LOS ANGELES, January 17, 2014 — Russ Rankin is the lead singer of the punk bands Good Riddance and Only Crime. Hailing from Santa Cruz in northern California, Rankin somehow also became an avid hockey fan and eventually scout. Wells On Music spoke with Russ Ranking back in April of 2013 regarding the formation of Good Riddance, what the future holds for G.R. and Only Crime, and breaking into the world of hockey.
Kevin Wells: What bands made you want to start your own band?
Russ Rankin: Probably Bad Religion. When I heard the lyrics that they were writing, it was making me think a lot. I thought it was brilliant to use music as a tool to express thought, conscious thought and ideas and I thought it would be cool to have a forum [myself]. So I think that was the first time I thought about singing in a band with the melodies and the lyrics of Bad Religion.
KW: How did Good Riddance get together?
RR: I had some friends that were playing music and they wanted me to sing for them. I never sang in a band and thought, “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” They were playing just kind of random music and I said, “I’ll sing for you guys if we do these Sex Pistols covers,” because that’s the band I was really into at the time. And so we started doing that at parties and we called ourselves Good Riddance, but we didn’t really do much more than play covers at the occasional party. No one else in the band was really that serious about it.
At the same time, there was a thrash metal band in town, called Rude Awakening, and Luke [Pabich] was one of their guitar players. Our guitar player broke his wrist skateboarding and we had a show scheduled, so Luke filled in. He and I started becoming friends and when Rude Awakening broke up, Luke was getting more and more into punk. He wanted to join our band and once he joined our band, that was in 1990, that’s when I would say Good Riddance really started as an actual band.
We were writing original songs and Luke and I both had a pretty good work ethic. We wanted to play outside of our hometown. We really wanted to make it work. So, he and I started going from there and replaced some band members, tried to find people who were a little more motivated and willing to work. So, that’s kind of how it started. I would say, 1990 as a serious band.
KW: What was your favorite Good Riddance record of those you’ve recorded?
RR: Symptoms of a Leveling Spirit. There was a lot of good, happy stuff going on in my personal life and that was probably the highest epic that Good Riddance ever achieved as far as, I guess, what you could call success. That record and the tour that followed it that year were the biggest we ever got. As far as press, every town we showed up in, there was an article on us.
I did tons of interviews. Fat Wreck Chords put a ton of weight behind it. You could really sense it. We got bumped up to the bigger rooms in every city, sold out most of our shows. We went to Europe and got bumped up to the bigger rooms over there.
And that record was the first time where, as a song writer, I really felt like I knew what I was doing and was able to sort of push boundaries a little bit and the songs turned out the way they sort of seemed in my head when I was first starting to write them. So that was a really cool experience. The record came together, I think, really well and it sounded really good. The lineup of the band was strong at that time. So that would be my favorite experience as far as the whole process from writing to recording and the whole year and a half of touring.
KW: Why did you guys stop playing initially back in 2007?
RR: We recorded a record, My Republic. I think it was released in 2006. We hadn’t been doing much because around 2002 Luke, our guitar player, wanted to go back to school, full time. So that basically pulled the rug out from under from us as a full-time touring band. We were like, “that’s cool, if that’s what you want to do.”
It forced us to look at other places for jobs and regular work. At the same time, our bass player was having children, Luke was starting to have children. There just wasn’t a lot of time for us to do stuff. We went from being a full-time band that was touring all the time to barely touring at all while Luke was in school.
We were talked into writing another album by [Fat] Mike, who was running Fat Wreck Chords. He said, “I think you guys have another good album in you, you know, I want you to really start thinking about writing another record.” I said, “Well, I’ll start writing and we’ll see where it goes.” The stuff I was writing, I really liked it. I played it for the other guys in the band and they liked it too.
Anyway, we put that record out. We felt really good about it. We felt it was a really strong record. Nobody really bought it and then we went out on tour and nobody came to the shows. And that’s when we realized, “Oh, okay. We could either walk away with some dignity or we could be that band.” Like Spinal Tap, Spinal Tap and the Puppet Show. We didn’t want to be that band. We’d seen that happen to other people.
Basically, music is always changing and people like different things and different styles. We always did the same thing and we weren’t really willing to change our style or look or stage costumes or whatever or anything like that to try to please a different audience. So the writing was sort of on the wall for us there. We decided to stop.
We decided to play some shows that were final shows because a lot of our favorite bands had broken up in the spur of the moment on the road and we never got a chance to see ‘em for a last time. We wanted to give people an opportunity, who appreciated the band, to have one last time to come and see us. And for those shows we pulled out all the stops and played 30-something songs.
