|Interview - Internet
Charting New Infernal Courses - Jay Bentley talks politics, history, and the beauty of spontaneity
by Bill Adams
groundcontrolmag.com, August 28, 2008
Lots of people say that things have a propensity to come out of nowhere or without warning, but usually it isn’t true. With the right set of eyes, anyone can see just about anything coming because it is right there in front of them.
There are, however, exceptions to every rule and my interview with Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley—the way it came about—is one of them.
On a personal note, each time Bad Religion has released an album or scheduled a tour that was to come anywhere near me since my first year in the press, I have put in for an interview. The reason I’ve done so is partially because I’m a fan, but mostly because Bad Religion is one of the longest surviving punk bands still writing new music and still vital; without question, Bad Religion’s music has been consistently interesting and thought provoking stuff. The questions that each successive album raises ask those listening to take a look around at the world and question what they see. It’s incendiary music that commands respect as it challenges everyone within earshot.
While the chances of an interview have come close, unfortunately it has never happened before this time. When I heard the tour was coming, I put in my obligatory request. I was shocked when, not only was the request granted, I found myself exchanging pleasantries with bassist and co-founding member Jay Bentley within fifteen minutes.
To be totally truthful, the interview couldn’t have come at a better time either. After twenty-seven years of making music together that has gradually helped shape half of the punk rock universe, it really only makes sense that Bad Religion would go back and revisit the terrain they broke when the band first formed, and that’s exactly what New Maps Of Hell does. Unlike past dalliances with mainstream alt-punk (Stranger Than Fiction) and BR’s more recent experiments in expansion of their genre (the looser production and focus on more rockist composition of Process Of Belief, the poppier punk of Empire Strikes First), New Maps Of Hell goes directly back to the beginnings of Bad Religion when Greg Graffin was still pointing fingers at everyone in sight (scan the “Everybody is a bastard” line in “Before You Die” for proof) and Brett Gurewitz never turned his amp below eleven. Given that Gurewitz and Graffin make up two thirds of the original members remaining in the band (Jay Bentley is the third) and the new recruits are just old enough to remember their parents playing Bad Religion songs on the stereo at birth, the sound of the record certainly makes sense—but it’s difficult to believe that the old lions had it in them to do again. They absolutely run through the likes of “Scrutiny,” “Murder” and “52 Seconds” at breakneck speeds aided by Brooks Wackerman on the drums.
As the record plays, there are moments when one wonders why the band felt it necessary to step back (notably “Prodigal Son”) and redo what they’ve already done, but by the same token, it makes perfect sense: as BR’s own label rewrites the book on punk again, it’d be handy to have a chapter to call their own. New Maps Of Hell is that chapter; designed to pull fans from the earliest days of the band as well as brand new ones that have never heard punk like this before.
In conversation, Bentley is the first to offer that Bad Religion has consciously gone back to its roots over the last couple of albums because circumstances have turned in the direction where they have that luxury. He’s aware that long-time fans are happy with his band’s return to form, and is the first to cite the band’s jump to a major label in 1994 as being the single most detrimental move they could have made. To hear Bentley tell it, that the band has experienced a renaissance and increased interest since returning to Epitaph is not surprising in the slightest; freedom, after all, does have its privileges, and with it the band has been able to get back to what matters most: saying what they want, the way they want, without consequence. With that assertion in hand, one can only expect that the band has more irons in the fire and, as election time nears as well as the possibility of both change and upheaval once again presenting itself, it promises to only yield more fodder for Bad Religion. They've weathered the storms and learned from their mistakes and it is a testament to the group as well as the strength of their songs that they've been unphased by the scrutiny and just keep getting better.
Bill Adams vs. Jay Bentley, bassist of Bad Religion
BA: Hey, may I speak to Jay please?
JB: That would be me.
BA: Hey Jay, it’s Bill Adams calling, how are you?
JB: I’m great Bill, how’re you doing?
BA: Not too bad—I’m a little thrown off balance; I put in for this interview today, but I didn’t expect it to happen within the next fifteen minutes.
JB: [laughing] Exactly! ‘Hey, can I get an interview?,’ ‘Yes! Right now!’
