Green Day: “We’re not going anywhere… and we’re just getting better!”

They’re back! And Green Day have been squirrelled away in London and Los Angeles “making rock’n’roll history again” with their new album, Saviors. Here, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool lift the lid on their latest banger, feeling happy again, finding connections, and wearing the smelliest gear ever in the studio…

Green Day: “We’re not going anywhere… and we’re just getting better!”
Emily Carter
Emmie America, Alice Baxley, Greg Schneider

Billie Joe Armstrong had really only made the phone call because he fancied a chat. Dialling the number of one Rob Cavallo, the Green Day frontman was planning on giving his longtime friend a quick ‘hello’. Maybe even suggest meeting for some Mexican food. But Rob had ideas much grander than your casual catch-up.

“The first thing he says to me is, ‘Are you ready to make some rock’n’roll history again?’” Billie laughs today of this fortuitous exchange. “And I was like, ‘I thought maybe we can go out and get a burrito…’”

Still, Rob’s comment hadn’t gone unheard. A producer so significant to the Green Day story that his name is attached to not one but two generation-defining records – 1994’s Dookie and 2004’s American Idiot – a “lightbulb went off”, right then and there, in Billie’s brain.

“Rob definitely had a fire in his belly, and really wanted to work with us again,” he continues, enthusiastically. “It made me realise how much we missed him, and how much we wanted to work with him. He’s one of the best rock producers of all time, as far as I’m concerned. His energy is off the charts. And when he’s on, you definitely get the best of yourself, and you rise above your own limitations at the same time.”

This, then, is the serendipitous and slightly random conversation that would lead to Green Day’s brilliant 14th full-length, Saviors.

Today, we find the band – completed by bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool – in London, where much of the album was recorded. Having long wrapped up work on its fantastic 15 tracks, they’ve crossed the pond to celebrate the official announcement of their latest work, cause some chaos all over Europe, and simply do Green Day shit. Rowdy club shows in Paris and Milan. A tiny, surprise gig at Covent Garden’s Marquis pub. And, unfortunately, one cancelled date in the capital due to unexpected illness. It’s been a whirlwind of a visit – and the Oakland punk titans have relished every single second.

“Playing the shows has been amazing,” Billie begins. “The show that we did at the pub felt so good, with everybody coming out and people singing in the street. We didn’t really know what to expect – it was this last-second idea, and it just turned into rock’n’roll bliss.”

“It’s killer,” agrees Tré. “It’s been a really free feeling to play some new stuff, and to just be like, ‘Hey, fuck it. Let’s go play a pub, acoustic, and wreck that neighbourhood for a couple of hours.’ It’s hard to describe what it’s like to take the stage with these guys every night, because, you know, they’re the best! Playing those shows and being that close with the fans, and how sort of random it all is, we just love it.”

“It’s also nice to be able to spread our wings with the setlist a little bit,” adds Mike. “We can reach into our catalogue as far back as we want and mix it up each night as we see fit. It’s a little harder to do that with full production when the bigger shows come. We try to, but, you know, you might blow somebody up onstage…”

During Green Day’s time here last year, they found themselves partaking in similar levels of mischief. By day, the band would be hard at work, fully focused on bringing Saviors to life. By night, it was a different story. On Halloween, for example, Billie, Tré, and Tré’s wife and son went trick-or-treating to “all the neighbourhoods that gave out all the candy”, dressed up as one of their favourite bands, The Ramones.

And then there was the time they ventured south of the river…

“One night we went to this crazy burlesque show down in Brixton,” Billie remembers. “By the end of the night, the dancers were giving us their nipple tassels. We took off our shirts and put these nipple tassels on, and we were shaking like this” – he starts jiggling his whole body around in circles – “to try to get them to do these windmills. And I’ve got the photos to prove it!”

Amazingly, recording the majority of this album in London was a first-time experience for the band, and something the frontman had been itching to do for a while. But despite his love of the city, and their many previous visits, packing their bags and descending on Marylebone’s legendary RAK Studios only came about after he searched online where Liam Gallagher had recorded his latest album, C’mon You Know.

“I think that we were getting in touch with our British influences,” Billie explains. “Anything from English punk to British invasion to Britpop. We wanted to get something out of the air that was happening.”

While the majority of Saviors was completed in this wonderful yet unfamiliar building, a handful of songs were also done in a studio the trio are extremely well acquainted with – Hollywood’s Ocean Way – which Billie refers to as “one of the best rooms in the world” (sadly, it’s since closed down, with Green Day actually being the last band to have recorded there).

“It’s a home away from home for us,” Billie shares, “because we’ve been recording there since [1995’s] Insomniac. If you listen to the intro to Armatage Shanks, or if you listen to the intro to Know Your Enemy, or even like on American Idiot, where you can hear the drums, I can immediately identify that room. It’s just a special place.

“I think Rob Cavallo said it best,” he adds, proudly. “It’s like our Abbey Road.”