KW: What made you want to get back together with Good Riddance more recently and start playing shows again?
RR: Both of the guys in the band, well, Shawn has a kid too, but Chuck and Luke each have two children and those children are old enough to where it’s cool for them to go away. Luke is no longer in school and they both have careers that give them a little bit of time off. We all miss playing the songs. They had been talking about wanting to play shows again in the intervening five years and I always had no interest in it at all. We turned down numerous offers for a lot of money to get back together and play festivals overseas or shows. We just turned it all down.
Those guys wanted to meet for coffee. We sat down for a couple hours and they basically talked me into it. They said they missed playing the songs and we have the time to do this and now is a good time. We will be able to pick our spots and things that sound fun. We can leverage the modest fun this might cause to [promote] some social organizations and agendas that we’ve always had in the band, to bring some attention to stuff. We’re having [a] PETA table [at] our shows and things like that. I was basically willing to give it a go and see where it went.
KW: Will there be any new Good Riddance albums and will they be on Fat Wreck Chords?
RR: I couldn’t tell you. We’ve discussed it. I think that doing what we’re doing…at some point you either stop or there needs to be new material or else it just becomes karaoke. I think it’s important for us to figure that out pretty quick. We’ve got about another year or so of touring and things lined up to play. I think, at that point, we’re really gonna have to seriously consider, and we’ve already begun to talk about it, either writing new material or really pulling the plug. We don’t have as much time as we used to have to write, you know, all of us have full time jobs. So we’ll see.
As far as the label, I don’t know. We would have no issue being on Fat Wreck Chords. We have no problem being on Fat Wreck Chords. It’s just a matter of if they would want to do it or if they can afford it.
KW: What is going on with Only Crime?
RR: Yeah, Only Crime has been sort of on hold for a while because our drummer was really sick for a long time. Just the last couple years he’s been back on his feet. We had a member change or two. We started working on our third album in 2008 and we just finished it and we’re just finishing up contracts for a label [that] is going to release that album. So there should be some announcements coming shortly with that. We haven’t played since 2010. That was maybe the last time we toured. We’re definitely still a band, it’s just that everybody is busy doing other things. It’s been one thing after another that’s been holding us back. There is a third album, it’s finished, and it will be released this year.
KW: You are also a hockey scout. How did that happen?
RR: I love hockey, it’s my passion. I’m obviously not good enough to play professionally. I’ve always had people tell me I have a good eye for the game and that I should be working in hockey in some respect. I have a good friend that used to play in the league and I asked him, “I want to work in hockey. What do you think? What would your suggestion be?” He was part owner of a team in the Western Hockey League at that time.
Coincidentally, the Western Hockey League has teams in the western part of Canada, as well as Washington and Oregon. It’s primarily made up of kids from western Canada. Recently, more and more players from California, Texas, Arizona and stuff have been into the league and playing. So this guy talked to the GM of a team he was part owner of and said, “What do you think about letting him scout in California for your team?” That was my in. That was in 2007.
This past summer was my last camp with that team. Then I made it to a different team in the same league that’s a little bit more keen on California players. The team before was the Kootenay Ice who were great. I learned a ton working for them. It was a great experience for me. Now I am working for the Tri-City Americans who play in Kennewick, WA. They already have two Californians and U.S. kids on their roster. I’ve also interned with the Anaheim Ducks for a year and went a couple scouting trips with them. I was hoping to catch on, but that just didn’t work out. Every year, I send my resume out to all 30 NHL teams and I’m gonna keep doing that. That’s ultimately what I want to do, scout for an NHL team.
KW: Would you ever consider running for political office?
RR: Yeah, I think about it all the time and I have people tell me I should. I think the first step if I were gonna stay here in Santa Cruz will probably be city council or something like that. I thought about it. It’s definitely not something I am going to rule out. I’m fortunate enough right now to have several forums and be able to have a voice. I think if those were changed or went away, I would look for a different outlet and that would be the next logical thing for me.
KW: Is there anything else you would like you fans to know?
RR: I just want to thank everybody for the support through all the years. All the email and messages I get from people about how they feel our music has positively impacted their lives, it’s really, really humbling. I think with social media and the advances of that over the last decade or so, I think that we really are able to see and hear from people more than we could before on a personal level and it’s really humbling. We’re just a local band from a small beach town, just doing our thing. The fact that people have made positive changes in their life and been exposed and inspired to do positive things in the world because of our band and bands like us is an honor and it’s really humbling. I appreciate that.
Kevin J. Wells writes about Major League Baseball and punk rock music. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball