Interview with Brett Reed (Drums)
By: Alex Steininger
One of the finest punk bands of the 90's, Rancid's new album (LIFE WON'T WAIT) shows they are much more than your standard punk band. Reaching back into their rocksteady, reggae, and ska upbringings, they once again keep themselves from creating the same album twice.
With the Warped Tour stopping in Portland, Oregon, it was the perfect chance for me to sit down with Brett Reed and discuss Rancid and their new album, among other things.
Alex: What are your musical influences?
Brett: Me personally? I listen to a lot of different things. I've been listening to a lot of the new Slackers album lately. I got a tape of their new stuff and I really like it. Then there's Rocket From The Crypt, they're my favorite. There is lots of good stuff out there.
Alex: What bands made you want to play?
Brett: NOFX, watching Eric play! He was a major influence when I first started. Living in Berkeley you get to see a different band every weekend. In the earlier years there were a lot of bands that I saw and liked, and they made me want to do what I do now.
Alex: What are your band goals for 1998?
Brett: We don't really have any band goals, per say. We've made a new record and we're going to tour. That's what we do, just play shows.
Alex: What do you do on the road for fun?
Alex: Really, one of the main things on the road you do for fun is interviews?
Brett: Well, yeah. We're doing one now. Do I look like I'm having fun?
Alex: Well, yeah.
Brett: See. There you go.
Alex: Any favorite venues or cities to play?
Brett: I like New York City! We have a lot of good friends out there, and it's like a second home for us.
Alex: If you could tour with anyone, who would you want to tour with?
Brett: I already did! Rocket From The Crypt. They did a tour with us, and it was awesome. Playing with a band you love. I also think we're going to be touring with Hepcat later on this year, so that's going to be cool. We're taking them out, and it's going to be a lot of fun.
Alex: Quite the 'tour of the year,' if you make it a full scale U.S. tour. So, is there one road experience that stands out in your mind. One story you just have to tell everyone?
Brett: There are a lot of road experiences, both good and bad. As for just one specific incident, it's all one big fucking blur. We haven't been out in a couple of years, and I have a really bad memory, so I don't really remember. We try to have a good time out there, and I don't think anything super bad has ever happened to us. There is always drama, but you just put that behind you and move on. But this is a lot of fun. The Warped Tour is like one big family. All the bands get to hang out with each other.
Alex: What do you enjoy and hate about the music industry?
Brett: (laughs) Got all day? Show business is fucked. The media warps everything. I'm sure when you print this interview up there will be misquotes. It just happens. It's really weird, no matter how hard you try to record something or document something, the media always warps things. I'm talking about fanzines, I'm talking about newspapers, I'm talking about television. After being in a band for six years, I've experienced a lot of that. Another thing I hate is the fact that a lot of bands get fucked on both independent and major labels. You just got to be careful. My advice for any band is just choose close friends and make the decisions that are best for yourself. Instead of the money decision, go for what you think will be best for you.
Alex: But, there are highlights, right?
Brett: With our band doing really well I've been able to help out my family and loved ones, where as I wasn't able to do that before. Coming from a family with no money, I had a tough time growing up. Sure, 99 percent of America has a tough time growing up...but it feels really good to be able to give back to my family and friends.
Alex: Going back to bands being treated badly on independent labels. There was a rumor going around two years ago that Rancid was leaving Epitaph because they didn't like the way they were being treated. Was there ever any truth to these rumors?
Brett: Not really. When the Offspring record blew up, every band on Epitaph got mushroomed under the Offspring cloud. The label was really small, and they had never had to deal with that type of volume before. Having to ship millions and millions of records kind of took them by storm, so a lot of man power hours went to making that Offspring album happen. Working to get all the records in the stores, and all the label stuff like that, they weren't prepared to do. It was kind of a drag. This coincided with all these major labels wanting us to sign with them. So, people were making up stories like, "they're getting dicked. They're going to leave." Of course, having to deal with a lot of business in our lives and through past experiences, we researched every fucking label that wanted to talk to us. Not being stupid people, we went, "OK, you're interested in us...we're not taking it for granted." Millions of bands would kill for that opportunity, so we looked at every deal, and they weren't offering us what was best for us. Epitaph still held our best interests, and was still our home. They proved, by making that Offspring record happen and getting all the records shipped and distributed properly, that Epitaph can do anything a major label can do and you don't have to deal with fucking A & R people. Nobody was imposing on our creativity, and what not, so we stayed.
