If the adage "good things come to those who wait" is true, then Social Distortion fans should get excited.
It's been 10 years since the SoCal punk rockers climbed the Billboard Album chart to No. 4 with their last LP, the versatile and solid punk/bluesy Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.
But now, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness says that there's good news on the horizon: a new album coming next year.
Hard Times was the band’s first with indie label Epitaph, and "they have been very patient,” Ness says. “It hasn’t taken 10 years to write a record. I could have put out three records if we weren’t such a busy touring band. We toured Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes for four or five years. You can’t write a new record until you shut down the touring machine.”
To say Ness and company like to tour is like saying the Orange County native enjoys a little Hank Williams or Johnny Cash now and then. But some 200 shows per year over the past four to five years came to a screeching halt when the pandemic hit in 2020, derailing a foreign tour of Europe to promote the ongoing 40th anniversary of the band.
“We started the process [of recording the new album] after the last tour, which ended in October 2019," Ness says. "So, we did most of the pre-production in those months before COVID hit." He estimates that the band will go into the recording studio by mid-summer.
The new album will include songs written over the course of the past decade. Ness has set his sights on a dozen cuts chosen out of 27 tracks.
“The hardest thing for me is — and it’s a good problem — [narrowing] it down to 12 songs. Six months later, I still love 'em, and I think it works in the grouping. ... We’re excited to record and go show everybody what we’ve done."
While veteran guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham (21 years with SD) and bass player Brent Harding (16 years with SD) have recorded with Ness, the biggest addition to band’s recording sound will be that of drummer David Hidalgo. (He joined in 2010, but the band used veteran studio drummer Josh Freese on Hard Times.)
In the album-creating process Ness has traditionally worked first on guitar and added in drums and bass later.
“This time, I involved Dave,” Ness explains. “I didn’t involve Brent until a little later, not because I didn’t want him there, but it’s very important for me to hear the kicking drum pattern with the guitars. To me, that’s the groove, and then the bass reinforces that. So, David was with me the whole time, during this whole process. It becomes more collaborative, and then I have Brent come in with three approaches and we can pick one or combine them."
Ness is a perfectionist, and with each passing album, he has matured and honed a sound that is diverse and deep, but still has all the touches of SoCal rock 'n' roll. And with each album’s success, he shares that he leans in harder on each subsequent record.
“Every record, I go in with the mindset of trying to outdo the last one. It’s a little scary; you know, I produced the last one. And I still haven’t committed to a producer on [the new album] yet. Part of me wants to do it myself again, but at the same time and this point of my career, I can learn with another producer."
So, what direction does the long-awaited album take at this early stage of pre-production?
“It’s authentic. It hasn’t any compromises. It has all the signature things that made us successful, but also what has made us successful is never being afraid to evolve," Ness says. "It’s a little primal, and it’s really just groove-orientated, the songs are catchy. It’s really back to some basic things, even some stripped-down stuff where it’s just drums and a guitar and the other stuff comes later. It’s good to revisit the past to move forward.”
Moving forward from the pandemic is something Ness is looking forward to.
“Well, it’s been rough, you know," he says. "I’ve been out of work over a year, probably a year and a half. But it’s worse for the people in the industry, like the road crews, the techs. I'm able to get by."
He adds, “I’m sad to see old venues and landmarks disappear, for sure. But I’m sure there will be resurrections to those. There are promoters who are in this business and these big companies, they're gonna keep building venues.”
While regular U.S. cross-country touring is on hold, Ness will be taking his band to Europe, where they haven't toured in several years. This summer's tour begins June in Finland and wraps up July 16 in London. One of the marquee events will be at the Azkena Rock Festival in Spain, where Social Distortion will share the stage with Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Suzi Quatro, and the Reverend Horton Heat.
As Social D fans await a new record, the music world waits to see what the new reality of large-scale concerts and festivals will be. But for now, the world gets Ness full of post-pandemic energy as he looks toward a more free future.
“I don’t think I have to tell you or the people who are going to read this article: There’s an undercurrent of pent-up anger," he says. "When things do come back to normal, I feel like it’s gonna be like the Roaring '20s again. When you’re restricted from doing something, and then all of a sudden, you’re not, it’s like you’re breaking out of jail. It's gonna feel fresh and new again.”