In-depth interview with Lars Fredriksen of the Old Firm Casuals and Rancid
Long and detailed interview with Lars Fredriksen of the Old Firm Casuals and Rancid where he talks about his current side project, what’s happening with Rancid and the roots of skinhead and punk culture in the USA
Lars Fredriksen, Rancid mainstay is touring the UK with his new side project, The Old Firm Casuals (who are touring the UK, dates here),- put together with Casey Watson (bass & vocals) who was in Hardcore bands “LOOK BACK AND LAUGH” & “NEVER HEALED”: Paul Rivas (drums & vocals)drums from “NEVER HEALED” . The Old Firm Casuals are a raucous take on anthemic Oi.
The band have, as expected, a set full of Rancid styled catchy songs and a raw power that will see them as one of the big hits at this summer’s Rebellion Festival. They have released two singles and are a celebration of all Lars’s favourite street punk culture.
The Old Firm Casuals have been out on the road and Lars is enjoying every minute of it.
”ËYeah! I’m stoked. We played a show last night and it was great. We have played 7 or 8 shows so far and it’s fun as a three piece. It’s good with Rancid taking a break for a little while but getting going again soon. I don’t like taking a break and I always want to do something musically because that’s what I do, that’s who I am, so what the hell.’
The Old Firm Casuals sound like a more raucous take on Rancid but with all these side projects how does Lars keep coming up with the songs, which, as expected, a re as catchy as ever. How do you decide what is a Rancid song or a Casuals song?
”ËWith Rancid we write songs together in a room ,sometimes we bring stuff to the table but most of the time we sit around the table with a notebook and guitars and Brandon plays his drumsticks on the table that’s how we write. With the Casuals, it’s the same kind of stuff- we go to rehearsal or sit in the living room and write , it’s the same process with different people, whatever, it’s in your face.
The band are like a very loving take on a very English culture, an English culture that is often misunderstood and ignored over here.
”ËWhat we do is very influenced by British street punk. It isn’t no big secret that I really like bands like the Last Resort, The Business and the Angelic Upstarts- these are some of my favourite bands. If you read a Rancid interview I always say that these are my influences as well as Oi music, GBH, UK Subs but there is an American style to it as well with bands like Anti Heros, Agnostic Front giving a hardcore element to it. There are so many great American street punk bands, like newer bands like the Templars. The English bands are putting a big influence on us but the sound is basically a culmination of hardcore, Oi, street punk and punk rock. It’s not just one style but a mixture of styles.’
The band’s Iconography is very second wave skinhead. Gone is Lars punky Rancid look. This is more stripped down, shaved head skinhead/punk crossover look with a touch of UK football culture with the Millwall lion logo cropping up on the internet.
”ËWe don’t use the Millwall logo, it’s on the internet but we don’t use it. We don’t have control on what people do on the internet. If it’s on youtube it’s because some kid put up a Millwall lion on a video clip but that’s not us- that’s someone else. Casey our bass player supports West Ham. The Casuals, though, are not about football- it’s about the music. ”Ë
The people who make the online videos know I like Millwall so they put it on the clips. I got Millwall Lions spray painted on my SG and I go down to the games when I’m in the UK with Roi from the Last Resort. I like the game but that’s it. I love the team but that’s not what this band is about.’
What is the band about?
”ËI love the Business as much as the Ramones. When I first gravitated towards punk it was all the Oi albums that had a big effect on me. They were rad. It was the skinheads and the punks united that was a big deal to me, at least that was what it seemed like to me as an American kid- that was my perception of it. It was really diverse as well. You had bands like Blitz who sounded nothing like the Angelic Upstarts, who sounded nothing like the Last Resort, who sounded nothing like the Cockney Rejects, who sounded nothing like Sham 69 but were all grouped up into the Oi movement. There were bands like the 4-Skins and they didn’t sound like eachother. It was more like an attitude. It always seemed to me that Oi was about making a better life for yourself.
I’m a working class kid. I come from low income housing in Cambell in south San Francisco, the equivalent of your tenement housing. That’s where I come from. So it’s not some weird thing that street music appeals to me. That’s what I love. I love Jamaican reggae, I love skinhead rock n roll, I love punk rock, I love GBH. I grew up with these bands. I didn’t see any big difference between Oi and GBH. I was rolling up to GBH shows when I was 11 years old in bleached jeans and the people there didn’t go ”Ëthat guy is wearing the wrong clothes, he doesn’t belong here.’ It wasn’t like that. That was what my perception was, and maybe I got it all wrong and forgive me if I did, I’m not an authority on this kind of stuff.
