Let’s say, hypothetically, that you were a band that had achieved some modicum of success in a relatively brief period of time. For argument’s sake, our definition of “success” here includes the following parameters: signed to one of the most successful independent labels in the music game; put out not one or two but three albums on that label, all of whom were produced by one of the bigger and most recognizable personalities in the the punk music scene; headlined a couple of your own successful cross-country club tours; played the main stage at a handful of wildly successful punk rock festivals; toured several continents with one of the last quarter-century’s largest rock bands on the planet; got added to regular rotation at your hometown (Los Angeles) rock radio station which, in spite of prevailing trends, remains a taste-making force in the game. Oh, and let’s also say that all of these accomplishments – and more – happened within your first half-dozen years as a band. It would be natural, maybe even expected, if some of that love and those accomplishments went to your head, and you maybe started to take some things for granted, right?
Not if you’re The Interrupters.
We caught up with Aimee and Kevin from the band over the phone the Friday before last, which happened to coincide with the release date for their third – and best – studio album, Fight The Good Fight (Hellcat/Epitaph). Amidst the hustle and bustle that an album release date can entail, and after exchanging our usual pleasantries, we got interrupted (pun largely intended) by the duo receiving an incoming call that they couldn’t ignore, as it was from none other than Tim Armstrong. Armstrong is not just one of the godfather’s of the last three decades of punk rock, he’s been a constant big brotherly presence in The Interrupters’ career, signing them to his Hellcat label imprint right out of the gate, producing and appearing on all three of their albums to date, imparting his unique wisdom on the quartet along the way. For more than just the obvious reasons, The Interrupters are a band that considers itself and its crew a family, and Armstrong is as big a part of that family as anybody. And so the sheepish excitement in Kevin Bivona’s voice when we returned to our call and explained why they had to break standard informal phone-interview protocol and put me on hold was not only palpable, it was downright refreshing.
It would certainly not be the last time that our conversation would trend into events that were notably surreal. Any fan of the Interrupters knows that they spent a great deal of time touring Australia, Europe and South America as direct support for Green Day over the last year. It found the band not only getting to play their upbeat blend of punk and third-wave ska to a large number of new ears, it also created a situation where a different high-profile Armstrong, Green Day’s inimitable Billie Joe, ended up with writing credits on a song (“Broken World”) on the newest Interrupters album. Here’s how Kevin Bivona explains it: “We were in Santiago, Chile, and we played a show, and there were a couple of hours before we had to go to the airport, so we were hanging out with Green Day and their families. It was an amazing experience. And (Billie Joe) goes “hey, I have an idea for a song that I think could be a really cool Interrupters song.” And he grabbed a guitar, and he kinda pulled Aimee and I aside and he played it for us, and he said “I don’t know, I think this would just be a kind of cool thing for you.” And he played it for us and we said “Yes! We love it!” Upon returning to the States, the band got to work on filling out the remainder of the song, and doing so in a manner that would do right by the Green Day frontman. “I wanted him to be proud, because he thought enough of us to give us this riff that he could have obviously turned into an amazing song for any one of his bands. We sent the song back to him right when we were done with it, and he texted us back that night and he was so excited about it and happy to be a part of it. It’s so surreal, too, to have a song with a riff written by Billie Joe Armstrong and produced by Tim Armstrong…”
If you’ve had a chance to dig in to Fight The Good Fight yet, you’re probably aware that Billie Joe’s involvement wasn’t the only surreal part of the album-making process. While Tim Armstrong has lent his iconic vocal stylings to a track on each of the first two Interrupters albums, FTGF’s “Got Each Other” finds each of Rancid’s members chipping in, an idea that came from Armstrong himself. “Matt and Lars are in the Bay Area, and Branden lives in Utah,” explains Bivona. “When it came time to get the actual recording done, we were kind of down to the wire, so we actually had Jesse and Justin get in our tour van, drive up to San Francisco, and set up a mobile studio to record Matt and Lars’ verses and run them back down. Simultaneously, I’m on the phone with Branden in Utah, and he has a studio in his house…He sang on the choruses with us, and he sent it to us to mix that night. It was really down to the wire.”
The result of the last-minute collaboration is textbook Interrupters: an infectiously danceable, high energy rallying cry preaching the timeless notions of friendship and unity. “I cried my eyes out when I heard all of Rancid singing with us on that song,” says Aimee. “The first time I ever heard Rancid in my life, when I was in high school, I cried when I heard “…And Out Come The Wolves.” I felt like I wasn’t alone in the world, and that other people understood me. We brought that message on “Got Each Other,” and to hear all of Rancid sing that message not just to me but through my speakers with me…”We don’t have much, but we’ve got each other”…I was so happy and so grateful, and I can’t really describe how full circle and surreal that moment was.“
While many of the tracks on Fight The Good Fight deal with themes that we’ve come to know and love from The Interrupters circa 2018, we also find the band digging a little deeper, turning their mirror inward in ways that were missing on the first two albums. Tracks like “Gave You Everything,” “Room With A View,” and “So Wrong” resonate as the band’s most personal – and arguably most compelling – tracks to date. Says Aimee: “I feel like when you write a song that moves you and touches you, and you’re going through an authentic experience and writing your truth, a lot of times for me that’s therapy. I’m writing to get things out and I need to process this stuff and this anxiety that’s happening in my heart and my mind. When I process that and put that into lyrics, if that helps me and gets me through it, then hopefully that can help somebody else. That’s what this is all about…loving people and helping people and connecting with people through your music.”
The band’s quest to bring their music and their positive energy to as many people as possible has generated numerous unforgettable experiences. As they get set to head out on the last leg of the final installment of the Warped Tour this coming weekend, they’re sure to add a few more to the list. “Just when we think we’ve checked everything off the bucket list, some new opportunity presents itself and we are blown away with gratitude,” says Bivona, the sincerity palpable in his voice. “Even doing the Amoeba Records in-store performance a couple nights ago was surreal. Getting added to our local radio station, KROQ, which is what we all grew up listening to, is surreal. There’s never going to be a time where there isn’t an amazing opportunity that we will be thrilled with.“
Head below to check out our full Q&A with Kevin and Aimee, and stay tuned for upcoming tour announcements in the very near future!