|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||1/1/2007|
|Source:||theithacajournal.com (Yugoslavia)||With:||Greg Graffin|
Drawing 'New Maps'
Ticket: The band is getting back to its roots on the new album.
Graffin: Aesthetically, it's a nod to our early style.We even used images from Gustav Dor?, the great artist who did etchings of Dante's inferno that we used on our first album?we resurrected some of his etchings for this latest album. That's sort of a nod to the early days of punk, when Goth and punk were mixed together and there was no distinction. It's a cool image aesthetic, so we went for that again on this album.
Also, this album is called ?New Maps of Hell?; our first album was called ?How Could Hell Be Any Worse?? Basically, our songs are little roadmaps to living in a (lousy) world. Living here in Ithaca, it's hard to imagine that, since life isn't that bad here. But our sentimental subject matter has always come from Los Angeles, which has only gotten more difficult since we were teenagers.
Ticket: The band's previous album, ?The Empire Strikes First,? was full of anti-war and anti-Bush sentiments.
Graffin: Our last record came out in 2003, the year we bombed Iraq, and back then it was important to take a stance and say your piece about whether you supported that or not. We did not support that, and we still don't, but I just don't think there's anything artistically interesting in talking about how badly things are going in Iraq?everyone knows that.
We have one of the least popular presidents of all time, but it's just not interesting to comment on it anymore, and it certainly isn't artistically intriguing. I think bands that talk about that type of stuff miss the boat, so now we've gone back to something I think we've improved upon over the years, and that is being more metaphorical. That's a style of writing that takes a dedication to your craft to get better at it. So I think this album has some of our best writing ever.
Ticket: Some songs, such as ?New Dark Ages,? are pretty timely, though.
Graffin: That's one of the most topical songs on the album, but that doesn't take much imagination to understand what we're getting at there. That kind of deals with some of the fallout from the Bush administration.
But a song like ?The Grains of Wrath? is quite a bit more metaphorical. It was obviously stolen from the John Steinbeck novel, but instead of talking about agricultural products that are intended for food, this song talks about the grains that are intended to be used for energy and how we should raise the moral issue of whether it's right to turn a food resource into an energy resource that's controlled by big oil conglomerates.
Ticket: Can you describe how you work with Brett Gurewitz, the band's other songwriter?
Graffin: Usually, either he or I start off with an idea?it's always been that way ? but now we refine each other's ideas a lot more than we used. That's why on the album there's a Lennon-McCartney kind of credit; it says ?All songs by Brett and Greg.?
Usually, he comes up with an idea out there (in Los Angeles) or I come up with one here, and we present it to each other before the rest of the band hears it. We usually make some significant changes at that point, before we bring it to the band. But we've found a true co-writing experience doesn't always make for the best songs. Usually, you have to come up with a coherent thesis, if you will, before you present it to the other songwriter. Then it's much more of a unified thought.
Ticket: The band's sound has been remarkably consistent over the years.
Graffin: I hope it's gotten better. Our musicianship has gotten better, and I think I'm a better singer now?at least I hope so, because it'd be real bummer to think you haven't progressed.
Ticket: You've got 14 albums now. How do you decide which songs to play on tour?
Graffin: We usually try to play at least one song from most of the albums. But then again, if you play two or three off of one album, you kind of blow your chance to play one song off the next album. So it's tough, but part of that is testimony to the fact that we're pushing ahead and making new material.
Another thing people don't appreciate is that a one-hour punk show is almost too long. The tempos are so fast?if you count the number of half notes and count the number of snare hits in that one hour, we're playing as many half notes as Rolling Stones concert that takes three hours. Our songs are full songs, they're just faster than most.
So we do have a large repertoire of songs, but you just can't play that many live, because it makes for a bad show. People who really love our music say they'd love to see a three-hour show; I say, ?No, you wouldn't.? I think the human body can take only so much abuse.
Ticket: After all these years, how do you like touring?
Graffin: The shows are always fun. It's a very rewarding feeling just to know that people are so excited to hear the music. It's a real motivator. I just keep looking at it as a great privilege. It's obviously tiring and obviously full of logistical nightmares, but you can't really complain that much when you've got a worldwide following. We can go to any major city in the world and people will come to see us. That's quite a privilege. So I can't complain, in good conscience. Yes, I miss my family and my home life, but I get a nice balance of those overall.
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