Achieving superstar status with their repertoire of punk songs that cross the border into tuneful pop, The Offspring have carved out a unique place for themselves in rock music. “We’ve approached the punk-rockthing as a legitimate style of music, and we try to play it like a real band and write lyrics that people can identify with,” claimed the group’s songwriter and lead singer Dexter Holland in Rolling Stone. Jon Pareles acknowledged the group’s versatility in the New York Times, calling their music “a grab-bag of Southern California rock: speedy punk and ska, twangy surf-rock, hefty hard rock, nasal grunge melodies and ardent new wave.” Offspring became one of the super groups on the alternative rock circuit after scoring a surprise number-one hit with “Come Out and Play (You Gotta Keep ’Em Separated)” in 1994 from their widely popular Smash album.
Unlike typical punk music stars whose anger was ignited by urban blight, the members of The Offspring were more geeks than rebels, and they grew up fairly well-to-do in the suburbs of California’s Orange County. Group
Members include Bryan “Dexter” Holland, vo cals, guitar; Greg “Noodles” Wasserman, guitar and vocals; Greg “Greg K.” Kriesel, bass; Ron Welty, drums.
First began rehearsing as a band (Holland and Kriesel), 1984; began performing at 924 Gilman Street club in Berkeley, CA, 1986; paid to release its first single, 1987; signed recording contract with Nemesis, 1989; released first album, The Offspring, on Nemesis, 1989; signed contract with Epitaph Records, 1990s; released Ignition on Epitaph, 1992; scored first hit single with “Come Out and Play,” 1994; generated biggest sales of all time for an album on an independent label (Smash), 1994; performed as opening act for telecast of the Billboard Music Awards, 1994; re-released The Offspring on their own label, Nitro, 1995; performed in Reading Festival, U.K.; Bizarre Festival, Germany; and Pukklepop Festival, Belgium, 1996; signed recording contract with Columbia, 1996; released Ixnay on the Hombre on Columbia, 1997.
leader Bryan “Dexter” Holland was valedictorian of his high school class, became a pre-med student in college and is currently close to earning his Ph.D. in microbiology. He first became enamored with punk music in his senior year at Pacifica High School in California, after hearing music by T.S.O.L., The Adolescents, and Agent Orange. “Something about those bands at the time made me really excited, and got me interested enough to want to start a band,” said Holland in RIP. Holland and Greg Kriesel, both of whom ran on the school’s cross-country team, formed the group Manic Subsidal with two other teammates in 1984 despite not knowing how to play any instruments. “Bryan and I both learned together, and he wasn’t even playing chords at the time, so he’d play on one string, and I tried to do the same thing,” Kriesel told Rolling Stone.
After graduating from high school, Holland and Kriesel went off to college and were limited to rehearsing on weekends. Kevin Wasserman, an older Pacifica graduate who was working as the school janitor, came into the group when their guitarist left the band. Ron Welty took over drumming duties permanently afterfrequent standins for the regular drummer, who was attending medical school and was increasingly unavailable. Meanwhile, Holland was venturing into songwriting and the group was eager to get into the studio.
In 1987 the group used their own money to record a seven-inch single, but then couldn’t sell it. Two years of rough times followed before they landed a contract with Nemesis, a small punk label distributed by Cargo. With Nemesis they produced another seven-inch single called “Baghdad” and their first album called The Offspring in 1989. Producing the album was Thorn Wilson, who had also produced songs for T.S.O.L., The Vandals, and The Dead Kennedys.
Offspring’s first recordings were standard punk songs. “All punk bands back in ’84 wrote about was police, death, religion and war,” said Holland in Rolling Stone. “So that’s what we did.” As the group began sending out demo recordings to the full gamut of punk labels, they attracted the attention of Brett Gurewitz, the guitarist with Bad Religion who also owned Epitaph Records. Epitaph signed the group and released its Ignition LP in 1992, which sold over 30,000 copies. Word got out on the potential of Offspring, resulting in a bidding war between major record labels, but the group decided to stay with Epitaph.
