The Offspring – Ixnay on the Hombre – Interview

The Offspring

Ixnay on the Hombre (Sony)
An interview with guitarist Noodles
by Scott Hefflon

While it ain’t exactly an award-winning first question, why’d you go with such deathy images, fonts, and title?
It’s all Mexican Day of the Dead artwork. I forget the artist’s name, but it’s all public domain because it’s been around for so long. So we stole it, and put it on the album. There’s some other artwork on there by some guy I think we had to pay, and it was all compiled by this guy Sean from New York, a really cool guy. He works for the Sony art department. He was the only guy from Sony that we had to deal with. We met him while he was throwing up in the bathroom of a bar called Coney Island High in New York. We were going to get beaten up by a bunch of Hell’s Angels chanting “Faggots! Faggots!” at us. So we left him there. Eventually, they took off, and Sean threw up a little more.

But why’d you go with death in the first place?
In Mexican culture, they celebrate Day of the Dead with a sense of humor, really. The spirits are happy. It’s not gloom and doom, it’s like a party. It’s like partying with the dead. They have a really upbeat way of looking at death.

And it’s a celebration of life, too. You can’t fully embrace life if you’re still afraid of death.
Very Zen. The cover also says “Alla te espero,” which means, “I’m waiting for you.”

What about the title, Ixnay on the Hombre?
“Hombre” is the Spanish word for man, and “Ixnay” is Pig-Latin for nix. A liberal interpretation would be “Down with the Man” or “Fuck the Man,” or “Fuck Authority.” It’s really not all that deep, but it’s silly, it’s got a catchy ring, and it goes along with the theme of the artwork.

How’d you hook up with Jello Biafra to do “Disclaimer,” the spoken word intro, and who wrote it?
Dexter wrote it, but I think Jello had a few things he wanted to change. He might have changed a word or two here of there, but Dexter wrote it. We got a lot of hate mail after Smash was successful from parents with sticks up there asses. Evidently, some parents don’t trust their children to have any intelligence of their own, or be able to tell the difference between sarcasm and an order barked at them.

Anything in particular that parents were riled about?
The lyric, “he’s a dumb shit goddamn motherfucker” from “Bad Habit” mostly. It’s a song about this guy with a bad habit – he drives around shooting people on the freeway. That’s sarcasm. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at, I dunno, psychosis. It’s not the real thing. Parents still had a problem with it. Like kids are going to hear it and suddenly think it’s OK to go driving on the highway shooting people. Have some faith in your kids. If your kids don’t know the difference, why don’t they know the difference?

It’s considered socially irresponsible to talk about certain things, so they try to censor it. Actually it’s a service to open up a dialog on a subject, so the parent can then morally explain the matter in their own way.
Exactly. I 100% agree. So the disclaimer is a joke that makes fun of the whole censorship issue. And who better to read something about that than Jello? Dexter and Jello have been corresponding for 10 or 12 years. He’s come to a couple of our shows in San Francisco, and Dexter went to him for advice when Smash was coming out and Dexter was doing his own label, Nitro Records. During one of those conversations, Dexter just asked Jello to read it, and he said sure.

How was making Ixnay on the Hombre different from making Smash?
Smash was made when we were all working day jobs. I was barely there. With this record, I was in the studio every day – hanging out, watching the process. During Smash I was just there to do my part. I was working, being a dad, going to school, all kinds of crap. This time, we’d just come off a year and a half of touring, so our playing was at its best. That coupled with having the songs written… Some of the songs were written, like, four or five years ago, some were written right after the tour, and “All I Want” was written while we were practicing other songs before we went in the studio. That was the last one written, one of the first songs done.

Was that your pick for first single, or someone else’s?
Before the record came out and radio stations started focusing on “Gone Away,” we wanted to do a fast, melodic, two minute punk rock song. So we went with “All I Want.”

