Back with a vengeance

When Rancid burst onto the national scene in 1993 with the release of their self-titled debut album, little did they know that they would help spearhead a worldwide punk revival. The atmosphere was right -- "alternative" music had been taken over by bands that paid more attention to marketing than music, and the cottage industry surrounding the Northern California punk scene had already taken on a life of its own.

But the burgeoning punk nation had higher expectations for Rancid than they did for Green Day and the Offspring, and the band responded with four years of constant recording, touring and commitment. Rancid went on to record three full-length albums for Epitaph Records. After a lengthy tour in support of 1995's "... And Out Come the Wolves" the band took their first extended vacation since their 1991 formation. They came back this year with a vengeance. Rancid released their fourth full-length, "Life Won't Wait," at the same time they joined this summer's Vans Warped tour. Rancid have moved beyond their preaching-to-the-faithful punk sound and have entered maturity with their integrity intact.

Rancid traces their roots back to 1987 when guitarist/vocalist Tim Armstrong and bassist Matt Freeman formed Operation Ivy. Armstrong and Freeman grew up in a working-class town just outside of Berkeley. By the late '80s Berkeley had become a punk mecca, due to the scene surrounding a small venue: Gilman Street was the Haight-Ashbury of the punk renaissance that would later kick the tired alternative movement in the ass.

But Operation Ivy wouldn't make it that far. After two years the band broke up, and Armstrong began an alcoholic decline that eventually landed him in a Salvation Army homeless shelter. With Freeman's help, Armstrong lifted himself up by his bootstraps and by September 1991 the two recruited drummer Brett Reed to form Rancid. It wasn't long before they signed with Epitaph and released their debut recording, a raw, rootsy punk affair that came just in time for the 1993 punk explosion. The band subsequently recruited guitarist Lars Frederikson and recorded "Let's Go," and the video for the song "Salvation" garnered them heavy rotation on MTV.

The six-month hiatus after "Wolves" paid off when the band went back into the studio. "When we got back together to do the record we were just all fresh and ready to go," says Freeman. Armstrong and Frederikson decided to produce "Life Won't Wait" themselves, and the band spent a year recording in Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and Jamaica.

The influences that the band had proudly worn on their sleeve had converged like never before, best represented on the album's opening volley, "Bloodclot," named after Armstrong's home studio. The song pays homage to the Ramones with a "hey-ho" chorus and Frederikson's Stooges-inspired, streetwalking-cheetah lyrics grafted over verses inspired by the Who's "I Can't Explain." Bluesy harmonica, dub and ska swipes abound, and the album's guest list includes The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' Dicky Barrett and members of 2-Tone ska legends The Specials, as well as dancehall reggae star Buju Banton on the album's title track, for which Freeman learned to play dub-style basslines. "Once I got it, it was like riding a bike," he says. "I can almost remember the moment ... ‘I got it, I got it!' It took me weeks."

After five years, Rancid has managed to keep their feet on the ground and stay focused on their music and their friendship. "What I'm most proud of is that we've been able to do what we've wanted to do and pretty much stay honest about it," says Freeman. "We are really good friends, and that's the way it's always going to be. If the band ever got in the way of that, fuck the band."

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