wise man, Bill S. Preston once said, ‘Be excellent to each other.’”