|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||5/2/2004|
|Source:||alternativenation.net (now altnation.com)||With:||Jay Bentley|
Banter with Bad Religion
by Kenny Stuart
alternativenation.net, May 2, 2004
Jay Bentley, bass player of punk legends Bad Religion, got out of his bed nice and early to talk to Alternative Nation on the phone. With new album The Empire Strikes First - a reference to the second Bush administration's trigger happy foreign policy - just completed and due out soon, the re-release of five earlier albums last month, and a European tour imminent, there was a lot to talk about.
Kenny: You've just re-released a lot of your early records. Why?
Jay: It's just a matter of the technology available now, the mics available, to change, what... 16-bit transfer rate to 96 - which is what standard CDs are today. When we made these CDs, 16-bit technology was top of the line. We just decided that they sounded terrible with the new technology, they just didn't have the volume, didn't have the depth. We've just been waiting until that 96-bit technology became affordable, which it is now - you can buy a CD-R at an office centre for six cents. Technology is so much more portable now.
K: Sure. But is it not the case that technology is going to be updated all the time? Are you not therefore going to have to be reissuing all your records every few years to stay up to date?
J: This is a joke that I have with my friends; maybe one day they'll realise that perhaps it's true that we'll all simply realise that putting out vinyl sounds the best. That's what's so weird about digital: the goal always is to make it sound like analogue. Why not just put out the analogue? But it's just a matter of... well, that's an argument for another day. [laughs]
K: There's two schools of thought though: obviously there are those who're delighted that you're updating it and making it widely available; but at the same time there are those who would say that there is no need, that you're messing with history, and... -
J: Well, I don't know if that's necessarily true. I mean, historically speaking, if you think about the twelve inch vinyl, that's what we intended these records to sound like. The CDs have always been a compromise. And having the ability to update them is needed. I understand that people will be thinking, "Well, I like the Suffer CD, it's what I grew up with", but my argument to that is, we didn't release it on a CD, we released it on a vinyl and that sound is the sound that we're most pleased with. So anything else is less than what we wanted.
K: You're touring over here in a couple of weeks in support of new album The Empire Strikes First. You've always been pigeon-holed as a political band - which to be honest I've never thought you were - but this time on TESF, you certainly do seem to be addressing more specific, topical, political issues.
J: There's a few. But you know, you're right: people do think we're a political band... and I suppose if social, global politics is an issue, then I guess we fall into that category...
K: It's very broad politics.
J: Yeah. Very. And obviously, just the album title itself is indicative of our awareness of the climate of our planet. When the 9/11 stuff happened in New York and DC, people were like, "Oh, you gonna write about that?" Our answer was, we've always been writing about that. That's human nature. We've been writing about it since the beginning of the band. This is a little different, because here's something when the entire planet said, "Hey, we don't want you to do that", and one guy said, "I don't care what you think." That's huge.
K: Along the same sort of lines: on [previous album] The Process of Belief there was the specific issue of Kyoto [a global treaty on the environment which George Bush unilaterally pulled the US out of after over a decade of work on it], is that the same kind of thinking then; you're addressing a particular issue, but it's one that's absolutely all-consuming - the environment is everything.
J: Right. I think that a lot of people don't know even know what the Kyoto treaty is, and given the American spin on every single thing, one paper might say "This is something that we need", and another two may say "This is something that we don't need, and here's why" and the American people are kind of left in the dark thinking, "Well, we don't want this, because it's bad for us." They don't really know why it's bad for us, but he said it was. Sometimes it's frustrating and difficult to filter through all the crap that's available to people if they want information about something, and that's kind of a... it's something that we realised a long time ago: the amount of time it actually takes to get to the bottom of any issue; it's far more daunting than any average American would ever want to undertake.
K: You're contributing the Sorrow video to the Fat Wreck Rock Against Bush compilation... -
J: Yep. And apparently another band covered one of our songs! We're all over it!
K: Absolutely, that was my next point. It's The Ataris, and they're doing Heaven Is Falling.
J: Well as long as they don't make it sound like Boys of Summer it'll be fine. [laughs]
K: Have you heard it? It's an acoustic cover...
J: Oh that's OK then. Nice and mellow.
K: Yeah... it kind of sounds a bit like he did it in his own bedroom though, the recording quality isn't great.
J: Well, the way Mike runs things, that's probably for the best. Mike does it from the heart, and that's the best way to do it. You know, all the stuff with his label and all the stuff with his band, and the Punk Voter thing - it's Mike putting his money where his mouth is. And I really admire that.
K: How involved are Bad Religion with Punk Voter generally?