BA: Yeah, it went about like, ‘They’re going on the road, they’re harder to get on the road, so how’s right this minute sound? Are you busy today?’
JB: Well, the thing is that when we leave the first show is in Germany so we’ve got two shows in Germany and then three shows in Brazil and the next thing you know we’re up in Canada so it’s going to be hard to get interviews done on the road.
BA: That’s understandable if that’s the itinerary you’re looking at. It almost sounds like a Jimi Hendrix tour.
JB: [laughing] It’s the ‘Pack your brown bag lunch and go’ tour.
BA: Pack a lunch, you’ll be back in three days, you’ll be hitting three continents.
BA: That’s cool, so how long has this tour been in the making then? Is this just sporadic dates or is this a running tour?
JB: Which tour? This entire package?
JB: The Canada leg has been in the works for a while, we were just working on the timing of it. The two shows in Germany sort of just popped up and the shows in Brazil popped up in between the two and I said, ‘Yeah – I can route that.’ [laughing] ‘I can make that work, no problem!’
BA: [laughing] And so two flights later….
JB: Yeah, and the funny part was that the original idea before Germany and Brazil popped up was that, after Canada, we were supposed to fly to the UK but I thought maybe—just maybe—we should go home first.
BA: That’s totally understandable, you’ll have only gone through how many time zones in that stretch?
JB: You know? It doesn’t really matter. I don’t change my watch and everybody’s on the same program, it’s just like fly, play, sleep, eat when you can, whatever.
BA: Everybody’s pretty much on a form of Coordinated Universal Time or something.
JB: Yeah – by the time you pretend to get acclimated to a time zone, you’ve already left it, so why pretend? Just go there, sleep during the day and play at night and be up in the hotel lobby at three in the morning, fly to the next place and do it all over again.
BA: This is mind-boggling to me because Bad Religion’s been at this for well better than two decades–
JB: –Twenty-eight years.
BA: Yeah—has this been the ongoing thing? I know in the beginning it was this way certainly, has it always been?
JB: Pretty much, yeah. When it comes to planning, I think we’re definitely the ‘last-minute’ type of planners. We just go into it with the mindset of knowing it’ll work out because we’ll just get it done.
BA: And then, the day before, you figure you should probably organize it a little?
JB: Well, just organize it enough to get it going. Whether it was with the label or with the tours or whatever, it’s just a matter of looking at it, seeing what needs to be done and just doing it. Sometimes things are a little better organized than that, but it’s last minute a lot of the time.
JB: Yeah, and I’ve told people that come into our organization that I don’t recommend they take it into any other job. I tell them, ‘If you go and work for another band, don’t take how we do things as a model. I don’t recommend this.’
BA: This is not necessarily good for keeping your hair, hair color, or sanity.
JB: It’s entirely stressful for people that don’t understand it. For us, we just know it’s going to get done and most of the guys in the band don’t worry about it. They just know they’re going to get their passport back in the mail and a plane ticket and they just get on the plane and show up.
BA: And off it goes.
JB: And things happen. [chuckling]
BA: See, that’s a very alien concept to me. I’m a member of the press; the only profession in the world where it takes six months to figure out how something might go.
JB: Yeah, well, I think if you stay fluid in all of this then you’re always able to make changes. If you try to make plans and be rigid and stick to your plans, then you run the risk of missing out on opportunities. Be flexible and play it by ear; it works out alright for us. Just make it happen; it’s certainly not rocket science.
BA: No, but by the same token, it’s a matter of being willing to roll with said punches.
BA: And I think that, at this point, I can safely say Bad Religion is the archetype for that in the last twenty-eight years.
JB: We have a great chin.
BA: It’s funny and applies for me too because I’ve been trying to get this interview squared away for, well I’ve been in the press for about six years, about five years.
JB: Right—so you make one phone call and it happens in five minutes.
BA: Yeah, I’ve made the phone call a few times before, this is the first time that it’s connected though….
JB: [laughing] Spontaneity is key.
BA: Indeed! Apparently. So you’ve got the off-continent dates and then you’re coming up to do a Canadian leg?
BA: Okay, how many shows are you doing? I’m assuming you’re heading west from Toronto….
JB: No, we’re starting in Vancouver and then heading east ending in, I believe, Moncton.
