Fat Wreck Chords Top 5: According To Russ Rankin of Good Riddance

This is a transcript of Aaron's interview with Russ Rankin, of Good Riddance, discussing his 5 favourite releases from Fat Wreck Chords. The episode can be found here.

Aaron: So what's the first time you remember hearing about Fat Wreck Chords? Do you kind of remember when that was? What the release was? Kind of what was going on around then?

Russ: Yes, I had gone to see NOFX. Well, I went to see probably like 1989-90, right around there, I went to see Poison Idea at Gilman - I went to all my shows back then at Gilman Street in Berkeley, I would go every weekend. So I went to see Poison Idea, and they didn't show up, and so NOFX became the default headliner. I had never heard of them. And by the end of the show, I was a fan because their music was pretty fast and it was fun, and they were pretty silly between songs and they would tell jokes. Even though I was usually into more serious punk, it was entertaining - it was a show you would leave and be like 'it's memorable, and I was entertained by them'. And so, my girlfriend and I, at the time, who I was with, we started going back to see them whenever they came. They would come a couple times a year, to Gilman Street. So we started to get their back catalogue, and we were fans of NOFX, we'd go see them wherever they played. And then, I knew the singer called himself Fat Mike and then I think they put out the 'Longest Line' EP, and I saw the logo, and thought that was a really cool logo. I dug around a little bit and found out Mike had started a label. At this time my band, we were furiously demoing and working our asses off trying to 'make it'. And by 'make it' we mean like getting an album, and playing shows outside of our hometown. So we were playing wherever we could, recording demos after demos, sending them like 100-150 different labels. And so, my guitar player and I, he had gone a couple times to see NOFX he liked them too, and we were like 'well, fuck let's send one to Fat because Mike knows what's up and we like his band'. And so, that's what happened. We sent a demo and got a hand written letter back from him, and he like a couple of the songs. That's how it started.

Aaron: That's really cool. At this point there wasn't probably a whole lot of prominent releases on the label yet, right? You guys were kind of - I know there was some, they'd been around for like 5, 6, 7 years by the time you'd signed with them?

Russ: I don't know when the first release came out. You probably know. I don't know.

Aaron: Yeah, I was just looking that up. I'm just blanking at the moment, at what that was. But yeah, there wasn't a whole ton of releases before you guys signed. It's really cool that you got to be a part of...

Russ: Yeah, I think Propagandhi's first album. Lagwagon's first album. I know those were out. No Use For A Name had released something. I think 'The Daily Grind' maybe was out. How we actually got signed is a different story, but I don't know if you want to know that or not. But that's how we heard of Fat Wreck Chords, and that's kind of the initial connection.

Aaron: Obviously you guys are still going. Still releasing albums on Fat Wreck Chords. What's kind of kept you on the label all this time? I've seen and read they just kind of do one record releases with bands, and kind of give them that freedom to keep releasing albums on the label, or if they want to go somewhere else - some bands have left and come back. What, for you guys, has kept you on the label for so long?

Russ: We've never had anybody trying to get us away from it, first of all. Like, had we been really unhappy with Fat Wreck Chords, we wouldn't have had immediately anywhere else to go. So, fortunately for us, they've just been awesome from day one. They've made our band happen. Like, we're from a small beach town, and they gave us the ability to travel all over the world. And they gave us the ability to work as hard as we wanted to work, and they gave us all the resources and infrastructure to make that happen. And they never tried to push us one way or the other, or dictate any sort of path. We didn't know any better, or anything, but then through the years we've met countless bands that we've toured with - a lot of bands that I'm still friends with to this day who we've toured with or played shows with - and eventually you're sitting around backstage somewhere, and a guy in a band picks you to be the person who he unloads on about how unhappy they are with their label. After hearing enough of those stories, I realized how fortunate we really were. Like, for us we realized 'oh cool, they'll put our records out and we can just fuckin' tour all the time'. It's just what we wanted to do, and they'll make it happen. But then, after hearing all these horror stories about other labels, I really felt super fortunate.

