Lars Frederiksen is one of the most influential figures in American punk-rock history. Frederiksen has been the co-vocalist and guitarist for Bay Area punk legends Rancid for over 30 years. In addition, Frederiksen has also been a member of bands such as Lars Frederiksen And The Bastards, the Old Firm Casuals and many others. His contributions to the scene are massive, and throughout his entire career, Frederiksen has always played by his own rules, setting trends that others have tried to emulate for decades.
Now over three decades in as an artist, Frederiksen has decided to venture out on his own to unveil his first proper solo project, To Victory. The debut EP contains several originals that Frederiksen has had in his musical arsenal for years now, as well as select cover songs that create a collection of music that feels cohesive and mission-driven. The music stylings of the EP range from stripped-down Billy Bragg-esque protest songs to dark outlaw country arrangements along the lines of Johnny Cash. While the EP’s two lead singles “God And Guns” and “Army Of Zombies” were written years ago, their subject matter couldn’t be more relevant to today’s social climate and the dystopian world we are living in.
What’s most special about this new release is the glimpse it provides into Frederiksen’s thoughts, values and opinions that are displayed boldly through his signature brand of honesty and confidence. This release is also a sonic change for Frederiksen, who this time is no longer buried behind loud, distorted guitars, drums and fast punk. He’s trading this in for a raw and intimate sound where his vocals are direct in the mix with minimal instrumentation, making the project feel more personal and to the point.
We caught up with Frederiksen as he was gearing up for the release of his debut EP to discuss lyrical inspirations, the journey to becoming a full-fledged solo artist, future plans and more.
After playing music professionally for 30-plus years with Rancid, among many others, why did you decide that now was the right time to release a project under your own name, and what caused you to take the plunge?
It’s funny because I haven’t really thought about it until today. I resisted doing this for so long because I always considered myself a band guy. It was always presented to me that maybe I should do a Billy Brag type thing, and sometimes with the Bastards, I would do a solo bit, but I think what it culminated for me is that I’m 50 years old, and I don’t give a shit anymore.
I’ve been doing this for so fucking long. I originally had a name for this project and call it the Norsemen, but I decided I might as well use my own name. There wasn’t much thought to it other than it was a little weird for me that it wasn’t a band thing. I guess I am a little shy in that way, believe it or not. I guess I do feel uncomfortable. Why do you gotta do this to me in the first five minutes? [Laughs.]
Just from listening to this project as a whole, it makes sense that this is a proper solo project. It’s very you. It’s upfront, and it’s raw. Your vocals are immediate and not hidden behind loud guitars or reverb, but there is an emphasis on being stripped down and more minimalist. What was the process behind this?
I did a show at Eli’s [Mile High Club] in Oakland right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it was a Billy Bragg kind of thing. I was on my way to Boston to do more shows like this with Dropkick Murphys, and every hour of the five-hour flight there, all of the shows were getting canceled. Thank God my girlfriend Joanna is from Cape Cod, and her parents have a place there, so we buckled down for the week to figure out what was going on. Through this time, I was thinking about all of these other songs I had written, and two-and-a-half years ago, I was starting my second divorce, and my mom had cancer now for the third time, and so I felt like I needed to go record them.
Finally, I called my buddy Michael Rosen, who is an engineer friend of mine, and asked if his studio was open, and he was like, “I can be open for you.” So I went in there with 30 demos, and we did six or seven that we completed that would translate well into this Billy Bragg style thing I was doing. I also decided to revisit some older songs that I had written for other bands. “God And Guns” was the first one that came to my head that would translate well.
When I originally wrote it, I was in England with my buddy Nick. He had this old Gretsch Falcon guitar, and he would leave it in the bedroom for me because I would always pick it up to play. When we were at dinner one night, the song just came into my head, and the way that I wrote it is the way you hear it on the EP. So when I went into that, I realized that maybe I had something here. I decided to do some recording and put it out to represent what I was doing with these solo shows. I was just fucking around basically.
It feels like the lyrics of a lot of these songs is a direct reaction to the times we are living in and the struggles of being in modern society. What was inspiring you when you were writing these songs?
