Twenty-five years is an unimaginable amount of time in the ever-evolving music industry. Over the past two and a half decades, countless artists, genres, and styles have risen to prominence only to be soon forgotten, giving way to the latest trend. Yet few have made their mark as well as been able to stay afloat as Social Distortion has, which proves to be true as the band turns their focus this summer to celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of their breakthrough self-titled record.
The ride has not been an easy one, with the current five-piece being plagued by breakups, drug addiction, and a revolving bill of members. The lineup has always been unstable to say the least, with an assortment of talented musicians coming and going for a variety of reasons, and the only current constant fixture being vocalist and guitarist Mike Ness, who formed the group with longtime guitarist Dennis Danell while in high school in the late ’70s after being inspired by first-wave punk acts [Danell was a permanent member until his death in 2000]. In 1982, the band’s first full-length album, Mommy’s Little Monster, was released, which led to steady touring and notoriety among the ever-growing punk scene. However, Ness’ personal turmoil soon got in the way of their success. Because of the chaos, they completely disbanded while the frontman focused on facing his demons in rehab. Once he got clean, they reunited to issue Prison Bound, which saw the transition away from their purely punk roots and toward the Western-tinged rock that they are best known for today.
Despite being around for 12 years prior, the 1990 self-titled release on Epic Records pushed the band out of the inner circle of an underground scene and into the mainstream’s limelight. This may be considered to be a golden era for Social Distortion, and the whole purpose of the milestone tour is to recapture a moment in time for fans.
“We wanted to give people a chance to experience the era of Social Distortion again, or even those who were maybe too young when it first came out and never got to see the songs live a chance to,” said Ness from his California home in a recent interview. “It’s weird now to see people who grew up loving the record starting to bring their own kids to the show. Or even sometimes, kids will bring their parents out because they think they’ll enjoy the music, even if they weren’t necessarily into us in the past.”
And despite the album boasting several of the band’s most well-known hits such as “Ball And Chain” and “Story Of My Life,” which have become staples in their discography, Ness says playing through the record again in its entirety in preparation for the tour has been a strange experience.
In the past, Ness has also stated that he would like to do another “rockumentary,” such as 1984’s Another State Of Mind, which chronicled Social Distortion’s tour in the early ’80s alongside fellow Californians Youth Brigade. When The Aquarian Weekly asked now if he would still be interested in shooting a sequel to the film, Ness said, “I would, but I wouldn’t call it a sequel or a follow-up. It would be something on its own. I’d like to focus on what is going on now, and how much has changed.”
So what’s next? Writing—and lots of it. Though they have grown notorious for the substantial gaps between releasing new material (the group’s collection of seven LPs is relatively small considering that they have been playing for nearly 40 years), Ness said that as soon as the tour ends, they will turn their full focus toward creating the successor to Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes, which marked their debut on Epitaph Records in 2011.
“I have been writing so, so much and there has definitely been progress,” he said, adding that he hopes for an early 2016 release. “Basically, we are doing this [tour] now because, you know, it was an important anniversary for us to acknowledge. But I really just want us to start focusing on the next record.”
Social Distortion will be performing on Aug. 19 with Nikki Lane, Lucero, Benjamin Booker, and Drag The River at Festival Pier in Philadelphia, and on Aug. 22 at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park with just Nikki Lane and Drag The River. For more information, go to socialdistortion.com.