Aaron: Yeah. it really doesn't get better than that for a punk band, right? You want to have that freedom. You're not really trying to get more commercial success. I mean, you want to grow your band and a label like that can easily do that. I think a lot of the times when bands leave, either to a major or to somewhere where they can get more exposure - which is great, that's what bands want - I think it's a good testament to Good Riddance and to Fat Wreck Chords that that relationship has lasted so long. I know there are many other bands that have stuck with the label too. Yeah, I was just kind of curious to hear if it was a natural thing, or if nobody else was really hunting you down - it seemed to be a relationship that worked really well for both parties.

Russ: We were really fortunate to get onto that label at the right time. It was like a boulder getting rolled up the side of a mountain, and then we got on right as it got to the top and then it kind of snowballed down from there, for a while The label blew up really big, which I don't know if anyone could've predicted that. But, we were working really hard, we would have succeeded somehow. A lot of times, I think that luck is the residue of hard work, but we were pretty fortunate. It was a sense of really good timing - we were in the right place at the right time. We were visible, we were pushing, we were trying to get noticed. It all worked out.

Aaron: Let's kind of dive into some of your favourite releases. I always love this because I'm always curious to hear what albums influence my favourite bands. Hopefully there are some on the label that you enjoy, so we will get into some of those. The first one is Lagwagon's 'Trashed'. So this is the second album by Lagwagon, it was released on January 4th 1994. Do you remember hearing this album for the first time, or what was it about it that stuck with you?

Russ: Because we were talking to Fat, and it was looking like we were going to be part of that, I just bought all the Fat albums and was trying to listen to what - who are the other bands on this label. What are we going to be in the midst of, kind of thing. Also, without having anything to compare it to I wanted to be like 'fuck, is our band even good enough?' Putting on 'Trashed' for the first time I was like 'fuck, we're definitely not this good'. These songs are great, and the production sounded so good. I just remember anytime I listen to Lagwagon of that era, or played with them, I would just watch Jared play drums and was just blown away constantly. But the songs were great because they were fast, and they were tight. There was some humour to it, but it wasn't overtly silly all the time. It's just a really good mix of stuff, and then we started incorporating some of the stuff we heard in their music into some of our music. Maybe this sort of unconscious we thought, 'well we have to kind of sound like this now' because we were on Fat - nobody had ever told us, but we sort of took it upon ourselves to bring in some of the tempo changes and the stops, which weren't really part of our thing before that.

Aaron: It's cool if you hear that influence, and it immediately makes you want to become better musicians and a better band. I think that's a really cool thing. Y'know, it's not ripping off - its punk music, there's only so much you can do anyway - I think it's cool for a release that was pretty young at that time, for you to hear something you liked so much, and to have them as your peers as well, to be taking bits and pieces from each other. This is actually an album I didn't get into until the last few years. I've been listening to Lagwagon for a long time, but I didn't get into them until 'Let's Talk About Feelings' which was a few years later, maybe 4 years after that, and then kind of everything since then. But, I've gone back to this one - it's really cool just to hear different influences on it. There's a lot of really great songs on this one.

Russ: Well there's 'Stokin' The Neighbors' which in hindsight maybe that's a song, a funny song, about drunk driving that didn't really age well. Then there's 'Island of Shame' which is super mature and heady and smart, and way ahead of its time, I thought. So it's kind of all across the board.

Aaron: Yeah. I think they kind of kept some of that going throughout the years too. You get a good mix of serious and silly. But, when it comes down to the music - it's killer and really stands up. Great first choice on that one.

The second one we're going to go to is Propagandhi's 'Supporting Caste' - so this one actually it wasn't on Fat Wreck Chords, it came on G7 Welcoming Committee, but I read that Fat Mike helped fund and get that label started.

Russ: Yeah I was fudging the lines there a little bit.

