One punk band that doesn’t get talked about as much as they should is the band Rancid. In many ways, they are the classic modern punk band. But what do they sing about, and is Rancid political?
Here’s what I know:
Rancid as a band is not overly political in their songs. Some members espouse views that would be considered left-wing, but they have had associations with other bands on both the political right and left sides of the spectrum.
But honestly, there’s a lot more to Rancid than that.
Officially formed in 1991, decades later, these guys continue to play together, and put out great albums. That’s good news for us long-time fans.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine and telling the story of how I DJ’d Rancid bassist Matt Freeman’s bachelor party back in 2003 (I think), and they instantly responded, “from Rancid? Isn’t that group like right-wing or something?”
But really, punk is about challenging the establishment. And let’s face it; the establishment is BOTH the left and the right.
Of course, one question leads to the other.
And pretty soon, I found myself going down that internet rabbit hole of the punk scene, trying to get to the bottom of things.
Does Rancid have overtly political songs? What about the political stances of their side projects? And are they homophobic or racist in any way?
After wallowing about in the underbelly of punk forums, I found myself wondering if they are even a good band. Did Rancid sell out?
Let’s dive in deeper.
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) May 2, 2017
Is Rancid a good band?
Rancid is a very good band. They stay true to their classic punk and ska roots and put on a high-energy show that is very tight musically and faithfully executes the sound of their recordings.
I was really surprised to see that this even came up as a question in the forums.
For me, these guys have always ranked towards the top of my list of “good” bands in the punk-rock category. I’ve compared Green Day to Blink 182.
You can read about it by clicking here, but it hadn’t occurred to me to ask if Rancid is a good band.
The group has sold over four million albums. That doesn’t happen if you’re a bad band. But some people can always find reasons to doubt their talent.
The main target of criticism is Tim Armstrong; both his voice and his guitar playing – or rather lack of guitar playing.
His voice is kinda slurred and very hoarse, and there was even a rumor going around that he had a stroke at some point (which isn’t true, by the way).
As for his infamous lack of guitar playing… that’s a harder one to explain.
It’s kind of an inside joke among fans that you’re lucky if you ever get to see him strum his guitar, despite it constantly being slung around his neck.
But with Lars handling most of the guitar duties, Tim is free to focus on singing and playing some leads and not playing rhythm the whole time.
For me, my issue is more with Tim’s beard than voice or guitar playing though!
Matt Freeman, on the other hand, is considered a legendary bass player. He developed a unique style that goes beyond that driving punk rhythm and incorporates musicality into the baseline. He has inspired countless bassists with his skills.
And DJing his bachelor party was the highlight of my somewhat brief DJing career.
Haven’t experienced a Rancid concert since the 90s pic.twitter.com/URR1eRY4cH
— Battle Angel Fajita ⁷ 💜 (@PoisonOrRemedy) September 28, 2021
Are Rancid sellouts?
Rancid are not sellouts as they have remained true to their original sound and influences despite becoming popular. They get called that by critics due to signing with Warner Brothers and not because their sound changed or got poppier.
And unlike Green Day, Rancid did not resort to ballads and acoustic guitars and stuck to the true spirit of punk.
When they were recording their first records with Epitaph, no one seemed to have a problem with their rise to fame. They were on a punk insider record label and were pretty vocal about rejecting major label record deals.
So, when they got a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records in 2003, the betrayal was real for many fans. By choosing to go with the big guys, they instantly were accused of selling out and turning their backs on “real” punks.
But I argue that Rancid never sold out.
Sure, the album Indestructible was released by Warner Brothers, but it was in conjunction with Epitaph and Hellcat Records.
They hadn’t abandoned their independent roots by any stretch of the imagination.
It was a simple matter of distribution and logistics. Their sound never changed (ok, maybe it got a little more “poppy”, but bands are allowed to evolve, right?), and they maintained their creative independence when it came to their lyrics and songwriting.
Other bands like the Ramones and Green Day have also been accused of selling out.
The whole concept of going mainstream is “anti-punk”, so any band that actually starts to become famous will eventually be accused of the unforgivable.
I recently did a great article about the Ramones discussing this and whether they were pop-punk that you could read on my site by clicking here.
Before the Warner Bros. deal, Rancid was seriously pursued by major record labels, but they always stayed true to their roots.
Maybe that’s why so many fans were so offended by the whole ordeal.
— RADIOACTIVE-FORCE (@RFwebzine) August 30, 2020
Is Lars Frederiksen’s side project Stomper 98 a right-wing band?
Lars Frederikson’s side project Stomper 98 has a singer Sebi who was part of the neo-Nazi skinhead scene when he was 16 in the early 1980s. But by the time Sebi formed Stomper 98, he had changed his views and founded the band as an anti-racist band.