Alex: Do you guys have a band studio, as I know you recorded some stuff at a home studio.
Brett: Tim has a studio in his house, in Los Angeles. It's pretty minimal right now. Just one room, a board or two, and some rack effects. We recorded a lot of vocals for the record up there, and we recorded a couple of tracks that made it on to the album there. It's really cool, because Hellcat bands that are in town can record there. They don't have to pay for a fancy studio, or what not. On top of that, it sounds really good in the room he has.
Alex: If you could change anything in the band's history, would you?
Brett: Not really. I'm not the kind of guy that dwells on the past. Sure, there was some shitty things that have happened, you could say that for anyone's life. I'm sure there are things everyone would want to change about their life, but if I went back and changed anything back then I might not be sitting in this chair at this exact moment. Whatever happened, happened for a reason. I just like to go with the flow.
Alex: What are the highest and lowest points the band has experienced so far?
Brett: The last couple of years when Brett Gurewitz was having problems with drugs and alcohol was really a low point. That made us very sad. Even though he's a business partner, since he runs Epitaph, he is also a really good friend of ours. It hurt us to see him go out like that. He's doing better now, but that was definitely a bummer to see him like that.
Alex: What made you want to be in a band?
Brett: I don't really know. I met Tim, and he was looking for someone to play drums. Him and Matt, you know. Fuck, I had just been playing drums for a couple of months, but it looked like fun, so I stuck with them and it grew into what it is. It wasn't a conscious on my part. I was just going with the flow, like I said, and I had no fucking idea it would turn into this.
Alex: You were new to the drums when you hooked up with Tim and Matt?
Brett: This is like my first band. I hadn't even played drums for like five months when I ran into Tim. I had just bought a shitty kit off of some junkie kid, and I learned my favorite songs in the basement. I totally sucked. Everyone hated Rancid for like the first year of the band's existence. We sucked so bad! But those guys stuck with me and taught me.
Alex: I've always wondered about this, maybe you can set my mind at ease. Why did Lookout release the Rancid 7" and then never release a full-length? Why did you guys end up with Epitaph over Lookout?
Brett: Larry Livermore didn't like Rancid. He put out that first 7", we always thought, as a favor to Tim and Matt since Operation Ivy did so well. It was basically Larry going, "I don't like Rancid, but you guys were in Op Ivy, so I'll put out a seven inch." He never liked Rancid. So, after the 7", we made a demo. Since Tim was friends Brett, we sent him the demo. Brett just shit his pants and fell in love with us. He said it was his favorite demo he had heard in ten years. We were like, "Fuck, it ain't that good." So, we though, if you want it you can have it. Besides, back then there was a lot of different bands on Lookout. The East Bay scene is really political. If you're not saying the right fucking things in your songs, or you're not hanging out at the cool punk rock clubs, then you're not part of the status quo of the East Bay. So it's really hard for bands that are independent to be heard if they shy away from the topical bullshit. They get black listed. Still, to this day, it's getting even more political. Like the kids that are running Gilman Street today. That place is just a bunch of rules. It baffles me. They have meetings to decide what bands can and cannot play there, which bands on what labels can't play there, and it seems so fascias to me. It's against what punk rock is all about, which is no fucking rules. If the bands on Warner Bros., Epitaph, or if they're on Lookout it doesn't fucking matter. If they're good they're good. So, why the fuck can't they play? I don't understand. Whatever. That club was great, and opened a lot of kids' minds to a lot of new thoughts and ideas. The way it's run now, however, I'm just not into it.
Alex: What goes into good music making for you?
Brett: I don't know. We all get in the studio and read each other's minds. We're all so tight as friends. If we're healthy, that makes for good friends. It sucks to record when you're sick. You've got to squash your ego, because that comes out in the sound. If you put a record out and you all hate each other while you're doing it, the record is going to have a bad taste.
Alex: As a band, what inspires you guys musically and lyrically? Life? Fiction?