Aaron: It's all good. They had a history with them before so it's definitely - kind of goes hand in hand. Propagandhi, they were from my parts so it's kind of cool having a band like that. A very influential band on a lot of different punk bands, whether it's more political punk or just other styles of punk. A lot more technical than some stuff. Why this band? Why this album? They had a handful of albums out by this time, so why is this the one that stands out to you?

Russ: Because, I think that 'Dear Coach's Corner' is one of the greatest punk songs ever written. I get emotional every time I listen to it, and I think it's genius. It encapsulates, for me as a person who feels the way I do politically and who knows that organized sports is so often weaponized for the glorification of war and the military, and how sad that is, and then also somebody who is so passionate about the game, and almost feels as thought its an affront to the game to smear it with this. The way that the lyrics are written is perfection. It's like lightning in a bottle. It makes me emotional every time I listen to it, and it makes me want to quit ever even trying to write lyrics again. By that time, I love Propagandhi I always will, as the metal got more into it I got less interested musically. I am not a metal person. But, that being said, I love that band I love those guys. That song is - that's the mountaintop of songwriting in my book, it doesn't get better than that.

Aaron: Have you guys had the opportunity to play or tour with them since this album came out?

Russ: The last time we got to play with Propagandhi was probably Fest in Gainesville in 2012.

Aaron: Yeah they're definitely not a band that seems to hit the road that hard. Even, they're 6 hours down the road from us, and I've seen them I can think like twice, maybe three times...

Russ: The joke at the label was always that they didn't tour because they didn't have to. You can live in Winnipeg for $100. That was the joke, I know you can't live in Winnipeg for $100 but it's less of a grind than maybe some other cities that somebody could live in. That was the joke around the label. I don't know if it's true or not, I don't know why they didn't tour a lot.

Aaron: I'd be curious to hear that. Maybe it was just one of those things - which is crazy because they're such talented musicians, they put out such fantastic albums and they clearly put a lot of time and effort into those albums. But, I mean touring is not for every band...

Russ: It's smart. When they do go out, every show is going to be packed because people have been waiting and waiting to see them.

Aaron: That's true. Maybe just a different ethic, you know. Bands like you, like you said, you just wanted to get out there as much as you could. I mean, for the most part, punk bands have to do that, or smaller bands have to do that just to gain more fans - especially before social media. It is an interesting thing how there are select bands like that that just kind of seem to grow organically without really having to push it. Maybe they're just happy to put their music out there, and whatever comes comes.

The third one is No Use For A name's 'Hard Rock Bottom' - this is the sixth album by NUFAN. It was released on June 16th 2002. Another great band, very prominent in the skate punk/melodic pop punk scene on Fat. They had a handful of albums out already by this one, so why did you pick this one?

Russ: I love all their stuff. Tony was one of my favourite song writers of all time. The reason I picked that album is just because, 'International You Day' kind of like 'Dear Coach's Corner', it's just one of those songs where I'd lay awake at night wishing that I'd written it. It's just so beautiful, and so hard-hitting, emotional. I remember at his memorial service, Joey Cape played it on acoustic guitar, and sang it. Everyone in the whole place was bawling. It's just a beautiful, beautiful song. Tony would roll out of bed and write a beautiful song every day. But that particular one always sticks in my head, and I always think about it. I always think about when we got to tour together, how fun it was to watch them play that song live. It got such a good reaction everywhere they went. They had tons of songs that the crowd would love and sing along with, but that one in particular - you could tell it wasn't just like...that hit people in the feels, everywhere. Even though there;s a lot of their stuff that I love - that particular song is why I chose that album.

Aaron: That's a powerful thing when one song stands out enough to make a whole album stand out. That's a pretty incredible impact that a song can have. That's a band that I never got to see live, unfortunately. I don't know if they came through these parts that much, or not. I still think about that every time I'm listening to an album...

Russ: Unfortunately, a lot of bands did Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver - and that was it. We would try to do the prairies almost every year. We'd tell people like, 'dude you gotta go. The shows are great, people are stoked. It's awesome'. We always had great shows in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We would always tell people to go. but, I think a lot of bands just skipped it.

