Following the release of their seventh album 'Let the Dominoes Fall' last year, the four members of Californian punk rockers Rancid decided to take a short break from touring and writing songs to work on other things. Founding members Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman have wasted little time in picking up where they left off with a previous side project entitled Devil's Brigade. The eponymous debut album from Devil's Brigade, which is released this month, is the latest in a series of Rancid side projects that have also included Armstrong's band the Transplants, his own solo album and guitarist/vocalist Lars Frederiksen's group the Bastards. On this occasion, however, Armstrong has opted to take a back seat while Matt Freeman takes centre-stage as the lead vocalist in their new band. As any fan of Rancid will tell you, one of the characteristics that defines the group's sound is their intricate and rapid basslines, which are skilfully played by Matt. In addition to singing for Devil's Brigade, he has switched from his usual electric bass to play the upright double bass instead.

Just ahead of the band's first ever tour, Matt spoke to Room Thirteen about the new project and a bit about the future of Rancid.

R13: When did you start Devil's Brigade and how did it first come about?
MF: Me and Tim started writing songs for it about ten years ago. The idea was to have this band with me playing upright and singing. We recorded some stuff and it came out pretty good, so we ended up putting it on some 'Give 'em the Boot' comps and some EPs. The original idea was to sort of do what Lars did with the Bastards and take it out on the road, but things came up and we didn't get around to doing it. Rancid tours and all kinds of stuff. Life, kids, whatever. Rancid put out a record last year, we did a bunch of touring and we decided to take some time, so we started talking about it again: "Why don't we do Devil's Brigade? It'd be a fun thing to do." So we made a record and now I'm taking it on tour.

R13: How would you describe Devil's Brigade's music to someone who hasn't heard it?
MF: I would say it's a punk rock record with me playing upright bass within the sort of Rancid vein. I don't want to run away from Rancid, me and Tim did it together. It's me singing. Anyone who's heard me singing on songs like 'Tenderloin' or 'Black and Blue' will know it sounds like me.

R13: Please could you tell me who else forms the line-up of Devil's Brigade with you and Tim?
MF: It was me and Tim doing the record together and then we recorded it with DJ Bonebrake, who is the drummer with the American punk band X. They were a really important band when we were growing up and DJ's an amazing drummer. We recorded it and Tim did all the rhythm guitars and a lot of the lead guitars and, basically, I recorded the upright on top of that. We recorded the upright last because we wanted to mike it up really well and try to get a really good tone out of it, and you can't really do that when you have drums and guitars blaring in the same room. Then there were some other side musicians. Piano and mandolin we added on later, but the basic setup is me, Tim and DJ.

R13: It's become a bit of a tradition for members of Rancid to start their own side projects. Why has it been so important for you guys to explore other things in this way?
MF: I don't know. We're lucky to be doing what we're doing. I think it's just that we're creative people and we like to do different stuff. The beauty about Rancid is that we sort of help each other out with our stuff. We're always really supportive of each other. Some bands don't do it that way, but it's always sort of in the same vein to what we do. I don't know if it's important or if it's just that we all like playing together and we like playing different stuff. It's a really good, creative environment. It's hard to explain, but this thing has been like Team Devil's Brigade all summer [Laughs]. Everyone's really excited about it. Obviously, Tim did the record with me and Lars did a song. Branden [Steineckert, Rancid's drummer] has been super excited about it. We've been real lucky to be where we are.

R13: The album is very much a punk rock record, but it's noticeably different from the stuff you've done with Rancid. Does it reflect some of your earlier musical influences?
MF: Yeah, I think so. Some of the songs could have been Rancid songs. In fact, 'Darlene' was a song that was supposed to come out on the last record and just didn't make it for whatever reason. I've always been influenced by rockabilly and roots music, so I think it takes those influences. Also, X were a huge influence on us and when we were putting this record together, we were like: "Who do we want to play drums on it?" I was talking to Tim and I was like: "I've been listening to a lot of old X records and I was thinking, we've got to get a drummer like DJ Bonebrake because he's so good." Tim was like: "Why don't we just ask DJ?" That was it [Laughs]. It was definitely that influence. DJ has such a style. He's one of those drummers that you hear and you're like: "Oh, that's DJ." X was a huge influence on both me and Tim.