An inspiring new studio combined with somewhere Green Day have famously laid down some of their very best work? Boy, do we have some questions…

Tré Cool is going to tell us something about Saviors that “nobody knows yet”.

“This is exclusive for Kerrang!,” the drummer reveals enticingly, as we brace ourselves for some juicy, top-secret gossip about the making of Green Day’s latest opus.

“When we recorded at RAK Studios, I wore the same clothes for every single song – including the same socks,” he grins. “I’d walk to the studio, and I genuinely would dress smart and wear a suit, because it’s London. But then I’d hang my stuff up and get changed, and put on my lucky socks, my lucky pants, and the same shirt. I wore the same shit for all those sessions.”

Oh. Did you wash anything?

“No!” he laughs. “I left my clothes there. It got quite smelly at the end…”

“He’s wearing them right now!” quips Billie.

While we respectfully don’t recommend this approach for those with more conventional jobs, it’s a tactic that worked wonders for Green Day.

“This is some of the finest stuff that Tré’s ever done,” says Billie, apparently unbothered by the drummer’s ponging attire. “At the end of Coma City, there’s this sort of freeform way of playing drums – it’s like this controlled chaos. Tré is playing in a pocket that I’ve never heard before, which is this conscious effort to create a backbeat that feels really good. And, at the same time, it’s fast and punk as fuck.

“And I think this is some of the best playing that Mike has ever done,” he continues. “On a song like Goodnight Adeline, he’s playing these sort of doo-wop counter melodies that are going off of my vocal, and I think that’s when Mike is at his best: when he’s got this playfulness and a sense of humour that’s happening at the same time that creates something that’s really great, and it loosens everything up and it doesn’t just come across as this stiff baseline – it creates a hook and a moment that a listener can sing all by themselves, you know?”

It’s a sentiment reciprocated by Mike and Tré, too. So go on, guys, tell us: were there any moments during the making of Saviors that left you happily thinking, ‘God, Billie is really good, isn’t he?’

“That’s every day!” replies Tré.

“Yeah,” nods Mike. “There’s times where you’ll be playing and be focused on music or whatever, but when we were writing the record, I would just stop and go, ‘Whoa, whoa, what did you say there? Wow, that’s really a powerful statement.’ I know he worked really hard on those lyrics, and I feel like it’s some of the best work Billie’s ever done.”

Billie’s face becomes an affectionately cheesy grin, before he puts on a comically droning voice.

Thaaaaaank youuuuuuu!” he tells Mike.

“One thing that was really cool was Billie made a lyric zine,” picks up Tré, in a rare moment of seriousness. “He put images in it, like a fanzine, but with his lyrics. Listening to it and having that experience, for me, it was like, ‘Holy fuck, dude! Really?! So good!’”

A typically mesmerising mixture of the personal and the political, Billie explains that his words throughout Saviors are “up for everyone’s interpretation”, because right now “we’re all kind of travelling through the same human experience”.

“Whether it’s social change, or people trying to hold on to the past, and looking forward to the future but feeling scared to death of it,” he suggests. “I think if there’s a concept to the record, that’s it. And just how we communicate with each other, and trying to bring the world closer together without it being just another DM, you know? But actually, ‘Hey, let’s get a cup of coffee and hang out, and listen to each other.’

“And,” he adds light-heartedly, “‘Let’s get in the car and pump Green Day’s new record!’”

From opener The American Dream Is Killing Me’s rallying call to, ‘Send out an S.O.S. / It’s getting serious,’ to Strange Days Are Here To Stay’s admission of just that, it’s an album full of moments that will resonate hard with those who have been feeling a bit lost these past few years.

“There’s one line that says, ‘Ever since Bowie died, it hasn’t been the same,”’ Billie explains of the latter track. “That’s always kind of stuck with me. That was the beginning of 2016, and then it seemed like when the Starman left this Earth, all the mad men came in and started to destroy everything.”

And when Billie looks inwards, it’s equally as poignant. Take Dilemma, which hears him singing how, ‘I was sober / Now I’m drunk again,’ and, ‘I don’t wanna be a dead man walking.’

“That’s one of my favourite songs on the record,” he says. “I think it really cuts to the core of drug addiction, alcohol addiction and mental health. The first line is, ‘Welcome to my problems / It’s not an invitation.’ It almost sounds like Facebook within itself (laughs). It’s like, ‘Come feel sorry for me, come feel my pain.’ But, you know, I don’t have Facebook or Twitter, so I just do it in songs to where I think with melody it becomes more relatable, and people can interpret it in the different ways they want. It could be me just joking, but it could be dead fucking serious, too.”

So… what’s the deal with this one? Are you doing okay?

He jokingly shakes his head for at least five looooong seconds, before completely cracking himself up.

“Actually, I couldn’t be better right now!” Billie smiles. “I feel good, and we’re having such a great moment – my relationships with my family, and my sons, and Mike and Tré, and my friendships. And I think we’re really lucky that a lot of people we have on the road with us are some of our closest friends, and so it makes us feel like we’re not bosses; we’re just a bunch of friends hanging out and having a good time together.

