After 25 years of making music and hundreds of videos, iconic musician and Grammy Award-winning producer Tim Armstrong has created Tim Timebomb’s RockNRoll Theater (www.rocknrolltheater.tv), exclusively for VEVO. Inspired by his enjoyment of making music with his friends, it is an original web series with songs and stories based on his love of horror films and classic anthology TV shows, with a little bit of The Rocky Horror Picture Show thrown in. The seven-part first episode stars Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen and AFI frontman Davey Havok in a 21st Century take on the 14th Century epic poem Dante’s Inferno, with a new take on greed and corporate corruption, and with Armstrong narrating, much like a punk rock Rod Serling. The story is fun, the music is memorable, the visuals are totally cool, and it’s just a total blast to watch.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Tim Armstrong talked about transforming his idea into a musical series and getting everyone on board, how the process of writing music for this was an evolution of some of his previous work, and how fun it is to see dancing girls doing choreography to his songs. He also talked about the moment that he knew he wanted to play music until the day he dies, the status of new music from both Rancid and the Transplants, and what’s kept him motivated throughout all the highs and lows that come with a career in music. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
TIM ARMSTRONG: Yeah, the idea I had for Tim Timebomb’s RockNRoll Theater was a musical show that I created. And then, my buddy Dave Robertson, who’s produced 300 music videos and done dozens of videos with me for Rancid and Hellcat, teamed up with me. I had the story, that I wrote with my buddy John [Roecker], who I’d worked with in the past. We had an idea of doing a musical take on Dante’s Inferno, that was a modern-day take on a story of corruption and greed. And then, we brought in my buddy Kevin Kerslake, who’s a music video director and filmmaker. He’s done some great work in the past, and he’s worked with us. We just put together this fun team, with Davey Havok and Lars Frederiksen, who I’ve known for a long time. Obviously, I’ve known Lars, but I’ve known Davey since he was 17. I’ve known these people forever. We just had a big party. It was fun.
Did you write these roles with these specific individuals in mind?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, we thought that Davey would be perfect for the Devil, but AFI were on tour with Green Day when we were going to shoot, so we thought we couldn’t get him for Dante. And then, we pushed the filming back and we saw AFI’s drummer at a coffee shop, and I was like, “Oh shit, they’re back in town!” So, then we called Davey and he was psyched that we called him up. Within 10 seconds, he was on board. I didn’t even get my pitch finished. I was all ready for this giant pitch to Davey, and he was like, “I’m on board, man. It sounds cool.” It was just one of those things where it all came together.
ARMSTRONG: He’s a friend of mine, and he’s a country singer. He’s got this wonderful solo career, making traditional country music. He’s got this beautiful country voice. So, I thought of him in that role and he said, “Yeah.” He was a trooper. He loved it. He’s such a cool guy. But, that was the idea. Everyone has gotta sing in this. There’s no faking it. If you’ve got chops and you’ve got a certain swagger, the acting was secondary for this. Getting an actor who can sing is cool, but the singing was most important. We were leaving this wide open. Everyone was invited to the party because I love all kinds of music. Punk rock is my favorite, obviously, but I love all kinds of genres. We’ve got so many ideas for future episodes, and so many different artists that we have in mind. It’s exciting. It seems to be building and picking up speed.
Was the process of writing music for this any different than your process of writing normally?
ARMSTRONG: That’s a good question. If you go back to Operation Ivy and “Bad Town,” I’m telling a story. On some of the Rancid songs, like “Rats in the Hallway,” I’m telling a story. There’s a narrative in those songs. The idea was written in a weekend, and all the music was written and recorded in five days. We did it quick. I’ve been playing with a lot of these cats for a long time, so we just got in there and knocked it out. Writing music, playing music and recording music is what I love. That’s what I really love to do, and I have so much fun doing that. I also love the film side of it, too. I love films, I love directors, I love cinema. That’s why it was important to bring a heavyweight cat like Kevin Kerslake into the project. He’s got a great feel and an understanding of cinema. Everything was shot on set. I love the sets and the miniatures. We wanted it to be shot right. That was important to us.
ARMSTRONG: No, it’s just fun. I think it’s exciting. We’ve done a little bit of that, in the past. For “Into Action” on my solo record (called Poet’s Life), we had some dancers. The Transplants had some dancers. The Rancid song “Fall Back Down” had a few dancers, and “Salvation” had B-roll of dancers. We’ve done a little bit of that, but full choreographed dance routines is new. It’s part of the whole feel of the show, so it’s a really fun and exciting part of RockNRoll Theater. We drew from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
What made you decide to narrate this, instead of casting yourself as one of the characters?
