In 1994 the Offspring released their third album, Smash. That title turned out to be more accurate than anyone had anticipated. The album sold more than 16 million copies worldwide — a record for independent releases at the time. Chart-topping singles such as "Self Esteem" and "Come Out and Play" thrust the Southern California punk band into the international spotlight. Along with fellow SoCal punks Green Day, whose breakout, Grammy-winning album Dookie had been released just two months prior to Smash, the Offspring helped bring punk rock to the masses.
Touring in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Smash, this Friday, August 8, the Offspring headline a show at Burlington's Waterfront Park as part of the Lake Champlain Maritime Festival. Also on the bill are punk contemporaries Pennywise, Bad Religion and the Vandals, as well as a quartet of local punk acts: Get a Grip, As We Were, Better Things and Poxy.
In advance of that show, Seven Days caught up with Offspring guitarist Kevin John Wasserman, aka Noodles, by phone to get his take on two decades of Smash.
SEVEN DAYS: I just had to let you know, one of the first times I got drunk — I was maybe 16 — my friends and I repeatedly prank-called a local radio station by belligerently yelling the "la la la" intro to "Self Esteem."
KEVIN JOHN WASSERMAN: [Laughs] That's awesome.
SD: We certainly thought so. Not sure the DJ at 95XXX was as impressed.
KJW: I bet.
SD: Is it surreal to think Smash has been around for 20 years?
KJW: It's weird and it's hard to actually fathom what that means. So many of those songs have been with us the whole time, so it's kind of like hanging out with an old friend. You don't see the aging. So songs like "Self Esteem" and "Come Out and Play" still seem new, because we play them every night.
SD: Honestly, it kind of blew my mind to realize the album is that old.
KJW: It's funny. We're playing with the Vandals, Pennywise and Bad Religion. These are bands we've been playing with for at least 20 years. We did a tour way back with the Vandals and it's the same four guys. Brooks [Wackerman] was 17. He didn't know how to drive yet. But it's the same band and they're doing the same stuff. It's rad.
SD: When Smash came out, the Offspring had been around for 10 years but were virtually unknown to mass audiences. Did you have any inkling the album would blow up the way it did?
KJW: No way. Punk bands were never successful. Probably the biggest punk band at the time was the Ramones. And you hardly ever heard them on the radio. It never happened to punk bands, so we were not expecting it at all. We were hoping to do better than our second record, which sold about 40,000 copies worldwide.
SD: Mission accomplished. Did you experience any backlash over your success from the punk scene?
KJW: We had some punks, mostly young, elitist punks brand-new to the scene, calling us sellouts and stuff like that. We'd get kids coming to our shows claiming we were ruining punk rock. It's, like, "Come on, man. Punk's been around for 20 years already. It's only a matter of time before someone says, 'This music is great and deserves to be played.'" That's the way we thought about it.
SD: Someone had to be the punk band that broke into the mainstream, right?
KJW: Exactly. Then there was the old guard of punks who gave us a hard time, but it was in a really shitty and, I think, unwise way. When the record came out, we got a really good review in Maximum RocknRoll. But then we started making videos and getting played on MTV and, all of a sudden, we just could not be tolerated. Anyway, an acquaintance of mine wrote an article for them — I didn't even know I was being interviewed at the time — and wrote this scathing review calling us sellouts. Shit like that happened from time to time.
SD: Why do you think the band has been able to stay relevant for so long?
KJW: You know, we're just four guys who like playing music together. And we've been doing it since we were teenagers. Punk rock showed us how to be ourselves. We sometimes fight like brothers, but we also have each other's backs like brothers. We just have a good time doing what we do.
SD: You're at the point now where you've influenced a new generation of punk bands. Is that something you ever think about?
KJW: We don't take any credit for that. I've had young bands be flattering and say nice things about us. But we think back to the bands that inspired us — the Adolescents, the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys. Bands that never really got their full due. They might do really well in T-shirt sales but didn't do as well as they should in the amount of radio play.
SD: Where did the idea for "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" come from?
KJW: I think Dexter [Holland, vocalist] was watching "Sally Jessy" or something, and there was some suburban, middle-class white kid acting like a very urban black kid. And you know he just learned that stuff from hip-hop records and started taking on the affectations. It was just kind of funny. Not that you can't be a white kid and be urban. I think Eminem is pretty serious. But you've got these middle-class white kids talking about how hard they are and it's, like, "Come on, man." I just think it's funny. They're certainly not harming the world. And there have been times I've tried something that didn't suit me, and I eventually gave up the affectation.