The Southall riots tainted street punk forever in the UK. The movement has been tainted with the unproven accusation of racism ever since then and much maligned by people who don’t want to understand it.
”ËI think the problem with the whole punk rock/skinhead thing was the media. All of sudden the music becomes dangerous to your kids- like gangster rap is now. If it’s cool the media demonises it but when the media at large make it evil people like me gravitate towards it! They don’t kill it- they make it look cooler. When I was growing up with punk rock there were so many talk shows over here with items on them like ”Ëthe day my kid got into punk rock’. Then you couldn’t walk down the street without getting rocks or bottles thrown at you. Half the scars that I wear today are from fights from being punk rock or skinhead or whatever I was. It was a misunderstood thing but it was also a way to separate yourself from the rest of the world.’
Punk rock is like a folk music. A people’s music.
”ËIt is. I definitely agree with that. It can be political or non political. It can be about drinking with your friends or fighting the dude down the street. It can be about all sorts of lyrical and topical things. There is a lot of options there. It wasn’t like Crass all the time where you felt you were getting preached to. At the time, though, I loved Crass- they were smart, it was the other bands who were too preachy. I like people who say ”Ëmake up your own mind’. Crass were, like, anti everybody but my 12 year old brain didn’t process all that. All I knew was that I had to have the lights on when I was listening to Discharge or Crass because it scared the fuck out of me!’
Discharge made such dark records.
”ËOh my god! They were powerful. They blew your head off. I gradually gravitated towards the more melodic stuff, the more melodic bands. Part of the reason I have this name for the band is because of the Cockney Rejects, ”ËWe Are The Firm’ song. I love the song and always thoughts that would be a great band name. It sort of influenced my thinking.
Oi! Has been very misunderstood.
That’s the thing rumours carry more weight than fact. People talk you up and talk you down and people have misconceptions about you. About how much money you have and don’t have and what you do and what you don’t do and what you should be doing- it’s crazy man- the whole world is crazy, to go out to make a stand on something you had to stand for it. Now you can go on the internet and have a blog- everybody is an authority on something or a music critic it was a whole different world back then and it’s changed a lot. That’s fine, progress is natural for me even though I’m not on the internet that much- unless I’m checking email or buying punk records. I’m always going to gravitate to the street level point of view because that’s where I come from.
At least the Internet is giving raw music a space and letting it get heard outside the mainstream who pretend it doesn’t exist.
”ËThat’s the beautiful thing about the internet. It’s rad that you can find out about bands, there are so many great bands out there. This UK tour is great because I’m playing with bands I really love like Marching Orders from Australia Beerzone, Last Resort, On File from Dundee, Crashed Out- who are a great fucking band, Pressure Point, Argy Bargy, Anti Nowhere League- there’s a lot of great bands who have been friends for a long time and some I have never met personally. I wanted to make sure I played with bands that I love. It was rad that everyone came together the Black Marias, Skingraft- so many great bands out there.
So you keep control, still pick the support bands”Â¦
”ËYes and it’s really important. For me it’s the music I always loved. I’ve gone out of my way to find the bands. I handpicked all the bands because I love them. There’s loads of great bands in the States as well- like Stagger And Fall- this music is happening everywhere. This music is always happening. It always has. It’s all punk rock to me. At the shows have a good time- everyone might have different ideas of what punk is and individuals should be encouraged- think for yourself!
There was always so many different types of punk from the start. Lars himself got into it from his late brother who was a skinhead
”ËWhen I first got into punk there was not many people doing it and you all gravitated towards eachother. One kid may like New York hardcore and another like strictly British 1977 shit whilst my brother was a skinhead and liked Jamaican reggae. I was 11 when I got into all this and I went through the sta pres and Harrington’s look that were his influence- god rest his soul. There is a whole history and heritage to this music it came from somewhere. It was a reaction and it will always be there. This is the music I love and I do from Rancid to the Bastards to this band is my version of street punk.’
Rancid rejuvenated the punk genre. They took street punk and made it work in the mainstream without compromising the sound.
