SLUG Readers Interview Social Distortion

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Social Distortion plays Salt Lake City’s Depot on May 11 for a 21-and-over show and again on May 12 for an all-ages show.

Social Distortion is a band that has gone from the Orange County punk scene in the late ’70s to one of the most recognizable punk bands the world over. For over 30 years, they’ve built a loyal following wherever their music has reached, Salt Lake being no exception. Mike Ness and the boys have never had any trouble selling out shows in our fair city, which is why SLUG reached out to you, our readers, via Facebook and Twitter, to submit the questions you’ve always wanted Ness to answer. Never ones to let us down, you came up with some terrific inquiries that evoked some interesting responses from Mr. Ness.

Daniel Walters: Are your lyrics based on personal experiences?
Ness: I’d say 100 percent of my lyrics are from personal experiences. I do write fiction and non-fiction, and I do like the element of imagination, but all of my songs start from stuff that I’m going through or
have gone through.

Aud Jane: What do you do when you find yourself in a creative slump?
Ness: Usually, I just start listening to music I like, but I’ve learned that the trick is to not stop writing, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. In the past, when we’ve finished a record, we’d switch to tour mode and press mode, and you kind of close that creative door. I’ve realized, this time around, to try and keep that open, and I saw that there was an overflow of songs that didn’t make the record, not because they weren’t great, but they just didn’t get finished or were more suited for the next record.

Jennifer Price: Do you have any plans for more solo material?
Ness: Well, I can tell you that there’s good news and bad news. The good news is I have about 11 songs written and ready to go. The bad news is, in order to do that, I have to stop doing Social Distortion, and right now we’ve got a great momentum. The last record came out only a year ago, and I really want to shock everybody and not wait so long between records. I really appreciate our fans that have been patient between records, and I don’t want to take that for granted. Now I’ve got my own studio, so there’s no excuses. I can come here and write a few days a week, no matter what.

Vincent Bagheera Zalkind: What is it like being a family man and a father in a punk band?
Ness: I’m older and wiser now, and I’ve learned to look at things in the positive, not just the negative. When I was young and angry and in a punk rock band, it was so easy to write about all the negative things I saw. Now, I think it’s important to balance it out and write about uplifting things as well. I’m still plenty angry, but I’m also optimistic.

Tacoma White: What was the transition like from straight up punk band to incorporating more roots elements in the late ’80s?
Ness: That influence had always been there. [We’ve been] doing Johnny Cash covers since ’85 and Rolling Stones covers since ’82. I think those influences have always been there from my upbringing. By the mid ’80s, punk music had stereotyped itself. It just became too easy for someone to scream into a mic, so, in the LA scene, certain artists found the need to define their own sound. Bands like X, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction [and] Bad Religion all wanted to stand apart from what was so common, for me, that was via American roots music. I realized that we were an American band and it’s very important to grab a hold of those roots. I like to describe Social Distortion as rock n’ roll, punk style. When we wrote “Ball and Chain” or when we covered “Ring of Fire,” it was like the punk rock police came out and said “that’s not very hardcore,” and my thought was “you better listen to those lyrics again. They’re about as hardcore as it gets.” I’d go see Fear and The Blasters on the same bill, and I’d never leave thinking there was a problem because Fear wasn’t very rockabilly or whatever. It didn’t matter because it was all alternative to what was going on in the mainstream. It was individuals unifying because they were individuals.

SLUG: After 30 years, is being in Social Distortion still a good job for you?
Ness: Yes, absolutely. I love touring and being onstage. I love making records. I wouldn’t have stuck with it this long if I didn’t. I’m grateful for everything I’ve been able to do and everything I’m going to do.

Social Distortion will live with me for the rest of my life, and I know that I share that sentiment with many fans. They’ve embodied freedom and rock n’ roll that’s not made for any other reason than to be enjoyed by people like us. After he answered the last question, Ness said thank you to me and to all the people who submitted questions, and I want to say it as well: Thank you for your participation. Don’t miss Social Distortion at The Depot May 11 and 12.