BA: Oh really? And for this record, this has to be the second time you’ve been through this part of the neighborhood at least….
JB: Uhm, only if you include the Warped Tour.
JB: We haven’t done it on our own.
BA: Really? I could’ve sworn you did….
JB: Nope, last time we were through was with The Dropkick Murphys on the Empire Strikes First tour.
BA: That’s the one I was assuming...
JB: Yeah, but now we’re on the New Maps Of Hell tour.
BA: Oh, okay. I reviewed both of those albums—I know that—but for whatever reason I had trouble spitting that out.
JB: [laughing] That’s a little understandable because one tour sort of bleeds into another for us because we’re just playing songs that we all love so whether it’s one tour or another, we’re still playing stuff off of No Control.
JB: Of course.
BA: I suppose that kind of makes sense, if you’re never off the road for more than two consecutive months at a time….
JB: Uhm, yeah, that could happen but Graffin has now taken a professorship at UCLA so he’s teaching January through March. We don’t necessarily have those months off because last year because he was in Los Angeles, we booked twenty-eight shows at the House Of Blues and just become a house band. [chuckling] And it was great, it was perfect. Other times in that time frame, we’d go down to LA and maybe make a record so we try to be productive with our time—it’s not really touring because if you’re not really moving, you’re not touring you’re just playing.
BA: Now, how have these songs been received thus far? I mean, they’ve gotten the road test treatment….
JB: I think, of the last three records, people seem to like what we’re doing and the direction we’re heading.
BA: Well sure—and I’m loathe to say this because I don’t want to run the risk of pissing you off….
JB: The early good stuff?
BA: You’re going back to Suffer.
JB: [laughing emphatically]
BA: I’m not gonna lie, I liked some of the stuff on Warner Brothers, some of the stuff before that and some of the stuff now, New Maps Of Hell just seems to have the Suffer feel to it.
JB: In a sense, I think if you look at the context of how Suffer came about, the band had broken up and gotten back together and by the time all of the pieces—the people that I consider to be the pieces of this puzzle—came together, Suffer was written and recorded for no apparent reason in 1988, but it was because we had all come back together to form the band again because we all just felt like doing it. By the time we started with the new idea of what we are now in 2001 where Brett was out of the band and everything…. Everybody came back in—Brooks and Brett—and now the band seems to consistently for the last few records had the same feeling as we did with Suffer. We’ve had two good life lessons in this band: don’t put out Into The Unknown and don’t become egotistical when you’re on a major label. [laughing]
BA: [laughing] Did you become egotistical?
JB: You think?
BA: Well, why would I say that? Says the guy who’s been waiting five years to interview Bad Religion.
JB: There comes a point in every artist’s career where their head is so far up their ass, they can’t hear anything but their own thoughts.
BA: Well, that’s unfortunate.
JB: It is unfortunate and so you kind of need to hear the great popping noise and when you do, it means you can see the light of day and go, ‘Oh, right, that. I forgot.’
BA: Oh right! There’s more than the tunnel vision I was experiencing from the confines of my own colon.
JB: Exactly. There’s more out here than just MEEEEEEEEE [laughing].
BA: So what can we expect to see on this tour then?. As you said, you’re still doing stuff from early on.
JB: Well, yeah—we still do stuff from How Could Hell Be Any Worse. Looking at sites like LastFM and all the others—whether they’re fan sites or not—I know that our catalog is still very well received. It’s not like people say, ‘On, that’s that old, crazy, crappy shit.’ It’s not Tron.
BA: I was going to say, you’re not the Sex Pistols.
JB: Well, really, they’re only touring on one record; thirty years on one record.
BA: Which is pretty good when you think about it, sure. That’s to be respected….
JB: Yeah, but at what point do you just become the traveling Hair? You know, some Broadway show of you? Technicolor Dreamcoat? It’s the Sex Pistols once again performing “God Save The Queen”! Wow!
BA: [best impression of Stewie from Family Guy] She’s still alive!! It’s still relevant!
JB: [laughing] More power to ‘em, but if they’re just a parody of themselves now and if you don’t put out new material, you’re just a karaoke act.
