Good Riddance: Russ Rankin Interview

Author: Susan Proctor

russportraitNew and old fans of Good Riddance, the hardcore punk band from Santa Cruz, have a lot to look forward to. The band called it quits in 2007, but slowly and tepidly regrouped in 2012 to do   a few rehearsals, then one show and then even more shows.  Two years into that cycle, there are no signs of Good Riddance slowing down. This fall the band is heading to the studio for a new album and By the Barricade caught up with lead vocalist Russ Rankin at a recent show to learn more.  The full interview follows.

Russ Rankin – Vocals

Other Members of Good Riddance:
Chuck Platt – Bass
Luke Pabich – Guitar
Sean Sellers – Drums

By the Barricade: Who or what inspired you to be a musician and how old were you when you started?

Russ Rankin: I never wanted to be a musician until I was a sophomore in high school. That was when I first got into punk rock. It was the first kind of music that really grabbed me. Basically I was listening to the radio or whatever else my friends were listening to before that. Then a buddy of mine played me some Dead Kennedys and that changed my life. I got really into punk and Bad Religion was the first band that made me want to write songs. I thought their lyric writing was really clever and it got me thinking about stuff in ways that other bands didn’t. It was melodically pleasing to the ear which was different than a lot of bands. Some friends of mine were jamming they had a drummer and guitar player. I told them I would sing for them if they played Sex Pistols songs because at the time they were playing rock songs like AC/DC. I basically turned them into a punk band. Then that was it! I didn’t graduate high school but I would have maybe been a senior when I started doing that.

By the Barricade: Good Riddance has played all over the world from small dive bars to huge arenas and festivals. Do you have a memorable show experience that you can share; a positive one and a negative one?

_DSC8193Russ Rankin: There are so many. We had amazing shows in Toronto for some reason, more so than anywhere else. We had these incredibly triumphant, cliché-ridden rock experiences like when the PA would cut out and the crowd would sing really loud. I can’t pick out just one show but I know in Toronto, Montreal, Italy and Spain we always had great shows. We have been really fortunate and have had a chance to play to some great crowds. We have awesome fans and we also have been fortunate enough to have bigger bands take us out on tour and expose us to their fans. We played shows with Sick of It All. We were talking the other day about the last stage dive any of us have done because we are all old men now. I know it was when we were on tour with Sick of It All in Providence, RI, I don’t know the club, but it was 1999 and they were playing “Injustice System” and it was the last stage dive I ever did. That would stick out to me as one of those nights. Sick of It All were great every night, but something extra was in the air. The crowd was amazing and I couldn’t help myself. I was on the side of the stage and I just ran and jumped.

By the Barricade: How about the negative side of things?

Russ Rankin: We are really fortunate that our fans got what we were about from the beginning and we generally were playing action packed shows. There was a lot of dancing and slamming, not too much violence; but when there was it was really a bummer. It was such a letdown and it was only ever in California and Florida … more so in Florida. That is a place where there are still some white pride people that hang out and that is just sad to see. It was depressing to think that this is where we have come as a society; this is still something that people think is cool. Those are the kinds of things that would stick with me probably longer than they should have. I read too much into it and try to look at how I have failed, as if I could have had any impact one way or another. When people fight, when there is violence then scenes ruin themselves, they vandalize the club or drink too much and do something stupid. Then they don’t have shows anymore and that was always the biggest bummer on tour. Looking back if I am honest with myself the positives way, way outweigh the negatives. The norm was great crowds, great shows, we have been fortunate all along to have some of the best fans any band could ever hope to have.

russBy the Barricade: Your band isn’t afraid to speak up for organizations and causes. Is there a certain issue or multiple issues you are particularly passionate about right now?

