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On Sept. 1, a mysterious Instagram account under the name dr.robertdoback leaked what appeared to be rock band Green Day in the studio working on new songs.
The voice of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong can be heard quietly in the background saying something about harmonies, as a group of people hover around a mixing board listening to snippets of a previously unheard song. Album art can also be seen on the table for a record titled Magnum Opus of the Inglorious Kind, which features the heads and tattoos of band members Tré Cool, Mike Dirnt and Armstrong Photoshopped onto a renaissance-style painting.
The legitimacy of the studio leak, and the three more short videos that followed it during the next week, was immediately questioned, but that didn’t stop the group’s fans from hoping on social media, as well as specific Green Day fan sites, to concoct wild conspiracy theories.
It wasn’t long, however, that some dedicated devotees of the band, which has produced hits such as American Idiot and When I Come Around, did some impressive digging and discovered the dialogue from Armstrong in the studio video was pulled from a video of an interaction he had with Winnipeg pop-rock band Panicland on May 27, 2018, which the Green Day singer had posted on his Instagram page.
Despite having a strong indication the leaks were fake, fans continued to debate the existence of Magnum Opus and compared its quality to the next actual Green Day record, Father of All Motherf---ers, which comes out in February 2020.
The general consensus seemed to be the Magnum Opus songs were better.
On Dec. 11, Bill Schneider, a tour manager for Green Day — who occasionally wades into the Green Day community forum to answer questions and clear up misinformation and rumours — posted a link to a video of Panicland fessing up to the Magnum Opus leaks and album cover.
"The way the video got out there, we had sent it to Green Day and their team, just so they knew what was going on... and they saw it and one of the team members said they thought it was funny," says Braedon Horbacio, guitarist and vocalist of Panicland, who are also notorious pranksters.
"The fans forums kept going on with the theories of the second album, so eventually one of the team members had to post the video, and then things started to take off."
In the 10-minute explainer video now on YouTube, Panicland revealed how Magnum Opus of the Inglorious Kind came to be; it was sparked by a fake tracklist posted on imageboard website 4Chan. The group — whose members are all self-described massive Green Day fans — decided to pen songs in the style of Green Day using the album titles provided, essentially creating a fan-fiction album, combining all the styles and sounds they loved the most from previous Green Day records.
Then they decided to post the "studio leaks" and things quickly began to snowball.
"We originally just wanted to write the songs because we like writing and recording songs, and then we thought as an afterthought, we should put these up on the internet and see what happens. We thought maybe a few people would listen to them and know right away they are fake... but instead, there were all these coincidences that all started to line up and support it and then we started to go with it," Horbacio says.
"And then it turned into this big thing in the Green Day world, and they thought Green Day has this whole second album planned, this big rock opera called Magnum Opus of the Inglorious Kind, so we thought, ‘OK, we can’t reveal ourselves now, and it’s actually much cooler if this never gets solved and it’s always a mystery in the history of one of our favourite bands.’"
But it did get solved, and rather than Green Day fans ripping into Panicland for the hoax, the majority of them are congratulating the trio of 20-something Winnipeggers for one of the best album-leak pranks ever, which also resulted in original songs many want to purchase and stream.
"I keep watching the video that Bill posted and I actually respect the living f--- out of what this became," wrote one fan in the community forum. "It’s hilarious what you all did to make this happen and how we dragged the theory to hell and back. I genuinely enjoyed checking this thread daily to see the speculation, and it’s nice to know that the songs actually exist as well. I hope we get to hear it all soon."
"As someone who enjoys a good prank, your (subtlety) and restraint made this work. It would have been easy to blow your beans back in September, but less turned out to be more. I’d give it 5 stars out of a possible 5 stars! Hopefully this leads you guys onto bigger and even better things with your careers. You sure seem capable of great things and I’ll definitely check out your stuff," echoed another.
"They’re treating it like a real album and asking us to put it on Spotify," Horbacio says.
"I thought they would come at us just because they’re so passionate about Green Day, not us," he says. "But this isn’t really about us, we are irrelevant to the whole situation. This is about Green Day, this is just a very weird, uncommon form of album speculation... but there is a little bit of hate, definitely a little bit, which there should be because that makes it a bigger thing."
At this time, the response from Green Day’s camp has been minimal; Schneider posted the following comments on the 120-page thread about Magnum Opus on the Green Day community forum:
"Once and for all. This is all fake. Panicland made all of it. Please stop, its getting silly and a little weird. We think it’s funny, end of story. If you like the songs and videos (Panicland) made, please follow them on Instagram and Facebook, they seem like nice funny guys... but please stop saying its GD," Schneider wrote.
And later, in reference to fans asking if Green Day plans to sue Panicland, Schneider added, "Haha luckily the band has a sense of humour."
Panicland has posted two full songs from Magnum Opus on a Soundcloud page that have already racked up thousands of streams, and the group says it has plans to release the other six or seven completed tracks over the next week.
Horbacio maintains Magnum Opus was never meant to be a publicity stunt; the band is genuine fans of Green Day and created the tracks as both a songwriting exercise and a way to express their appreciation for the work of one of their favourite groups. The unexpected benefits of an increase in social media followers and more eyes and ears on their own music is just a bonus.
"We do stuff like this all the time just to get our songwriting going. With a lot of our songs, they probably started in equally bizarre situations, but they just weren’t public things, so this was just another songwriting exercise, essentially," Horbacio says.
"A lot of people, before they found out it was us, they were saying like, ‘Why would a band spend so much time on this? Why would they waste their time?’ And to me, that doesn’t make sense because it’s really hard to classify what a waste of time is when it comes to songwriting. What is a valid use of time? Is it something that will make you money? Is it something that will get you attention? Because then those same people who are saying, ‘Why waste the time?’ they’ll also say, ‘Oh you’re just doing this for money.’ And those two things contradict each other.
"I would rather not even think in that area at all when it comes to music. I think just do whatever you want and see what happens with it."
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.