Was it because it was last, it was spontaneous? Why did you choose it?
Well, take a look at Smash; the three songs that got a lot of play were “Self Esteem,” which was written quite a bit before the record, “Come Out and Play,” which was the last song written, with the lyrics thrown on just before the record was released, but it was the first to get radio play, and “Gotta Get Away” is based on a riff we stole from a song we wrote ten years ago. You just never know what’s going to catch on, or why. Most of my favorite songs are the ones that come from out of the blue – simple riffs, three chords – songs that just come together. “Gone Away” is one chord progression from beginning to end with the guitars dropped out at some point, chugging in another, or with a little guitar lick. That’s the mark of a true songwriter – someone who can take G, C, and D and make a whole new songs out of it.

Are there any lyrics that really jump out as your personal anthem?
I like what “All I Want” is about. Rather than getting all bummed out about how screwed up life is… Oh, crap, I just found my kid’s vitamin for this morning. She didn’t eat it …you can write a song about how people are always keeping you down and making you live by their rules, or you can say, “Leave me the fuck alone” and go do your own thing. We don’t like to get all preachy in our lyrics. The lyrics are kinda secondary. It’s nice to sing about things you feel strongly about, but we don’t want to get up on a soap box. We don’t want to use the stage as a pulpit. People interpret stuff however they want. We get a lot of misinterpretations, but most of them are favorable. It’s not like they’re reading Satanic messages into them.

Why did it take you two and a half years to release another record?
It just took us a long time to get our shit together. We toured for a year and a half after Smash came out, and we didn’t write while on the road. We also had all the negotiations with Epitaph. When that was settled, he had to find a producer and work around his schedule. In the middle of recording, we had to go do a tour in Europe. It was one thing after another, but now it’s out, and I’m glad. Hopefully the next one won’t take so long. But, ya know, we want to wait until we have a number of songs we feel strongly about.

OK. You know I’ve got to ask you about the parting with Epitaph. Now that it’s over, how do you feel about them, and how do you feel about where you are now, on Sony?

I think we’re all happy where we’re at. We’re certainly happy to be beyond all that. It was a screwed up situation. It really felt like a divorce. Epitaph’s a great independent label, but it almost became something other than that. Brett (Gurewitz) should have been more careful with how he dealt with us. A helluva lot more careful. It was ridiculous. We were handed contracts to sign that said we couldn’t do cover songs on any of our records, and Ron couldn’t play in his side project. Brett will swear up and down that he’d never do that, but he did. He repeatedly put contracts in front of us that said we couldn’t do these things. I don’t know if it was just a mistake, that’s what he said it was. But why the fuck did it keep happening? Why does it keep happening after a year of negotiation!? Ultimately, he needed to raise capital. He was not going to be able to keep the company liquid because of his divorce. Half the company was going to be his wife’s. He was talking to majors about selling us, selling the label, “getting advice,” or whatever. If we were going to have that happen to us, we wanted to have some say in the way it happened. It was a decision none of us wanted to make. The way things are now, Brett didn’t have to sell his company, because instead he sold The Offspring. Only in the US. We’re still on Epitaph for this record in Europe. So he really only sold half the record. All the bands on Epitaph are still on an independent label, they can still scream and yell about how sucky the majors are without ever having to put their money where their mouths are. But, I mean, we’re still friends with all the bands on Epitaph – we still hang out with the guys from Rancid, NOFX, and Pennywise – but sometimes it becomes a heated argument. Fletcher from Pennywise thinks we sold our souls to the devil, but we’ll still get together and drink and argue about it.

How’s it been on Sony so far?
They’ve been great, just great. Fortunately, we came from a position of strength. There were certain things we wanted in our contract, and we got them. We wanted complete control in the studio. We didn’t want people coming around to check up on us. We did this whole record without seeing one person from Columbia. Truthfully, we signed on to do more records, and for less money, than if we’d signed the “rockstar” deal Brett was saying he was going to give us. But at the end of this four record cycle, we get all our masters back, so we own all of our own stuff. As it should be, but it’s very rare that bands actually get that. None of the bands got that from Epitaph, but I think some of the bigger bands are now negotiating for the master tapes. Brett owns our masters.

Neither of you has complete control over those songs?
Right. But the deal we have with Columbia is great. They left us completely alone from the minute we went into the studio to the minute we turned in the whole record, sequenced, with artwork, and all the silly ideas we had for what we wanted to do. And they loved it. I’m totally stoked.