Green Day

Billie Joe Armstrong: Mouthpiece for a generation and Norah Jones

Words Ben Mitchell | Portrait Gavin Bond

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How are you, how’s your day been?

I’m good, thank you. I’m in summer mode right now, just hanging out with my family in Southern California. I’ve been surfing with my son and my friends, that kind of stuff.

What’s the first record you bought?

There were four I remember: Elvis’s The Sun Sessions, The Game by Queen, For Those About to Rock by AC/DC and Van Halen’s Fair Warning. There was something about rock’n’roll that got into mu blood at the age of six or seven.

What’s your favorite album of the last 25 years?

The Replacements were the biggest game changers for me. I was watching a lot of MTV and hearing a lot of crap; heavy rock had become really shitty to me. At that point it was like, “Do I like any kind of music at all?”, so I felt a bit lost. I saw The Replacements play when I was 15, right when Pleased To Meet Me came out, and found that there was some kind of depth in rock’n’roll.

Do you have a fairly serious record collection?

Yeah [laughs]. I’ve got a lot of stuff. I’ve been collecting since I was four years old and I’m 39 now. I’ve never really counted all of them…but then my wife has her record collection as well. We have a lot of similar tastes, so we’ve got two copies of the first Generation X record.

Where do you keep all your albums?

I keep them in my basement, and then in the kitchen I have a whole bunch lined up on a shelf with a record player.

Are they in any order?

No. I am not a librarian. It’s total disarray.

What’s the least punk record you own?

The first Norah Jones album. I listened to that quite a bit.

Anything your wife won’t let you listen to in the house?

Probably Green Day [laughs].

What was your “first dance” song at your wedding?

We didn’t have one. I wanted a song called Sleep Walk, which is a guitar instrumental. My wife was like, “I don’t want that song.” Our wedding was basically a bring your own beer atmosphere.

Twenty-five years ago you were 14 and at school…

I was a terrible student. I just wasn’t focused. I also had a mullet. The most embarrassing haircut I’ve ever had.

You’re the youngest of six children. Did your brothers’ and sisters’ records have much of an influence on you?

I sucked up everything that they were into. My older brother was born in 1950, so he was 14 years old when The Beatles first came to America, he was really into the British invasion, a lot of Kinks and he love The Who. My other brother was into Led Zeppelin and started getting into The Rolling Stones. My sister was into R.E.M., The Replacements and she saw Black Flag play, so she was a big influence. My other two sisters listened to a lot of oldies.

Who made you want to pick up a guitar?

Anywhere between a guy like Angus Young and Elvis Presley. The way that it looked, it just seemed like it gave them power like a gunslinger or something. And just getting lost in a guitar solo…that’s what made me want to do it, really.

What riff do you play when you’re in a guitar shop trying out the merchandise?

Usually my own songs so I’ll be able to hear what the guitar does. Obviously I try to make sure that no one’s around watching me play my own songs.

What’s the first gig you ever went to?

Van Halen in 1984, when I was 12. To see your heroes for the first time onstage, you’re just not getting that from a record. It was pretty mind-blowing.

Have you ever been injured at a show?

When I was 16 years old I went to see a band called Dog Nasty play and got kicked in the head multiple times. That knocked me out a little bit but I _________to and I was OK.

Which album do you think is playing on repeat in Hell?

Maybe anything by The Black Eyed Peas.

Has any musical phenomenon left you completely cold?

Nothing seems to surprise me any more but there was that Hootie and the Blowfish phase in the 90’s. I didn’t think they got as big in England but here it was massive. I remember thinking, “Why are these guys that play golf so huge?”

Which songs make you cry?

I would say Under Pressure. I was watching a documentary on Queen the other night and they sort of glossed over that period and didn’t really talk about the importance of that song. It’s an emotional roller coaster.

Have you ever been star-struck?

I ran into Joe Strummer at an airport once. His band was playing in Minnesota and I was pushing a baby carriage. I was there to go visit my family. There he was standing right behind me so I turned around. He talked to my son Joey. He was saying, “Oh, my name’s Joey too.” That was pretty amazing.

Do you have any heroes left to meet?

I think so. It’s sort of like a bucket list, you know? I’d like to see Little Richard and Chuck Berry play. Anyone that’s reaching that age when they probably should be dead by now.

Which song would you like played at your funeral?

Life on Mars! By David Bowie would be good. Or maybe (Johnny Paycheck’s) Take This Job And Shove It.

Transcript by: Marie Bastos