Bass Players To Know: Mike Dirnt
In the previous BPTK column, we took a look at the early years of punk rock with Paul Simonon of The Clash. It’s time to fast forward to the 1990’s and the punk renaissance that popularized bands such as Green Day, Blink-182, The Offspring, and Weezer. Exercising a modern take on this musical counter-culture, Green Day’s record Dookie personally inspired me to slam my bedroom door and plug in my air guitar. Mike Dirnt’s bass lines and vocals brought energy and melody to the power trio with an edgy, frosted-tip image to boot. If you’re not familiar with Dirnt, then I have one question for you: “Do you have the time to listen to me whine about nothing or everything all at once?” Okay, okay, I’m not whining — I’m writing — and Green Day grooves are nothing short of awesome and everything to do with being a great bass player to know.
So Who Is Mike Dirnt?
A California native, Michael Ryan Pritchard was born in 1972. His parents divorced while he was still young and he had a difficult childhood due to his mother’s financial troubles. As a middle schooler, he began playing guitar and became fast friends with Billie Joe Armstrong. The two started to play together, forming their first band “Sweet Children” in high school with drummer John Kiffmeyer and bass player Sean Hughes. Mike began playing bass when Hughes decided to leave the band and quickly adopted the nickname “Dirnt” after plucking the unamplified strings and making the sound “dirnt, dirnt, dirnt” on the instrument.
In 1989, the band changed their name to Green Day for the release of their first album, 39/Smooth, and went on tour the day Dirnt graduated from high school. Drummer Tre Cool joined the band in late 1990 and after the release of Kerplunk, the band signed with Reprise Records. Since then, they’ve released over a dozen live and studio recordings including Dookie, Warning, and American Idiot, received five Grammy awards, have adapted the record American Idiot into a Tony-nominated Broadway show, and have recently been inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Still an active member of Green Day, Mike Dirnt has also recorded with various side projects, including The Frustrators, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Screeching Weasel, and Squirtgun. He has appeared in a variety of films and television series, such as King Of The Hill, The Simpsons Movie, and Anchorman: The Legend Continues.
Let’s Talk Style
As musical trends tend to circle back around, the power trio of every generation has one thing in common: a bass player who isn’t afraid of the spotlight and asserts both their musical abilities and personality. As Jack Bruce brought catchy bass lines and vocals to Cream, Mike Dirnt fills out the trio of Green Day with an equal amount of gusto.
Dirnt’s playing style is the perfect combination of rough, overdriven tone with practiced rhythmic finesse, showmanship, and melodic hooks. He’s a natural at knowing how to fill space, whether it’s a quick fill to usher in a new section of a song, pulsing eighth notes, or choosing to lay out during a drum or guitar break. A handful of songs on the more recent Green Day records feature longer, medley-style compositions that highlight the bass during transitions or introductions. Dirnt often sets the stage for the song, outlining the harmonic movement before the guitar enters. He frequently exercises simplicity and consistency over variation, a staple approach of the punk genre, though he isn’t afraid of taking an assertive, more complex approach when the time is right.
His notion of dynamics stems as much from density as it does decibels; he often plays with register to assert dynamic energy by jumping up an octave. This tends to fill out the space more, despite the fact that he may be playing the same rhythmic part, providing the band with a welcome dynamic lift. He effectively takes things up a notch by focusing on where the drummer accents the rhythm; he’ll latch on to the crash hits to add emphasis to punches and give more power to the power trio.
Where Can I Hear Him?
“Longview” (Green Day: Dookie)
One of the breakthrough singles that put Green Day on the map, this tune opens with a long, descending muted slide into an iconic bass line. Note that it is played a half step down in order to play the last three notes as chords with the open D? ringing in the bass. Dirnt plays a variation of the main line during the first half of the second verse, as well as the end of the song, which is equally catchy and a welcome re-interpretation of the original theme. Check out the raw sounding hammer-ons fueling the chorus and the descending line Dirnt plays to mimic the vocal melody of “motivation” during the bridge.
“Last Of The American Girls” (Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown)
There’s nothing more perfect than driving eighth notes; few can rival Dirnt’s ability to provide this solid of a foundation to a song. It’s pure pop-punk goodness, with simple 1-4-5 changes, catchy lyrics, and a great sounding overdriven bass tone. If you’re new to pick playing, try practicing along with this song to develop good technique, tone, and rhythmic consistency.
“East Bay of Urden Bay” (The Frustrators: Bored In The USA)
Mike Dirnt recorded two albums with this group, a band comprised of players from other established punk rock bands. “East Bay” features the bass on hyper-drive, with Dirnk’s speedy, pick driven groove in the forefront. Following a traditional blues progression, his line drives the song as mumbling vocals and screechy guitars battle one another. It’s a great example of his gritty, in-your-face tone and agile picking; as is “West of Texas,” another album cut on The Frustrators record.
How about you? What’s your favorite tune or album with Mike Dirnt? Please share with us in the comments.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!