Mike Ness never crossed paths with Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch. But given that the two were musical contemporaries and veterans of American punk rock's early days, Ness had some thoughts on Yauch's passing when he spoke to The Bulletin on Saturday, just 24 hours after the news of Yauch's death from cancer broke.
“Part of your youth is — gone,” said Ness, 50, the singer, songwriter and guitarist for Social Distortion, a band whose name is synonymous with SoCal punk. “I never met them, but they had a few songs I really liked. I just thought they were cool because they did what they wanted.”
Ness knows all about doing what he wants as the only remaining founding member of Social D, which is coming up on its 35th anniversary next year. More immediately, the band is coming to Bend on Wednesday for a show at the Midtown Ballroom (see “If you go”) as part of a six-week tour.
“Punk rock was supposed to be about individuality,” continued Ness, known for his abilities as a between-song storyteller with a biting wit. “So, you know, I think the Beastie Boys are just as punk as Social Distortion because of that (individuality). I've seen so many Dickies-wearing, tattooed, f---ing grease-haired generic punk guys I could just puke. There's more to it, guys, than trying to look like everyone else, and sound (like everyone else).
“You know, that's kind of why we chose to incorporate Americana into our style,” he said, “because by the mid-'80s, punk, like anything else, was starting to stereotype itself.”
Before we continue, let's review “A Brief History of Social Distortion,” the helpful history page at www .socialdistortion.com: The band formed in 1978 in Orange County, Calif., and before it even released an album proper, Social Distortion's 1982 tour with two other huge acts of the era, Youth Brigade and Minor Threat, was the subject of a documentary, “Another State of Mind.”
Finally, in 1983, Social Distortion released its debut full-length, the seminal “Mommy's Little Monster,” which included, of course, the driving title track and “Another State of Mind,” perpetual mainstays among Social D's live sets.
The punk scene was still chiefly underground in the mid-'80s, but Social Distortion was among its bigger success stories. “Monster,” as it says on the site, “gained the band a national name in punk circles.”
The group began working on its next album by 1985, even though by then Ness was a full-blown heroin addict, as every article written about the band for years to come would explain. Drugs and brushes with the law delayed Social Distortion's follow-up, “Prison Bound,” until 1988.
We now resume where we left off: Ness' explanation of how the band steered into Americana territory, embracing a multitude of influences beyond the Ramones (not that there's anything wrong with the Ramones).
“The bands that survived were the ones that were not afraid to do what they wanted,” he said, “even though I remember getting flak for covering a Johnny Cash song (‘Ring of Fire') or writing a song like ‘Ball and Chain.'” (Both are on the band's 1990 self-titled album.)
“You know, it's like, ‘Well, that's not very hardcore,'” Ness said in an excellent impersonation of a judgmental lunkhead. “It's like, ‘Well, maybe you should listen to the lyrics.' I love tearing down stereotypes and stuff like that.”
He defied expectations further when, in 1999, he released a fine pair of back-to-back solo records exploring his rootsy influences. The first, “Cheating at Solitaire,” included original songs and covers, including Bob Dylan's “Don't Think Twice” and Hank Williams' “You Win Again,” plus a song (“Misery Loves Company”) with one of Ness' heroes, Bruce Springsteen. Later that same year, a similarly rootsy recording followed called “Under the Influences.”
In 2000, Dennis Danell, Social Distortion's guitarist and second-longest member, died of a brain aneurysm. The band regrouped, but didn't release another album until 2004's “Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll.”
Ness produced Social Distortion's most recent studio album, 2011's “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes,” which features the band's current lineup: Ness, of course, along with guitarist Jonny Wickersham, bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo Jr.
“It was a risk, you know?” Ness said of the fact that he produced the album. “I didn't get to where I am today without taking risks.”
It stands among his proudest accomplishments, he said, alongside “being acknowledged by such people as Springsteen; those are huge milestones. I enjoyed it so much that I can't see ever going back” to using other producers.
These days, Ness has promising news for Social Distortion fans who have grown accustomed to, and possibly frustrated by, half-decade waits between studio albums. He recently built a new studio near his home.
“The place is an inspiration, so I'm really excited to get into the writing ... it's a big man cave,” he said. “We don't want another large gap to go by in between records. I think this time I realized the creativity didn't have to stop when the record got finished.
“In the past, I'd finish a record, and put the guitars away and get in press and tour mode. I'd put the pen and paper away. This time, I left that door open and it's a great thing to do. It doesn't really have to stop when the record is done.”
Sounds like, after all these years, he's still learning.
“Of course,” he said. “It's like anything, be learning until the day you die.”