BA: Well, that’s true and, presumably, that’s why Bad Religion has continued in the fashion that you have. As you were saying too, it’s funny that it’s not as if fans cycle through the band; I mean, I’ve been a fan for fifteen or twenty years, but there are still fourteen-year-old kids at the Warped Tour that are singing your songs too.
JB: Right. And when I can look at the catalog of albums and the collection disc of earlier stuff we put out a couple of years ago that is still a very popular album. Sometimes someone will say to me, ‘Oh, I picked up All Ages and it’s a really good record,’ and I have to stop and think that, even though the songs on that are twenty years old, haven’t faded out exactly. Fourteen-year-olds are still singing those songs on the Warped Tour because they just know them from that disc. I can’t just discount that and say the era didn’t exist or we only want to play new material. That works for some bands, but for us it’s just as much fun to play some material from 1988, 1981 and 1994 as it is to play the new stuff. I like playing the new stuff because it’s new and it’s exciting and I’m probably going to fuck it up so that adds some air of tension.
BA: Then you still feel a little nervous because if you bugger it up, it could be pretty funny.
JB: Well, I feel alive you know? And the funny thing is, sometimes Baker and I will be playing “Digital Boy” and I’ll fuck it up and he’ll just look at me and go, ‘REALLY?!’ And I’ll wonder how it happened; I’ve only played that song ten thousand times [laughing].
BA: Nice! Okay, so let’s do the obvious, has the band been writing?
JB: Yes, but not super prolifically right now. Brett has a couple of ideas. Greg got caught up in a bit of schoolwork and I know that right now his priority is his classes. We talked about that this summer and I know it’s taking up a fair bit of his time.
BA: Well, that’s understandable. I’m kind of curious to know how the writing process breaks down too; I mean, there’s you, is Brett even involved in the songwriting process now?
JB: Oh absolutely. The songwriting boils down to Greg being at his house and Brett being at his house; they go to their corners and just write, write, write and they come in with ten songs apiece and then we take those twenty and try to put a cohesive record together. They write their lyrics and they write their songs, Brett is a little less specific about instrumental parts than Greg is—Greg spends a little more time writing complete songs….
BA: That surprises me. And as far as your role in the band in that regard, you’re equally instrumental in the matter?
JB: I’m like lukewarm water. [laughing]
BA: You are Bad Religion’s answer to Switzerland? You keep the other guys from hurting themselves or anyone else?
JB: We’re lucky—we have two creative visionaries in the band.
BA: But even so, there are you three original members and presumably you’re still there and you’re still doing it because it is still gratifying and satisfying to you.
JB: Yeah. I’ve played in other bands, I’ve been doing other things, but there’s something about this band when we play that’s just different. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it is satisfying. It doesn’t even matter if we’re playing in a little, crappy vomit-smelling rehearsal room; everybody’s smiling and we’re jamming through these songs and loving every minute of it.
BA: You find yourself staring down the barrel of “Digital Boy” thinking to yourself, ‘I love this song….’
JB: Yeah! And I don’t really know why, but we’re jumping around with big smiles on our faces playing songs that we’ve played thousands of times before. Then you get that serious look on your face when you’re playing a newer song because there’s that part in it that you always seem to fuck up and that’s alright; just get it done.
BA: So you do it again.
JB: So you do it again.
BA: And again and again and again and again.
JB: And then you go home and you practice with your headphones on.
BA: I was always curious about that too: does Bad Religion record rehearsal sessions?
BA: Okay, because the running modus is that everybody goes to their respective corners, when you come together is it a matter of synergy at that point? Like, almost thirty years in, you already know how it’s going to work….
JB: Sort of. There are two things that we’ve used as comparisons to what being in this band is like: one is a race car team and, in that analogy, what we say is on a pit crew there are people that change the tires, there are people that fill the gas tank and there’s someone that drives the car; the fastest driver drives the car. We all want to drive and we don’t lie about that, but if we want the team to be successful, we’re going to put the fastest driver in the seat—whoever that might be. That pretty much gets everybody’s ego out of the way because we want to win as a team. So in some cases, I’ll change tires and Brian can drive because he’s way faster on this track than I am. The other analogy that we use is that of a hockey team; envisioning that it’s a pick-up hockey team of the same guys for the last twenty-eight years, theoretically we’re going to know each other pretty well, we’re going to have some pretty good, established plays down and give other people the impression that we know what we’re doing and we know what each other is doing. We use that a lot, and when somebody pipes up to the effect of, ‘Aw Bad Religion? All your songs sound the same…’ well, again, if we’re a hockey team we’re not going to show up to the rink with baseball bats.
