HITS Daily Double
“We just got ourselves in the right headspace every day, and got great performances straight off the floor.”


Warner Bros. Records Chieftain Talks About
Green Day’s Knockout Trilogy

By Simon Glickman

“You’re on this journey,” Warner Bros. Records Chairman Rob Cavallo told Green Day frontman-songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong. “Keep writing.”

It was Cavallo’s second trip in a few weeks to the Bay Area, where Armstrong once again played him song after dazzling song. Plenty of great material had piled up already, but the modern-rock hitmaker was clearly on fire and Cavallo—who signed the band in the ’90s and produced most of their albums (including the Diamond-certified Dookie and sextuple-platinum monster American Idiot)—didn’t want to interfere with the process. “We weren’t under any pressure to turn in the record quickly,” he points out. “So I said, ‘If you’re feeling it, keep going.’”

Armstrong had been traveling, most notably to New York, where he appeared in American Idiot on Broadway. Inspired by the creative energy there and other in ports of call, he found that the songs just started pouring out.

The result of this prolific phase is THREE new Green Day albums, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!—which will see staggered releases between late September and mid-January. The hook-heavy, relentlessly uptempo ¡Uno! streets Sept. 25; its infectious lead single, “Oh Love,” brings the band’s first new material to the airwaves since 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown.

“At first we thought of releasing them in a three-week period, one per week,” Cavallo recalls. “We did a lot of research.” He credits the marketing department—which was understandably daunted, at first, by the prospect of bringing so much product to the marketplace in so short a span—for its diligence. “They discovered if you tie in schedules, singles, touring, international, licensing, brand partners and so on, the best thing to do was space them out six or seven weeks apart.” It didn’t hurt that the material was so strong; the WBR staffers who spoke to me about the albums tended to sound more like geeked-out superfans than industry veterans.

Cavallo once again produced, favoring a mostly live recording setup designed to capture the energy of Green Day’s frenetic shows. “We just got ourselves in the right headspace every day,” he notes, “and got great performances straight off the floor.” (Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool were joined throughout by resourceful second guitarist Jason White, whom Cavallo says is “practically the fourth member.” Cavallo himself added keyboards.)

Helpfully, the band had—with help from Cavallo and trusted engineer Chris Dugan—sequenced Armstrong’s huge trove of songs ahead of time, and recorded them mostly in order. This, Cavallo relates, helped them tell the “story” of this rock & roll triad that much more clearly.

While ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! isn’t a three-disc concept album—each album more than stands on its own—it is tied together thematically. “¡Uno! sort of represents the feelings and fun of getting ready to go to a party,” Cavallo explains. “¡Dos! is about being at the party, in the throes of alcohol, sex, drugs and rock & roll. And ¡Tré! is kind of the morning after—when you wake up and have that reflection about your life.”

That said, the project is highly eclectic and strongly showcases Armstrong’s ever-growing range as a writer, not to mention the band’s capacity for both crunch and nuance. The heart of ¡Dos! (due out 11/13) is sexed-up and dark, for example, but this party-hardy middle set concludes with “Amy,” a tender, stripped-down elegy for the ultimate party casualty, Amy Winehouse. The emotional directness and classic-pop finesse of this voice-and-guitar-only ballad invite comparisons to John Lennon’s stark solo records and the bluntly soulful work of Billy Bragg.

There’s far more to say about the voluminous material encompassed by ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré!, but for now I’ll point to a few other highlights. The first five slamming tracks on ¡Uno!—the stomping “Nuclear Family,” the yearning “Stay the Night,” the fierce yet philosophical “Carpe Diem,” the blistering call to arms “Let Yourself Go” and the funky-furious “Kill the DJ”—pack a musical wallop while probing emotionally complex territory. “They’re five perfectly written, diverse examples of where Green Day is right now,” Cavallo insists. “Every time I hear those five songs I just wanna hear them again.” ¡Uno! also offers dreamy power pop (“Fell for You,” “Sweet 16”) and jams that recall the uncompromising energy of Iggy Pop, the Dead Boys, Bad Brains and other punk stalwarts (“Loss of Control,” “Trouble Maker”).

¡Dos! boasts (among other tracks) heady, hormonal fare like “Fuck Time,” “Wild One” and “Makeout Party”; the lovely acoustic ballad “Drama Queen”; the dubby, clubby “Nightlife” (featuring a sinuous rap by Lady Cobra); and garage-psych nugget “Wow, That’s Loud!,” the title of which refers not to the music but to a “dirty party dress” sported (no doubt temporarily) by one of the narrator’s nocturnal companions.

¡Tré! (slated for a 1/15/13 release) is arguably the most ambitious of the three albums, tying together tasty, irresistible pop-rock like “Missing You,” “Stray Heart” and “Sex, Drugs and Violence”; the string-laden, gospel-tinged “Brutal Love”; the pivoting suite “Dirty Rotten Bastards” (which Cavallo likens to Idiot’s “Jesus of Suburbia”); the Occupy-worthy anthem “99 Revolutions”; and the cinematic, Beatlesque finale, “The Forgotten,” which ends the odyssey on a gorgeously affirmative note. “Don’t look away,” Armstrong sings on that uplifting closer, “from the arms of love.”

Cavallo is generous in his praise of the people who made an enterprise with so many moving parts possible. He gives due credit to the band’s longtime manager, Pat Magnarella, for creating the requisite “protective space” around them. He’s also effusive about the myriad specialists who assisted in the album’s creation, from Bill Schneider and the other instrument techs (who kept Green Day’s beloved vintage gear in ship shape) to master mixer Chris Lord-Alge.

Is it a risk to bring out three albums by anyone in as many quarters? Of course. But Cavallo—who was picking out Roger McGuinn riffs on his Taylor 12-string during our conversation—seems unconcerned. “I like to follow the artist,” he says. “If the artist is doing something natural and great, you have marketing support the creative and not the other way around—and you just decide to be fearless about it.”