In 2009, I interviewed guitarist Noodles from The Offspring in advance of a Canadian tour. Since the band just released their 10th studio album Let The Bad Times Roll, this seemed like a good time to pull it out of the archives. Like most of my interviews, a big chunk was edited out due to space limitations in print. Here’s the complete conversation (with some minor editing):
After decades together, the guys in The Offspring feel like siblings, fittingly enough — though not the ones you might expect. “We’re like brothers at this point,” asserts guitarist Noodles, aka Kevin Wasserman. “We’re not like The Kinks or Oasis, though, where the guys actually fight onstage. We’re more like those kids in Hanson or The Jonas Brothers.”
Luckily for their fans, nobody’s going to confuse the SoCal outfit’s sound with teenage bubble-pop. Ever since their 1994 single Come Out and Play (Keep ‘Em Separated) blasted them into the big leagues — and made their aptly titled third CD Smash the best-selling indie album of all time — Offspring’s energized cocktail of buzzsaw punk, pop melody and smarty-pants lyrics hasn’t changed. And no wonder, if the staying power of their eighth album Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace is anything to go by — after a year, singer-guitarist Dexter Holland and co. are still promoting and touring behind it. At a tour stop in Texas, I chatted with the “fortysomething” Noodles about his odd moniker, his band of brothers, and his own offspring’s plan to keep the group a family affair for years to come.
Do you prefer Kevin or Noodles?
Noodles. My parents sometimes call me Kevin. But usually it’s just the authorities that call me Kevin or Mr. Wasserman.
How did you get that nickname?
From noodling on the guitar. Thom Wilson, the producer of our first three records, nicknamed me that. That’s the short and most honest version of the story. Sometimes I’ll tell people my parents were hippies, but that’s not really accurate.
You guys have been together for 25 years and making albums for 20. How long did you think this was going to last?
Oh, God. At this point, I have no idea how much longer it’s going to last. For the first 10 years we were doing this, it was our hobby. We saved up to go out and play on weekends and summer vacations. We never made any money. It was just what we did for fun. We always assumed that at some point it would end and we’d have to go get real jobs. And then Smash happened. I never expected to be able to do this for this long. I always hoped we would.
Do you still find it hard to believe? Or are you all jaded now?
Dexter and I still think it’s crazy. Not so much Greg (Kriesel, the band’s original bassist). Not that he’s jaded; he just always expected this (laughs). Greg’s just not really emotive, to tell you the truth. He’s really quiet. When we’re out drinking beer and having shots and stuff, Greg’s really funny. He’s hilarious. He doesn’t say a lot, but when he says something, listen up, because it’s going to be either really good or really scathing. He can really rip you apart. But we’ve known each other long enough to know that you have to be able to laugh at yourself.
“Nobody’s ever going to confuse me
with Eddie Van Halen.”
After living in each other’s pockets for all this time, you’re all still friends? This hasn’t become just a job?
No, no way. We take the piss out of each other, and we’re able to tolerate it more. We’re a little more comfortable in our skin. We go out every night and try to play better. We know that we’re not the best musicians in the world. Nobody’s ever going to confuse me with Eddie Van Halen. But we put on a good show, we play good songs, and every night we try to lock in tighter and just have a good time out there. And we manage to do it.
Is it getting harder or easier as the years go by?
The playing is getting easier, but the travelling is getting a little more difficult. We’re fresh right now; we haven’t even been out on this trip for a week yet. But I know inevitably I’m going to get a cold sometime in the next two months. You’re travelling, you’re in and out of heat and air conditioning and on buses and planes and waiting in lines. That takes its toll. That’s the work part of what we do; the rest is all playing.
You’ve been out with this album for almost a year now, give or take.
Yeah. Well, we did just have four months off. We were just getting together for a one-off here and there, and Dexter and I have been doing some acoustic things, going to radio stations and playing some acoustic songs.
Are you changing up the show for this leg?