BA: That makes sense, and if you want to do something outside of that establishment, that’s why you’ve got solo and side projects.
JB: Exactly! Hetson’s still got Circle Jerks and Punk Rock Karaoke, Brett’s amazingly busy with all the stuff going on at Epitaph, Brian’s doing things out in DC and Brooks is out on tour right now with Tenacious D so, as a band, we’re probably the most liberal about doing other things because, when the Bat-phone rings, we all just come together and do this.
BA: Is it that fast as well?
BA: Really? It’s simply a matter of call and come out?
JB: Yeah. The message usually goes to the effect of, ‘We’ve got the songs sorted out, we’re going to fly down to LA and spend eight to ten days in a vomit-smelling rehearsal room and write these things down and hash out the parts.’ Those are the times when you’re just ripping through a song and magic starts to happen. Like Brooks might skip a kick beat and we’ll all agree that it’s pretty cool and we should take a break right there. That’s when the songs really start to come together to sound like Bad Religion songs. Nine times out of ten, when you’re just going—even when you’re recording—and something happens that maybe wasn’t supposed to but did and that’s the coolest moment.
BA: And that’s what winds up sticking in.
JB: That’s what makes it on the record. I can’t tell you how many things are on our records that I could never play again [laughing]. ‘That was fuckin’ rad! What’d you do there?’ ‘I dunno.’
BA: Can you do it twice?
BA: ‘Probably not.’ Even if we play it back?’ [both together] ‘Most definitely not.’ [both laughing] So as established as the band is, there’s still a little guess work in white coats involved.
JB: Well, there kind of has to be. We’ve learned that, if you practice a song a thousand times, you take a little of the life out of it every time you play it. Then it’s sterile and, with computer recording, you can snap it to a grid and everything is perfect and mechanical.
BA: And you’ve successfully sucked all the soul out of it.
JB: Yeah! That’s an old-timey folk idea. There’s a recording that I heard of Doc Watson where, after the end of a song, he says, ‘Every time we take a pass at this thing, it just sounds shittier.’ The magic is in the first time and you don’t want to suck all of that out, you want to save some. It’s like going to the driving range—you don’t want to leave all your best shots out there, you want to take them to the course.
BA: With that said, is it safe to say then that, yes, Bad Relgiion has no trouble knocking out a record in eight days? Eight days of first takes?
JB: No. [chuckling] Suffer? Eight days. New records? Two months.
BA: Okay, so it’s a matter of having a handle on it and then going back and making sure it’s right.
JB: Well, it’s still a matter of breaking it down and doing drums and bass separately, laying the guitar beds down which takes a while because you’ve got simple rhythm guitar parts, then you’ve got leads which are more creative and they take some time, and then what we call sparkles which is just random Johnny Marr shit that you don’t really think about, but you hear it and it’s cool when you do.
BA: Sort of like the beginning of “Sorrow”
JB: Right. Which, by the way, was recorded in Brett’s laundry room because it came to him as an idea and had Hetson come over and do it and that was that.
BA: …And that was the end of the beginning of the song.
JB: Right and shit like that is just how it works. The vocals are usually pretty quick but the background vocals take a little longer. Graffin’s got natural pitch so he’s pretty quick with the leads, but Brett and I take a little longer with the back-ups. Honestly? What has been taking the longest has been the mixing.
BA: Really? Why? It seems like it should be so simple.
JB: Historically, Brett has always wanted it to be the best it can be and I think he starts to second guess himself. We’ve actually lost songs in the mixes; we’ve recorded them and we thought they were great, and by the time we’ve gone in to mixing it doesn’t seem to come to life.
BA: In the studio there’s still very much a weeding out process? Like, you walk in with 20 songs, but it’s not like the extras even get relegated to B-side status, they just fall off completely?
