SoCal punk rocker Mike Ness is technically a New Englander. Born in Stoneham, Mass., Ness moved to California at a young age and would become the lead singer/songwriter of the influential punk band Social Distortion. Now, 30 years later, Ness is as punk as ever. With a new album hitting stores in January and a big American tour, the band is pulling out all the stops. Social Distortion plays Tuesday at Portland’s State Theatre. Here’s what Ness had to say in a recent interview:

 

So you moved to California at a young age, but you are originally from New England. Do you ever visit?

Unfortunately, I don’t get to visit on vacation or anything; it’s always work. But I love it, of course, I feel it’s part of my history.

 

Has Social Distortion played in Maine before?

Yeah, but only a couple of times. It’s one of those places that we go, “What’s the deal, why don’t we ever go there?” It’s what we’re focusing on now, hitting all these places we’ve overlooked. Not for any reason or anything, just, you know.

 

Now that you’re older, what does the term “punk rock” really mean to you?

Well first of all, one thing I’ve noticed over the years is there is a difference between a musician and a guy in a band, especially a punk rock band. It’s like, how many skaters do you know who play guitar? They go through a phase where they’re in a band then they go, “Oh, guess it’s time to grow up and get a real job.” But there is people who know; I knew when I was 5 years old this is what I was going to do. Punk rock isn’t about what you look like, to me, it’s rebellion and it’s an attitude, and it’s something that’s inside you. I love tearing down stereotypes; I love having debates with people about what punk is.

 

I think it was Joe Strummer who said he considered rap to be punk rock.

Absolutely, man. In the ’60s, young black males are only allowed to sing conservative love songs. Finally, one day they just said, “We’re angry.” That’s our whole take on early American roots music, whether it’s blues, Dust Bowl or Depression-era folk music, or even early jazz or big band stuff, bluegrass or country. That was very honest and heartfelt music, it was very working-class music. It was a lower-class singing about lower-class issues. I always saw a direct connection between that music and punk music because it wasn’t always about changing something; it was also about the blues. I saw this connection early on to punk music.

 

Social Distortion’s upcoming album, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes,” has you at the production helm. How was that?

Our music has always had a little bit more of a melodic thing, and in making this record, I wanted it to sound like a ’70s record. We recorded everything analogue and used vintage equipment. Sonically, I just wanted to raise the standard of record making. I’ve co-produced every one of our records in the past, but this is the first time that I was in charge of everything. I really enjoyed it. It was something I’d always wanted to do, and this was a good time to do it. It allowed me to micro-manage and pay attention to every single detail.

 

What can fans expect from the new album?

You’ll hear everything from every Social Distortion record in this record. But you’ll also hear Social Distortion’s typical attitude of not being afraid to evolve.

 

Portland is full of young musicians. You’re often considered a punk-rock icon and master of his craft. What advice do you have for the young musicians out there today?

As cliched as it sounds, whatever art you’ve chosen, it’s going to be a long and discouraging road. You just have to be true to yourself and keep your eye on the prize.

 

Chris Tarbell is a freelance writer living in Portland.