The Offspring Continues Challenging Itself

Excerpted from the magazine for

About a half-hour before the Offspring took the stage at a recent holiday show for WXTM (92.3) Cleveland, the wings were typically empty and quiet, aside from guitar and drum techs buzzing by and the occasional passing security guard.

But as it grew closer to the band's 8:40 p.m. start time, crowds began to form on both sides of the stage for the first time during the night. Members of the other acts on the bill -- Korn, Adema, Ill Nino, Story of the Year -- as well as staffers and local DJs were gathering for the penultimate band of the night.

The Offspring is one of the few acts being played by nu-metal-focused modern rock stations that has both respect and years of commercial success under its belt.

Getting to this point after 19 years as a band did not come easy for these survivors of the early-1990s alt-rock boom, guitarist Noodles (ne Kevin Wasserman) notes with a laugh.

"We've had a lot of people point out how long we've been together, but for the first 10 years, it's what we did as a hobby. We saved up our money to travel across the country and go out on weekends and summer vacations.

"We spent way more money than we ever made doing it, just because it's what we love to do, it's fun," Noodles adds. "So now, to be able to do it and make money at it, it's just gravy. We feel like we're just super-lucky to be in this position."

The enduring SoCal punk act wouldn't be in that position had it not made a habit of going out on a limb creatively.

Since breaking through with the singles "Come Out and Play (Keep 'Em Separated)" and "Self Esteem" (from 1994's "Smash"), the Offspring has made repeated successful forays into pop and ska, helping it sell 13.2 million albums in the U.S. during the past nine years, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The act's seventh disc, "Splinter" (issued Dec. 9 on Columbia), even finds it plunging into hip-hop with funky first single "Hit That," featuring former 2Pac keyboardist Ronnie King.

It's a song that offers "something different, something that people haven't heard from us before," frontman Dexter Holland says.

Taking those types of risks has not only yielded the band its biggest hits but also kept things fresh for its members.

"Punk music is what inspired me to start a band; it's totally where we came from and what I love, and it's still a big part of all our records," says Holland, the band's chief songwriter. "Half this record is pretty much fast, melodic, whatever, punk stuff. But you kind of get bored just doing that after a while. I do.

"There are some bands like the Ramones where a lot of their stuff sounds similar and there's something you love about it anyway, and that's great, and some bands pull that off really well. For us, I feel like I need to mix it up a little bit more-just try new ideas as a way of keeping it interesting for us."

The door for such risk-taking was flung open by the success of "Smash," Noodles says.

The guitarist notes that the band initially saw the singles from that album, the songs that put it on the map -- "Self Esteem" and the quirky "Come Out and Play" -- as risks. Of the latter, he says, "We were worried that our fans were going to hate it; we didn't expect it to blow up on radio. Both were slower songs, and our fans were just mostly punks at the time.

"Ultimately, we just went, 'You know what? They're great songs. They're funny.' I loved 'Come Out and Play'; it just made me laugh, even though it was a serious song. So we decided to throw them on there, and it has just been the philosophy we've had ever since. It's like, 'Do we like this song? Do we think it's a good song?' You can't worry about how it's going to be perceived by anybody and whether or not the fans are going to start screaming 'sellout.' "

Excerpted from the Dec. 20, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Premium Services section.

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