In the heart of Orange County, California, you would never guess that a beige windowless building between a furniture wholesaler and a mattress retailer is the spot where Green Day have been practicing the last few weeks. They also squeeze in a few hours to surf the gently breaking waves off nearby Newport Beach, where for the last few years singer Billy Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tré Cool spent the summer months making music during the day, and bro-ing down at night in a house they jointly own by the beach.
Only the Triumph motorcycle, a vintage-looking club racer parked by the building entrance, offers any clue that a modern rockstar – or someone with great taste in bikes – is hanging out inside. “In the ’60s they were notoriously high-maintenance,” says Cool. He’s seated in the dressing room where he directs his gaze out the door via a wall-sized mirror as a makeup artist is spiking his hair. “The new ones aren’t like that, though.” There’s another motorcycle parked inside: a 1979 Kawasaki that the original owner never bothered to take out of the shipping crate. “That one’s Billy Joe’s.”
Rewind to earlier in the afternoon, Cool was in a very different state of mind. A good two hours late for our interview, he bolts into the studio lounge and makes a beeline for the mini fridge. “Sorry, I didn’t get a chance to eat today.” As he wolfs down a bag of sweet-potato chips, the blood sugar gradually normalizes and he seems to recover the clown-prince-of-punk persona he’s honed so well over the years. “This is the trifecta right here,” he says pointing to the chips, a Diet Sunkist, and a bowl of figs.
The number three is something that Cool has had on the brain lately. Green Day’s new album triad, or multi-opus, or whatever we’re calling it, is comprised of three stand-alone works: ¡Uno! (out September 19), ¡Dos! (November 13) and ¡Tre! (January 15, 2013). Not three EPs, not a couple of mini albums, but a freakin’ timed-release trilogy with 37 new songs.
“Most bigger bands, older bands, they don’t have their material as tight when they go into the studio. And I think you hear the complacency,” he continues. “Where what I think we were striving to do is make a physical record where you hear three guys. And ’oh, let’s have Jason, too. The more the merrier!’” Cool is referring to Jason White, the band’s tour guitarist for the last decade. For the first time, White’s parts are on the record. “He’s like our Ronnie Wood – the eternal new guy,” he adds. “Billy was able to write polyrhythmic guitar parts with him, like an Angus and Malcolm kind of thing. So they played off each other making one sound.”
The writing process started out as jam sessions where people from the neighborhood, both down in the OC and up in the San Francisco Bay Area, showed up to watch and dance and just have a blast – almost like gigs but not quite. The band’s private studio, in a rough part of Oakland that’s slowly gentrifying, is across the street from a restaurant that serves mac & cheese and craft beer exclusively – the better to carb-up for their marathon sessions. “We had the luxury of sleeping in our own beds, going in, and recording, so that’s probably how we were able to make three records,” he says. “Rob [Cavallo, producer]’s in the studio, cell phone turned off. He was just focused on the music.”
As far as structuring the release into three separate units, it was not pop star hubris or some prog-like conceit. “It’s really just the way the songs were coming out as we were jamming,” he explains. “’This one feels like it would be on !Uno! This one feels more like ¡Tre! ’ We didn’t really edit what was coming creatively. We never stop a good thing. If the songs are coming, just let them come. Deal with the logistics of it later.
“Besides,” he adds, “¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, Mike sounded stupid.”
Shedding as diligently as someone who hasn’t sold millions of records, Cool is practicing even in his small home studio when he’s in Oakland between tours. Not at the Green Day practice space, mind you, but his actual house where he has a collection of some 200 snare drums.
He also deals with regular ol’ drummer headaches. “I’ve tried to soundproof it but that’s impossible when you’re Tré Cool,” he says. “So my neighbors politely wrote a note asking if I could possibly keep the noise down. [laughs] They were actually pretty nice about it. Like ’Your drumming is fantastic, but if you could keep it to before 10:00 that would be great.’ At first I thought it meant I could stop at ten in the morning.”