J: Well, we all have different roles to play. [Bad Religion - and former Minor Threat - guitarist Brian] Baker is a roving correspondent for the site. He goes to a lot of the Democratic and Republican conventions. I have an essay up on the site... which I get nothing but flak for... Everybody just gets involved in one way or another, and I know Mike's going to have a bunch of Punk Voter stands out on the Warped Tour. Everyone will be there doing their part. And what you have to understand about Punk Voter is that's it's not about getting people registered to vote, or to understand politics. It's about getting George W. Bush out of office. That's all it's about. So once people get over the hump of thinking about it as if there's some sort of lesson to be learned, they'll realise that it's just not the case.
K: How do you feel when you have bands like The Ataris covering you? You must've had a profound influence on them, and I think that's the case for a lot of bands emerging now and over the past few years.
J: That's really a hard thing to put yourself in the position of, being able to think about how you feel about someone covering your material. There are a lot of Bad Religion cover records that are out there from Spain and South America - and it's cool - but... it's odd. I don't even look at this band in that light. It's just... us.
K: It's quite hard to reconcile yourself to the idea of others holding you in high esteem then.
J: I don't really think about it. There's only been a couple of times where I've really, y'know, sat back on my heels and just acted like a jerk. Just because of maybe the way I was being mistreated. In the sense of, I've been doing this for a long time and I don't like to be talked to like that. I don't remember ever having someone throw my guitar into an alley after a show. It's a little different from when we started; if someone did that then, I'd just fight 'em. [laughs]
K: You mentioned tribute albums coming out of Spain and South America; one thing that's always struck me about Bad Religion is that you have a really international fanbase. If you look at, say, your message board, you seem to have as many people posting on there from outside the US as you do from inside.
J: Yeah! I don't know... I don't know how that happened? It's an oddity with our band that we're kind of the same size everywhere we go. It's not huge. We're not huge by any means. I'll be with bands in the States and they'll be selling out twenty five thousand seat arenas in the States, and then they go over to Germany and play in front of three hundred people. For us it's pretty much a thousand people everywhere we go. A thousand people... maybe it's the same thousand people! [laughs]
K: Just following along. Why do you think that is? Do you think that - like we were talking about earlier - it's because you address issues from a broader, global perspective?
J: It's something I think strikes a chord with people who... feel the same way we do. Human beings are pretty predictable in their behaviour patterns. If you can see that... Like any other twelve step programme, admitting there's a problem is half the battle. I remember the first time we ever set foot in Germany to go on tour, the first thing anyone said to me was, "I hate you because you're American... but I really like your band." And I said, that's cool, I completely understand that philosophy. As an American, I understand where you're coming from. I don't like us that much either.
K: You're coming back to see us in Europe very soon. I was speaking to someone that got offered the local support slot with you here in Glasgow and apparently it was offered on the basis of being able to shift two hundred tickets. Now, that's obviously on the part of the local promoter, but what's your view on that? It's pay to play at a Bad Religion gig.
J: I... don't know. Is that what they have to sell?
K: If they didn't sell the two hundred, then they would be liable for the balance.
J: Really?! Oh, I don't like that.
K: They refused it. They wanted the gig but they didn't think they could do it.
J: We've had pay to play in Hollywood forever. I remember when it started, I just laughed and said, go fuck yourself. I'd rather not play. I'd rather go play at a party, or in an empty swimming pool where the skateboarders and all our friends are, and play for beer. I understand that it's a business, but everyone has a responsibility, you can't just put it all on the band. I've run into plenty of promoters whose idea of promoting a show - which is what a promoter is supposed to do! - is painting "Bad Religion, here, Saturday" on the side of the building. What about the people on the other side of the building that don't see it. It's shit like that where you just go, look, your job is to promote this show. Now, if he thinks that the way to do that is get a band to sell two hundred tickets, it's... well... it's... [trails off]
K: Is it the kind of thing you want associated with a Bad Religion show?
J: Not really. But I guess it has nothing to do with me. I've learned that to fight every single battle - to put on military fatigues and get involved with every single thing that happens to you when you're on tour - is absolute stupidity. It will wear you down. I've tried it. I've said, I'm gonna control everything... but soon it's, fuck it - I can't. I just can't. There's so much ridiculous, redundant work that you just have go, you know what, everyone will have to fend for themselves this time. And hopefully they'll make the right choice.
K: Is Brett [Gurewitz, guitarist and owner of Epitaph Records] coming out on this tour? He did some dates, but not others, last time.
