Green Day 2009. Drummer Tre Cool (left) and bassist Mike Dirnt (right) flank frontman Billie Joe Armstrong.

How does "21st Century Breakdown" expand from "American Idiot"?

Mike Dirnt: It was a really trying time for our patience, because we're used to banging things out. Rather than have the next record be a reaction, kind of like what we did with "Insomniac" after "Dookie," we wanted to take everything we had gained from "American Idiot" and reach even higher. It was really scary to make that decision, but it had to be made because we knew it would be a long haul. So we went for it.

Did you consciously go into the new album wanting to make another rock opera?

Dirnt: That didn't really come along until [producer] Butch [Vig] came into the picture. We had written from a bunch of different perspectives. There was this kind of Foxboro Hot Tubs's garage band element that came in at one point, and there was some hardcore punk stuff, and then there was stuff that was just way out there. When Billie wrote "Know Your Enemy" it really struck a chord because the song is saying something. It's a broad stroke on a really bold statement. So we asked how we could reach for that.

Green Day recently played last-minute club shows in the Bay Area. What was the idea behind that?

Tre Cool: We said, "Let's just jump into the f*cking frying pan and go out and play for people." It was a guerilla Bay Area Green Day assault. I'm really proud of this band. We've come so far from the blank page of, "What are we going to write about after "American Idiot"?" to having written our best record and played it live four times. It feels like we really own it, and I can't wait to tour it proper.

After "American Idiot," Green Day formed the side band, Foxboro Hot Tubs. What brought that on?

Dirnt: That was a combination of a time when we were listening to a lot of old vinyl, and then we were sitting around one night and drinking a bunch of wine at the studio. We decided to write a bunch of trashy songs. We got this old analog eight-track and wrote the music to ten songs and recorded them live that night. Then we went through the next few weeks and finished the songs up. It gave us a platform to put something out and have some fun and get out from underneath the Green Monster. It really paid off, because it put us onstage again in down-and-dirty club environments and brought the physicality we needed.

Is “21st Century Breakdown” a more physically demanding album to perform?

Cool: I've got these new muscles on my arms that I don't know where the hell they came from. My hands are getting torn up, too. I had to get fingerprinted today for a passport and I didn't have a fingerprint on one hand, because it had worn off from my drumstick. So I could be a cat burglar, if this music thing doesn't pan out.

"American Idiot" was your first No. 1 album. What drove its popularity?

Dirnt: When Billie wrote "American Idiot," he asked Tre and me if we were okay with him saying these things. And we said he should say more. Maybe it's the punk scene we come from -- people related with that because they were fed up. Then they got into the record and realized they could relate with the characters on the record and the stories in it. It was a reflection of what was going on in America at the time.

Was there ever a time when the band thought about breaking up?

Dirnt: We went from playing hockey arenas across Europe to playing for 1,100 people. We were always grateful to have that crowd, but that's a blow to your ego. We came home and literally had meetings, me, Billie, and Tre. My question was, "Why the f*ck aren't we in stadiums? I think we're writing some of the greatest rock'n'roll I've ever heard. What's going on? Where do we want to be as a band?" So we set the goals and tried to achieve them. In hindsight, those records really are the building blocks to where we are right now. I'm super fucking excited to be playing shows again -- we haven't played in over three years. Most bands that don't play for three years break up.

Looking back on "American Idiot," how does the whole experience register with you?

Cool: I've been in this band longer than I haven't been in this band. I tend to refer to periods of time as the record we were doing. I'll look through old pictures and say, 'Oh, that was "Nimrod,"' like someone in college would say, "Oh, that was my freshman year" The album cycles become that chapter of your life. But we're going for our doctorate by now. I think we're brain surgeons at this point.