In an exclusive interview, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong tells EW that the band’s new CD, 21st Century Breakdown, “stands on the shoulders of American Idiot.”
“We had the opportunity to be more creative than ever before,” he continues, “[because] we have a lot more listeners out there.” He’s right about that. The punk-rock trio’s politically-minded 2004 concept album has sold 12 million copies around the world, and earlier this week it was announced that American Idiot is being turned into a musical by Tony-winning Spring Awakening director Michael Mayer. EW spoke to Armstrong about Breakdown, out May 15, the upcoming musical, and why he doesn’t get mad if you compare his band to Yes.
Entertainment Weekly: Were you surprised when Michael Mayer approached you about turning American Idiot into a musical?
Billie Joe Armstrong: Well, I didn’t know I was writing a musical when we were doing it. But the idea of it becoming one was just so crazy that it could work! I always liked records they could make a film out of, like Quadrophenia. Theatrical records. I loved Ziggy Stardust. They were some of the influences when we were writing American Idiot, and I did listen to a little bit from West Side Story and Hair and stuff like that, just to think outside of the box.
Are you much of a theater-goer?
No, not really. I used to hear show tunes a lot when I was a kid, and I used to sing them. Annie Get Your Gun, stuff like that. And I guess some of that has been an influence on me. But I never thought that we would end up actually doing a musical out of our record.
What is the musical going to be about?
It’s about coming of age in a really politically-drivenclimate.It’s pretty chaotic, and it’s not by any means a conventional way of [doing] a musical. And that’s why I liked Michael Mayer so much because of what he did with Spring Awakening. When I saw that for the first time I was like, this is not your grandparents’ musical. He’s going for it. He has a sense of anarchy in the way he approaches his craft.
Will the show have dancing?
Not “dancing” dancing. I don’t know how to really explain it. It’s got physical and violent moves. It’s not like a Lion Kingthing. It’s dirty and it’s got a lot of heart and it’s got a streetmentality. There are no singing cats. No little girls with big curlyred hair. It should be pretty cool, man.
Is it true that the musical also features a few tracks from 21st Century Breakdown?
Yeah, that’s right. There‘s a song called “Before the Lobotomy” and a song called “Know Your Enemy” and one called “21 Guns.”On 21st Century Breakdown wekind of took our creative ambition that extra step—or two or threesteps. I think it’s some of the best stuff that we’ve ever written.
American Idiot reflected a lot of social problems andstresses. The weird thing is that, in many ways, the period whichbirthed the album now seems like the good old days!
It’sinteresting because our country—and the world for that matter—is in theworst shape I’ve ever seen it. But there’s this sense of hope thatpeople have. And there’s a lot of confusion. It’s the strangest time. And that’s kind of what 21st Century Breakdown is about.
What’s the story with touring?
Touring? Oh, lots of it [laughs]. I think we start in Junein the US and then we’re going to Europe after that and then SouthAmerica, Australia, Japan. And then come back and do the whole thingall over again probably.
Are you still planning to perform all of the new album?
I think we need to have band practice [chuckles]. But I want to beable to go up and play the entire album for people at some point, sure.
On one tour, Yes played all of their double concept album Tales from Topographic Oceans to some fairly mixed reactions from fans.
Oh,no, no. If we do something like that, it will be in a theater and maybeoccasionally in an arena. But no, we’re going to be pulling out theold hits too!
Hope you didn’t mind the Yes comparison…
I’ve heard worse, don’t worry.
I understand you worked on some very odd material while makingthe new album including a track that was a mix of Britishpsychedelic-era rockers Marmalade and anarchist-punkers Crass. Are welikely to ever hear that?
I don’t know, if the economy gets any worse, maybe we’ll put that out.
To cheer people up or to put more money in your pocket?
[Laughs] No, I hope that’s never going to see the light of day.
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