Brett: Lyrically, Tim comes up with a lot of the stuff. I don't know where he comes up with it. It's all up in his head. I guess life, like you said. Traveling around the world the last six years has put a lot of input in our brains, and Tim has the ability to put it back into a song. But, I don't know. We all just get into the studio and throw our two cents in. We just want to make records, so I don't really know.
Alex: What do you want the listener to get out of the music?
Brett: That's up to the listener. We didn't put any lyrics in the new record. People are always asking us what the exact definition of every word is, and we just want them to come up with their own meanings. Whatever the fuck it means to you, that is what it means. All my favorite records I had no clue what the people were saying. I came up with my own great meanings, and then years later I would meet the person who wrote that song and they'd tell me something like, "Ah yeah, that was the song I wrote about my dog shitting all over the place." That really bummed me out. It goes for all kinds of music. There are some bands that are real soapboxy, in a preachy way, and it's pretty clear what they're saying, but that's not what we are about. We share stories, and some blends fiction with non-fiction. Some are real stories with the names changed. You just need to listen and take the song for the meaning you get out of it.
Alex: Let's cover the booklet a bit. Is there a theme or idea behind it?
Brett: Yeah, we just wanted to keep things minimal. Keep the record simple, that was our goal. We ended up having like a page of credits for everyone that worked on the album. That was a very chaotic time. We had to mix and do the artwork at the same time, while going over all these tapes. We had wall to wall tapes. We recorded fifty songs for the new album. We had two studios mixing the stuff, Tim was finishing vocals at his house, and they needed the artwork. So, a lot of it we just left up to Jesse Fischer at Epitaph. He has done most of our stuff over there, packaging and stuff, so we left it up to him. Him and Tim would get together at 1 or 2 am, after they were finishing up in the studio, and just work on art. Like I said, basically the theme is to interpret the music how you see and hear it.
Alex: I must be truthful. I found it to be a waste of space. Eight pages of just random pictures? I'm sure if I looked deeper into it, instead of the superficial side of things, I would find the meaning. But the way it stands, I just couldn't understand why there was just pictures. If you didn't want to do lyrics, fuck the booklet and do a page of credits for an insert.
Brett: It's ART! It's fucking art. They are cool imagines, I like how it looks. Throw your booklet away if you don't like it. But some people like it.
Alex: Was there any theme or concept you wanted the pictures to help portray for the music? Or maybe I should put it this way, does the pictures and the album as a whole go hand in hand with the same theme?
Brett: If there was, I was too busy mixing to be aware of it. I wasn't there when they did the artwork. But I'm sorry if we wasted too much space!
Alex: Why did it take Rancid all this time to get a new album out?
Brett: After the last Lollapalooza show in 1996 we took six months off. We had been going non-stop since the band started, making records and touring, so we were pretty burnt out. We took seven to eight months off, and then started making a record on our own pace. We would record a couple of tracks a week at our own studio, and then take off a couple of weeks and then hang out and do our own thing. Then we'd do the same thing in New York for a couple of weeks, and then move onto another studio. We made this record the way we wanted to make it. We wanted to give the kids a break from Rancid. We didn't want to overkill it, they needed a break from us. There is nothing worse than a band that plays too much.
Alex: How do you feel the new album bridges the 'Rancid' sound with the previous albums, and how do you feel it has expanded on the sound?
Brett: That's a good question. You know, if you compare the very first Rancid record to this one there is a big difference. People would freak out if this was our second record, it would be a very big departure. Being in the band, I don't have a really good outside perspective. When you're in the band this new shit just seems so natural. We've been recording and playing this stuff for the past year, so it feels so natural to me. But then the album comes out, and people are like, "Wow, that's so different from ...AND OUT COMES THE WOLVES." I think it has to do with the fact that we've met so many great bands and people on tour, and we had them come down and add their flavor to the record, and that totally enriched the sound. At least for me. Whether it be Vic from the Slackers or the guys from Hepcat doing their part, it really enriched the sound for me. Or Roger from Agnostic Front singing a couple of verses on some songs. It was so cool, I loved it. We also don't like to make the same fucking record year after year. There are some bands who just pump out the same record and want to keep themselves doing the same thing. Then, they end up having the same fifty people coming to their shows. It's not very exciting for me when you know what the band's next record is going to sound like. If it gets so typical, it takes all the fun out of it. I always liked the risk factor in music. I wanted my favorite band's new record to be different, but I didn't want it to change that much. Sometimes when you change too much, it sucks. I think we did all right. At least I'm secure in the fact that we still sound like Rancid.