JB: You could start with twenty songs and then some might fall off when you’re sequencing—that happens more regularly. We tend to think of it like that computer program where you make a rollercoaster ride. You want to make a cohesive album that has a beginning, a middle and an end and takes you on a ride. Sometimes you make this sequence and you think it’s really great and then you look over and realize that you’ve still got extra parts. Then you think what to do with them and that they don’t fit the record at all. Those are called Japanese B-sides.
BA: And collectors will pick them up if you put them on vinyl.
JB: Yeah, those get set aside and parcelled out as needed.
BA: Do they ever reappear as live tracks or anything like that?
JB: Only “New From The Front.”
BA: Okay, given you’re going on tour, it’s the perfect time to ask: given that they’re in their separate corners, is it a matter of sitting down in a vomit-smelling rehearsal space every time?
JB: Before a tour? Never. Every show is a rehearsal for the next night’s show so by the end of the tour, we’re rad, but every time you see us, we’re practicing for tomorrow night’s show.
BA: I’m suddenly so happy that I live in Ontario. If you’re starting in Vancouver, you’re going to be lean and mean by the time you get here.
JB: We’re not! We’re starting in Germany.
BA: Well yes there’s that, but from a continental standpoint, you’re starting at the furthest imaginable point in Canada from where I am.
BA: Because of the way things are working, do you envision a new Bad Religion album surfacing early next year?
JB: Not early for sure. If we were going to have it out early next year, we’d have to be working on it now and there isn’t enough material yet for that. All we’ve talked about is Greg saying that while he’s teaching there wouldn’t be any 28-day stints at the House Of Blues. We’ve made no commitments to doing anything and Greg said he wanted to take that time to write and Brett agreed so we could possibly get into the studio in April and the release would be later in the year under those circumstances.
BA: So you’re looking at fall.
JB: Right – but that’s so one percent. [chuckling] And that’s totally cool; we don’t have any contractual obligations—it’s not like we’ve got to have another record out—we do what we want, we’re on our own label, we’re fine.
BA: Now, this might sound like a totally contrived question, but is that why Bad Religion returned to Epitaph?
JB: That’s part of it. Part of it was, when we moved to Warner Brothers, Epitaph was small, Offspring hadn’t hit yet, and Brett and I were spending ninety-nine percent of our day shipping Bad Religion records. We considered that it might be hurting the band and hurting the label and stressing under our own weight. Strangely, when we left, The Offspring took off and sold seventeen million records. [laughing]
BA: Just in time for you to leave!
JB: [laughing] That seemed to work out really well, but Warner was cool and in the beginning it was great. The people that were there knew who we were and respected us and it seemed like it was the right place for us to be but, because we were our own label, we thought that people were attached to their seats with chains and the truth is that the turnover rate in the industry is ridiculous, so all of the people that were there when we signed on were gone and we were stuck with a bunch of people that thought Matchbox 20 and Hootie And The Blowfish were more important than us.
BA: Tell the kids with mohawks and pink hair that.
JB: Oh, they didn’t care. Anyway, the final analysis is that it ended up reaching out and biting us in the butt and that was also part of the MEEEEEEE era of Bad Religion where we had our heads up our butts and it all sucked and we went downhill quick. Going back to Epitaph was a matter of having tried this thing and it was okay because realistically we’d done what we set out to do. When we signed on, we’d already recorded Recipe For Hate, we put it out on Epitaph, we sold a shitload, Brett signed over to Atlantic and I said, ‘Well, we did 280 of Recipe For Hate, so if we can do better than 280 we’ll have made the right move.’ When we put out Stranger Than Fiction, it went gold so that was right, but everything that followed it was sort of downhill. To me, a big part of it was in the period between when we put out Recipe For Hate and Stranger Than Fiction, both The Offspring and Green Day had broken huge and everyone on the planet was saying that we were next. I didn’t believe that shit because I worked at Epitaph and I figured on selling two hundred and eighty thousand records. So when we sold five hundred thousand, the only person on the planet that was happy was me and everyone else was disappointed and it showed. They were no longer happy to take our calls and we’d get brushed off and it just sort of sucked.
BA: I’m sorry, it’s a very surrealist statement for me to hear a member of Bad Religion say what you just said.
JB: Which is what?
BA: That your label wasn’t taking your calls. I’m not going to deify you, but Bad Religion has weathered a tremendous number of severe storms.
