I first met Russ Rankin, frontman for punk band, Good Riddance, when they toured Australia in the ‘90s supporting Sick Of It All. We chatted for one of the earliest zines I ever made (and again over the years for various publications I’ve written for) about not-for-profit organizations that the band supports, keeping show costs down, DIY, the band’s beginnings and more. Now two decades later Good Riddance are headed Down Under again AND they have a new record, Peace In Our Time, out on Fat Wreck.
To celebrate, I’m sharing with you an excerpt of an in-depth conversation I had with Russ for my, Conversations With Punx, book project (more info here). He gives us insight into his thoughts on spirituality, of being of service to others, his battle with alcoholism and of songwriters who he admires and is inspired by. You can read the full interview in the coming book, out Nov. 20.
RUSS RANKIN: …in America for some reason we’re really, really fundamentalist and I don’t know why; you have this right-wing Christianity shoved down your throat from an early age. I grew up with a misconception that spirituality and religion were the same thing. I have since come to find that that is not the case. They’re completely separate. I don’t go to church, I don’t consider myself a Christian, I don’t really believe in God but, I’m a spiritual person. For those two things to exist, once a person finds out that those two things are separate, I think the door is open.
For a long time, when ever there was a mention of prayer or spirituality, from my experience when I was younger, my mind would snap shut against it; that’s religion, that’s the church, fuck you! Plus, my favourite band was Bad Religion for a long time. I would use Bad Religion to back up any argument about Christianity. A lot of it just comes from being kids and not knowing any better and confusing spirituality and religion as the same thing, which was my experience.
BIANCA: A lot of people in the punk scene (as I know it) are starting to get older; do you think that maybe it’s just a natural thing that when you get older you start thinking about those things?
RR: I definitely do. I think mortality starts creeping in, people start having families. They start becoming accountable to other people and they start realising how tenuous and fragile life really is. For me, I went to five funerals last year of people that I knew that because of drugs and alcohol are no longer around. A lot of people that Noah [Levine, author of Dharma Punx] and I grew up with are dead too. When I’m young and I’m feeling invincible it’s like, I don’t really care! I’m not planning to live past thirty anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Now that I’m past thirty it’s different. I think it’s like that for a lot of people. Spirituality to me represents a quest for something higher than ourselves. The older I get, the more appealing that becomes – finding out what my true purpose is and thinking of how I can be of maximum service to other people and becoming less self-centred and more other-centred.
B: Do you find with Good Riddance you’re of service?
RR: I normally wouldn’t think so but I know that just, repeated letters that we’ve gotten from people telling me how much our music has touched them in positive ways—that’s awesome! …so, I guess that sort of is. I mean more like helping some old lady put her groceries in her car that I don’t even know. Whereas before when I was a younger kid, I would have just kicked her bag over and ran away, something lame like that. Having a little bit more compassion for my fellow man, having a little bit more sense of being a worker among workers and not having the whole world revolve around me.
A lot of it has to do to with me being a person that is a recovered alcoholic. I’ve come in contact with a lot of people that have put things in front of me like different forms of prayer and meditation that I have actually been compelled to try because I ran out of ideas. When they worked it was like, ok this is something I didn’t think of that I normally would have laughed at but, it’s working for all these people and it’s working for me, so there’s got to be something to it. I notice that when I’m in that state, when I’m spiritually fit, life just goes a little bit smoother. I don’t cause as much wreckage. I’m in a better mood. I’m not as annoyed by people as much and I know there has to be something to that.
B: Is there many bands that have affected you in a spiritual way?
RR: Sense Field and Reason To Believe are two bands. When I was into Sense Field, I think I feel like I’m at a gospel choir just listening to it because it’s so awesome, it’s so amazing and the words that he [Jon Bunch, vocalist] chooses. I’m affected a lot by the way someone writes their lyrics and the word that they choose. Even if it is an unconscious attempt, a lot of time lyrics come off spiritual to me. A line will hit me in a song I’ve heard a thousand times before, it’ll hit me at a specific time and a whole new avenue of thinking will open up. That happens to me quite a bit. Bands like Sense Field, The Psychedelic Furs, The Pouges all the great lyricists; people that I look up to and admire and have tried to somewhat emulate.
Other Conversations With Punx interviews to check out:
- Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret: “I feel I speak for those that are oppressed…”
- Quicksand’s Tom Capone: “We were always just doing it from our hearts, never trying to make a quick buck.”
I can’t see GR live again!! It’s been way too long. Super EXCITED. Here’s part of a set they did recently brought to you by the awesome Slabratory crew:
For more GR go here: GOOD RIDDANCE.
Image credits: All photo’s courtesy of GR’s fb & IG; Russ art by me; original photo by Scott R Moulaison.