Speaking on the Song Exploder podcast, Armstrong spoke in detail about how the track came together and shared music from his initial four track demo with the original lyrics, which you can listen to below.
“I had this melody in my head for a while, and I wanted to have this sort of grand song about a love story,” Armstrong recalled. “I think it was around 1993, early ’93, when the song was first written.”
“I thought the song could have this intro that would be like a ballad that would blast into the full band coming in, making it like a rocker. I did a beatbox effect with my mouth to create the drum sound.”
Armstrong went on to say drugs played a part in his decision to discard the original lyrics, admitting that he was taking crystal meth when he wrote the first draft of the song.
He explained: “The true confession is I was on crystal meth when I wrote the lyrics to it. And I thought I was writing the greatest song ever…As you know, with drugs, they wear off. And then, I felt like I’d written the worst song ever.”
He continued: “I thought that the lyrics were just embarrassingly bad. I had a few songs before that I’d written on drugs, but this one was the most pitiful I felt after.”
After a rethink, Armstrong eventually went back to the song. “I think I just got the courage to get into it again, trying to write the lyrics. And it was the best decision I’d ever made, probably, as a songwriter. The approach sort of changed where now, the song, it was about panic attacks.
“I had had panic attacks since I was about 10 or 11 years old. But that was in the ’80s, and no one really knew what those things were. I guess they would call it mental health now, but back then it was just like, you’re having a panic attack, wait till it’s over, you know, breathe into this paper bag.”
He added: “There were times that I would wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks and I would ride my bike through the streets to kind of let it wear off. And so that was one way of dealing with it for me, was, you know, writing lyrics about, you feel like you’re going crazy, but you ride it out, and you’re not.”
“There were times that I would wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks and I would ride my bike through the streets to kind of let it wear off. And so that was one way of dealing with it for me, was, you know, writing lyrics about, you feel like you’re going crazy, but you ride it out, and you’re not.”
The singer entered rehab in 2012 after an onstage meltdown during a performance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas. He then returned to the stage with Green Day the following year, and has spoken openly about his recovery since.
In an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Armstrong said: “I get massive stage fright, it’s the anticipation of all day going on and getting ready to go on stage at a stadium or something.
“I started around the record after ‘Dookie’, that I would get so nervous that I started drinking more before shows. I was like, ‘Hey that works, I’m gonna keep doing that’. Then I realised, ‘Woah I keep drinking after the show too and during the show’. It just kinda happened.”
He added: “I’ll be fine for a few drinks then some other guy starts to come into the picture. Not angry, I start to turn into everyone’s drunk annoying uncle. It can get really funny then it can turn where I can’t switch it off and I’m drinking until [4am]. There were other human garbage can moments where other drugs were involved but that’s the thing, I just want to keep going.”
“We’ve seen so many of our peers struggle with addiction and mental illness,” he said. “This song is all about the pain that comes from those experiences.”
Reviewing ‘Saviors’, NME said: “There’s some serendipity in the band hitting the road to celebrate 30 years of ‘Dookie’ and 20 years of ‘American Idiot’ later this summer. Not only does ‘Saviors’ spiritually bridge the gap between the two, but it uses the palette of the best of the band to tell us something else.
“Look to the artwork: ‘Dookie’ was a cheeky carpet-bombing of shit, ‘American Idiot’ was a hand grenade, ‘Saviors’ is an act of defiance met with a shrug; a band saying, “We’re still here and we’re still fucked”.