JB: Yeah, and that’s why we’re still here. When that all happened, we’d already done all that shit before; we’d gone through it. It wasn’t easy—this one was tough. By 2000, we were saying to ourselves, ‘Wow, we are such a piece of shit dead horse right now, what’re we going to do?’ [laughing]
BA: [chuckling] Oh my. And Warner Brothers is still making money off you because they’re still re-releasing the albums.
JB: I’m not too sure about that. I’m pretty sure we’re out of print. Every time I walk into a record store and look for one of the ones on Warner Brothers, they’re not around. Not available. I can get anything on Epitaph, but I’m having a hard time finding any of the Warner titles.
BA: Who put out Grey Race?
JB: Warner Brothers.
BA: Yeah—I just saw that one in a record store yesterday.
BA: I don’t remember the original release having this really bizarre gatefold cover though, did they re-issue it do you suppose?
JB: You mean the “O” sleeve with the faces on it? That was part of it.
BA: Was it? Okay, I guess I never looked that close.
JB: Yeah, it was just faces. Random faces of people that actually worked at Atlantic Records [chuckling].
BA: Nice. ‘Here they are. They are the problem and we’re working for them.’
JB: Naw, we just tried to find the most generic looking people and picked them out one two three. Then we headed down to accounting and found a few more there.
BA: Shipping, Artist & Repertoire…. So what else is going on in the reasonably near future? You’ve got the cross-Canada, the shows in Europe and South America, what else? Has that even been discussed yet?
JB: We fly back from Halifax to Los Angeles and play one more show, and that’s really where the light gets turned off.
BA: And then everybody reverts to Clark Kent?
JB: Whatever they’re doing right now.
BA: So there’s the Circle Jerks, there’s teaching, there’s Epitaph….
JB: There’s Brooks out on tour with either The Vandals or Tenacious D and that’s about it.
BA: And for you?
JB: I don’t know, ride my motorcycle.
BA: Yeah? It’s actually kind of funny because right before I got this interview confirmed which, for those keeping score, would be fifteen minutes before we started talking–
BA: –I was reviewing a documentary DVD called Punk’s Not Dead. And there you were in it.
JB: Yeah, it’s a good movie.
BA: I haven’t made it all the way through yet. I hit pause on it to pick up the phone with you. Shortly hereafter, I expect I’ll start again.
JB: Now you’ll watch it, see me and scoff. ‘Dummy!’ [laughing]
BA: [laughing] Naw, are you kidding? I’m having a riot! I’ve got you on the phone for the first time in five years, so I’m going to ask you the most obvious question possible: What else shall we talk about?
JB: M’I dunno.
BA: What else shall we include in this article? What else would you like to see in it?
JB: Nothing. Just a giant blank spot—like, here’s what’s in my head right now: blank. I want what I have; I’m very happy.
BA: You’ve got everything you need: you’ve got your motorcycle, you’ve got your house and your sunshine, you’re a happy man.
BA: That’s cool. With that said though—and this is going to sound so stupid—Bad Religion has based its entire career on civil unrest and frustration. But, as you say, you’ve got what you need, and you don’t seem frustrated.
JB: Well, of course I am. It depends on where you want to take that level of frustration. We could start at the top and say, ‘Are you pissed at the Republican administration?’ You betcha. Like, way to fuck everything and I do mean fuck everything. Good job.
BA: …And totally strain relations with every other country on Earth.
JB: Yeah that was nice wasn’t it? That was killer.
BA: I’m not gonna lie to you, I’ve had great fun Bush bashing for the last eight years.
JB: And why not? It’s been a long time since someone of that intellect has been allowed to have that much power. It should be a lesson to everybody: the cowboy on the couch with his legs spread and a Budweiser saying, ‘Hey ya’ll, don’t vote him in as President.’
BA: Yeah, this seemed like a remarkably bad idea and you did it not once, but twice.
JB: Let’s just use the word ‘nuclear’ as a litmus test. If you can’t say ‘nuclear’ you shouldn’t be president.
BA: If he can’t say the word, don’t put him in charge of the button.
JB: Right. And, anyone that hires The Penguin as their vice president, bad idea.
BA: Well, it’s kind of funny to watch and look at.
