Politically outspoken Santa Cruz punks Good Riddance have never hidden their opinions, never been a band to put social issues in the background. This is a group that forces you to pay attention, hooking you with killer tunes and then educating. Their latest album, 2019’s Thoughts and Prayers, was the first since Trump took office, and the song titles reflect the toxic atmosphere that we all currently live in.
“Our Great Divide,” “No King But Caesar,” “No Safe Place,” “Pox Americana” — you can immediately see where they’re coming from. Frontman Russ Rankin says that he’s been pleased with the way the album has been received, though the album is more about society as a whole than this one person or administration.
“I don’t really think about administrations, per se,” he says. “I think about the cause and effect of what kind of system and what kind of society could allow somebody like that to ascend to that office and (focus) on the circumstances that could create an environment where that could happen, not so much on the person themselves.”
Of course, Good Riddance are not the only band who work with this mindset; Anti-Flag, Propagandhi — there are plenty of others who are inspired by politics. It’s tempting to feel that they become more vital when we’re living in bad times, though Rankin still believes that his band’s main role is as entertainers.
“[We] create a space where people can press a pressure release valve from the day to day,” he says. “Also, as far as political music for me when I was growing up and even now, it was helpful for me to have an outlet and to have someone in music give voice to the jumble of thoughts I had in my head of the fears and insecurities.”
That said, the end game is encouraging people to get out and vote — to make change happen.
“I would hope that people are inspired by bands that are singing about politics and social issues — inspired to the point of being able to getting out and vote and encourage their friends and family to do the same,” he says. “Hopefully this kind of music will energize and get people pumped about civics and politics, and the fact that it affects everybody.”
As Nirvana documented beautifully in “In Bloom” (“He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along, and he likes to shoot his guns, but he don’t know what it means…”), there are plenty of fans out there who enjoy a band’s music but are politically opposed.
“I’ve seen it even more since the advent of social media,” Rankin says. “Fans trolling me for my political opinions on social media. It’s fair — they can say what they want — but then other fans will say chime in and be like, ‘Do you even listen to the band? Do you read the lyrics?’ I think there’s a lot of people who rely on it to be entertainment. It’s music they can drink to or dance to, and they don’t put much more thought into it than that. That’s fair. But I think, I would hope, that it inspires people to become active. That’s what bands did for me. My whole political belief system is built on civic engagement which was inspired by bands that I listened to.”
Thoughts and Prayers was released in July, though the band has only been playing a few songs from it in the live environment. Rankin says that “Don’t Have Time” is his favorite to play on stage — it’s also one of his favorite songs that the band has ever recorded. Meanwhile, he says that it’s never too soon to start thinking about the next album, though solo material might come first in 2020.
“I have a guitar in my living room and I usually end up playing it and that’s usually where stuff comes from,” he says. “I’m also working on new solo stuff. I released a solo album in 2012 and I haven’t recorded another one since. I’d like to focus more on that a little bit this year.”
On Jan. 11, Good Riddance brings their show to Slim’s, and Rankin says that we can expect a career-spanning set.
“We’ve been playing a lot of stuff off some of our earlier albums, and particularly off of the album Symptoms of Levelling Spirit, which got reissued this past year,” he says. “When you have eight or nine albums, once you get up into that area, there are songs that you sort of have to play. We love all our songs but there are songs that I feel like our fans expect us to play.”
So Good Riddance marches into the New Year full of strong intentions and good ideas. New material from the band or Rankin solo might appear — otherwise they’ll keep playing out with a bunch of festivals on the horizon.
“Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas, Pouzza Fest in Montreal,” Rankin says. “And we’re going to Europe some time in the summer for some festivals. We really want to get back to Australia this year, and we really want to go to Japan. Trying to do a proper South American tour, which we’ve never done. Those are some of the things we’re kicking around. But for sure, Punk Rock Bowling and Pouzza Fest.”
As long as they play, there will be people paying attention.
Good Riddance with Youth Brigade, The Last Gang, The Love Songs, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11 at Slim’s.