Unplugged: The Acoustic Side of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong
Starting out as hardcore punks in California in the late ’80s, Green Day have grown into one of the biggest, most successful bands in the world, with Billie Joe Armstrong’s acoustic guitar an increasingly integral part of their sound.
In the early days, however, it was a tough, minimalist and angry sound that colored their gigs and recordings, culminating in their two cutthroat punk indie albums that would surprise any listeners that came to the band in the past few years.
But even then, as edgy and punk as they were, Billie Joe and Co. always carried an acoustic guitar with them, as Armstrong explained to Acoustic Rock magazine. “In the early days we always brought an acoustic guitar on tour with us,” he said. “Our shows back then were booked in basements and veterans halls by kids who didn’t always have the proper legal permits and all that, so when a show would be shut down for exceeding noise levels, we would have an acoustic there and still be able to play. I think that’s one thing we had over other punk bands: the show was able to go on. There’s a picture of us on the back of Kerplunk  in which Tré [Cool, drummer] is holding an acoustic guitar. That picture was taken in Tucson, Arizona, where the show was shut down because people down the street complained about the noise.”
In 1994, when Green Day finally got their big-time shot with a major label deal and recorded the tremendously successful Dookie album, their sound had grown, matured and exhibited a depth and substance that few of their punk cohorts could ever match. Instead of punk, this was a poppier, more hook-oriented sound that drove the band to the top of the alternative rock universe and sold 15 million albums around the world.
But real superstardom was still around the corner, and after a short re-grouping and rest period, their 1997 album Nimrod brought a new dynamic, the chiming ring of Billie Joe’s acoustic guitar on “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”
“I was trying to make the acoustic guitar sound like a percussive instrument, the way Pete Townshend does,” Armstrong explained.
By the 2000s, Armstrong had developed from a kid with a knack for three-chord power punk to an accomplished all-around musical artist. He expertly utilized the acoustic guitar again on the American Idiot album with ballads like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Give Me Novocaine” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” bringing dynamics and balance to the rest of the album’s rockier material.
Much of their success came down to Billie Joe’s understanding of acoustic music, the power and impact that an acoustic guitar brings and, of course, his innate ability to craft songs that seem to perfectly match the arrangements. Interviewed by Acoustic Rock magazine, Armstrong talked about the acoustic guitar almost being a character on the album.
“By the time ‘Wake Me Up’ comes along, you’ve been hearing that character throughout the record. Then suddenly it chimes through,” he said. “’Wake Me Up When September Ends’ pivots around an acoustic guitar figure in which the open G string really rings out.”
[Read the full article at Gibson]