Social Distortion: Still rocking after all these years

By Kevin de Vlaming

The name Social Distortion resonates with many scene-savvy North American punks as a legendary act to which many punk artists today owe their sound. The California-based four-piece has been around since 1978, with frontman and legacy-unto-himself Mike Ness being the only original member still making music with the band. Despite being several generations removed from the kids who are now discovering punk rock through MTV and contemporary bands like Fall Out Boy and Good Charlotte, Social Distortion still headlines sold-out tours, and remains relevant in today’s changing musical landscape.

“The modern punk music scene has sort of become the new Fleetwood Mac, you know?” says drummer Charlie Quintana. “There’s just so much out there that claims to be punk. There’s power punk, there’s emo punk, I don’t know, I’m not even familiar with all of the terms. It’s so highly commercial now and much more single-oriented.”

Social Distortion’s prolific career, which has been credited with being the reason for the formation of such bands as Goldfinger and the Offspring, has seen them through several eras in the evolution of punk rock. From the early ’80s punk resurgence–which they spearheaded along with acts like D.O.A. and the Dead Kennedys–through to the current musical climate, they have always been a band with a message.

“The message back then was to change things,” says Quintana. “We have changed things. Now there are whole shows dedicated to punk rock, when back then it was such a struggle to get a gig, let alone get any airplay or be able to sustain yourself financially.”

Now, Quintana maintains, the message is to keep the music constantly evolving and not fall into the trap of producing stagnant, regurgitated sounds. This is a difficult task for a band such as Social Distortion because of the fan tendency to inseparably associate them with the early punk rock/punkabilly movement. Social Distortion has also developed a sort of mythos which carries over into their lives outside of the band.

“Everybody thinks that every night’s a party for us,” says Quintana. “It’s not. The party happens onstage. Most of us have families and Mike and I have kids. We’ve got other interests as well. For instance, Mike loves cars, and tinkering around with hot rods and motorcycles. You can’t be 24 hours-a-day punk rock. What would that be?”

The crowds attending Social Distortion shows reflect the band’s adaptability to the industry’s modern interpretation of punk rock. While diehard fans from the band’s outset still come to the shows and watch from a moderate distance, fresh, young faces keep the mosh pits electric with energy.

“We even get little kids coming to our shows often,” says Quintanas, “Like really little kids. We bring them up on stage on occasion– six-, seven-, eight-, nine-year-olds–with the little mohawks and their parents in the back just beaming.”

As further testament to the epic musical career enjoyed by the band, the guys in Social Distortion have announced that this year will see the release of a greatest hits album. While the exact date hasn’t been confirmed, it will be sometime in 2007 and will feature one new unreleased studio recording. The band hopes it won’t be long after that before they start recording a full LP of new material to follow up 2004’s Sex, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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