Well, “Army Of Zombies” is from 2001, and “God And Guns” is from 2012 or 2013. The fact that the lyrical content is still fucking relevant makes sense because punk rock has been predicting the dystopian times we are now living in for a while. I am seeing all of this separation and all of these arguments that are dividing people. I’ve been party to championing causes in my life, but where I am at now is being over the division of people and what keeps us separated from each other. I feel like “Army Of Zombies” is about how I don’t trust the government. I never have and won’t listen to what they have to say and will make my own informed decision for whatever it may be.
When I started writing “God And Guns,” I had just become a father again with the birth of my second child, and me and my buddy Nick started thinking about all the stuff our parents had experienced. We came to this realization that our parents lied to us since day one, whether that was about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and we joke about how we became these derelicts. [Laughs.] From that, I said the one thing I’ll never do is lie to my children or promise them this safe space. Just because you show up doesn’t mean you get a fucking trophy, and I think that’s part of what’s wrong with the culture today.
I wrote this song for my kids in a weird way, and I know that sounds bizarre because the lyrical content is not very happy and is like, “You’re going to die.” What the song says at the end of it is that you can’t look outward or to society to fix yourself. It only comes from within. We’re taught that we need to go outside in the world to fix ourselves, and I did so with booze, drugs, tattoos and whatever I could to protect myself. I feel like I always came at life from a place of fear and survival mode — I didn’t want my kids to listen to this when they were 6, but as teens, maybe they can. I think the imagery of that song is pretty dark and ominous, but that’s just me. Whoops. [Laughs.]
You just came off a highly successful tour with Dropkick Murphys. How did it feel to be back on tour and connect with your fans after so much time away?
It was a trip, but the thing that was most important was that we reconnected as a band. We couldn’t go in the other band’s dressing rooms or have other people on our bus and had to be super cautious, so it left us with a lot of time with each other as a band. There weren’t as many distractions, which can sometimes be cool, but it can also be a drain where the last thing you are thinking about is the show. But for this tour, we really came together. It wasn’t uncommon for our bassist Matt Freeman to come to the back of the bus and say, “I just want to let you guys know that I love you, and I am so grateful to be here with you, and I couldn’t think of anybody else I’d rather spend the last 30 fucking years of my life with.”
A lot of bands over time fall away, but we become closer, and that was a huge blessing of the tour. I also have this take that Rancid is bigger than just us as individuals. It’s no longer ours in a weird way — it’s our fans. We’ve lasted the test of time. It’s been 30 fucking years. I don’t know any marriages that have lasted longer than 30 years. Just like brothers and family, you’re gonna have your differences and similarities, but I think it’s important to concentrate on the similarities as opposed to the differences. Rancid has always been a place where you can be yourself.
You have produced for up-and-coming artists as well as for more established groups in the past. Are there any current bands that you love, and do you have any plans to return to the production side of things?
It’s ironic because I’m rocking their sweatshirt today, but I love the band Grade 2. They’re from the Isle of Wight in England, and they are a three-piece in their early 20s. They remind me of the Jam and Sham 69 but also have this other element where they could go and be something completely different, and I think one day they’ll be bigger than Rancid.
I also think the Chisel from the U.K. is insane and fucking good. As far as production goes, I’d like to get my hands on bands like Iron Reagan or Municipal Waste. I’m gonna probably end up producing for POWERHOUSE, who is an old-school hardcore band from Oakland that have just reunited. Their singer Cris and I have been friends for over 30 years, and they’re writing some new songs, so it just makes perfect sense for me to get into the studio with them because there’s obviously a connection.
What can we expect from you in the new year? Is there going to be a full tour behind the new EP, and can we expect new music from Rancid?
For me, I’m obviously gonna get out there and do some shows, but I’m not gonna kill myself and jump in the van to do a full U.S. tour. I don’t want to do it. Where I am at in my life is that I want to do whatever is easy and convenient for me because I have my kids, and they will always come first.
There was a period of time where I put work first and a lot of things before them, and I’m no longer going to go out in the world and do what I want to do if it’s going to sacrifice my time with them. I’ve had these moments of facing my mortality, and I started thinking about what’s important. No one on their deathbed ever said, “Man, I wish I worked more.” It’s always like, “I wish I had more time with my kids and loved more.” I don’t want to wait until that moment. I’m gonna do it right now.
With Rancid, we are finishing up our new record as we speak. When is it coming out? I don’t fucking know. We don’t have a formula. We just go with the flow, but new music is on the horizon.