“You could tell as the tracks starting going down that there was something kind of neat going on,” Holland told the Los Angeles Times about the recording of Smash in 1994. “And like when we got done we thought, ’Wow, we made a neat little record.’” However, no one in the group anticipated the tremendous impact that the album had on the music world. When Epitaph tried to promote airplay of the album’s “Come Out and Play” on the Los Angeles alternative-rock station KROQ, no one in the band felt that the song was that special, according to the Los Angeles Times. Before long the song was being played frequently on many commercial stations, as well as on television. After “Come Out and Play,” which Rolling Stone called “worthy of the best rocksongwriting tradition,” soared up the charts, the Offspring soon became superstars whose fame rivaled that of punkdom’s Green Day. The singles “Self-Esteem” and “Gotta Get Away” from Smash also proved popular, helping boost worldwide sales of the album to over nine million and making it the top-selling LP ever on an independent label.
After the release of Smash, the Offspring toured extensively in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Australia. In 1996 they signed a contract with Columbia Records after disagreements with Epitaph. Their first release on the new label was Ixnay on the Hombrein 1997. The release was produced by Dave Jerden, who had worked with Social Distortion and Jane’s Addiction. As on Smash, the group offered a mix of hardcore music, hard rock, pop, and ska on the new album. Ixnayon the Hombre also featured much experimenting with different tempos and rhythms. “Gone Away” starts slowly, luring the listener into thinking it’s a ballad before erupting into ferocious rock, and mideastern guitar riffs add an exotic flair to “Me & My Old Lady.”
Although known as tireless performers who gladly take to the road, Offspring has not embraced their current fame without reservation. “Sometimes we feel the spotlight,” Holland told the Los Angeles Times. “It gets kind of uncomfortable, you know, having people watch you all the time.”
The Offspring, Nemesis, 1989.
Ignition, Epitaph, 1992.
Smash, Epitaph, 1994.
Ixnay on the Hombre, Columbia, 1997.
Entertainment Weekly, August 12, 1994, pp. 54-55.
Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1995, p. 8
Musician, August 1994, p. 90.
New York Times, February 22, 1997, p. A17.
RIP, October 1994, pp. 8-10.
Rolling Stone, November 3, 1994, pp. 25-27; February 9, 1995, pp. 43-45.
Spin, November 1994, pp. 47-50; March 1995, pp. 24-25.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from publicity materials from the Mitch Schneider Organization released by Sony Records.
Formed: 1984, Garden Grove, California
Members: Bryan "Dexter" Holland, vocals (born Long Beach, California, 29 December 1966); Greg Kriesel, bass (born Glendale, California, 12 January 1965); Kevin "Noodles" Wasserman, guitar (born Los Angeles, California, 4 February 1963); Ron Welty, drums (born Long Beach, California, 1 February 1971).
Genre: Rock, Punk
Best-selling album since 1990: Smash (1994)
Hit songs since 1990: "Come Out and Play," "Self-Esteem," "Pretty Fly for a White Guy"
The Offspring turned punk's nihilism on its head with lyrics just as likely to satirize itself or its fans as the "establishment."
The group's willingness to subvert punk, whose calling card is supposedly its subversion, can be found in its roots. Bryan Holland and some friends were unable to crash a 1986 concert by seminal Los Angeles punk band Social Distortion, and afterward vowed to form their own band. It seemed like a sour-grapes boast, but Holland actually learned the guitar and the following year formed Manic Subsidal, which would by 1989 become Offspring.
Playing a fusion of surf rock and skate-punk, the band was discovered in 1989 by Bad Religion founder and Epitaph Records owner Brett Gurewitz. He released the group's debut Offspring (1989), which sold a modest 3,000 copies. In the meantime, the members kept the band going on the side as they attended college. Drummer Ron Welty earned an electronics degree, bassist Greg Kriesel a finance degree, and Holland a master's degree in molecular biology. In an interview, Holland knowingly tweaked punksters as "smart kids trying to pretend they're not."
