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Billie Joe Armstrong on Green Day's latest album 'Saviors'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Last week in Manhattan, down in the subway, four men in long hair, beards and dark eyeglasses made some music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Baby, when I think about you, I think about love...

BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG: We dressed in disguise, and people just were kind of staring at us.

RASCOE: Once they ditched the glasses and all that hair, though, it was Green Day, with Jimmy Fallon on the tambourine, playing that surprise set for "The Tonight Show." And the New York commuters waiting on the platform - a lot of them sang right along.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Sometimes, my mind plays tricks on me. It all keeps adding up. I think I'm cracking up.

RASCOE: Green Day is celebrating some big anniversaries - 30 years since its breakthrough album "Dookie," 20 since its multi-platinum punk rock opera "American Idiot." And they have a new album out, as well. It's called "Saviors."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE AMERICAN DREAM IS KILLING ME")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) The American dream is killing me. The American dream is killing me. When it's all double-talk of conspiracy...

RASCOE: When I got the chance to talk to Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, I asked him about the title of their first track, "The American Dream Is Killing Me."

ARMSTRONG: It's - kind of plays with when people say the American dream is dead, and it's like, well, the American dream is killing me. I think being in California and seeing, like, houseless people just on the street and people without options in life and the cost of living going up, it's, like - creates that chaos and depression that is sort of what the song sort of reflects.

RASCOE: And do you look at the American dream as sort of, like, capitalism, like, the pursuit or materialism or...

ARMSTRONG: I don't know, I think that it needs to be redefined because it's like the working class has become, like, sort of a service industry, and we're not really giving very many options to people. You know, in the '70s, my dad was a truck driver. He was a Teamster. My mom was a waitress. Six kids in the house, and they were able to afford their own home. But I think now I don't really see it - that being very feasible for a lot of people.

RASCOE: When you think about American life, it was 20 years ago that Green Day had this mega-hit with "American Idiot." George W. Bush was president. The Iraq War was going on. MTV still played videos.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Right.

RASCOE: And, you know, you were calling out problems with American culture then. Now you're, you know, in your early 50s. Has your perspective changed?

ARMSTRONG: Everything was - seemed to be more - a little more, like, clear cut, like, the problems that were going on, the War in Iraq and, you know, George W. Bush, someone that wasn't - felt qualified. Now it's just so chaotic. Social media - it's like a giant Yelp review. You know, it's like this sort of wasp nest of war and chaos that is sort of in the stratosphere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE DAYS ARE HERE TO STAY")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) We stumble down the avenue like fairy dust and ballyhoo. They promised us forever, but we got less.

RASCOE: When you listen to Green Day's lyrics, the music can seem very upbeat, catchy. I'm automatically starting to, you know, rock out. Do you ever think that people miss the point that you're making because they're just kind of bopping their heads along and not really paying attention? Or, like, is that something that you even think about?

ARMSTRONG: You know, it's either-or. Like, I think the one thing about us is I'm really proud of the music that we make together. Just - that's just as important to me is what I'm saying in the lyrics. So if you feel like bopping around, I'd say go for it, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE DAYS ARE HERE TO STAY")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Strange days are here to stay. Well, this is how the world will end when superheroes play pretend...

RASCOE: You've been open over the years about your mental health, your struggle with alcohol and sobriety. And the song "Dilemma" touches on some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DILEMMA")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) I was sober. Now I'm drunk again. I'm in trouble and in love again. I don't wanna be a dead man walking. I don't wanna be a dead man walking.

RASCOE: I don't want to be a dead man walking. What did you mean by that?

ARMSTRONG: Well, I think I wrote that song when I was sober for five years, and then I got a little FOMO or something. And then I - so I picked up the bottle again, and then it just escalated, getting to this point where it's like, I didn't want to, like, hurt the relationships and things around me. And so I quit (laughter). So yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DILEMMA")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Here's to all my problems. I just wanna drink the poison. I was sober. Now I'm drunk again. I'm in trouble and in love...

ARMSTRONG: Alcohol just gets in the way. Anything that I wanted to accomplish in my life, whether it was my personal relationships with people or, you know, my music - I think it was just getting in the way. It was just like a barrier, so I had to get rid of the barrier. And I'm way happier for it now, too, and I've got great friends that are sober. And we can go out, go to a show at the Whisky a Go Go and - yeah. And then - like, it - nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. You know what I mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF GREEN DAY SONG, "DILEMMA")

RASCOE: You've been married for almost 30 years now. You and your wife raised - I mean, they're two young men now. And you have a song, "Father To A Son."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FATHER TO A SON")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) You're a lighthouse in a storm from the day that you were born, a promise, father to a son.

ARMSTRONG: You know, I just wanted to kind of show going through the years and watching your sons become young men and sort of the wisdom that they've collected is a beautiful thing. And I didn't know how to be a parent when I started to, so I had to really, like, learn on the job. And I needed to grow up a lot. And I made mistakes. You know, I think there's definitely - I try to convey that in the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FATHER TO A SON")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Well, I made a few mistakes, but I'll never break your heart. I promise, father to a son.

RASCOE: Does it make you more forgiving of your own parents?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, especially for my mom. My father died when I was young, so she had to kind of raise kids on her own. And she had to work as a waitress, you know, living paycheck to paycheck. So definitely, like, I could identify with that and kind of realize, like, how heroic she really was as a parent.

RASCOE: When you look at younger generations and what they're inheriting, is there something that you look at and you feel like, this is going right in the U.S. and in this world today?

ARMSTRONG: You know, there are things about, like, America that I love. Like, I love Texas. I love going to Georgia and Atlanta and shopping for old guitars. And, you know, my mom's from Oklahoma, and I like to visit there. And it's - you know, and I love the Midwest. My wife's from Minnesota. So we do have a diverse culture, just basically, where people come from. The diversity is just way more pronounced now. It's there, and it's stronger than it's ever been.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOBBY SOX")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Do you wanna be my girlfriend? I'll take you to a movie that we've already seen.

RASCOE: That's Billie Joe Armstrong, frontman of the band Green Day. Their new album is "Saviors." Thank you so much for talking to us today.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOBBY SOX")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Do you wanna be my girlfriend? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.