Socially Assimilated

When Jonny Wickersham joined Social Distortion, the band was already two decades old. Now he feels right at home.

Griffin Fillipitch

 

What: Social Distortion, The Toadies, Lindi Ortega

When: 5 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. Friday

Where: First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N, Minneapolis

Cost: $30+

Ages: 18

 

Mike Ness, the front man and founder of the seminal California punk band Social Distortion, is now the only member that has been with the band all along. It’s understandable, since “all along” means the 34 years since the band started in 1978.

But even if the lead guitarist Jonny Wickersham has been around for less than half of the band’s life, it has still been over a decade since he joined, which puts him in an interesting position.

“Social Distortion is a band that I knew about since I was a kid and had been friends with,” Wickersham said. “We came from the same area and music community. There was always definitely a connection there. It wasn’t like joining a band with people I didn’t know.”

On paper, joining the band in 2000, as he did, sounds like a dream come true. And maybe it was on some level, but it was much more complicated than that. Wickersham joined the band after the death of previous Social Distortion guitarist and good friend, Dennis Danell.

“There were a lot of emotions that came along with it. One of them was just, ‘Can I even do this?’ Trying to not let the feeling of being an impostor take over or something,” Wickersham said. “I didn’t want it to seem like I was saying, ‘Oh this is my job now.’ Dennis and Mike, it was their band. Mike has always been the leader of the band, but Dennis was just as much a part of it. So that was really tough.”

Wickersham hadreplaced guitarists for bands like Youth Brigade and U.S. Bombs before, but the circumstances with Social Distortion were particularly difficult. Even still, the transition was met with love and support.

“Everybody was really great about making me feel a part of the band. The fans, the band and especially the friends and family of Dennis, everyone was really cool about it.”

Now that Wickersham has settled in, he has co-written several tracks on the previous two releases, “Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.” The latter came out in 2011, but there was a seven-year gap between the two and an eight-year gap between the previous two albums.

“It takes so much time mostly just because we’re on the road all the time,” Wickersham said. “It’s not important to try and rush anything out. We can just kind of tell when we are ready to put one out. It’s not what a lot of bands do, but I’ve noticed even with a lot of bands that I love, once they’ve put out like 15 albums, I start to lose interest. So we don’t want that to happen.”

Also, releasing an album too soon after the previous one increases the likelihood that they will sound the same, or at least very similar.

“It gives a chance for the sound to change or evolve. We’re still Social D, and we don’t really take off in any crazy direction,” Wickersham said. “But we’re still gonna grow as musicians and give ourselves time.”

Growth for a band as seasoned and established as Social Distortion is potentially dangerous. The possibility of alienating fans that have been there since the beginning looms with each experimentation. But there hasn’t been any backlash yet.

“A lot of people in their 40s come out to see the band that are just hardcore fans. But you also get people less than half that age, who have heard the old records but weren’t alive to experience it. So they don’t have that sense of nostalgia about it,” Wickersham said. “It’s great every night to look out in the crowd and see people from all walks of life. People even bring their kids now.”