Armstrong: ‘It got pretty scary for a while’
Lifestyle| | By
Green Day’s Revolution Radio was written before this year’s election cycle, meaning there are no searing takedowns of politicians akin to the band’s Bush-bashing American Idiot in 2004. Not like that would’ve mattered anyway.
“I get absolutely no inspiration from Donald Trump,” says frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, 44. “He’s a white supremacist, there’s no other way around it.”
Instead, the punk icons’ 12th album, out Friday, paints in broader strokes: assessing what’s going on in our world and culture through a riotous, provocative lens. It’s a bracing return to form for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, whose ambitious 2012 releases ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! lacked focus, by Armstrong’s own admission.
Revolution‘s urgency is heard from the get-go on lead single Bang Bang, a blistering critique of gun violence in the U.S. The song was written around the time of the Isla Vista, Calif., shooting in 2014 when 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 after writing a hate-spewing “memoir.”
What intrigued Armstrong “was all this dismal insecurity and narcissism, and using social media to write his own strange manifesto,” he says. “One thing you see with social media is that everyone’s got a manifesto now, whether it’s psychotic or sane. It’s up to whoever reads it to judge.”
The album’s title track, meanwhile, was sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement, after Armstrong stumbled into a rally in New York and proceeded to march with protesters.
“I felt myself gravitating toward it,” Armstrong says. “There were so many people speaking truth to power and it was really inspiring. I didn’t set out to go ‘I’m going to write a song about this.’ It just reflected that sort of energy of what was going on.”
There are immensely vulnerable tracks, too. Still Breathing is about survival and overcoming hardship, he says, while opening track Somewhere Now touches on the struggle to find himself after rehab. Now four years sober, Armstrong received treatment for alcohol and drug addiction in 2012 after suffering a meltdown at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas. When the band was prompted to finish their set, he yelled that he’s “not (expletive) Justin Bieber” and smashed his guitar before storming off.
Leading up to that performance, “he was drunk as (heck) and just proceeded to keep drinking. It was the worst I’ve ever seen him in a public forum,” says bassist Mike Dirnt, 44, who was onstage that night along with drummer Tré Cool. Afterward, “I told him: ‘I love you, but what is more important is your life and our friendship. So you go get right, or we’re not going to play music anymore.’ ”
Armstrong, who is married with two sons, says what he remembers from that show “is a bunch of stuff I’d rather forget.” At the time, “I was just out of my mind; I was pretty numb. There was a lot of chaos that was going on up inside my head.”
His bandmates have also endured their share of personal struggles. Dirnt’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, and the group’s touring guitarist Jason White with tonsil cancer months later. While both are now in remission, the experiences ultimately brought Green Day closer.
“We had to take a collective deep breath and look out for each other,” Armstrong says. “It got pretty scary for a while, but we just had to be there for each other as friends. We’re in a really good place now, because of all the stuff that everyone’s had to overcome.”