The Offspring Were 'Flying By the Seat of Their Pants' As They Rocketed to Stardom


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Being on tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their hit album Smash, the Offspring can't help but reminisce about their lean and green days in the '90s, when they were writing songs for what would surprisingly become the best-selling independent-label album of all time. Smash, released on Epitaph Records in 1994, sold 6 million copies in the U.S. and another 5 million across the world.

 "It's not like we were systematically putting together this hit punk record," recalls guitarist Kevin John "Noodles" Wasserman. "We did the whole thing on the fly at Track Studio. And we didn't have much money, so we worked out a deal with the studio where we could only use the place in the afternoons and late evenings when no one else was there. We got kicked out when someone came in who was paying full price, and we'd have to wait until they were done to come back."

Back then, the Offspring didn't have a team of roadies or crew members, so for the three months they were in the studio in North Hollywood, California, they were constantly breaking down their equipment and setting it back up again. It was in this less-than-professional environment that they worked with producer Thom Wilson (Vandals, Social Distortion, T.S.O.L.) to fine-tune and record the album, which included such top-charting hits as "Come Out and Play," "Self Esteem," and "Gotta Get Away."

"It felt like we were doing our best record, but we had no idea what was going to happen," says Noodles. " [1992's] Ignition had done pretty well for a punk-rock record. It was at 50,000 copies worldwide when we started recording Smash. We were hoping to do better than that — maybe 70,000 to 100,000 copies. But we had no idea it would blow up like it did. It totally changed our lives. Playing music became a career at that point, and we never dared to even dream that was a possibility. Before that, punk was not a viable career option."

Not only wasn't playing in a band a viable career option before Smash went supernova, but there were times when it seemed like a complete waste of time. "We weren't exactly packing houses for the first 10 years of our career," Noodles says. "One New Year's Eve we were booked with Dr. Know at a club somewhere in the bowels of Los Angeles. We played to their friends and they played to us, and we were all home by midnight. It was ridiculous. And even when we'd travel cross-country, we'd end up somewhere in Wisconsin and there would be four kids there. The very first time we pulled into Pensacola, the promoter bailed. He just wasn't there when we got there and there was no cell phones or Internet [to get in touch with him]."

Still, the days before major corporate sponsorships and big-budget tours definitely had their charm. The Offspring learned the ways of the road through experience, packing into a van and partying after the shows. Along the way, they were exposed to some strange and shocking experiences. "We saw a stage-diver light himself on fire before he jumped off the stage," recalls Noodles. "That was at Mount Hood [in Oregon] and we were playing on a flatbed trailer on the side of a mountain. It was crazy, because we were doing all of our booking through people we'd come across in the back of [the fanzines] Maximum RocknRoll and Flipside. These guys were like pen pals. We didn't know them. We'd just have their address and we'd show up. Sometimes when we met them, they turned out to be really shady."

Since the Offspring were used to unpredictable events and ramshackle shows, they felt somewhat disoriented when they were suddenly in the spotlight of the alternative rock revolution, lauded by MTV and major music magazines as voices for a new generation of punk-rockers. "It was crazy and a lot of fun, but we were totally flying by the seats of our pants," Noodles says. "I remember getting off that tour and thinking, 'I should take some guitar lessons and maybe vocals lessons, too.' I just didn't know how to keep my voice up for backing vocals. So I started studying guitar more but that freaked me out, because I realized I'm not a great guitarist. Then I decided that's OK. I'll probably never do anything with Eddie Van Halen, but that's not who I am."

Two decades later, the Offspring have released another six studio albums and retained a solid fanbase that has allowed them to tour with regularity. Last year, when they decided to release a special edition of Smash to celebrate the album's 20th anniversary, Offspring started playing the record in its entirety at festivals in Europe. Surprised by how well they were received by crowds that hadn't necessarily shown up to see them, they decided to continue performing the album during their Summer Nationals North American tour, which also features Bad Religion, Pennywise, Stiff Little Fingers, and the Vandals.

"It's always kind of self-indulgent when you decide to do your whole record all the way through, but the fans are loving it," Noodles says. "I guess the record just stands up. The crowds have been singing along to all the songs, which is great. And one thing that surprised us is it's mostly young people. In Denver I was watching Stiff Little Fingers from the side of the stage and I saw a girl who was maybe 18 or 20 singing along to [Stiff Little Fingers'] 'Alternative Ulster,' which was probably written when her mom was her age. I thought that was amazing."

As much as the Offspring are enjoying the Summer Nationals tour, they're getting ready to return to the studio to work on new material after the final show Sept. 13 in Sacramento. They've started working on a batch of new songs for their next release, which will probably be an EP that comes out in early 2015, and most recently, the Offspring released three covers they recorded to promote the current tour — Bad Religion's "Do What You Want" and "No Control" and Pennywise's "No Reason Why."

"We're old-school, so when we think of recording, we think of doing a whole record," Noodles says. "But the world is changing. Why make fans wait two years when some of the songs are going to be done in a month? Maybe it's a better idea to put those songs out and then slowly compile another album."

The Offspring had hoped to finish some of the material they were working on while they were on tour, but quickly learned that drinking beer and hanging with old friends took priority over being productive. "We wanted to finish one song between tours of Europe and the U.S. That didn't quite get it done. So we tried to do it on the road, but that just wasn't gonna happen. So we'll just go right back into the studio when we get home and take it from there."

Since the Offspring wrote the songs before they launched their current tour, the new songs are currently less like those on Smash and more along the lines of those on 2012's Days Go By. But now, all bets are off.

"Everything we did this summer is going to have an effect on what we do in the future, for sure," Noodles says. "You can't go out with Bad Religion, Pennywise, Still Little Fingers, and the Vandals and not be affected by that."