Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness says he hopes to have the band's first album following the 2000 death of guitarist and co-founder Dennis Dannell out before the end of the year.

Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness says he hopes to have the band's first album following the 2000 death of guitarist and co-founder Dennis Dannell out before the end of the year.

"We got a lot of songs," says Ness. "And we're at the stage right now where it's a matter of narrowing it down to the best 15 and then finishing them. Most of them are arranged already, but they need to be finished with lyrics."

Founded in 1979 in Orange County, Calif., by high school friends Ness and Dannell, Social Distortion has seen various line-up changes over the years. And the forthcoming, as-yet-untitled album will be the first not to feature Dannell, who fell dead of a brain aneurysm in the driveway of his Orange County home two years ago at age 38.

More than anything else, Dannell left an emotional void, Ness says. "Dennis was the moral support of the band. He wasn't in the band because he was a hot guitar player. He was in the band because he was one of my best friends. And, ya know, he just was there, like, a lot of the time for moral support. So, now it's like I've had to be that guy now. I've had to fill his shoes, as far as that goes."

"I mean, I don't even look at it like I'm missing a guitar player," Ness continues. "Ya know, I'm really just missing a friend, a friend I grew up with and spent half my life with. I hardly look at Dennis as a work partner, a business partner, he was more just a friend. It's strange looking over and not seeing him. And, at times, it's painful. Ya know, I had to go through a lot of soul searching when he died -- whether to keep the band together, whether to break it up, and I just really felt like that's not what he would want. He'd want me to keep alive something he and I started together 22 years ago in a garage, in his garage."

Before his death in March 2000, Ness says he sensed that Dannell was ready for a change: "Dennis was doing a lot of other things in his life. He was raising a family and he had gotten into real estate. I was doing my solo record ["Cheating At Solitaire"]. And, ya know, I mean, without us discussing it or anything, I got the feeling that he didn't want to jump on a tour bus and be away from his family for nine months a year. Ya know, it was kind of like we both sensed it. He was saying it and I was hearing it without him saying it.

A family man himself, Ness says, "And I respect that so much. I mean, that would have been totally OK. I would respect that decision and move on."

And move on is exactly what the quartet did immediately after Dannell's death. Roughly two months after Dannell's passing, Social Distortion -- with former Cadillac Tramps and U.S. Bombs guitarist Johnny Wickersham sitting in -- headlined and hosted "When the Angels Sing," a sold-out tribute to Dannell (which also served as a benefit for his family) at Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre in Orange County. After sets by TSOL, Pennywise, Agent Orange, a reformed X, fellow O.C. locals the Offspring, and others, Ness and company took the stage for a thrilling set that featured an emotion-drenched tribute to the guitarist, "Don't Take Me for Granted," which Ness wrote for his friend.

With Wickersham, longtime bassist John Mauer, and drummer Charlie Quintana, Social Distortion has performed scores of shows since, selling out multiple-night stays in Orange County and New York.

Ness says he's not sure what label the new album will show up on -- since the band's last label, Time Bomb, is not active -- but he's not concerned about it. "We've put em out on our own labels before. We're gonna pay for the record ourselves, so we'll have a finished product. And, ya know, that's almost what we did with Time Bomb. Worst-case scenario, it's not hard to get a [pressing and distribution] deal with someone. We're open-minded to shopping it around, too. But, I'll tell ya, we realize now that we can make it on our own, and we don't need a big corporation behind us."

After more than 20 years, multiple line-up changes, and the passing of Dannell, Ness, who turns 40 in April, says it's simple what keeps him going, musically.

"I have a passion for what I do. And I think there's a difference between a musician and a guy in a band. I mean, there's a lot of guys in bands. And guys in bands sometimes get in bands so that they don't have to have a real job. I don't know, some people's payoff is after the show, going upstairs, having all their friends tell them how bitchin' they were. My payoff is onstage, when everything is locking, everything is going, and I look at the drummer, and we smile and say, 'It's f***in' on like a Swiss f***in' watch.' So there's a big difference. And, I'm a musician and I always have been and I always will be. I love music, and I love all kinds of music, and I love making music, I love hearing music, and that's what keeps me going-music keeps me going."

And what does Ness think about turning 40? "I don't care. I'm building a '36 Ford right now [that] I'm stoked on, I'm writing an album, I got two beautiful boys and a beautiful wife. Life is good man."