Aaron: It is a trek, and there's not a whole lot on the American side underneath those provinces. I get it, but to us...When I saw you guys here, I was still living in a small town in Manitoba - any chance you know the Dauphin Kings hockey team?

Russ: Yes.

Aaron: Incredible.

Russ: That's the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Junior A.

Aaron: Yeah. That's the town I grew up in, and so I saw you guys when I was in high school. I saw you again when I moved here, but the first time I saw you - we drove up here on a school night or whatever...to kids like us, I couldn't believe a band like you guys were coming anywhere close to us. So we always counted it as a privilege and a gift, when bands did decide to tour through here. Like you said, especially then, the shows always seemed super good.

Russ: Our last show in Regina, which wasn't that long ago, was really good.

Aaron: Yeah at The Exchange...

Russ: With Off With Their Heads, I think...

Aaron: 4 or 5 years ago?

Russ: That was a great show.

Aaron: It's a good testament again, that because you guys came through here so much and there's still enough people willing to come out...

Russ: That's the club that we played the first time we went there in 95 too. That same club.

Aaron: Oh wow. The first time I saw you was at the Riddell Centre at the university. A bit bigger of a place. I can't remember who that show was with. That would've been like 2000 or 2001.

Russ: Oh yeah, OK. Peter probably did the show. Yeah we did play there a bunch of times.

Aaron: Yeah those were awesome shows. I've still got some pictures from that, from my old film camera. Those are some good memories.

But yeah, getting through this list, number four is Tilt with ''Till It Kills'. This was the second studio album by Tilt. It was released in April of 1995. This is one of those bands that I've never really heard a whole lot. I never saw them live. I'm not sure if they ever came up this way or not. Why does this band or album strike a chord for you?

Russ: They were kind of...their release came right after ours I think. their first release on Fat. They had already had another album out, and we didn't. They were from sort of the same area. They were from the East Bay. We met them on the first Fat Wreck Chords tour, which was before God & Country came out, but it was that month. It was us and Strung Out, Tilt, No Use and Lagwagon. We met them and we hit it off really good, and then in the spring of 95 No Use took us to Europe for our first time, but the tour bogged down because half the tour got sick. Like, so sick to the point that we couldn't have shows. So we all came home. And Destiny, who was our booking agent in Europe...like later on, that next fall, it was in September - they booked us and Tilt - a co-headlining tour. It was a gnarly tour. it was 7 weeks. All squats and youth centres through Europe. It was really gnarly. We felt we owed it to the booking agency after the No Use tour thing had happened. We wanted to make sure we showed them, as Good Riddance, we'll come through for you guys. But we shared a bus with Tilt, and just got to be really really close with them. We helped build a kinship with them, kind of lyrically and politically. Like, they're cut from a little bit of a different cloth from a band like Lagwagon, or a band like Strung Out, and we felt a kinship with them. Also I felt that Cinder was such an amazing singer. Playing with them every night, and watching them soundcheck. I'd go up to soundcheck and tap the mic and go 'Check! Check! One! Two!' and Cinder would go up there and sing a Janis Joplin song pitch perfect, a capella, and I just felt like the worst singer in the world. She was a really really great singer. Super sharp, and I love her lyrics on that album because they're potent and they're coming from a feminist perspective, obviously - in my opinion the punk world was, and is, lacking. But they weren't beating you over the head with it. They were very clever and tongue in cheek. You had to kind of be in the know to get it, or listen to the song twice to get it. I just think the songs were great, and the lyrics were great. It just reminds me of those 7 weeks we spent with them on tour. Grinding it out in Europe.

Aaron: They're definitely not your typical, what you think of as a Fat Wreck Chords punk band. A really unique band, like you said, a lot of cool stances to share, and something different. That's something I like about Fat Wreck Chords - they were always willing to have bands that were wanting to do something similar, or bands that were wanting to push the envelope. There was lots for everyone to take from there. If you want feel good punk you could have that If you want something with more depth, and dynamics, then there were bands like Tilt as well. Really cool release for the label.

