|Category:||Interview - Magazine||Publish date:||5/1/2004|
|Source:||Skratch Magazine, no. 99||With:||Jay Bentley|
Bad Religion - Interview with Jay Bentley
by Janelle Jones
Skratch Magazine, no. 99, May 2004
Longest-running L.A. punk act Bad Religion (now consisting of vocalist Greg Graffin; bassist Jay Bentley; guitarists Greg Hetson, Brett Gurewitz, and Brian Baker; and drummer Brooks Wackerman) have no intention of slowing down by the look of things. With a new album on the horizon and reissues of much of their classic early material, there's no question these stalwarts will keep creating their now-signature hardcore punk for the thinking man/woman for generations to come.
SKRATCH: You guys just put out all those reissues of your early material. Why now?
JAY: Well, the technology available to us when we made those records when we changed from analog to digital 'cause all those records came out on vinyl, and then they were released on CD late, rthe technology we could afford wasn't that great. I think we were doing like 16-bit digital conversion, and now 96-bit is the norm, and it sounds a lot better. And it just seems like we were...If you go and listen to one of our records, it's not that they're not good, but they were quiet. The CDs didn't quite have the same punch that CDs today have. And it was something we were talking about anyways, because obviously technology is just leaps and bounds over what it was in 1988, so we just thought, We're coming out with a new record and everything's good, and these records kinda could use a freshening up just in terms of sound, because they don't sonically stand up well to what bands are putting out today on CD. That was most of it. The other part was that 99 out of 100 letters asking for lyrics for HOW COULD HELL BE ANY WORSE? ([which] was [included] on the album 80-85). [Laughs] So we figured, "Let's just put out the lyric sheet of that album, get that done with."
SKRATCH: And I know you didn't play on it, but there's still no INTO THE UNKNOWN…
JAY: Not yet.
SKRATCH: And you don't think there's ever gonna be?
JAY: […] I shouldn't say never. Obviously, it's available through nefarious means; but as far as the future, maybe someday. I don't know.
SKRATCH: I remember reading AMERICAN HARDCORE, and Brett and Greg said some stuff. Brett said something about it being "Stalinized." I mean, I heard it once.
JAY: At this time, it might be a bigger deal just because it's not available than it really would be if it was. I think it's because it's some secret album people really wanna hear. But chances are that when they do, they're like, "Oh, I get it. Now I understand why they didn't put it out." But at this point it's just a tucked-away work of art from the band at a point in its career where things were changing.
SKRATCH: It kinda reminds me of BENEATH THE SHADOWS—TSOL when they went in a different.
JAY: It's very funny that those two albums came out at exactly the same time, and I can verify factually the bands never spoke to each other about, "Hey, wouldn't it be a good time to put out a synthesizer album?" So it just goes to show that the climate at that time was, "Well, what can we do to kinda get a…" [In] L.A., it seemed every band was sounding the same—not very different than today. [Laughs] And I think everyone's desire was to be different, 'cause that's what it was in the beginning. Everybody had their own thing, whatever that was.
SKRATCH: You're just saying people sounded different, and then at one point everyone was playing kinda [similar]?
JAY: Well, I think when I first started going to shows, honestly, there was about 15 or 16 bands you could go and see, other than like a touring act from the U.K. or someone from the East Coast. And by 1983 in L.A. there was probably 1000 bands—and of those 1000, 900 of them sounded exactly the same. You just kinda started thinking, "What happened?" Like, no one is in it for originality anymore—it's just volume, speed, and swearing, which […] gets tiring after a while.
SKRATCH: You've released so many records. It may be hard, but is there possibly one you could choose that epitomizes Bad Religion?
JAY: Hmmm.... No. I think, for me, if I were to try to make one record, I would have to take certain songs off all the records and put it together as a collection and say, "This is what I think Bad Religion is at its best"—so it wouldn't be just one record. I look at records more like pictures than music. I know that's hard, but because I'm in the band I don't really hear the music the same way someone else would. I hear the music and it conjures up images of what we were doing at the time—so in that sense, they're all like home movies. [Laughs] I couldn't choose one over the other. Some of them were harder to make than the others, and some of them were during more difficult times. But I don't think I could find just one album in particular that would sum up the career of this band.
SKRATCH: Can you talk about the new record? Is there anything you think people should know about it?
JAY: Other than it's the best record we ever made?
SKRATCH: [Laughs] That's good! I mean, so it's called THE EMPIRE STRIKES FIRST. […] A majority of the songs deal with current affairs.
JAY: Yeah, I think that's kind of all we ever dealt with. And to be honest with you, people have asked us to be very specific about what we're talking about, and that's something we've never done. We've never sat down and pointed. I mean, I shouldn't say we never have, 'but] rarely have we actually pointed out a specific individual and said, "You, you're the culprit." Our focus has always been on what it's like to be a person on this planet, as a human being with human emotions and just like everybody else, why do we do the things we do. […] Everything we do deals with current affairs. Whether it's the War on Terror or the war in the Middle East, it's something we've always dealt with, because people are inherently mean to each other, so it's a fairly easy subject to delve into and stay relevant, because it never stops.
