AMERICAN GENIUSHow do you become America’s biggest punk band? By making the most of setbacks and not being afraid of flops, says lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong.
Punk legends Green Day have sold 75 million records in 30 years, and that’s despite contrarily defying expectations at every turn. Why? Because, says 44-year-old frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, “you have to risk being adventurous if you want to stay fresh.”
THE RED BULLETIN: You claim that you can only have a great career if you’re willing to take risks. Why is that?
BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG: Because only adventure keeps your fires burning in the long run. It’s our willingness to take risks that has kept the band going all these years.
But what’s the point of taking risks if success is assured anyway?
You sound like our record label! Back in 1994, they were pushing us to just put out a copy of our successful album Dookie. But would we have been satisfied doing that? No. It’s better to try things nobody is expecting, to surprise your fans. And do you know what? I’m sure that’s why those fans stay loyal to us.
But risk also means you can end up blowing it, right?
Failure is all part of the game. OK, so our last effort was too ambitious [sales for the 2012 album trilogy ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! were underwhelming], but we thought it was such an absurd idea—and such a great one—that we got carried away with it.
Do you regret it now?
No. Failure is important.
Of course, you can get away with it when you’re a multimillionaire …
We were already taking risks when we were still broke. It’s not about the money. You fight with your record label, which wants to make as much money as possible as easily as possible, and dislikes nothing more than artistic ambition. But when you prevail over your label manager and then it doesn’t work out, you feel like a loser—regardless of your bank balance, believe me.
And when that happens?
You get right back up again. You look for a new adventure, and you fight even harder for it this time. It’s better to make mistakes than to do nothing at all!