Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine

Album: Virulence (Fat Wreck Chords)

Random thoughts: For some reason, it's always a thrill to talk to the pop-punk legends. I remember being somewhat giddy before interviewing Russ Rankin, mostly due to my youthful days listening to his other band, Good Riddance.

Punk rock on their own terms

By Jason Schreurs

How many punk bands can afford themselves the luxury of making music exactly how they want to? Groups of teenagers looking for a spot on the Warped Tour don’t stand a chance, but veterans of the punk scene like the members of Only Crime have paid their dues. Now’s it time to do things their own way.
“We wanted to create something that’s different and at least we feel it’s important, even if no one else does,” says lead singer Russ Rankin, “and, at the end of the day, we can sleep at night. And we won’t need to compromise anything.”
Rankin, best known for his longtime vocal duties in Good Riddance, has elected to do interviews while the rest of Only Crime—drummer Bill Stevenson (Descendents/All), Aaron Dalbec (ex-Bane/Converge), and brothers Zach and Doni Blair (both ex-Hagfish)—take in a movie before a touring gig. That’s just the kind of guy Rankin is; completely amped about the band’s second record, Virulence, and progression made towards the band’s musical goal.
“A lot of first album [To the Nines, 2004], even though it’s a really good record, has parts that are a little bit derivative of our other bands,” explains Rankin. “Virulence sounds very much like Only Crime and that’s really a result of us getting to know each other musically and setting our sights on something that is much different than all of the separate things that we bring in.”
The band’s goal, it seems, is to combine the fury of Black Flag with the melodic tendencies of early ‘80s melodic punk like The Adolescents and The Descendents. Splice in some Black Sabbath and jazz worship and the result is darker, groove-oriented punk, “but with no metal,” stresses Rankin.
With the members’ other bands on temporary or permanent hiatus, it was time for Only Crime to hit the studio and then the road again. In Rankin’s case, his other band, Good Riddance, just isn’t a priority anymore. It’s a combo of the other members not having as much time for the band and the climate of punk rock shifting to younger and trendier bands.
“Musical styles have changed and kids are listening to something much different now, so kids aren’t interested in Good Riddance anymore,” explains Rankin.
Sure, punk rock doesn’t mean what it meant before. What’s being called punk these days would probably send the ‘80s hardcore bands into a violent rage. But, just as kids have lost interest in melodic hardcore, they’re not exactly interested in the obtuse, ambitious hardcore Only Crime is cranking out either, are they?
“No,” agrees Rankin, “but we don’t care. It’s definitely an interesting time to be around punk. It really makes me check my motives for what I’m doing and be realistic. With Only Crime everyone just builds what they want out of the band experience because all of us have done this for so long. We’ve made every mistake you could make. It’s a chance to have a band to create music organically in an environment that fits all of our various ideals.”
This included taking some time to preconceive the band’s motives and create an environment that would foster the goals they had in mind. Most importantly, making music for themselves and no one else.
“With Good Riddance, we got thrown into a huge meat-grinder for 10 years where we never really had time to stop and think. With Only Crime it was a matter of stopping to decide what we wanted to do,” says Rankin. “We spent a lot of time talking about how to get along and avoiding all of the pitfalls that all of us have had in previous bands. Making sure at our age, and what’s going on in the industry, if we’re gonna take the time to do this, let’s make it a really good experience.”
One of the most obvious things about Only Crime is their likeness to Black Flag. The fact that Stevenson drummed for the LA hardcore legends for many years is only one reason for the similarities. On Virulence, the band actually scoured old tapes for riffs Stevenson made in the mid-‘80s when he was in Black Flag. The result is authentic hardcore, with a modern, kinda fucked up twist.
“I’ve never written anything like that before. It was really challenging for me writing lyrics and melody over music that complicated. The stuff on Virulence is head and shoulders for ambitious than the stuff on To the Nines.”
The Black Flag comparisons have also been the band’s biggest criticism, but it’s something they’ve embraced from the outset.
“We’ve never been shy about it, but at the same time we don’t want to be just a Black Flag knock-off,” says Rankin. “We take some of what Black Flag was doing into another place, and we take what a lot of bands were doing to another place.”
He also cites many punk bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s, such as The Germs, X, and the vastly underrated Boston band, Articles of Faith. Throw in jazz legends Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, and then heaps of Black Sabbath (“Big time!” enthuses Rankin) and the formula ain’t so simple.
“To just narrow it down to Black Flag is really short-changing what we are trying to do, although it’s a popular critique of our band,” admits Rankin.
Ultimately the band hopes to appeal to older punk fans who may be tired of the same clich├ęs, as well as younger fans who are looking for something a little different.
“With our music, as heavy and groove-oriented and dark and crazy as the arrangements are, the oblong phrasings, the discordant guitars… every song has a vocal hook where someone can leave the show and say, ‘I don’t know what the fuck that band was going, but that chorus was pretty good.’”

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