And Frederikson didn’t join them as their guitarist until 2018.
So, I started this whole investigation about whether Rancid is a political band because someone suggested that they were right-wing.
It turns out that they are anything. I’ll get into that in a bit, but first, I think it’s worth clarifying the right-wing accusations first.
Sebi of Stomper 98 has owned up to his mistakes and has publicly taken responsibility for their old opinions. Specifically, the allegations are from 1990 when Sebi was 16 and joined the right-wing Skinhead scene in Germany where he’s from.
Lars Frederikson’s side project Stomper 98 is technically not a right-wing band.
In fact, they have quite vocally stated that they are anti-racist. Unfortunately for Lars, the left is unforgiving when it comes to these things, and the members of Stomper 98 are guilty by association, so to speak.
However, having hung out with Lars at the bar where I used to DJ in San Francisco 20 years ago, I can attest I never heard him say anything racist.
And he loves a lot of multi-racial ska music. Plus, Rancid themselves collaborated with the famed two-tone band, The Specials, on more than 1 occasion.
So, is Lars racist? No. Not a chance.
Rancid – Indestructible , Used (Good Condition) Made In USA (Hellcat Records), SMS/WA : 089651116343 pic.twitter.com/oQgiKWkUwm
— Ardhi Jatmiko (@ardhijatmiko) May 29, 2014
Does the band Rancid collaborate with known homophobic people?
Rancid has not directly collaborated with known homophobic people. However, Tim Armstrong’s label, Hellcat Records, has signed at least 2 artists with known homophobic lyrics; reggae dancehall artist Buju Banton, and the band U.S. Bombs.
I discovered that another reason why people are accusing Rancid of being a political band and right-wing is because of accusations that they work with openly homophobic people.
Again, guilt by association, but this time it’s a little more complicated.
So, who are these people that Rancid has collaborated with that are openly homophobic? I will try to concisely explain the situation.
Hellcat Records is Tim Armstrong’s recording company, and it operates under Epitaph, but it is really Tim’s deal.
The homophobic accusations all boil down to the fact that Tim signed an artist named Buju Banton, a Jamaican reggae dancehall recording artist.
Buju, before recording with Hellcat in 1993, recorded a song (“Boom Bye Bye”) that openly called for the murder of gay people.
Another Hellcat band, U.S. Bombs, also recorded a song called “Don’t Need You”, which is easily interpreted as being homophobic.
While not as overt as Buju’s song, some of the lyrics to “Don’t Need You” are:
“Go play The Smiths I like girls and you like all the boys
I can tell you got that kinda lisp don’t NEED YOU
Best you don’t call yer fuckn misserable
You you you I don’t need you”
So did Rancid collaborate with known homophobic people? I guess the unfortunate answer to this question is yes, or at least Tim did.
Some fans might justify Tim’s work with Hellcat as nothing more than strategic business decisions that don’t represent his personal views.
Others within the punk community have judged Tim Armstrong and the band as a whole as being complicit with unacceptable attitudes.
But I would also ask how many of us like bands or songs and have no idea what the musician’s personal views are?
And are we at a place in society where we have zero tolerance for anyone with a different opinion from our own? And if the answer to that question is yes, is that a good thing.
Now don’t mistake that as me supporting anyone opening anti-LGTBQ. My dad was gay and I loved him very much. But I also love and respect everyone’s right to free speech and being free to believe what they want to believe.
And the beauty of a free society is that if I don’t like a band, I don’t have to buy their music.
*Danny’s favorite band’s top 5 songs*
I Wanna Riot
— BLM | 155Pod❤️Sac 🐇 (@155LovesSac) September 5, 2020
Does Rancid have any political songs?
Rancid does not get overly political in their songs. Most of their lyrics deal with singer Tim Armstrong and his relationships, upbringing, and friends and lovers that have been lost along the way.
Interestingly, despite accusations that Rancid is a political right-wing band, that they are homophobic (or associated with homophobes), or that they have neo-Nazi ties, they are, at their core, a left-leaning group.
I think this quote from a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone really sums up their political stance. Lars Frederikson stated:
“I believe in the American dream – and I also believe in unions, just trying to get a better life for the working man.”
If you want an in-depth analysis of the band’s working-class consciousness and the subtly political nature of Rancid’s songs, let me recommend an impressive study done by Keiran James at the University of Fiji.
If you take a good hard listen to the lyrics of Rancid’s songs, you will find a lot of commentary reflecting views commonly held by the political left.
I think it’s safe to say that, yes, Rancid is a political band. But it’s more to do with some of their connections and associations rather than their music itself.
They have faced their fair share of controversy and misconceptions, but what kind of punk band would they be if they didn’t?
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