”ËThe thing with Rancid is that we wrote songs we liked and people liked them to and you can’t apologise for that. We only did what we did we loved from the start. We covered Blitz’s ”ËSomeone’s Gonna Die’ when we started and to be honest, on our little scene up here, people said why are you covering that band? And we said, well we like Blitz! And we covered Sham and shit like that, that was part of our deal. We loved that music. It was as much part of us as much as the Ramones were.’
You saved those bands!
”ËWe always loved those bands. No matter whether the media did or not we were still going to doing it. Our goal was not to be a big punk band, our gaol was to play music and play some shows. None of us had anything- no collage education to fall back on, For me it was jail or the army and that wasn’t for me. The punk music said go out and get a better life for yourself, on your own terms but have fun doing it.
You know, that’s how I followed it. Oi! was like my parents. I was raised by the fucking Cockney Rejects and Last Resort- they were my parental figures! (Laughs) I don’t necessarily know if it’s a good thing! What I’m trying to say is that was my culture. Over the years, which has been rad, is that I have been able to produce a lot of these bands, like the Business, or mix the Last Resort, Swinging Utters or Pressure Point- great street punk and it was rad to make music with these guys, to see how passionate these guys were and it legitimatised this thing for me that these guys were still as passionate as when they started when I was growing up with these records. These guys are still passionate and that was important for me.’
They are Punk rock lifers”Â¦
”ËSo am I. This is what I am. I’m not going to change the way I feel inside. I always feel the same way. As we get older things change, perspectives change but I’m always going to be doing something punk rock, it’s part of my culture- the whole skinhead/punk rock thing is my culture and I’m always going to be doing something there and the new band is a reflection of that.’
Was it the same with the Bastards who were punk rock but with a touch of Viking rock n roll!
”ËThe first Bastards record was a real street punk record. That was the goal. The second record went in a different direction. I’m still proud of it, sometimes when you make music it takes a life of its own. I thought the Bastards was a punk record with lots of different styles- there was some hardcore on there and some street punk, we covered Anti Nowhere League and did some rootsy American rock n roll- it all seemed to me to be all street music. We even did some Irish folky stuff on there- all kinds of shit. That’s the thing about punk rock, What I do is punk rock, label me as that within that are so many bands- do Dropkick Murphies sound like Blitz? no they don’t! but they are both punk.’
It’s all punk rock
”ËIt’s different styles but it’s all punk rock but I’m not claiming to be the authority either.’
Growing up Lars was educated in punk and skinhead culture by his older brother. He swiftly understood that the clothes were a big part of the deal. The English skinhead look had small enclaves of support in the USA with the spirit of 69 skinhead look of super smart, post mod, stripped down street culture and Jamaican music was picked up by hip kids in San Francisco 20 years later.
”ËThat was the people I hung around with got educated by. These were the people around with doc martens with knee high socks and rolled up jeans. Bleaching your jeans was a big deal. I remember at 11 years old trying to figure out how to make some bleachers, I didn’t have the Internet to search out how to do it! now it will be on there somewhere (laughs). I thought just pour some bleach on the jeans and keep it away from crotch so the crotch doesn’t wear out and put them in the sun so the bleach turns the pants white. It was very much trial and error. I didn’t know you were supposed to wash them, my friend from Leicester moved over in 1979 and the first time he bleached his jeans he forgot to wash them and afterwards when he tried them on he wondered why his legs were all swollen and red! You dressed in a certain way but it’s not like someone gave you a hand book- you did it as you went along.
Skinhead culture- far from being the media tainted Nazi army- is something quite different. The original skinheads were heavily influenced by Rude Boy West Indian culture both musically and style wise. IN 2011 skinhead culture is international with huge scenes in places like Malaysia and Indonesia- the Internet spreading the word.
”ËIt’s a cool thing. Like punk spreading from the start. Punk may have started in America before it went to England which improved it and sent it back and then it went back improved again. You need a broad spectrum to survive. Now go anywhere in the world and see the grand scope of punk rock. There are so many people everywhere into it that you constantly connect with and it all comes from same kind of place.’
Reflecting this the world’s biggest punk festival, Rebellion. Takes place in Blackpool in August and finally Lars is playing it. The promoters had been after Rancid for years.