Russ Rankin: Animal rights is a big one. We had a lot of success early on back in the 90’s before there was the internet as it is now. We would get literature from PETA and we would set it out on our merchandise table for free and kids would take it. I have had so many people get in touch with me and tell that because of that stuff, I am vegetarian now, or I am vegan and so are my friends. Being able to have that kind of positive impact on people’s lives without shoving it down anyone’s throat or without speaking from supposed moral hilltop I think is always preferable. It is humbling to know that people have pulled something positive from what we do. People would email me and talk with me at shows. Now that we are still playing and people are coming to see us, and they got into our band when they were in high school, now they are basically older and married and stuff. We see how they have turned out and that we had a hand in raising them is sort of cool and sort of scary at the same time. I know what that feels like because bands did the same thing for me. I am the person that I am 100% because of the bands I listened to, what they made me think about and what they made me question. The fact that we can have that effect on people’s lives that is really cool.

Back to your original question, animal rights is big with us, I am vegan, Chuck and Luke are vegetarian, Sean is not, but in principle he backs our struggle and he is into it. We have been able to work with PETA for a long time, also some other organizations such as Food Not Bombs, Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project. We would basically donate a portion of the sale of every one of our albums and Fat Wreck Chords would match it. I think it was $.10 a record that would go to an organization that we would designate before the record was released.  We have supported Western Service Workers Association and now it is organizations like Democracy Now which is a radio and television station. We support Planned Parenthood, especially nowadays. The last 5 years have been really toxic for reproductive rights and I think a lot of people don’t get that it is not just a women’s issue. Generally I think it is an issue for everybody when state and local governments can shut that stuff down. I don’t think it bodes well for anybody and I believe that women have the right to comprehensive health care everywhere all the time. That is something that we are focused on too.

By the Barricade: When you guys got back together to do some shows back in 2012 there were a lot of interviews where you weren’t sure that you would fully restart the band. What made things click again to the point where you have kept on going?

Russ Rankin: It was dipping our toes cautiously. Ever since we stopped playing in 2007, we were inundated with offers, pretty good offers, to get together for this festival or that festival and we turned them down. The band became interested in doing it and I still wasn’t. I was the last guy and really was not interested. They said, “Let’s just practice.” So we did and then we decided to just do one show and that turned into two shows and I think it’s tricky when you do this kind of thing after making a big deal about not playing anymore and then 5 years later we are going to play again. That initial year 2012, was everybody celebrating, “Oh, I get to see Good Riddance again,” or “I just missed them and my older friends turned me on to them but I didn’t get to see them play and now I do.” You are on a honeymoon for about a year where people don’t question it, they are happy that you are back playing and they want to see you play. After that, I think it just becomes like a Karaoke thing. Now, I love the Psychedelic Furs and that is all they do, they come back and play the same songs from 25 years ago and I don’t care and I will pay money and go see them, but we are not the Psychedelic Furs. There is something inside us that we realized we needed to either make new music or really stop. That was cool and it was good to get that out of our system and people did get a chance to see the band again. But to do the yearly, “Oh, we are back! Here are the same songs from when you were 15 … cool.” I don’t think that is for us. It may be for some bands and I think that is fine but for us this natural thing started happening where pretty soon at sound checks we are goofing around with new stuff. Somebody’s got a riff and somebody else starts playing and it may be with all bands, but conceptually there is this body of material that hasn’t moved or grown in years and it becomes stagnant. You need to be ok with that and do the Karaoke thing or you inevitably start talking about new music and that is what we did. We demoed a few songs and everybody liked the direction we were going so that is what is next.

russ1By the Barricade: That leads into my next question, I saw on your website that you are going into the studio in November a new record. What can you tell us about that?

Russ Rankin: I am really happy with what we are coming up with and it’s been a lot of fun. I don’t know how I wrote songs before GarageBand on my Mac computer. Being able to sit down with my laptop, plug in my guitar and demo a whole song is incredible. It is awesome. We have about 2 months or so before we go in, we have most of the music down and I have to start getting lyrics and melodies together. It’s going to be fun.

By the Barricade: Will that come out on Fat Wreck?

Russ Rankin: Yes.

By the Barricade: Switching gears now to you personally, what are you listening to right now or do you have a go-to album or band?

