Here's how you know you've made it in the music business: You've stayed strong for three decades on your own terms, on your own time, by your own rules, and over that time your influence has only grown. Each of your albums has been stronger than your last. You've been brought onstage by Bruce Springsteen, because he wanted to play one of your songs. You've seen high times and low ones, good days and tragic days, but every night you give 100%, and every morning you wake up still swinging.
This is the short version of the Social Distortion bio — the long version could be a 10-part mini-series. But over the past 30 years, the punk godfathers in the band have all but trademarked their sound, a brand of hard rockabilly/punk that's cut with the melodic, road-tested lyrics of frontman Mike Ness. Their searing guitars and a locomotive rhythm section sound as alive today as they did in '82, as do Ness' hard-luck tales of love, loss and lessons learned.
"The most common thing I hear is, 'Man, your music got me through some hard times,'" Ness says. "And I just say, 'Me too.'" Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes (produced, for the first time, by Ness himself) is the band's first record since 2004, but the break hasn't changed them much. It maintains Social Distortion's key components — an all-but-perfected mix of punk, bluesy rock n’ roll and outlaw country — but it also finds them stretching the boundaries of their signature sound. "I didn't want any one style of writing," Ness says. "I didn't want it to be all heavy, like "White Light, White Heat, White Trash." I wanted some heavy and some light. I wanted some fiction and some nonfiction. I wanted versatility." Now in their fourth decade, Ness and Social Distortion have officially done one of the most non-punk things possible: They've failed to burn out. Mixing Springsteen’s factory-overalls ethic with Southern California punk energy and black leather, Social Distortion formed with Ness and high school buddy, the late Dennis Danell, in the late 1970s; the group broke in 1983 with the thrashing plate of punk and displeasure Mommy's Little Monster. Their 1988 follow-up, Prison Bound, hinted at a sonic change to come, and by the band's self-titled 1990 record and 1992's Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, their sound had solidified into the instantly recognizable brand of rock n’ roll that's defined them since.
For Hard Times, Social Distortion consists of Ness and longtime guitarist Jonny Wickersham, along with bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo, Jr. These days the band is rarely off the road for long, and continues to grip fans who have been around since Mommy's Little Monster while drawing new ones who discover the band through hand-shot YouTube clips. "I see people bringing their kids to shows," Ness says. "And I see kids bringing their parents." Social Distortion is a mix of potent power, appeal across all age brackets and a genuine satisfaction at reaching as many people as they have. "I write songs for myself, and I hope that other people will like them too," Ness says. "I think every record you make is showing people what you've learned over the past few years. It's showing people, 'This is what I know.'"
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