”ËOne of the things that stopped us was that in August Rancid were always on summer tour in the USA or making a record. One of the things I wanted to do with this band was play Rebellion and maybe one day Rancid will play Rebellion but so far the time was never right. It’s a cool place to go, a great festival, you get to see all these new bands and all the older bands. It’s a whole celebration of this fucking scene with more than 5 000 people all there from all over the world. I went to the festival when it was in Morecambe and it was rad. I saw the UK Subs, ANL, Sham- I got to see the Exploited, I got to see Argy Bargy. I got to see all these bands I love.
I remember in Morecambe all the bands were giving you CD’s to listen to and you were insisting on paying for them.
”ËJohn, I believe we have got to support one another. I don’t expect anything for free and supporting bands is important. I will go out and pay for stuff. With all of my jobs in my life half my money went on records- for me I have got to support the bands. I love music. I love that kind of thing. It’s my life, I’ve not discovered it a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been into it since I was 11. This is my life. I will always do this and support this kind of shit. It’s who I am. I will always pay for music and supporting bands- lord knows I’m in a band and I know what its like to be on the road and trying to put food into your stomach.
If anyone had a chance to meet me they would know I’m just a normal person man, it’s not like I don’t shit or piss like anyone else. I’m just the same as anyone else. I don’t ask or deserve special treatment. I’m a normal guy. I play guitar and sing a little bit if that’s what you call it! who I am is whatever”Â¦
Typical of many American bands Lars has that work ethic. When I worked with him in the studio he was a non stop blur of activity, producing and arranging songs for a project we were working on called the Masons with Steve Whale, the then guitarist from the Business, I was one of the singers on it along with Steve Ignorant, Mensi and Charlie Harper and others. Lars worked non-stop and his energy and creativity was key to the album- a work ethic that is quite different from many British bands, by the way- what happened to that album!
”ËIt’s nearly ready. We decided to change the name of the band from the Masons to Punk Rock Collective or the PRC. It’s taken so long that it’s like our version of Beach Boys record that was crazy to make but it will come out1′
And the work ethic?
”ËI don’t really know what it’s like over there but I know lots of bands. I don’t know about the work ethic American thing, if it’s true or not but for me I don’t got nothing else. I don’t have a college education or millions of dollars in the bank. Realistically I have a family to support and I love playing music, it’s what I know and what I do. Ever since I was a kid I knew if I didn’t work at something to get out of the shit that I was in I would be dead or in jail or in the army. I didn’t come from a wealthy background. I didn’t come from a solid home. My mom was bringing up two boys herself, she was a Danish immigrant from Nazi occupied Denmark. The value system I had was to work for everything yourself. Everything I had- I had to fight for. I was truly blessed to make music and to go round the world. I would never call it a job. I wouldn’t say there was no work involved in it. There is a lot of sacrifices involved in a band. For a start America is a big country and when you tour the states it’s long assed drives. My opinion is that if you want something you have to go out and make it, go out and get it. You don’t wait for it to come to. I’m a survivalist! I didn’t get out of where I grew up till I joined the UK Subs when I was a kid. It was my first time out of California since I had to go to Denmark at 3 years old when my parents got divorced.
I always knew that music was my way out.
That was my upbringing. It’s about sincerity. I’m not saying poor me, poor me, I was just surviving it.
Now I’m a dad I’m probably more pissed off than when I was 15. I’ve seen the world and the certain things that happen in world fuel the fire in me to make this kind of music.’
But your music is not directly political, it’s more social, first hand point of view lyrics.
”ËIt’s more point of view shit John, a lot of happened to me or in Rancid- only the names have been changed to protect the innocent!’
That sounds like a Rancid song title”Â¦
”ËOr an album title (laughs). We like the long titles. For me what I inspires me the most is what is going on in world. This band is the same thing with songs about culture, what’s going on around you. Songs like ”ËApocalypse Coming’ – which life are you going to take? ”ËIgnorant Ones’ is anti reality TV dumbing everyone down, ”ËLions Share’ is about the hollowing out of the working class in this country. I grew up there and that’s still me there’s a value system that doesn’t change. Rancid songs were always songs about the underclass, the unions- stuff like that. We are those people.
Speaking of which, what are the plans with Rancid?
