Punk rock lifers Social Distortion move forward by looking backward

 

There has to be a heaven, because Mike Ness has already been through hell.

This is how the Social Distortion frontman describes his life.

You hear it in his voice, a lived-in baritone that’s burlap-rough around the edges but which has been softened at its core by the hard times of decades gone by.

The past is present in pretty much everything Ness does, from the vintage threads he wears, to the customized hot rods he drives to the way he narrates his life story in song.

Ness is a rock ’n’ roll originalist, favoring a throwback approach to the music he makes, right down to plugging his guitar in with a cord as opposed to going wireless at his band’s gigs.

When Social D recently put out a box set that included some of their earliest recordings, Ness was adamant that everything remained as it was initially tracked with no studio enhancements.

“I just made it a point to put a label on there, ‘Absolutely not digitally remastered,’ ” he says. “I don’t want to change something so it sounds good in somebody’s Bose headphones. It’s like listening to an old John Lee Hooker record. Don’t touch it, you know?”

This preservationist vibe is palpable on Social D’s last studio record, 2011’s “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes,” an album that burrowed deeper beneath the band’s punk rock surface to get more directly in touch with Ness’ Americana and blues roots.

Ness has always been way more Woody Guthrie than Johnny Rotten, and while “Hard Times” isn’t as hard-driving as a formative Social D record like 1992’s “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell,” a combustible blend of heartache and hellfire, it sees the band moving forward by looking backward.

“What’s good about evolving is that sometimes that doesn’t mean necessarily that you’re going all technical,” Ness says. “Actually, sometimes that means going more primitive.”

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