Always ‘Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell’

Punk forefathers, Social Distortion, are headed our way

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Danny Clinch

Social Distortion, along with their contemporaries, Agent Orange, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, X, The Vandals, D.l., Bad Religion, T.S.O.L. and the Offspring, helped shape the original Southern California punk sound in the late 1970s. Although originally much more of a “hardcore” band in the beginning, Social Distortion successfully evolved, incorporating heavy influences from blues, country, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll (all while maintaining its original punk-rock edge). The scorching guitars and distinct vocal style from the first album, 1983’s Mommy’s Little Monster, still remain. Today’s sound is more refined, yet it still captures that unique Social Distortion sound.

February marks the 25th anniversary of Social Distortion’s 1992 album, Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. The record was the follow up to 1990’s self-titled, Social Distortion. Both albums went gold. Social D was a “Modern Rock” (the radio format term used before “alternative”) favorite from the get-go. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the alternative radio format was just starting to gain traction on a national level. Los Angeles’ KROQ (which pioneered the rock of the ’80s/modern rock/alternative sound), and in particular, DJ “Rodney on the ROQ,” helped cement the band in the genre from the very beginning.

Front man and founder Mike Ness, has always written songs from his life’s experiences and related observations. It’s his authenticity and ability to tell a story that has helped the band become a perennial favorite in alternative music. In the classic spirit of country and blues, many songs speak of the difficult trials and tribulations of life. Social Distortion concerts are usually packed, high-energy affairs and all-around great shows.

When asked about what to expect on this tour through Colorado, Ness says, “We’ll play Heaven and Hell… I’ve also been writing and I would like people to hear new stuff and to know more is coming. I felt like getting on the road again was a good way to kick-start everything… the writing, the pre-production process. It’s just something about playing together every night. The chemistry is already there and everyone’s already in that mode.”

Colorado has been a Social D stop since the band started touring on a national level in the late ’80s. “I feel like it’s just one of the first places we established roots,” Ness says. “I know where to go, where to eat, where to stay. It was one of our regular stops.”

Formed in 1978, Social D’s music has now spanned at least a couple of generations. Ness says the demographic at his shows has changed over the years. “It’s been a very interesting phenomenon to watch over the last 20-25 years. The crowd is bringing young kids. It’s so awesome to me… parents bringing kids, kids bringing parents to shows. I never wanted to be just a punk band playing to punk rockers. I felt like we already had them,” he says. “I always wanted more variety, people who just appreciate good music. I wanted us to be more universal. I thought when we had that I’d feel validated.”

Although there is no target release date for a new album, Ness says new material is in the works. “The main thing is that I’m neck deep in writing right now. I’m really happy with the stuff I’m writing. I put a lot of pressure on myself. It raises the bar and makes it more of a challenge. I feel at this point in my career, I have to write the record to set the stage for the next 20 years.”

Traditionally, Social D songs have focused on hard luck, women and life. However, for the new album Ness would like to incorporate a political theme for a song or two. “Typically, I don’t write politically, but I do feel the need right now given what’s going on,” he says. “It’s a change because it’s out of my wheelhouse. You can’t just write a punk rock grocery list of things you’re pissed off about. That’s already been done.”

Ness says he’s also become a bit of a historian. “Learning about history helps me have a clear picture of what’s happening right now. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a lot more aware and active. I want to write songs that make the Left and the Right think about things.”

College radio has always been important to Social Distortion, and the entire alternative music scene, for decades. The entire genre started in record-stacked, basement college stations back in the mid-’70s and early ’80s. College DJs broke early punk and new wave bands coming out of places like NYC’s CBGB (Blondie, Ramones, Television, Talking Heads) and California. They also put bands like Devo, R.E.M. and the B-52s on the map.

“I think the government does not want college radio because it does not want people pointing out things and making them accountable,” Ness says. “I can’t express the urgency for that. That’s the youth, and they need to say what they need to say and get the message to the people to hear it. If it wasn’t for college radio, I don’t know how Social Distortion would have survived.”

Social Distortion with Jade Jackson. 7:00 p.m. March 29, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder 303-786-7030. Social Distortion and Jade Jackson also play March 30 and 31, at the Ogden Theatre, Denver, 935 East Colfax Ave., 303- 832-1874.