|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||5/9/2000|
Q & A With Bad Religion - The New Religion
by Keith Carman
chartattack.com, May 9, 2000
20 years and still one of punks' strongest leading forces, Bad Religion release their 11th album today to a throng of raving fans.A little older, a lot wiser, but still not ready to call it a day, bandleader Greg Graffin relates some inside news, personal insights, and reflections about the recording of their latest release, The New America. Graffin has more intelligence in one pinky than most of us Punk Rock Dorks have in our entire bodies. Strolling into one of the swankiest and entirely un-punk hotels in North America (Hey, they've earned it), he is friendly, upbeat, but more than a touch hoarse.
GG: Talking sucks. Sometimes talking is harder than singing for me, just because it's a different register. Maybe I should start singing my interviews.
ChartAttack.com: Reading about The New America, you've said that bands are afraid to change. After 20 years, how have Bad Religion changed?
GG: That's a good question. I've had a lot of people say, 'Hey, this is just another Bad Religion record,' but part of that is the struggle to stay the same. You can't have a brand name or a band name, without some kind of factor of recognition. I mean, there's no reason to have the name Bad Religion, if it's not gonna sound like us.
ChartAttack.com: People want to hear that recognizable sound?
GG: Yeah, I mean, when I did my solo record (American Lesion), it's so different from Bad Religion, I didn't even put my name, Greg Graffin, on it, 'cause I didn't want any association with Bad Religion. The people who would have bought it, would have been disappointed. Mike Ness puts out a solo disc that sounds just like Social Distortion, he should just call it Social Distortion. You see what I mean? Although there's a struggle to stay the same, as an artist; a human being, if you don't change, you're stuck in your childhood. Bad Religion started when we were 15, and that definitely was my childhood. I want to show some growth from that point.
ChartAttack.com: In what ways, though?
GG: We've got more of a global view of things now, issues that we're talking about. When we started, we were writing about World War III, when we'd never left Los Angeles. What did we know? Now that we're talking about issues of social change and have seen a good portion of the globe, we have a much better platform, and we're also better at writing songs than when we were 15.
ChartAttack.com: What about in a musical sense? How have Bad Religion changed in the punk world?
GG: If you want to talk about musical genres changing, punk is still around, and it's shocking how it keeps getting more popular. Every year, there are a new group of kids that discover punk. I've written extensively on it on our website, as an essay entitled Punk Manifesto. It's my intent to define punk. It's been 25 years since punk has been officially recognized, and we've been around for 20 of those. I've seen a lot of analysis of punk, but I've never heard of a description of punk. There are people who criticize it or condemn it as not being musical, but they haven't defined it. On the other side, there are people all around the world that love it. I suppose it boils down to making sure the new albums don't sound identical to the ones you've put out before and I think that Bad Religion have been capable of that. Each album has its own character, and you have to know the band to understand it.
ChartAttack.com: What made you decide to bring in Todd Rundgren to produce this album? It seems like quite the trip back into '70s rock.
GG: I would have had him produce our first album, I was inspired with him so early on. My first Todd Rundgren album was when I was nine. My older brother used to let me in on who the cool acts were at the time, around 1972. A lot of my musical identity came from Todd Rundgren. I was very intimidated my whole life to ever ask him. I had started demo tapes on this project, and our manager knew how much I admired him, so she sent them off to his manager, and eventually it got back to me that he had heard the material and liked it.
ChartAttack.com: How did it feel working with this person you've been so inspired by?
GG: It was weird. There's this lost innocence to that. You work with a hero of yours, and he's the guy criticizing you; constructively, but you want to stand up for yourself, so you're fighting back and all of a sudden you're equals. There's no more heroes, he's a good friend now, which has its own value. And now I can see him for all of his weaknesses too, which I never knew existed, but it also solidifies those strengths.
ChartAttack.com: Maybe now, we'll have all of these Epipunks running out looking for old Todd Rundgren albums.
GG: You know, there seems to be a lot of fear in punk rock. A lot of punks are scared. Scared of change, which probably comes from persecution because they've been singled out, and haven't been a part of anything. So they want things to stay just the way they are. It's their form of comfort. But my form of comfort is constant change.
ChartAttack.com: Don't you address that in "A Streetkid Named Desire"? That song seems to be about the fears and hopes you had when the band was just starting out.
GG: It is, in the sense that I have been at that low point before. When I was starting out in punk, I was 14 and had no money. We were ripping our own t-shirts. Our mother supported us, and there was no money at the end of the month, so we were the kids with the K-Mart shoes. And even in the first wave of punk, there was a level of fashion sense, and I couldn't even attain that. We couldn't afford the black [t-shirts], so my mother would buy the 12-pack of white ones, and I would be like, 'Shit man, I have to dye them,' but then they just came out this grey mucky colour. All of the early shots of the band show me wearing these shirts with off-colour dye and ripped sleeves.
ChartAttack.com: How was it working with Mr. Brett again?
GG: Even though there was a dark period in the recording, he and I have always kept in touch. He lost a lot of contact with the rest of the band, but we're friends from childhood. Some of the petty little things that he said when he left were never really hurtful to me. But it was great writing with him again, and I think we'll do a lot more of it. He's ready to get back into it. It's funny that some of our newer fans don't even realize that he was in the band before.
ChartAttack.com: I never realized that you were quite the keyboard player until I heard this album.
GG: You know, if it weren't for the piano, there wouldn't be the Bad Religion you know today. I grew up on it. I've written about 150 songs with Bad Religion, and at least a hundred or more were written on the piano. It's my instrument of choice when writing a Bad Religion song and I think that's why Bad Religion stand apart from other punk bands. Song structures and chord usages are unique. The bass is playing a different root note than the guitars because I can look at the chords on the piano and work out something that's different. I can see the bass and fit a treble chord over it.
ChartAttack.com: Is there a theme for the video to "The New America?"
GG: I'll leave it as a surprise, but I will say that it's nothing like any Bad Religion video you've ever seen. It's extremely entertaining, but definitely not slick and shiny. You will be entertained.
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