ARMSTRONG: That’s a good question. I’ll be in some episodes. I just didn’t want to confuse people, so I decided to be the host. I’m a big fan of late ‘50s and early ‘60s anthology TV. I love Boris Karloff’s Thriller, where he’s the host, and I love The Twilight Zone with Rod Serling. With Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Alfred Hitchcock did the same thing, and I love that. Those guys did an opening, and each episode was a different story. That was a big inspiration for RockNRoll Theater. We want to make an anthology, so every episode is different. That will also allow us to get all kinds of different artists. Davey Havok couldn’t commit for a month, but he could commit for recording one night in the East Bay, and then a two-day or three-day shoot. An anthology is really going to work, in our favor, and I’m the host. That’s a fun role for me to be in. I love The Outer Limits, and that had a narrator. I’ll be in some of them too, kind of how Boris Karloff did it. He ended up in some of the episodes, even though he would do the opening.
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, early on, I just figured out that it’s all I love to do. I want to be around it and play it. I would play guitar for hours, when I was a kid. All I thought about was music, and all I did was play music. For five, six or seven hours a day, I would play guitar. It’s all I thought about. I just loved it. I could just go there. I felt safe, playing music. I really put a lot of energy into it. And then, I started surrounding myself with people who had the same feeling. I’d known Matt Freeman (from Operation Ivy) forever, but in high school we became inseparable because he had the same passion for his bass. He loves playing bass, as much as I love playing guitar. And then, Gilman Street happened and it was all over. We had a club that we all hung out at, all the time. All we did was talk about and play music. It turned out pretty good. I’m still passion about it. I haven’t lost that, at all. You do a different approach, but you keep doing it. I always go back to playing Rancid. Rancid is still going to make another record, coming up soon. That’s my family. And, there’s another Transplants record coming up, too. I love The Transplants. And then, I’m working with Jimmy Cliff (a Jamaican ska/reggae singer). I’ve got all these great projects to keep me busy.
ARMSTRONG: They’ll come out next year. We’re going to focus on The Transplants in December, but we already have a lot of that recorded. We were meeting at Travis Barker’s studio every Tuesday, also known as Transplants Tuesday. We would just go up and play there, so we’ve got some tracks, but we’re going to try to finish that up in December. That should be out next year. And, Rancid should definitely be out next year. That will be produced by Brett Gurewitz (from Bad Religion). He’s been with us, every step. And, it will be out on Hellcat/Epitaph – the same label. I’m definitely looking forward to that. The way I do it is to block out everything else. I’m working on RockNRoll Theater right now. While I’m working with Jimmy Cliff, that’s all I’ll do. And then, I’ll do The Transplants, and then Rancid. I’ve gotta break it up, like that. I can’t do it all at once. I’ve gotta organize it. But, the good news is that I love it. I love playing music.
One of the things that struck me in RockNRoll Theater was the line about, “One man’s Heaven is another man’s Hell.” What is your own personal Heaven, and what is your own personal Hell?
ARMSTRONG: Someone asked me, “What would you do, if you never learned how to play music?,” and I said, “I would immediately learn how to play music.” I can’t imagine life without music. That would be Hell for me, no doubt. I can’t go anywhere without my guitar. I always have my old guitar with me. That old ‘62 Fender that I open up RockNRoll Theater with, I’ve had since 1986, and it’s with me all the time. If it’s not with me, I’ve got another guitar with me. I never travel anywhere without a guitar. So, not being able to play music would definitely be Hell for me.
So, would your Heaven then be to continue to be able to play music, for the rest of your life?
ARMSTRONG: No doubt, definitely.
With all the ups and downs that come along with a career in music, what’s kept you motivated?
ARMSTRONG: I just love to play music. If I have a day where I’m playing a lot of guitar, I win. I’ve done well. I had a good day. I’m always learning new things on guitar. I’m always trying to figure out new stuff. I’m always trying to figure out any kind of music. That’s part of it, and that’s exciting. I love learning new ways to play things. People get excited by weird things. I get excited by learning a new way to play something, or a new style of music. I collect music books. Any music book you can find, from any style of music, I would pick it up. I just love them. It’s fun for me to go through a music book and just play music. It could be a country book from the 1960’s, and I couldn’t be happier. If I’m at a book store and I find a country music book from 1965, I’m really happy because I can go home and play the whole thing. That’s fun for me. I have so many music books. That’s what you can get me for Christmas, or my birthday. Find the most obscure songbook that no one’s ever heard of, and I’ll be very happy.