We are changing things up a little bit. Some of these songs have some piano in them, so Dexter’s bringing a piano out and even messing with Gone Away a little bit, trying to make that more of a piano-driven song. Kind of bring everything down a little bit and give it a little more intimate feel in the middle of the set. And it seems to be working; we’re having a lot of fun with it.
You seem to have a fairly civilized tour schedule, playing every other day. Is that a family thing, or an age thing, or what?
It’s more about Dexter’s vocals. If we have three shows in a row, by the end of three shows, his vocals need a night off. That’s the main thing. A lot of our songs have a lot of vocals, and it’s fast singing, and it’s really up in a high register. And it takes its toll. If we were a jam band, maybe we could get away with a show every night.
You have to get him to sing baritone.
There you go. Barry White.
How old are you?
I’m old. Um, 36, give or take. Fortysomething. OK, I’m 46. If you have to put that number in, go ahead. But if you don’t have to …
I wouldn’t have thought you’d be sensitive about that.
Only recently. I never did care.
What do your kids think about your job?
Well, my son is only seven. But he thinks it’s cool. We play Rock Band together and he wants to be in a band. He’s also really into Survivorman. So he wants to be a Survivorman, and he wants to take my place. He told me that he’s going to be in The Offspring someday. I said, ‘Really? What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘I’m going to take your job.’ At six he was saying this. I immediately stopped his guitar lessons.
Do you have songs on Rock Band and Guitar Hero?
We have a song on Rock Band, and I think there are other songs you can download once you get to a certain level. I’ve never really got that deep into it. But it is kinda fun to play. I like to play drums on Rock Band. My son likes My Own Worst Enemy and he’s really into Linkin Park now, One Step Closer. But mostly, like I said, he’s into Survivorman.
So you’re going to find him out in the backyard naked, eating bugs.
Seriously. He sets traps for things. We have some gophers out in the backyard, and he’s trying to catch gophers. And he wants to eat one. If I ever thought he was going to seriously catch one, I would stop him. But I’ve helped him out. We had a rainstorm a few months back, so I helped him set up a raincatch and we had a full bucket of fresh rainwater, and we were drinking rainwater for a couple of days. He’s really into it. I’ve taken him camping and fishing too.
It was five years between albums last time. Is that likely to be the case again?
No. We want to get right back into it. Dexter’s actually met already with Bob Rock. He’s been out to Hawaii to hash out some ideas. We don’t have any studio time slated, but once we get through this tour, we’ll start up pretty quick. Quite possibly this fall, depending on what other tours they have for us.
Do you already have some material in the works?
We don’t have any songs yet. Maybe a couple of demos here and there. But we’re also looking at old songs that we’ve had and seeing if we could flesh those out some more and see what would work or what’s not going to happen for us ever.
Are you guys able to write on the road?
Sometimes, a little bit on the bus or just farting around backstage. Primarily, the focus is a little difficult when we’re bouncing around back and forth like we are. It’s a lot easier in the studio. We’ll come in and start shooting the shit about whatever we were watching on the news that day or celebrity scandals or whatever. And some of that will seep into songs. I think you see a lot of that on this record.
What’s the division of labour when it comes to the songs?
As far as songwriting, it’s pretty much all Dexter. He’s pretty much always been the principal songwriter. We’ll all have riffs here and there that we’ll change up, or even lines that we contribute if Dexter is stuck on lyrics. Some songs come to him right away, and other times he’s stuck in the studio labouring other things.
There’s a remarkable lack of information about you on the Web. All I could find was this quote about how you enjoy ‘the finer things in life.’
That’s kind of a joke. There’s a video you can get to on our YouTube page. It’s a video of me reciting one of my favourite poems, which is Cool to Hate. It’s kind of silly and embarrassing.
it doesn’t really seem to go with the image of a guy out in his backyard trying to catch gophers and drinking rainwater.
No, it doesn’t. I’m sitting there drinking wine and smoking a cigarette.