“I don’t know,” he shrugs happily. “I just feel like we’re going through a really gold era.”

Thank god for that. Because it’s an era that’s only just begun…

Mike Dirnt is, he says, just the same “goofball kid” that he always was. It’s not surprising, really, given that he and Billie began Green Day when they were literal teenagers. But it also means something so much more than that.

“Billie says that this is our high school band, which it is,” the bassist explains. “But what I take from it too is that our fans have grown up listening to us just the same as we’ve grown up. People say, ‘I grew up listening to your band,’ and I’m like, ‘So did I!’”

“I know,” Billie laughs. “Someone said to me the other day, ‘Your band is my childhood.’ And I said, ‘It’s my childhood, too!’”

“Not anymore!” jokes Mike.

“Yeah,” agrees Billie. “Shit, we’ve been in this band since we were 15, 16 years old. We just started puberty when this band started.”

As well as eagerly looking forwards, then, Green Day are also enjoying some well-deserved time to reminisce, as coming soon they’ve a monumental global stadium run – dubbed The Saviors Tour – celebrating the 30th anniversary of their breakout third album Dookie (released after they reached the end of those formative teenage years), as well as the 20th anniversary of their iconic punk rock opera, American Idiot.

“We’re excited,” grins Mike. “I’m excited about the fact that people are excited about Dookie and American Idiot’s anniversaries. I mean, the fact that we’re launching a new record at the same time as those albums having their anniversaries is a strange anomaly, but also really awesome. And it gives us an opportunity to put together one hell of a show. We can deviate from it – we can do whatever we want to do – but, man, there’s a lot of friggin’ fun songs to play!”

The American Idiot landmark is a particularly apt one, as Green Day all see parallels with that album and their collective mindset going into Saviors.

“When I think about American Idiot, I think of where [previous albums] Nimrod and Warning were these records where we were in the studio learning, and trying to further our musical knowledge,” Billie explains. “That’s sort of the way that I feel right now, too, because [2020 album] Father Of All… was one of those moments where we were like, ‘Let’s try something new.’ We learned so much from it, and it’s like it has a baby called Saviors!”

“I can hear bits of each album on this record, even though it sounds fresh and new,” agrees Mike. “I feel like if there’s any words that always come back to Green Day, it’s energy and melody – and this record has all those things in abundance.”

Given that Father Of All… landed on the experimental side of their catalogue, whereas now they’re back with an emphatically Green Day-sounding album, how do they view Saviors’ predecessor, a few years on?

“I love that record,” Billie says. “We played Graffitia [live for the first time in October 2023], which is one of my favourite songs that we’ve ever had. The pandemic sort of pulled the rug out from underneath it. So to actually be able to go up and play it live in front of people and get the response… because we didn’t know what people actually thought. You’re gonna get people online that argue about it – ‘This doesn’t sound like this, and this should be more like this. Why are they doing this? Blah, blah, this sucks.’ But, actually, when you get in front of people – real people – and you hear an entire crowd singing it, it’s like, ‘Alright, that’s the truth, right there.’”

And with this new material already being welcomed into recent setlists like “classics”, observes Billie, The Saviors Tour will play host to even more moments like these. In fact, the band have already been loving their latest live shows so much that they even performed their two singles more than once on the same night. Just because.

“We played Look Ma, No Brains! twice in a row. It’s, like, two minutes and two seconds long,” enthuses Billie. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that went too fast. We have to do it again!’”

You also did that with The American Dream Is Killing Me in Paris – you played it sixth and then last in the setlist…

“We’re senile!” shrugs Billie.

“We were in Paris?” asks Tré, without missing a beat.

“We’ve only played the songs a few times,” reasons Mike, “so if we don’t play it twice in one night, then we’ve got to wait another week or two before we play it again!”

On the road for a huge chunk of 2024, though, there’ll be no such delays. And they can’t wait to celebrate with millions of fans across the world.

“It’s refreshing after this many years that people are coming in droves to see good music,” says Tré. “It’s not a gimmick. You know, we’ve been around and we’re not going anywhere. And we’re just getting better – so we’re taking everybody with us!”

Much like their wild few weeks in Europe this winter, then, Green Day are still just here for a good time. The success and love for this phenomenal “high school band” isn’t lost on them, and with Saviors, another extraordinary chapter beckons.

“It’s just about ‘enjoy it’, because it takes a hell of a long time to make a record, but it doesn’t take as long for it to be successful,” Billie laughs. “So you try to really enjoy the moments right now, and share them with your friends. And be humble to it, you know?

“Shit…” he trails off, pausing briefly to find the right words. “Just be grateful!”

Saviors is due out on January 19 via Reprise/Warner. Green Day tour the UK in June – get your tickets now. This article originally appeared in the winter 2023 issue of the magazine.

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