”ËWe are gonna try and get over soon to the UK. We are doing a little run of gigs on the west coast . I’m super stoked to be playing with Agnostic Front. I known Roger forever but have never played a show with them, which is incredible. We were talking about this and we were saying, ”Ëhey is the first time we are playing together, weird it’s taken all this time.’ They are such a big part of my life and part of the community. Roger Miret and the Disasters were on Hellcat and Agnostic Front were on Epitaph and it’s the first time we have played together! But first the Casuals are coming over to the UK and we are going to have some fun!
Is there a Rancid album in 2013? A long-term plan?
Rancid is in this place where we always have and this place is that we always have done what the hell we wanted to do. We just do everything ourselves. We don’t really listen to anyone else- that’s the way it has always been- that’s why managers always fire us. We do what we are gonna do. We wanna play some shows next year when it’s 20 fucking years since we started!
Everyone has been around along time now. Punk, when it started, seemed so instant, now it’s long term like jazz or the blues
”ËTrue. I been flashing back to the first time we played in UK December/January 1993 and I remember playing in Leeds at a small, little punk thing and the English always got Rancid from the go, they instantly got it and we played this pub in Leeds then went down to play in London with MDC. It’s been so long and we have all been doing the same thing for so long. We were doing it out of our own satisfaction. We never did it to please anybody. We did it for ourselves. At that time there was not a band like Rancid going off. There was no Mohawks, bleached jeans, docs and braces, studded belts- it was all Green Day or PC kind of stuff- very rule booky.
We were antithesis of that. We were getting slagged back then for being who we were! I can only imagine if facebook was going back then what people would be saying! Jesus fucking Christ! I’m not ever on that shit!
Back then we did it because we loved it . It’s out life. It’s who we are.
I always thought it was weird that American punk kids looked like old skool British second wave punks with studded leathers etc in the Californian heat and the British worse skater gear in the rain!
”Ë(Laughs) Climate has lot to do with the skinhead look in America. In San Francisco the skinheads notoriously dress up with things like wing tips, sta press, a nice Ben Sherman and a sweater In Sacramento it’s cut off jeans and a Cro-Mags t shirt. It happens to be that every town has a different look, from flight jackets or bomber jackets or punks down there with studded jackets or the Sacramento cut off Levis, it’s all cross pollinated and that’s the thing.
I love the whole way it has progressed. With punk rock there are so many different things and the skinheads so many different styles but it’s all the same thing. That’s what I love about skins and punks unite- it’s two different scenes. It’s all the same though! some people may not feel that way and that’s fine- like I say I’m not the authority. I got friends from all different backgrounds it’s all shared things inside. Being an individual is what I gravitate to. I do what the fuck I want to do and I don’t have anything to prove.’
Skins were a different scene in the punk era because they had started ten years before.
That was what was great about Skunx! I have skinhead tattoos from years ago and punk rock tattoos as well. The skunx made sense for us- skins and punks were in our crew. All the kids from the neighbourhood that were into it and there were not that many of us felt or dressed that way so we unified- that’s when the whole skunx thing happened. The way I got exposed to all this culture was not in the sixties of 70s . It was my brother. I knew about the Ramones and the Clash and remember this was before Internet. So you relied on Sounds music paper a friend brought home with a Rejects interview in it or a review of 4 skins demo and that was like, ”Ëwow oh my god, there is something about this I can actually read!”Â (laughs) to be honest I learned about the style of dress by looking at the back of the records.
The way I saw skinheads was on the back of second Oi! record or Mickey Geggus and Stinky Turner or on the cover of the first Oi! record or pictures of Red Alert or Four Skins. I didn’t know what a crombie coat or a Ben Sherman was- lord knows I looked like at the time! all I could afford was bleached jeans and a pair of clippers to shave my head. Suspenders? I didn’t know you had to have thin braces. I had to have my dad braces! My brother was more cultured. I grew up in Campbell in the south of San Francisco and my brother would come home from the city with something new. One day my brother asked for my dad’s pants and they were the proper sta press pants, my dad gave them to my brother who gave them to me- the green or black or white pair he gave to me. I didn’t know that was being sussed. That’s how you learned back then.
Sta press is such a classic look”Â¦but they don’t make them any more”Â¦
You see them once in a while in thrift shops. You can get a good pair of . Sta pres are the most comfortable and durable- you spill coffee on it and it rolls right off. It’s a classic look, they look tight. They are rad. I used to play gigs in them all the time in 94/95. They wear really well, you jump around in doc martens and sta-press and they don’t stretch.