Alex: That's a good point, and I agree with you 100%. How are you able to keep each album standing on its own, yet still make it sound like a Rancid album?
Brett: You know, it's not a conscious decision. As you grow older, your influences and tastes change. We'll always be Rancid, since we're still the same guys. It will always be Rancid, and sound like Rancid, until the whole line up changes. This time around we just went into the studio and what came out came out. We hardly demo'd anything. Sometimes you get demo-itis where you put all your energy into making the demo, and then you can't recapture the energy for the album. You just can't pull it off. We didn't want to have that happen to us, so we wrote everything in the studio. Five or six songs a day, and we just kept writing them. That kept the energy high.
Alex: Lyrically, how do you think this album compares to the past three?
Brett: That's a vague question. Compare? You need to be more specific.
Alex: Is it a more personal album? From Tim's eyes, are the songs more personal to him? I know you didn't write the lyrics, but you've spent a lot of time with Tim, so I'm sure you know if the songs are personal or not?
Brett: To be honest, I have no idea what some of the songs are about until I ask Tim years later. Pick any song off the albums, and I probably don't know what was going through Tim's mind when he wrote it. Of course, there are a few ones that we play a lot and I've heard Tim talk about in interviews, but for the most part he writes so much from deep down inside him, we don't have time for him to explain what each and every song is about. Sometimes it's very apparent, and sometimes the meaning is hidden. Maybe it's about a girl he likes, or whatever? I don't know.
Alex: So, you go through the same interpretation process as the listener?
Alex: That's got to be fun.
Brett: It's cool. We're usually so busy, I don't have time to ask him what the songs are about. It may seem real apathetic, the drummer not even knowing what the songs are about, but it's not like that. I'm into the songs for the music. The way they sound, and the way the rhythm goes. That's why I am the drummer, not the fucking guitarist/songwriter. I'm into music for music, and that's why my CD collection consists of a thousand different bands. That's why it was so hard for me to answer the first question about what my musical influences were. I could sit here all day and tell you what is in my collection. I have everything from punk and hip-hop to stuff on the radio, old Elvis and rockabilly. I'm not so hung up on content, as long as the music makes me move inside.
Alex: What is each band members piece of the puzzle in the band, both personally and musically?
Brett: Tim and Lars write most of the lyrics, and 90 percent of the music. In the studio, though, we all put in our two cents and it's a democracy. If I suggest an intro, we'll try it. We try everyone's ideas. We've always been like that, and always will be like that. If I have an idea, or Tim has an idea, we'll put it out there. If it sucks, it sucks, and we don't use it. We go together really well like that. Tim writes a lot of the stuff. That's all he does is write. We brought a little studio along with us on the bus. We brought a board with us, and an A-DAT, and some mics. We also brought a drum machine for drum loops, because it's hard to get a drum kit back there. He just wants to write, and that is what he loves to do. Matt an I will come up with some rhythms for whatever riffs he's writing, and then we put all our ideas together.
Alex: And personally? Is one person the clown and another person the serious one?
Brett: We all have distinct personalities, and I think that is why we all get along so well. I usually don't talk that much. I keep to myself. Tim deals with the band bullshit, and Matt is the organized type. On our first few tours he would book the shows and work with the kids to promote them. He would also would organize how to get from point A to point B. Even to this day, if we're at an airport and have no clue what we're supposed to be doing, he's the man to go and talk too. He knows what is going on.
Alex: Where do you see Rancid going from here?
Brett: I don't know. All I know is that we're playing Boise tomorrow. That's as far as we can look ahead, everything is so chaotic. We just put out a new record, and we're doing tons of press every day. That's as far as I can look ahead, although I do know we're going to be doing lots of touring. I just don't like to future gaze like that. That way you can be pleasantly surprised if all this great stuff happens to you. If you're expecting it and it doesn't happen, you'll be very depressed. I don't like to live my life like that.