Russ: They had a really East Bay sound. I think what you're talking about - there seemed to be this misconception that there was this 'Fat Wreck Chords sound'. Maybe there was, when Lagwagon's first album was out and there was just that and NOFX, but I don't think that lasted long. I think that there was a huge variance of styles and genres on the label, in almost no time. Tilt was a big part of that. Tilt didn't sound like anybody else.

Aaron: Maybe it was just, when I first discovered Fat Wreck Chords bands, in a small town - didn't have internet - I only kind of heard the main 5 or 6 bands that did have that skate punk flavour. It wasn't until later that I got into some of the other bands, and figured out that its not all the same. That's kind of a general, you know, if you mention Fat Wreck Chords someone's like 'OK, it's probably in this realm or something close to it'. You know, not everything fit that exact mould for sure.

The last one we're going to touch on here is Dillinger Four's 'Civil War'. This is the fourth album by them. It was released on October 14th, 2008. It's recording and production took place over several years, and its release date was pushed back several times. There was 6 years between this album, and the one before it, which is a pretty long span for a punk band. You must've been super excited when this one was officially released.

Russ: You know it's funny - I had listened to a little bit of Dillinger Four and knew who they were, and I actually knew them better for the club that they ran in Minneapolis, the Triple Rock. We would play there and - my other band played there more, Only Crime - we'd play there and everybody just knew that it was the Dillinger Four guys. But I wasn't super familiar with their music, and then one summer Only Crime was touring across Canada, with a guy that we brought with us, Robin, who sold merch. He was driving a lot and he would play this album, and I was like 'holy fuck', because I had heard Dillinger Four songs before, and I loved their sound and they reminded me of an old band from St. Louis called Ultraman. So they had this really, kind of, husky Midwestern sound, and I dug it. But, Civil War sounded different to me. The vocals sounded different - the way they were recorded or mixed. And I was like, fuck, every single song on this album is the best song on the album. Sometimes that happens. It's happened with Pennywise albums where there's no filler - every song is the best song on the album. That's how I felt about Civil War. I could not stop listening to it. Every song was just long enough and it would end, and you'd be like 'fuck, I want to hear that song again'. It was the perfect album. They did everything right. The songs are just long enough. They're 'bam!' they're done, and you want to hear it again. Every song has super hooky choruses, and great melodies. I still, to this day, listen to that album - when I put it on I listen to the whole thing through, I don't ever just listen to part of it.

Aaron: That's pretty incredible when a band can do that. I guess it was worth all those years in between...

Russ: Yeah, I don't know too much about that. I met them briefly at a festival. I don't know too much about them. Since then, I've listened to a lot of their other releases and I still like Civil War the best. It's the perfect album. Because, you always want to make a record that, when it's done, you don't want people to be like, 'Oh God, I'm glad that's over', you want them to go right back to the beginning again because it ended too soon. That's how I feel about Civil War. That's how I feel about every song on there. They hit you twice - once or twice - with the best chorus you've ever heard, and then the songs over and there's another one.

Aaron: It definitely makes me excited to go back to it. I was listening to it a bit this week, but I definitely want to dive back into it - especially with the way you described it.

Russ: It came out of nowhere. They were on our label but I was never really familiar with it. If Robin hadn't been driving us across Canada, I may not have heard it. I'm just stoked.

Aaron: Did they release much after that album?

Russ: I don't know.

Aaron: I'll have to go back. They're another one of those bands - there's lots of them, I'm sure you had those bands too - where you're familiar with them, maybe you know what label they're on, or you've heard some songs but for whatever reason you just haven't really spent the time digging into it. There's so much music to do that with, so it's hard, but it's always great when you get such a great review from another established musician that is such a fan of an album...

Russ: Music is subjective, so what I think is great you may not think is great, but I know what you mean.