J: He did, but not this time. He's so far behind at Epitaph. The Rancid record ran three months over, this record didn't start until late February... He just said, "I haven't seen my office in like a year and a half! I gotta get back to work..." [laughs]
K: He's doing his own side-project band too, Error.
J: Yeah. It's not really a touring thing, it's more of a recording thing, but I know he has a lot of fun with it.
K: What was the writing process like on TESF?
J: Well, we were on tour for a lot of 2002, and then in the summer of 2003, [singer Greg] Graffin went into hibernation to complete his PhD [in evolutionary biology], and the band really just went to sleep. And Brett had got really bogged down with that Rancid record, and once it was over he started writing. But Greg wasn't really working on any new material, he was spending all his time on his thesis. Brett had about three songs done so Brian, Brooks [Wackerman, the relatively newly-recruited drummer, formerly of Suicidal Tendencies], [Greg] Hetson [the third and final guitarist, who also spent time with the Circle Jerks] and I went to Brett's to hang out for like a week, and just kind of wrote down a bunch of ideas, and we all went home. Then Greg came up with a bunch of ideas. It was kind of... it was a lot of back and forth, and working, and just trying to get it all done. And the songs pretty much got finished by Greg and we all went down to a rehearsal studio in LA for a week, or eight days, and just beat the songs into the ground. We thought we had something but when we went into the studio we just kept changing everything, working on it constantly. And it was a lot of work. This disc was a lot more work than some of the records in the past.
K: That said, everywhere I've seen any of you talk about it, you all seem really happy with it.
J: Yeah. With the end result, I couldn't be happier. It was worth all the work. Which is what we're supposed to do... [laughs] We're actually supposed to work sometimes. With some records - I don't know why - they just seem to fall into place. But I also think that some records are easy because they're crappy. You just kind of throw in the towel and go, ah, you know what, this record's gonna suck. [laughs]
K: When are Bad Religion going to slow down? You've been at it forever, Brett's forty two in a few weeks... but this record seems to be as fast as, if not faster, than ever. Where will it end? Or is just not something you're thinking about?
J: This is something that we all really like to do. I can see it on the faces of the guys when we're working on new material. I can see the spark. Everybody just lights up, and it's the same feeling that I had when I was fifteen, or when Greg came up with that bassline for Fuck Armageddon [...This Is Hell]. So... it's mesmerising. I think maybe when that stops, we'll be like, well OK, this isn't funny any more.
K: But that's not going to be any time soon.
J: Well it doesn't seem like it! This record really was so much fun to make. And when you've accomplished that, you really look forward so much to playing the songs live, and seeing how they develop when they're onstage, 'cos they always change a bit. And you wonder what people's faces are going to look like when we play them. Are they happy? Are they throwing shoes? What's going to happen?
K: Have you had a chance to play any of them live yet?
J: No. This will be the first tour we've played any of them. We weren't sure how many of them we would play because the record won't be out quite yet, but there's mp3s on Epitaph, mp3s elsewhere on the internet, so a lot of people are saying how they like the songs, which ones are their favourites, so why not play a few more?
K: Absolutely. On the internet theme there though - are you releasing LA Is Burning as a single on iTunes?
J: ...I don't know. That's kind of an Epitaph thing, right?
K: Yeah. It's something I saw reported on [hughely comprehensive fan site] The BR Page.
J: I don't see why not. As far as putting music out there goes, you just want it out there. If someone called up and said, "Hey, we want to put this music in all the elevators in all the office blocks in lower Manhattan", I'd be thinking, OK, that's cool. [laughs]
K: What are your thoughts on the whole mp3/downloading debacle that's unfolding?
J: It's definitely opened up a whole new avenue of resources for finding new music. You know, you can do amazing things now that you couldn't just seven, eight years ago. It's a marvel of technology that people can share information as quick as a click, and I like that. That's really cool. The only downside of it is that... Well, if you consider a record release date as a birthday, if you get it early, or some of it, it kind of spoils the present. People are like, "Oh yeah, I heard it, it's OK" and you're just going, no! You weren't supposed to see it! I hid it in the closet! [laughs]
English transcript updated: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
Interview added: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
German transcript updated: Gähnend in die Punker-Rente
English transcript updated: Bad Religion Reflect on 40 Years Together
Article image(s) added: Hartbeat #10
Article added: Hartbeat #10
German transcript added: Age of Unreason
Review added: Age of Unreason
English transcript added: The Genius Of... The Process Of Belief By Bad Religion
Review added: The Genius Of... The Process Of Belief By Bad Religion
English transcript updated: Bad Religion: Il Mito Hardcore
Article image(s) added: Metal Hammer February 2002