By John Benson
These days, Social Distortion singer Mike Ness may not be seeking much applause but that’s exactly what this grizzled punk rock legend is receiving wherever he looks.
Despite the fact the band took the last year off, the act’s fanbase grew after its 2011 appearance on “Guitar Center Session” aired repeatedly this summer on a national cable network.
“That’s the thing, it’s still word of mouth, but that particular show got so much exposure,” said Ness, calling from his Southern California home. “I had people, who never heard of Social Distortion, randomly telling me they saw that and liked it. We’re always picking up new fans from all directions. And it’s random, there’s no age group and no demographic. That’s what I like about it. “
Formed during the potent early ’80s punk-rock Orange County movement, Social Distortion helped define the genre with its 1983 debut effort, “Mommy’s Little Monster.” Later in the ’90s, the band would score a few commercial hits, including “Ball and Chain,” “Story of My Life,” “I Was Wrong” and a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
Over the past decade, the Ness-led outfit has taken on an elder statesmen vibe, with old-school fans now joined by the youthful Warped Tour crowd in enjoying the seminal group catalog.
Ness said the band is slowly beginning to look toward the next album, with half a record written. While he’s not setting a timetable for its release, he did disclose stylistically speaking anything is on the table.
“The next record, I might want to be more primitive or garage or more aggressive but it has to be different from the last record,” Ness said. “The writing just kind of reflects that. I’m writing differently because I want it to be different from the last record.”
He added that unlike other groups that have been around for more than three decades, in his opinion Social Distortion has yet to peak.
“It’s a very strange phenomenon,” Ness said. “Most bands that have been around 35 years, their heyday was 35 years ago and they’re still trying to live off that. For us, it was the opposite. Back then we were struggling, guys in a van going across the country broke. It just kind of evolves and progresses, and we’re really fortunate that way.”
Even though Social Distortion may not be traveling in a grungy and smelly van, the act still has a fondness for touring, which is why Ness and company returned to the road this summer. That includes a Sept. 10 show at the Rodeo Music Hall in Austintown.
Ness said returning to Northeast Ohio is bittersweet but it has nothing to do with the music or fans.
“My favorite hat store isn’t there anymore,” Ness said. “It was an old hat store I used to get my fur felt-brimmed hats. It’s an old-school thing, and so many of these old-school things are getting phased out. It’s disappointing.”
So is Ness worried that just like the haberdasher is viewed as old school, Social Distortion will suffer from the same fate one day leading to him closing up shop?
“No, I don’t know how to do anything else,” Ness said. “Unless I had a wild thing to go back to painting houses for a living, but there wasn’t as much applause in that.”