Mike Ness reflects on years of memorable Northwest performances

Interview with Social Distortion’s Mike Ness

Over 40 glorious years, Social Distortion has released amazing album after amazing album, slowly building themselves as one of punk rock’s most influential voices.

The band is bringing that powerful voice to the Commodore Ballroom for two nights on June 9th and 10th. In an interview with Vancouver Weekly, frontman Mike Ness said that the venue has a special place in his heart, despite playing hundreds of locations every year.

“It’s a landmark,” says the singer and guitarist. “I like landmarks because there’s so much history and soul. And the Commodore has that. It’s just a place we’ve been coming back to for 25 years.”

The Vancouver shows coincide with the re-release of the classic live album, Live at the Roxy. The album is best known for showcasing a band at it’s rawest and best, capturing the spirit of a band that loves being on stage.

“I had always wanted to do a live record,” says Ness. “I have great memories of The Roxy. It was a place, as a teenager, I hung out there, I played there, recorded a record there. The crowd was amazing and were really enthusiastic. It was little bit more punk that night.”

Ness says that the time around the release of the album was one of serious transition for the father of two.

“I was still growing up at the time,” says Ness. “I had just come out of a dark period and I was into recovery and sober and all of that. I was growing up…starting a family and realizing I had to be a role model.”

One of the many classics on the album is “Don’t Drag Me Down,” a song that is just as relevant now as it was when recorded it in the ‘90s.

“I wrote the song in 1994 after having to deal with racism all across the country – even at our shows – and I was so sick of it,” says Ness.

The Trump era is a big concern for Ness, as it is for many recording artists right now.

“[“Don’t Drag Me Down”] isn’t about Donald Trump. But maybe it is. I mean, this stuff wasn’t surfacing when Obama was president. When we had a black president, these nationalist groups weren’t surfacing. But for some reason, now, there’s a green light,” says Ness.

But despite the negative politics right now, Ness says still he loves touring the U.S. and Canada, especially the Pacific Northwest where Social Distortion filmed the seminal documentary, Another State of Mind. Shot in 1982, the cameras followed a very young Ness with Social Distortion and Youth Brigade as they embarked on their very first international tour.

Ness says he has fond memories of Canada, particularly because the Northwest and West Coast were the only places that would welcome Social Distortion back in 1982.

“[Punk rock] hadn’t hit places like Omaha. Or if it had, there wasn’t a venue. It was very do it yourself. We didn’t have a manager or have a record label,” says Ness.

People in Canada were very welcoming, says Ness. They gave the group venues to play, and if there was nowhere to play, they offered up someone’s basement.

But Ness has even more personal reasons for liking Canada.

“I’ve been doing research on the history of my folks, which is slower than making a record, and I found out my whole mother’s side comes from Nova Scotia and my biological father was French-Canadian Aboriginal. So yeah – I have roots in Canada.”

Thankfully for fans, it sounds like that there could be another documentary and a new album in the not-too-distant future.

“I would love to do another documentary on the history of the band,” he says. “I think we’re probably going to start shooting during the writing and recording of the next record. It would be a great opening of the documentary. Go back the beginning, you know?”

Ness says that he would like to do a documentary that encapsulates a legacy that saved his life.

“Rock and roll saved my life because I wasn’t allowed a voice as a child,” says Ness. “When I got into the punk band at 17 years old and 99 per cent of the world is telling you can’t do this, I took that as a challenge. I was like, ‘Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Watch me.’ It’s my personality, it’s my outlet, my voice – it means everything to me.”

Social Distortion plays the Commodore Ballroom on June 9th (sold out) and June 10th. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster. 

Click here to pre-order the vinyl reissue of Social Distortion‘s Live at the Roxy (out June 29th on Craft Recordings.