White Punks on Warner Bros. 

The not-so-covert mainstreaming of Rancid.

Page 3 of 7

When Livermore founded Lookout! in the late '80s, Operation Ivy was one of the first bands he worked with. The label released the band's first seven-inch, Hectic, in 1988. But the band dissolved the following year. Internal fighting or rock 'n' roll excess didn't kill Op Ivy; instead, the band was uncomfortable with its quickly mushrooming popularity. Part of punk's philosophy (though some might call it a trapping) is its distaste for "rock stars," loosely defined as bloated musicians out of touch with their own community. Punk's proletarian message of "none before another" was inherent in Gilman's founding, and Op Ivy lived it, breaking up to avoid becoming what it despised. The band's only full-length, Energy, came out posthumously in 1989 and has sold more than 600,000 copies, joining Green Day's back catalogue in keeping Lookout financially afloat.

Post-breakup, Tim Armstrong fell into a heavily publicized bout of depression. Dyslexia, poor grades, and low self-esteem left him with no sense of direction without his music. Alcoholism and heroin addiction took control of him, and he wound up living on the streets. Freeman, unwilling to watch his friend kill himself, took in Armstrong and got him sober enough to stay in a halfway house. Eventually Tim cleaned up, aided by the formation of the band Rancid.

After cutting an early Lookout! release in 1991, Rancid jumped to Epitaph, cut its debut disc in '93, and began an ascension to national prominence. But the band never forgot the scene that spawned it. Eight years after Armstrong attended Gilman for the first time, he immortalized the club on ...And Out Come the Wolves. The track "Journey to the End of the East Bay" begins with a trademark Matt Freeman bass lead: a very linear, John Entwistle-like rhythm progression that, as a melody, provides the backbone of the song in a way you can trace back to his days with Op Ivy. As the melody begins to repeat itself, distorted guitars spew feedback before grinding out a simple three-chord progression. With Brett Reed's solid drumming behind him, Armstrong delivers the lyrics in a gruff mumble often compared to the Clash's Joe Strummer: "Reconciled to the belief/Consumed in sacred ground to me/There wasn't always a place to go/But there was always an urgent need to belong/All these bands and/All these people/All these friends and/We were equals ..."

Armstrong goes on to eulogize Op Ivy specifically: "Started in '87/Ended in '89/Got a garage or an amp we'll play anytime/It was just the four of us/Yeah man the core of us/Too much attention unavoidably destroyed us/Four kids on tour, 3000 miles in a four-door car not knowin' what was goin' on ..."

Rancid has clearly learned to deal with the attention that "unavoidably destroyed" Op Ivy, but as for Indestructible, no one seems to know what's goin' on.

On June 16, Billboard published a small news item that verified what PunkNews.org had reported two days earlier. "Veteran punk outfit Rancid will jump to Warner Bros. Records for its sixth studio album, and first since their self-titled 2000 release," the item read; an unnamed source at Epitaph verified it.

Since that scant admission, Rancid has enjoyed perhaps the quietest major label deal in history, climaxing with a strange omission indeed. When Indestructible hit the shelves in August, it arrived without a Warner Bros. logo stamped on the album cover or the disc itself -- in fact no mention of Warner Bros. anywhere. Not even an address. Despite repeated inquiries to the label's staff, no one has provided an explanation, except to verify that the partnership exists: "Rancid are on Warner Bros.," says label PR head Luke Burkland. "You wanted to know our relationship -- our relationship is great."

So why no logo? "From my experience with majors, actually, I wouldn't be entirely surprised to learn that they just plum forget," speculates Dan Sinker, editor of Punk Planet, a bimonthly punk zine based out of Chicago. "It's amazing how inept these giant companies can be."

The label likely agreed to do it to help Rancid save face, counters Mike Thorn of MAXIMUMROCKNROLL. He sees it as an issue of perceived hypocrisy: "They made a really big deal out of the fact that they turned down all this money because they were going to stay true to being on an independent label, like Epitaph," he says. "The reason why I think they might be less than eager to discuss it or admit it or whatever ... I think they're afraid that them signing to Warner Bros. might have an affect on their credibility."

Rancid's near-media silence supports Thorn's theory. After weeks of repeated interview requests to Epitaph, Warner Bros., or someone from the band's PR firm, Nasty Little Man, Rancid declined to speak with the Express. Fans are left to piece together the band's take through various magazine articles released in Indestructible's wake.

First came an interview Frederiksen gave to Billboard on July 2. "Yes, we are considering additional support that Warner Bros. might be able to provide, but whatever happens, we're sticking with [Epitaph founder] Brett Gurewitz," he said. "All I care about and all I have is my music, my bandmates, and my band. We are going to do whatever we need to do to survive."

The theme of allegiance also ran through Rancid's cover story in the July issue of Alternative Press. "We're with Gurewitz for life," Frederiksen told the magazine.

Gurewitz himself told AP the same thing. "If there were one adjective to describe Rancid, it's loyal," the punk icon declared. "I'll always be grateful for how loyal they've been to me. But that's just how they are as people. They're that way with one another, and with anyone they choose to work with. And that's something very rare in this business." Warner Bros. is never mentioned in the AP piece. Indestructible, which hadn't yet been released, was explicitly described as an Epitaph project. The story also lauded the band for sticking to its indie guns "despite countless big-bucks offers."


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