The Way Of Social Distortion.

Friday, 19 October 2012

As every musician can tell you, at a certain level it pays to not ask too many questions – eventually it just makes sense to go with what's presented to you and try to not dissect the finer points of the matter too much. Why do things work the way they do? They just do – and no one is complaining because everything is running smoothly, so the best course is not to question and not to wonder. That is the point guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham is at right now; only one show into Social Distortion's current tour in support of their seventh album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, the guitarist can tell you where he is [the tour began with a two-night stand at the Vic Theater in Chicago –ed], but he couldn't hope to understand why a tour undertaken by a band from Southern California began in Chicago and is generally indifferent to the reasoning anyway; the important things are simple and easy enough to understand, and that's where the focus needs to be. “We're in Chicago at the moment and just getting it together to do our second show here,” offers Wickersham after getting his gear stowed away on Social Distortion's tour bus. “We played Chicago last night as well and the start was great; there was a good crowd and I'm hoping we'll see the same thing again tonight. The response to the album has been really positive, but I think this is going to be the final run for the Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes tour; we're going to work our way back home and then play a bunch of shows around home through the holidays on the West Coast, and then we'll figure out where we're going and what we're doing in the New Year.

“It's pretty simple, and that works for me,” says Wickersham plainly, but with good humor. “We're just another band who tours all the time, and I think it's great!”

The fact that the band has been able to tour so constantly over the last eighteen months isn't at all surprising, taking into account the record they're promoting. Through the eleven tracks which comprise Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes, it's possible to see every creative avenue the band has examined over the last three decades converging to this one point. Strains of country, punk, rock n' roll, rockabilly and singer-songwriter folk all come together in songs like “Diamond In The Rough,” “Machine Gun Blues,” “Bakersfield,” “Writing On The Wall” and “Can't Take It With You” and present themselves as a solid and seamless amalgam which can really only be called rock-punk. The speedy, chunky and ham-fisted rhythm figures that have been the rule on every Social Distortion album from Mommy's Little Monster through Sex, Love And Rock and Rock n' Roll have been altered to include delicacy and finer songwriting as a factor; now, the tales of hard luck and hard feelings which always dominated and drove the band's music are tightly contained into Ness' lyrics. There is no room for it in the music because the musical portion of this album is absorbed in making sure that there are no stray sparks of chaos or questionable breaks in the record's overall design. In that way, Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes is a rousing success; the band ages gracefully here and manages to both slow down and try new things without giving long-time fans a clear reason to scream and claim the band has abandoned them.

That success is clear, of course, but it may or may not be the focus of the set lists on this tour, according to Wickersham; rather, the guitarist maintains that the set lists will be perpetually changing in order to make as many fans happy with the shows as possible. “The sets aren't leaning heavily on Hard Times necessarily,” says Wickersham as he attempts to explain the working process that the band has put forth for live shows. “The set lists just sort of evolve as we work our way through and the songs tend to alternate as we go.

“In the tour records I've done with the band, I've noticed that the set lists we play don't center as much around the record of the moment as you might think,” continues the guitarist. “It's weird how it works out too; set lists evolve as we go and sometimes it seems like we're doing a lot of songs off of White Light, White Heat, White Trash but then there will be periods when we're doing a lot of really early stuff like “Mommy's Little Monster,” “1945,” or “Mass Hysteria” or stuff that was really even earlier than that – and then we'll switch again and it will be all about Sex, Love And Rock N' Roll.

“The shows end up changing constantly like that but, generally speaking, we do try to make sure there's a little bit of everything in any given show, and we're always switching songs out as we make our way along. It's a constant state of evolution like that.”

With Wickersham already anticipating that their current tour will be the final formal leg which supports  Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, it begs the question of what might be next for the band. After all, Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes was only released about a year and a half ago, and Social Distortion has long since upheld a tradition of only releasing an album of new material every five or six years on average [with the longest gap between releases being eight years between White Light, White Heat White Trash and Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll –ed] – so what's to happen now? At the thought, Wickersham gets a little more thoughtful; perhaps there may be a change in the works, and fans may hear more new music sooner than they think. “We've always left a pretty significant amount of time between records, but Mike does keep threatening to get working on a new album sooner rather than later, so there is the outside possibility that it could happen,” hints Wickersham very, very carefully. “We do have a couple new songs that we're working up now, so it's really just a matter of seeing how long it is before we make it into a studio to start working on demos and start thinking in terms of making a record seriously. It could be next year, it could be a couple of years from now – it really just depends on where we're at and how much we're touring. It's hard to say, but there will definitely be a record, and hopefully it will come sooner than later; I don't know if we'd want to be in the studio making a new record necessarily, but tracking some new songs and gearing up for a new record so that maybe by the end of the year we can be in the studio recording an album. I would definitely want to be doing a new record within next year – that would be cool.”


Further Reading:
Ground Control Magazine – Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes[CD review]
Ground Control Magazine – Social Distortion – The Warfield – San Francisco, CA – 02/21/11 – [Live review]


Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon

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