Interview With Social Distortion
Two years ago, Social Distortion sent a demo tape of 15 new songs to producer Michael Beinhorn fully expecting to jump right into the studio and begin recording the much anticipated follow-up to their 1992 CD, Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell.What the band got instead was the shock of their musical lives."We were like, all right, these songs are awesome. This is the new record right here," said guitarist Dennis Danell, recalling the group's mood. "We ended giving them to Beinhorn, and then a week or two weeks later, he goes well I can probably use like one of those songs and maybe a verse from one of the other ones. But I don't really think that's going to cut it. You guys can do better. I want to see you guys do better."Naturally, Beinhorn's rejection initially was not greeted with smiles and high fives by band members Danell, singer/guitarist/songwriter Mike Ness and bassist John Maurer. (Former D.O.A. and Danzig drummer Chuck Biscuits has recently followed Christopher Reece and Randy Carr into the drummer's slot in Social Distortion.)"It was humbling and it was, it did attack our self-esteem a little bit, too, because on one hand we'd think we're the greatest thing ever. Then on the other hand, you've got somebody else coming in here and saying, no that's a piece of s---. You can do better," Danell said. "It did take a little bit of time to get over the initial shock. But I think what it did was just make us more determined to even work harder. I think that's the reaction he wanted to get out of us, and I think he knew all along that that was the way he could stir that in us and bring that out of us."Exactly what Beinhorn felt was lacking in the initial batch of new Social Distortion songs is a question Danell didn't answer with any great insights, although he did credit Beinhorn with helping Ness achieve a greater depth in his lyrics, getting the band to inject more feeling into their performances and increasing the group's understanding of the recording process.In any event, the extra effort that went into the new Social Distortion CD -- it's called White Light, White Heat, White Trash -- has paid off with a strong set of songs. The familiar trademarks of the Social D sound remain -- fat, tuneful guitar chords, hard-charging drums and vocals that feature Ness' impassioned drawl. However, where previous songs showed a strong hint of country in their rhythms, the tunes on White Light -- including such stellar tracks as "Don't Drag Me Down," "I Was Wrong" and "When The Angels Sing" -- hammer away at more straight-forward punk pace."We've always tried to have our distinct Social Distortion sound and not try to limit ourselves to any one style of music or one vein of a situation," Danell said. "We've always tried to keep our creative juices flowing and take inspiration and influences from wherever we can, no matter what it be, whether it be from some old delta blues guys, Hank Williams or the Ramones or whatever. But I think at this point, I don't know, for some reason we were just getting a little bit more in touch with our original punk roots from, you know, the L.A. scene with bands like X and the Germs, bands we grew up with and stuff...We didn't make any sort of conscious effort to sit down and do something like that. We probably ended up going back to what we do best."In making the new CD, one reason Beinhorn insisted that Social Distortion go the extra mile with their new music -- and part of the reason the band members responded to Beinhorn's challenge by pushing themselves harder than ever -- was because White Light was viewed as a critical project for the band.For the first time in the group's 17-year career, their style of music had finally fallen into step with the tastes of the music market.Formed in Orange County, California in 1979, Social Distortion was at the forefront of the original Los Angeles punk scene. The early years found the group debuting with a seminal punk record, Mommy's Little Monster, in 1983, but soon hitting turbulent times as Ness battled into a serious heroin addiction. Eventually Ness overcame his habit, and in 1988 the group rebounded with a fine album, Prison Bound. That record paved the way for a major label record deal with Epic. The band's Epic debut, Social Distortion, expanded the group's following considerably, selling some 250,000 copies.The follow-up release, Beyond Heaven And Hell, however, did not enjoy a significant sales increase. But that was four years ago, before the alternative market had mushroomed behind the success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, back when only perhaps 20 alternative radio stations existed, instead of the 100 or so that now populate most of America's major markets and give Social Distortion a much broader forum for their music.Danell acknowledged that the compatibility of the marketplace added a sense of urgency to the White Light project."We definitely did take it into consideration. We knew what was at stake here," Danell said. "I mean, we knew we had an opportunity of a lifetime to really do something great and we took it seriously like that. We didn't consider it oh, just another Social D record. We wanted to continue to grow in all aspects of the situation. And we didn't take it lightly. We did take it very seriously and pretty much for the last year and a half, two years, we've been eating and sleeping and s----ing this stuff...And I think that had a lot to do with working with Michael Beinhorn, our producer, too. He really installed that idealism in our heads, look dudes, if you guys just go and put a mediocre album out, then who knows what's going to happen. You better take full advantage of this situation that you're in and make sure you don't blow it, so to speak. If you want to move up to another level in your life, now's the time to do it."The process of making the record was difficult, but looking back, Danell is happy that Beinhorn was so rigorous in his approach to producing the band."We really look at it right now as one of the best experiences we ever had recording and stuff," Danell said. "I just learned so much about recording and stuff. I just learned so much from the man, and even not necessarily in just recording, but his overall outlook on life, too. It was really refreshing and it was really inspirational to be around someone like that who had those sort of high standards. It couldn't help but rub off on us."