Good Riddance (left to right: drummer Sean Sellers, guitarist Luke Pabich, bassist Chuck Platt and vocalist Russ Rankin) found a level of international success unheard of for Santa Cruz bands. The reunited group plays the Catalyst onDec. 20.
(Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part story. Part two runs next week.)
Good Riddance is arguably the biggest punk band ever to come out of Santa Cruz. And over the course of their initial run from the early ’90s to a final show at the Catalyst in 2007, they became especially famous in their home town for two things: (1) breaking out of an insular local music scene that at most has turned out one nationally (and in this case, internationally) successful band per decade, and (2) doing so while also avoiding the intense backlash against 90s “new punk” bands who were accused of selling out the ideals and political roots of the genre.
As the band returns to the Catalyst a year or so into their reunion—with the promise of a new record now on the table for the first time—it’s worth delving into how they accomplished both of these improbable feats.
The first is probably the most remarkable, considering Good Riddance’s humble roots. Bassist Chuck Platt remembers when he first met guitarist Luke Pabich, in the summer of 1993, while Platt was working at Kinko’s in Capitola.
“Luke came into Kinko’s to make a flier for a ‘bass player wanted,’” says Platt. “I helped him at the counter. I was like, ‘Oh, I play the bass!’ Luke, being the thrifty guy he is, didn’t make the flier.”
Pabich had already been playing with vocalist and lyricist Russ Rankin, both in Good Riddance and another Santa Cruz hardcore band, State of Grace. (Rankin was also an original member of another popular Santa Cruz punk band, Fury 66.)
It was Pabich who had the chance encounter that led to what all the band members agree was the turning point in their career. While working as a driver and roadie for San Francisco punks the White Trash Debutantes on a West Coast tour, he ran into Mike Burkett, better known as Fat Mike, the leader of NoFX, who had founded Fat Wreck Chords in 1990. Good Riddance had already submitted a demo to the label, and gotten a hand-written note back from Burkett saying he liked it and might want to work with them at some point. But the conversation that day changed everything.
“He said, ‘Yeah, I think I’m ready to do something with you guys,’” remembers Pabich. “It was that moment that created our relationship, and that relationship is what started everything for us. The stars aligned.”
“When we got signed to Fat Wreck Chords, it was still being run out of Mike’s kitchen. But it was poised for greatness,” says Rankin. “We went from being a local Santa Cruz band to an international band.”
Even if all the band members readily admit luck and timing played a role in their success, they definitely took the boost from the signing and ran with it. They decided to quit their jobs and work on the band full time, though that wasn’t as easy a decision as it might seem.
“At the time, it was super scary,” says Platt.
For Rankin, it came down to one thing: “I didn’t want to be the age I am now and look back and say, ‘Man, I wish I’d done that.’”
He certainly won’t have to, having guided the band through a tricky time for punk music. While other groups tried to mainstream their music in the hope of riding the pop-punk wave created by Green Day and the Offspring, Good Riddance always had the respect of the faithful, even when they got big. The band was powered by a rawer sound, and Rankin’s socially conscious lyrics, which hearkened back to influences like the Dead Kennedys, Crass and Bad Religion. Over the course of seven albums on Fat Wreck Chords, beginning with 1995’s For God and Country, Good Riddance held fast to its original mission, even as its fan base swelled around the world.
“My punk roots go back to really political stuff. That’s what drew me in the first place. I learned about the world from punk,” says Rankin. “It wasn’t appealing to me to write about drinking and partying—I felt the band was sort of my platform.”
[Next week: Good Riddance implodes—but gets a second chance.]
The Catalyst, Santa Cruz
Fri, Dec. 20; $16/$18; 8pm