SKRATCH: Are there any songs that particularly stand out for you?
JAY: Yeah, I like "All There Is". I don't know why. It's just, like, such a different kind of song. It just works for me. But in all honesty, I was talking to Brett the other day about the record. There's not one song I ever get the urge to push the forward button. [Laughs] I can listen to it front to back, and then just hit the repeat button, and it's like, All right. I'm sweeping or something, it plays like 100 times, and I'm like, "Oh, this is cool! I listened to it again!" So, I think the album as a whole came out really well, and it plays very well from front to back, and that's something that isn't very easy to do. And usually you just kinda luck into things like that. I shouldn't say you just luck into it, 'cause I know Brett worked on it really hard. [Laughs]
SKRATCH: You say it's the best record you've ever released. Why do you say that?
JAY: [Laughingly] Well, having put out a few really crappy records in the past and knowing it and thinking, "No," you know what? For right now, in 2004, this is the best record we've ever done. And I know people will disagree, and they'll have their own personal favorite, but I'm pretty sure that my opinion is probably pretty heavily weighted on the side of knowing more than everybody else about what we do. [Laughs]
SKRATCH: With Brett leaving and then coming back with THE PROCESS OF BELIEF, you guys definitely came back to where you'd been; that signature sound returned. What did Brett bring back to the band?
JAY: Well, first of all he brought back his songwriting. That was something that from the beginning of this band: we've always had two songwriters—Brett and Greg—and I think they've always complemented each other very well. Between the two of them, there was a healthy competition, [where] one would write a song and go, "Listen to this song. It's the best thing I've ever written," and the other would go back and write three more songs and go, "Oh yeah? Here's my three songs," so we all benefited from these guys having a tennis match of songwriting. And when Brett left, I think Greg did a great job with THE GRAY RACE. I think Brian stepped in and really helped out with some musical ideas that we never ventured into because Brian had a different style than anyone we'd ever played with; but after that, I think Greg writing on his own just kinda felt it wasn't as easy as it was with Brett in the band and that it was a lot more fun having him there to challenge him. So when Brett came back for THE PROCESS, there was a period of time—it wasn't very long, it was maybe six or eight weeks—where you could see the spark between those two start all over again. And the writing just became unbelievably prolific in a three- or four-month period, to the point where we just [went,] "Okay, we have enough material for a really good record." And as we were making it, the songs just kept growing and becoming what they were. And [we didn't have] the pressure of everybody breathing over your neck and going back onto Epitaph and being in the studio with Brett, and nobody cared what we were doing. It was a perfect environment for us, because that's when we work the best. If someone says, "Hey, you have to do this. You're on a schedule," […] we rebel. [Laughs] We don't wanna be on a schedule. So I think just coming back to Epitaph and […] having Brett writing and being in the band just kind of brought everything back in balance.
SKRATCH: So do you think it was a mistake going on a major label, or you did you need that?
JAY: No, absolutely not. I could just sum it up like this: when we first started rehearsing again, the very first time we ever stepped into a rehearsal room with Brett back in the band and all of us were there, Brett and I were sitting there, and I just turned to him and said, "If all this hadn't happened, we wouldn't be sitting here right now." And we both kind of laughed and agreed. It had to happen. This is just the way things are, the way things had to happen; and going onto another label, it didn't matter what label it was at the time, the feeling was that the band and [Epitaph] were both growing exponentially and probably smothering each other, and we had to get out from underneath each other's shadows. We just didn't know where to go. How do you leave your own label and go somewhere else? We made a choice not based on a label, but based on a person; but eventually we learned that in the high-end label world, the turnover rate for employees is about every three months, so we learned pretty quickly that people who we were relying on to be our point people at that label, they were just gone. It wasn't that bad. I mean, we learned a lot and we had a...well, I learned a lot and I had a growing experience being on a label that was different than Epitaph, 'cause Epitaph was the only thing I'd ever known. Going somewhere else and learning how other people do things is how you learn.
SKRATCH: To what do you attribute BR's appeal? Why do you think so many people "get" BR?
JAY: I don't know. Tenacity? Just not going away? I think that after a while, if you just keep playing, people eventually go, "Oh, well, I guess we have to listen to them now. [Laughs] They won't stop!" Maybe some of the lyrics get people to think. They stop and think, "Yeah, I feel like that. I think that, too. I wonder about that." We're a hard band, because some of our songs are simply entertaining, but most […] require a modicum of work—but sometimes when you put on a pair of headphones, you don't wanna work; you just wanna drift off into fantasy land. So I think [regarding] us, it requires an amount of attention just lyrically. I think musically we've kind of mastered the art of the two-minute punk-rock song. [Laughs] […] I think if anyone ever did know what made bands successful, they should write a book and become a bajillionaire.
BR are playing the Warped Tour, and afterwards they're planning on a fall U.S./Canada tour. Check out www.badreligion.com.
English transcript added: Band reunites with original guitarist for 'Belief'
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German transcript added: New Maps Of Hell
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English transcript updated: Interview: Jay Bentley of Bad Religion