Russ Rankin: Being older has gotten me to open my mind to not be so dug into my small little musical foxholes that I was dug into before. I still listen to a lot of things. My iPod is in my car on shuffle all the time. It will go from The Pogues to Cock Sparrer to Dead Kennedys to the Get Up Kids to Coldplay, all kinds of random stuff. I am getting into iTunes radio which is cool because you can pick a song that you like and it builds a station off of that. I start listening to bands that I never would have heard of or thought to go listen to otherwise. There is a band called Pow Pow that I am listening to, I like The Killers, I’m less worried about how cool I seem when I tell people who I listen to. It used to be really important to me. I was terrified of what people thought of me at the time and I think I am a little more comfortable now to be able to say I listen to The Killers. I am ok with it. I like how it sounds. The way the music is going with streaming services and the ability to expose you instantly to new music is pretty cool. I like it when iTunes radio gets to know you and you think, “Wow, I’ve never heard this band, but I like this song, it’s cool.” Listening to music today is definitely different today than it was when I was getting hand me down mixtapes from older guys.

By the Barricade: When you aren’t making music what do you like to do?

Russ Rankin: I’m so busy. I sing in another band, I have a solo record and do solo shows, I have a day job, and I scout for a hockey team.

By the Barricade: So you work in your spare time. We are going to be in Chicago to see Only Crime.

Russ Rankin: Yeah, we are really looking forward to that. We just got back from Europe and it was so fun. It’s nice to play with that band again . We haven’t’ played in a long time but it was really good to play again.

By the Barricade: What words of wisdom would you give to an aspiring musician or up and coming band?

Russ Rankin: I can’t even imagine what it would be like to start a band now … just from scratch because there are so many bands and it is over exposed. I don’t know how anyone can get themselves noticed over the din of it all. When we, Good Riddance, seriously wanted to be a band, we just worked; we played as many shows as we could. We toured out to Texas and up to Washington State just on our demo tape, financing the tour ourselves. We didn’t care if we lost money or not. We sent demo tapes everywhere and never gave up. At some point you need to have a little bit of good fortune. To be at the right place at the right time and meet the right people but a lot of that a band can make happen just by how hard it works instead of just sitting around waiting to be discovered. I don’t know how people make sense of it all, there are too many bands. When I was getting into punk rock there was probably still too many bands, but I only knew a certain amount of them, The Misfits, Dead Kennedys, there were bands you had to listen to, the classics. Now it seems overwhelming to me. As a music fan it is cool because there is so much more to choose from and it is so readily available but for a band trying to be noticed among all of that, I don’t know how you do it without lighting yourself on fire or doing something completely different and outrageous to set yourself apart.

By the Barricade: As a music fan, you see how hard bands are working and yet they aren’t making it big. But, when you go to a show once you understand.

_DSC8229Russ Rankin: People have to choose, do I want to pay money and see this band on a work night, or do I want to stay home and watch YouTube instead. It’s different. I am in the same boat as fans with that dilemma. My good friends Dropkick Murphys came through and played Santa Cruz last year. Normally when a band comes through I go to sound check and get coffee and say hi and I don’t go to the show, but they wanted me to sing with them. So I had to go to the show. In the evening after being home, it was so hard to get up and get dressed to go out again. Once my girlfriend and I were at the show, we were stoked, it was awesome, but it is the inertia you experience. It’s good to stay out and not go home because you are not going to want to go out again. People who come out and pay money on a work night to come and see our band, I have nothing but respect and admiration for them for doing that. Now I know what it is like.

By the Barricade: Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of By the Barricade?

Russ Rankin: The fact that we didn’t play for five years gave us a chance to reflect a lot and put our band in a different perspective and to really realize how blessed we have been to be able to travel and see what we have seen and to meet everyone we have ever met. We want to thank everybody that has ever supported our band. We really do have the best fans. It has been really humbling to reconnect with everybody.

Keep it on Bythebarricade.com for more punk rock interviews, reviews, articles, and photos! Also, “Like” By the Barricade on Facebook to never miss a post. If you liked this article check out:

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Susan Proctor

Author: Susan Proctor

If working for Tumaini International helping aids orphans in Kenya isn’t enough, Susan spends almost every waking hour going to shows, doing interviews and editing articles. Her work behind the scenes is only rivaled by her sheer dedication to promoting bands. From Pennywise to other guys she’s covered it all, and been with By the Barricade since day one!

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