Ignition (1992) followed, selling a respectable 100,000 copies but not impressing the members enough to quit their jobs or studies. But the group's third album, Smash (1994), hit at just the right time—MTV was helping create a punk revival by hyping bands like Rancid and Green Day, and Offspring had accessible, offbeat material that unintentionally fit the new trend while not seeming like a clone of the others.
The first single "Come Out and Play" opened the doors, while the follow-up "Self-Esteem" kept the momentum going. Critics agree "Self-Esteem" does not win any points for musical originality—it is a "lafadoso" song, that is, a song that uses the typical 1990s alternative rock repeating bass line of la, fa, do, and so. However, the biting lyrics about an insecure guy who keeps coming back to an unfaithful girlfriend struck a vein among many teenagers, while the cheeky double entendre, "I took her back and made her dessert," maintains punk irreverence. The third single "Gotta Get Away" features a black and white video that portrays the mosh pit with stark drama. More musically complex than "Self-Esteem," the song tickles album rock fans' ears with its crunchy guitar and Holland's relatively melodic singing.
Selling about 5 million copies in the United States, Smash became the best-selling independent album in history. But Offspring jumped to major label Columbia, while Gurewitz accused the band of going corporate. With the band's Columbia debut Ixnay on the Hombre (1997), it seemed that Gurewitz would get the last laugh. The group's sense of humor is muted, and "Change the World" expresses disillusionment with Gurewitz.
However, Americana (1998) represents a return of the mischievous spark. The first single "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" pokes fun at suburban kids who pretend to be gangsta rappers, while "Why Don't You Get a Job" takes aim at slackers over a whimsical groove that recalls the Beatles' "Ob La Di."
Conspiracy of One (2000) continues in the same vein, with the band rocking out over fast-paced, mosh-pit ready tunes, but much of the material seems to merely borrow from past inspiration. In a typically irreverent move, the band announced in 2003 that its forthcoming album would be titled Chinese Democracy, which Guns N' Roses had announced several years earlier would be the title of its long-delayed album. "You snooze, you lose," Holland quipped.
Offspring dealt with the contradictions of being a mainstream punk band with humor and aplomb, and argued that there were more things for rebellious rockers to skewer than just the police, school, and parents.
Spot Light: "Come Out and Play"
While Rancid bragged about relieving the rich of their valuables on "Salvation" and Green Day dissed the workaday world on "Longview," the other mid-1990s punk breakout, Offspring, got its first hit with a more conservative point of view, criticizing gang culture and a lenient justice system. "Come Out and Play" contains all the sloppy musical credentials of punk: Vocalist Bryan Holland ominously speaks, but does not quite rap, the verses about kids going to school with guns. The chorus kicks in with a three-note hard rock guitar riff, while Holland does his best not to overenunciate. However, Holland is the rare punk rocker who expresses a dim view of the young male trend toward heightened machismo and sensitivity to slights: "Hey, man, you talking back to me? / Take him out." He also mocks the idea of trying teenagers as juveniles: "You're under 18 / you won't be doing any time." The song, which first made airplay charts in July 1994, does not follow traditional punk ideology. Unfortunately, it foreshadows the increase in school gun violence during the late 1990s. The Offspring would go on to make more blunt and often humorous statements about American life, but this serious indictment of youth culture and the juvenile justice system put it on the map.
Smash (Epitaph, 1994); Ixnay on the Hombre (Columbia, 1997); Americana (Columbia, 1998); Conspiracy of One (Columbia, 2000).
The Offspring ★★ From a Whisper to a Scream 1987 (R)
In four stories of past evils Price reveals his hometown can force folks to kill. Not the usual Price material: dismemberment, cannibalism, and necrophilia clash with his presence. Strong yuk factor. 99m/C VHS, DVD, UMD . Vincent Price, Cameron Mitchell, Clu Gulager, Terry Kiser, Susan Tyrrell, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Martine Beswick, Angelo Rossitto, Lawrence Tierney; D: Jeff Burr; W: Jeff Burr, C. Courtney Joyner; M: Jim Manzie.