R13: What was it about those other styles that made you want to try them out?
MF: Music's a great thing. It's just fun to play. I like the energy of it, it was a little different. Upright's a lot different to play than electric. You know what I do in Rancid, I've always tried to be a bass player's bass player. I've always prided myself on being a bass player "in the pocket" type of thing. Rockabilly definitely has a pocket and with an upright you definitely have to be in the pocket or else it sounds terrible [Laughs]. For me, it was just an extension of what I do with Rancid.

R13: As you mentioned earlier, you've performed lead vocals before on a few tracks with Rancid. Was this something that you wanted to do a bit more of?
MF: Not really. Those songs just ended up the way they ended up. I've never really thought about it. When Rancid goes in to record, we just do what we do and there's no formula, really [Laughs]. We just sort of put the best songs forward. I like to sing, but I'm also in a band with two really great singers, so I'm real lucky for that. I've gotten a lot of inspiration and a lot of tips from those two guys too.

R13: I read in a previous interview that being a bass player in a band was all you ever wanted to be. Now that you are fronting a band, how does it compare?
MF: Well, I've got to stand in the middle now. It's different, but it's good and I'm going to give it a hundred and ten percent. I love playing in Rancid, we're just taking a break right now. I just want to play music and we've been so lucky to have such a good, long run with Rancid and we've got great fricking fans. Hopefully, it'll be accepted and they'll like this kind of thing.

R13: What's it like playing the Devil's Brigade stuff live? Is it a bit nerve-racking to be at the front?
MF: Well, I haven't done that yet. I've been practising and I've got two really good musicians playing with me right now. This guy Rob Malecki, who used to be in the Hunns with Duane Peters. He's an old Orange County guy that's been around forever. Chris Arredondo, who was the drummer in the Briggs. I'm just taking out a three-piece. We're going on tour a tour of the United States, so we'll see how it goes [Laughs]. I'm going to go out there and try my best.

R13: Will you be coming over to the UK to do some shows?
MF: I hope so, yeah. Right now, all we've got booked is America for a couple of months in September and October. I'd really like to get over there next year, but I just don't know.

R13: Do you plan to make another record with Devil's Brigade in the near future?
MF: Well, you sort of take it one day at a time here [Laughs]. I just want to get this thing going and take it out on the road. I really want to get out there and play these songs and see how it goes. Then, we'll see. I would love to and, hopefully, yes. I don't have any plans. For now, just getting this thing going with the record and doing the live band was enough. I've been working on this since earlier in the year. It's a big deal. That's why it took so long, because we wanted to do it right and give it our best shot. I'm just going to get out there and tour right now.

R13: Just to talk a bit about Rancid briefly, there were quite a few years in between 'Indestructible' and 'Let the Dominoes Fall'. What was the reason for the big gap?
MF: A lot of things happened in those six years. A lot of unforeseen stuff. Both me and Lars had kids. I got sick in '05. I was diagnosed with lung cancer, which made complete sense to me because I used to be a three-pack-a-day smoker. I quit and, basically, I got misdiagnosed, but they had to go in and take this thing out of my lung with major surgery. That knocked me out for about a year. Then, we were like: "What do we want to do?" The answer was: "Let's just get out there and start playing shows." After '05, we went out on tour. Then, we started working on the next record and then we went out on tour in '08 and '09.

R13: What about the future of Rancid? Obviously, you're working on Devil's Brigade at the moment, but are we likely to hear any new Rancid albums anytime soon?
MF: We haven't really figured that out yet. We're not going anywhere [Laughs]. We're going to do something, we just don't know what it is yet. We're always together and we all talk everyday. We're just doing different stuff right now.

The Devil's Brigade album is released on 30th August. To read the R13 review, click here:
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