The Offspring - Biography
By David Downs
Alongside bands like Green Day and Rancid, Southern California punk band The Offspring helped launched a massive wave of mainstream pop punk in the 1990s. All three of those bands became towering figures of the independent music scene and would go platinum. The Offspring’s independently released 1989 debut album, The Offspring (1989 Nemesis/Cargo), did little to indicate the success of future singles like “Come Out and Play (Keep ‘Em Separated),” “Self Esteem,” “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy),” and “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” Led by the highly intelligent and energetic vocalist and guitarist Dexter Holland, The Offspring’s second indy release, Ignition (1992 Epitaph), went platinum and the follow-up, Smash (1994 Epitaph), sold an astonishing 11 million and peaked at number four on the Billboard Top 200. Mainstream rock follow-up release Ixnay on the Hombre (1997 Columbia) lacked a knock-out hit, but The Offspring bounced back on Americana (1998 Columbia). The majors ultimately subdued The Offspring and Conspiracy of One (2000 Columbia) failed to meet prior sales. Splinter (2003 Columbia) and later work followed suit. However, the band has sold more than 32 million records in its career and engaged in some of the first major internet marketing campaigns. The Offspring still tours and records.
Offspring figurehead Dexter Holland was born on December 29, 1965 and had a unique route to fame. Holland was the class valedictorian at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, California. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Southern California and then a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology from the same school. While a Ph.D candidate in Molecular Biology, Holland halted his doctoral research due to the demands of his punk band.
While still in high school in 1984, Holland and Greg Kriesel couldn’t get into a Social Distortion show in Irvine. Holland decided to pick up the guitar and Kriesel took the bass. The following year, school custodian Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman joined their band and was old enough to buy alcohol for the underage group. The trio played their first shows in Santa Cruz and San Francisco as Manic Subsidal. In 1986, they changed their name to The Offspring. Continuing punk rock’s long-held tradition of DIY culture, the group pressed 1,000 copies of their debut single, “I’ll Be Waiting”/“Blackball,” on vinyl through their own imprint called Black Label. Of course, the record found little traction outside of their narrow fan base, but they did acquire the band’s first serious drummer, 16-year-old Ron Welty.
In 1989, the band signed to the independent label Nemesis/Cargo and punk producer Thom Wilson (of The Vandals and Dead Kennedys fame) directed their debut full-length, The Offspring (1989 Nemesis/Cargo). The initial run of 3,000 vinyl copies led the band to the larger, highly respected indy label Epitaph, who managed their second album. Ignition (1992 Epitaph) would go on to sell more than a million units worldwide. Vicious road warriors, The Offspring toured the US with Pennywise and then Europe with NOFX.
With a dedicated following built from touring, the band recorded their second Epitaph LP, Smash (1994 Epitaph). The last Offspring record to be produced by Wilson, Smash was recorded in North Hollywood over the period of two months and yielding the massive radio-ready hits “Come Out and Play (Keep ‘Em Separated),” “Self Esteem,” “Gotta Get Away,” and “Bad Habit.” More than 11 million copies sold worldwide, which the band claims is the most copies ever sold for a band on an indie label. The album hit number four on the Billboard Top 200 chart. In 1995, continuing their DIY efforts, Holland and Kriesel started Nitro Records out of the surf capital Huntington Beach. They signed The Vandals, AFI, and Guttermouth to their label, as well as purchased back the rights to prior Offspring records. That year, Nitro reissued The Offspring’s self-titled debut on CD for the first time.
Now ready for prime time, The Offspring signed with Columbia Records in 1997 and released Ixnay on the Hombre (1997 Columbia). Produced by Dave Jerden, the album is more mainstream rock-oriented than their prior work. While the album sold three million copies worldwide, it peaked at number nine on the Billboard 200 and lacked the impact of past Offspring work. In 1998, as file-sharing service Napster made headlines, their single “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy),” leaked before the release of their next album, Americana (1998 Columbia). The single was downloaded twenty-two million times over a ten week period, according to Rolling Stone. Along with the leak, “Why Don't You Get a Job?” and “She’s Got Issues” helped Americana to sell ten million copies and the band toured with Woodstock ’99 the following year. Holland had a mixed relationship with the illegal file-sharing site that did so much to promote The Offspring and punk in general. When Napster sued The Offspring for selling t-shirts bearing the Napster logo, Holland said they were merely “sharing” it.
Capitulating to the times, Holland tried to give Conspiracy of One (2000 Columbia) away online before its ship date, but Columbia’s parent company, Sony Music, threatened suit. The precise reason why punk rock bands avoided major labels had finally stymied Holland and the plan was pulled. Oddly enough, a similar tactic was later used to great effect by Radiohead. Major touring for Conspiracy of One followed, including Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom Huck Jam and benefits for spinal cord injury treatment. In 2003, drummer Welty left the band and session musician Josh Freese briefly sat behind the kit.
In a serious late career blunder, Holland announced The Offspring’s next record would steal its name from the long-dormant Axl Rose project Chinese Democracy. Holland said Rose stole his trademark hair braids, so he was stealing the title of Rose’s album. But that name proved cursed. Rose couldn’t finish Chinese Democracy until 2008 and production unexpectedly halted on the next Offspring record as well. Instead Holland spent his time surfing and then acquired drummer Adam “Atom” Willard from the Alkaline Trio. The project was salvaged as Splinter (2003 Columbia), finding its way to number thirty on the Billboard 200. The band followed it with 97 shows in 22 countries in 2004, before being part of the Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1 (2004 Fat Wreck Chords) compilation.
2005 brought the Greatest Hits (2005 Columbia) album, benefit shows, and touring (including 46 Warped Tour dates). Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace (2008 Columbia), released in 2008, found the ten spot on the Billboard 200. As a side note, Holland’s Nitro Records remains an independent imprint that has nurtured a handful of punk bands, most notably AFI. In 2012 the band released their most recent record, Days Go By.