Social Distortion

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Social Distortion


Drug addiction, rehab, arrests and deaths of band members – Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness has seen it all over the last three decades of his band’s existence.

Drug addiction, rehab, arrests and deaths of band members – Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness has seen it all over the last three decades of his band’s existence. He could have easily given up by now, burnt out or broken down – but Ness is one “stubborn motherfucker” and there’s nothing that pisses him off more than the thought of quitting the one thing that kept him alive and sane for 31 years.

“Of course, there have been a lot of things that have been pretty discouraging,” concedes Ness. “There were a lot of negative things that I went through, but my love and passion for music has always far outweighed the dark shit that was going on. There are nights that we still play together on stage and we just look at each other and it’s just magic… Because at that moment we know that we all agree that we would do this even if we were making only $50 a night.”

The fact that even Ness confirms that it seems Social Distortion’s popularity and success seems to increase with each album has also contributed to the Californian punkers’ longevity. It’s been seven years since Sex, Love And Rock ’n’ Roll received critical acclaim, but the band’s brand new album Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes is proving to be their most commercially-successful release yet.

“It’s kind of weird because this one really seems to be a bit of a critics’ record,” chuckles Ness. “I never thought I’d say that 30 years ago! The end result is that it’s doing really well on Billboard and it’s getting a lot of radio airplay across the country here. Most bands that have been together for 30 years experienced their peak at least five or 10 years after they formed and they’re still trying to retain that. For us, it’s been the opposite. Each year we gain more notoriety and popularity. It’s been very gradual. I’m not saying we’re ever going to be a stadium rock band, but within our niche, I honestly can’t complain.”

Nor has Ness got any regrets three decades later, despite a career and personal life so filled with drama and tragedy. Every obstacle has made him stronger as a person, and every heartbreak has aided the songwriting process, he claims.

“It’s been 25 years since I was doing all the bad shit,” says Ness of his troubled past. “Okay maybe it’s stupid to say that I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever, but let’s just say that there are very few. There were a lot of hard times that I went through as a child and as a young man but it made me a better person and it made me a better musician. I think what the problem was that I just had to find myself and I had to find my place in this world, and I had to fight hard to achieve that. I found it through music.”

Which is, plain and simple, rock ’n’ roll at its core. Sure the band built a legendary reputation in the Californian punk-rock underground, but as Ness claims, at its heart, Social Distortion are more Johnny Cash than The Ramones.

“It’s probably on this record that you get to realise that more than ever,” he states. “We started out as a punk band but we’ve always been so much more than just a punk band. I grew up listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones long before I ever even heard The Clash and The Sex Pistols or whatever. I love Johnny Cash, always have. Social Distortion are such a multi-faceted band. Yeah, it’s punk, but there are also lots of American roots elements combined with rock ’n’ roll.

“What I really appreciate about this album is that it shows that the band has evolved. It’s ridiculous to have seven records and not show any signs of change. It’s just as ridiculous to write about the same stuff as you did 30 years ago. I can’t write about mum, dad and the cops anymore. I’m almost 50 years old…” he laughs.

And a father himself. As Ness chuckles at his often controlling tendencies in the studio, he claims that he’s surprised he’s still got a band behind him after the recent recording sessions where the singer truly exercised his “leadership role.”

“I’m the only original member left in the band, I’m the main songwriter, all of a sudden now I’m producing the record too… It drove my bandmates fucking crazy!” he laughs. “I admit that I was pushing everybody extra hard because I wanted to get the best performances out of people.

“I had a vision in my mind of how this record was going to sound and everybody was very respectful and trusting of that. They’re a very cool band, they understand that it’s not really personal – sometimes they’d come up with an idea and it would either work or it wouldn’t. All I required of them was to stay very focused.”

Which they did. Ness claims that all involved in making the record were so determined to make Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes the best Social Distortion album to date, that they missed the entire US summer. Not an easy feat for a bunch of Californians, Ness assures.

“But, hey – it was very self-fulfilling,” he laughs. “We worked ourselves real hard on this record. It took us all summer and we never even saw daylight because we worked such long hours. The only thing I wish I’d done a little differently is try to take this band out of the US a lot more. The first five years don’t really count – that was just a party and honestly I don’t remember much of it at all.

“At this point I would really like us to be known everywhere else and not just in America. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t start that process earlier on but it’s a nice start with Australia. It would be nice to experience the summer we missed, too.”

SOCIAL DISTORTION are one of the headlining bands of SOUNDWAVE, which is at the Melbourne Showgrounds this Friday March 4, alongside Iron Maiden, Queens Of The Stone Age, Slayer, Slash and heaps more – it’s sold out. They also play a SIDEWAVE at The Palace tonight, Wednesday March 2, with The Gaslight Anthem, which is also sold out. Their excellent new album Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes is out now through Shock.