“I think that, down deep, every band secretly wants to be U2, right?” said Offspring bandleader Dexter Holland, reflecting on his group’s pioneering role in the ’90s “bro band” phenomenon, thanks in large part to frat-boy favorites like “Self Esteem” and “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy).”
The recently recorded “It Won’t Get Better,” which debuted in June, is about the current opioid epidemic. It’s actually one among many Offspring songs that can be characterized as socially conscious.
“The songs that people mostly know us for are the fun ones,” acknowledged Holland in a recent phone interview. “But we also have some more serious songs like ‘Gone Away,’ which is about losing someone who’s close to you, and ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright,’ which is a song I wrote about driving through my old neighborhood and realizing that all these kids that I grew up with ended up having lives where really bad things happened. So, there’s some seriousness there, as well.”
The same can be said for Holland’s extra-musical activities. Two decades after he dropped out of college to devote his time to the whole rock ’n’ roll thing, the singer-guitarist decided to take a break from the Offspring to finish up his doctorate in molecular biology. It was a sensible thing to do for a rock star who’d published a paper on HIV genomes in the Public Library of Science’s peer-reviewed science journal PLOS One (“Identification of Human MicroRNA-Like Sequences Embedded within the Protein-Encoding Genes of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus,” for the curious).
“I’m specifically interested in virology, and I felt like HIV, which is literally a worldwide pandemic, was the most worthy place to put my efforts,” said the Orange County native. “I’ve been getting a couple of interesting offers from places like UNICEF, but just getting the degree took so much time that I felt like I had to go back to my day job, which is my band.”
As day jobs go, Holland’s doesn’t seem all that bad. Last year, he and the rest of the Offspring set sail from Miami to Key West and on to the Bahamas as part of Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise, alongside the Buzzcocks, the Vandals, Lagwagon, the Adolescents and other acts with punk-rock pedigrees.
“When we started, we liked the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys and stuff,” recalled Holland. “We weren’t trained musicians. The only way that we could have been a band that anyone actually knew was to do it the way we did it. We had to do it bratty and punk. So we wrote what came naturally for us at that age, and I’ve come to appreciate that we have these really great live shows where the music is upbeat and fun. So I’m actually very pleased with the way things have gone.”
In addition to working on its 10th album, the Offspring will play a short run of acoustic dates (which brings the band to Ventura Theater on Thursday, April 4) followed by four Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco and Music Festival dates later in April. It’s a combination that’s near and dear to Holland’s heart, having developed his own line of “Gringo Bandito” hot sauces nearly a decade ago.
“I don’t really have a good reason,” he admitted, “but I just always liked hot sauce and, being a white guy, there’s no family recipe, right?” So Holland decided to develop one of his own and, after a couple years of trial and error, bottled some to give to friends as a Christmas present.
“I just kept going with it, and the response has been so great that it just feels like it’s a real thing,” he said. “I don’t think I would be passionate about making a salad dressing.”
But the ultimate endorsement came during a subsequent tour.
“We went and played Japan maybe eight years ago and Kobayashi was there, the famous hotdog eater.”
Takeru Kobayashi is a World Champion Eater. For those unfamiliar, competitive eating or speed eating is an activity in which participants consume large quantities of food, with the one who can eat the most named the winner. According to Holland, it is a world unto itself. He gave Kobayashi a bottle of hot sauce and was thrilled by his response.
“He took the bottle and he guzzled it — because, of course he would guzzle it, right? — and then he turned to his interpreter and said something in Japanese, which she translated for us,” Holland related. “She goes, ‘He says he can drink 15 of these bottles.’ ”
Holland invited Kobayashi to host a West Coast taco-eating contest, which has now been going on for five years, and subsequently gave birth to the current Sabroso festival.
This past November marked the 20th anniversary of “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy),” the song that, despite its underlying sarcasm, became one of the indie-rock world’s defining anthems.
“I always took ‘fly’ to be this kind of word that white people co-opted from the black world, going all the way back to Superfly and other blaxploitation movies,” said Holland, who was determined to write a song about it before the Beastie Boys beat him to the punch. “Once it has been taken up by white culture, it was kind of the opposite of fly, right? I knew that some people would pick up on the obviousness of the fact that the song was taking the piss out of a certain kind of person. And I figured that the guys who thought it was about them would think it was cool and like it. Even if they didn’t get that the joke was on them.”
The Offspring perform on Thursday, April 4, at the Ventura Theater, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura. Jonny Two Bags opens the show at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 805-653-0721 or visit www.venturatheater.net.