Just when it seemed like almost everyone in the big-time East Bay punk band Rancid has had a side project of their own except for bassist Matt Freeman, the 44-year-old bassist is today releasing Devil's Brigade, a long-in-the-works collection of rockabilly-country-punk on which Freeman plays upright bass. With a little help from fellow Rancid members Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen, and drumming by X's DJ Bonebreak, Devil's Brigade melds old-timey vibes — lyrics about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge and being a union man, and the dusty, percussive slaps of Freeman's upright — with the anthemic, superheated punk that Rancid made its name on. Freeman recently spoke to us from his home in Berkeley about how the Devil's Brigade project came to be, which Ramones songs his young sons like, the fate of legendary Berkeley venue 924 Gilman (where several of Freeman's bands began), and whether fans of the pre-Rancid legends Operation Ivy can ever hope to see the band reunited. Devil's Brigade comes out today on Epitaph Records, and the touring band comes to Slim's in S.F. on October 16.
How did Devil's Brigade get started? Where did the initial musical ideas, like playing with an upright bass, come from?
Matt Freeman: We started writing some of those songs 10 years ago, just me and Tim. I was trying to play upright back then, and we were like 'Oh, let's have some fun and write these psychobilly/punk songs.' We ended up doing a demo of them and it turned out pretty well. The plan was [that] I could do this band Devil's Brigade and maybe take it on the road someday with other musicians, and it'd be something different — sort of like what Lars [Frederiksen] did with the Bastards or Tim [Armstrong] with the Transplants. So we recorded the songs, [and] it came out pretty well. I ended up putting them out on some EPs and a couple Give 'Em The Boot compilations on Hellcat [Records]. I never really got around to getting the other half [of the songs] done with the other band. Rancid is sort of taking a break right now, because we just put out a record and did a bunch of touring, so it was time to do it.