AW sits down with Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, the original bad boy of Orange County.A lot of time has passed since Mike Ness, the legendary punk rocker and native son of Fullerton, Calif., first exploded onto the scene as a brawling/boozing/battle-hardened bar breaker. In the last two decades, he’s dealt with drug and alcohol abuse, the death of a beloved friend and band member, financial problems and a chunk of his left ear being bitten off in a fight. Through it all, he’s managed to churn out rock anthems the likes of which never cease to entertain the Social Distortion nation. Before a concert in Albany, N.Y., Ness spoke to American Way about the band’s first new album in six years, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (Epitaph, $17).
American Way: Six years since Social Distortion’s last album: What took you so long?
Mike Ness: The main reason is we’ve been touring for the last six years. Once we sat down and decided to make a record, it took six months, from start to finish.
AW: I just listened to the album, and I immediately had to listen to it again. I can hear vintage Social D in there.
MN: Some of the songs are collaborations [that are anywhere] from 16 years old to brand-new, and we’re not telling anybody what is what. At the same time, I don’t think I could have made this record 20 years ago.
MN: Because of the time that went by. And the events that happened in that time helped give the record its edge.
AW: It’s well documented that your life has been a barroom brawl, figuratively and literally. Where are you in life now?
MN: I still struggle with maturity, but the days of getting into fistfights are hopefully behind me. But I still write the same way: I still live life for six months out of the year, then I pick up a guitar and let it pour out. I try to report what I’ve seen and learned and gone through.
AW: A recent press release contained an interesting blurb about your new album: “Social Distortion maintain the rebellious credibility that made them a household name decades ago.” Being a household name isn’t exactly rebellious, is it?
MN: Even in 1980 when it wasn’t considered cool for a punk-rock band to sign with a major label, I loved defying stereotypes. I love tearing them apart. We wanted to become big and for people to hear and enjoy our music. We don’t want to play for just one crowd. Our crowd has always been diverse.
AW: As diversity goes, my 2- and 4-year-old daughters are huge Social D fans. My wife said you’d want to shake my hand if you knew that; I said you’d want to punch me in the face. Which is it?
MN: I’d shake your hand, bro. It’s hard being a parent. I like bringing kids onstage sometimes. The crowd loves it and the kids love it. And I tell them: “Don’t drop out like I did. You’re going to learn about history and English and math. You’re getting an education that you’ll use. But always keep this in the back of your mind: You’re also getting an education right now.”