JB: It’s fun to watch from afar, it’s pathetic on the inside and, to be honest, it’s like being forced to eat bad meatloaf and eventually you might not like it, but you just eat it because you’re in prison and that’s the food that you get on Tuesdays. There’s hope for the future and there’s always a healthy amount of skepticism.
BA: And that is a perfect question to ask right there then: do you expect that Americans have learned their lesson nearly a decade on and not vote Republican again?
JB: Oh, I don’t know about that.
BA: Do you think it would be a good thing if they did?
JB: Uhm, no, I don’t think it would be a good thing. It’s not necessarily that McCain is a bad person, he’s leaps and bounds better than Bush on his basic ideas alone. However, his party principles won’t allow those maverick attitudes to live. He won’t be allowed to be what he is now, he’ll get in there and he’ll be told what to do. That’s why Bush is the greatest stooge ever; he’ll go down in history with a sentiment like, ‘Wow. Really? He let that happen? Yes, because he’s a dumb dummy’ [laughing]
BA: And he created new words that the English language had never seen before to explain it.
JB: Right now, I think it’s only a matter of party platforms. Realistically, an eloquent man is fine; I like Barack, he’s a great person to watch and you’re made to feel comfortable at the prospect of him being in charge of things.
BA: That’s true and I don’t mean to sound short-sighted when I say this, but do you think the United States is ready for a black president? Do you think it’s ready for a female president?
JB: Uhm, yeah. Yeah. Trust me, there are parts of America that aren’t ready for anything [laughing] there are parts of the US still flying confederate flags and saying the South will rise again. And I say that it’s 2008; can we just give that one up?
BA: [laughing] Ir hasn’t happened yet, it’s not going to happen soon.
JB: You kind of need to get with the program; we’re all over here!
BA: Yeah, but all those folks with confederate flags were almost validated when a Texan took office.
JB: I know, but at this point there are things that happen and I’ll just smile. I used to get a lot angrier about it, but when you’ve got Arnold Schwarzenegger as the governor of California and Gary Coleman came in seventh, you have to laugh and shake your head.
BA: Well, to be fair, Coleman’s about a seventh of Schwarzenegger’s height….
JB: That’s alright right? And a wry smile comes to my face and I marvel at it. This is what people are. This is what they want.
BA: It’s really funny and really true. Right after the second time Dubya got elected, I wound up interviewing Ed Hamell. He’s a musician that does a one-man show called Hamell On Trial. He’s a very politically motivated songwriter and he was just beside himself when I last talked to him. He was so depressed; he kept saying, ‘How could we be so stupid? How could we do it twice?’
JB: It doesn’t make any sense but, to be honest, when you look back and see the agenda that they threw out there, it wasn’t a promise of something better and that was what made people seem so stupid. They did the exact opposite: they scared the shit out of people. They played on people’s fears so it wasn’t just that they were dumb/stupid, it was that they were uneducated about the things they were made to feel afraid of. Whether it was the right wing’s church run at that electoral moment when they said that, ‘Hey—gay people are going to be teaching your kids.’ If you don’t think that scares the shit out of right wing people, you’ve got another think coming. It was all fear-based; it wasn’t a matter of trying to do something good, it was a matter of convincing people that if they weren’t left in power, things would go to shit. Everybody knows now though that it wasn’t true though.
BA: No. Because, ostensibly it went to shit anyway.
JB: It worked at the time. People were being led to believe that he was doing a good job but, really, I could have done that. How easy is it to say that there was internet chatter but they caught it before it happened and so therefore there has been no activity? [laughing]
BA: But obviously caught on to the fact that they’d stepped in something that smelled funny.
JB: It’s a lesson learned and it’s sad because there are people in the Republican Party that I don’t have a hard time with and they’re the first ones to say that this nonsense just devastated their party in terms of what people consider to be the Republican ethic. They’re now viewed as a collective mass of big oil warmongers that don’t care about people.
BA: And they dragged your dollar down to on par with the Canadians’.
JB: The problem with that is that there are very few people that understand foreign currency exchange so if you go to the Midwest or to Texas, the consciousness of trade deficit is negligible.
BA: Okay so there are pockets of the country that function in bubbles wherein nothing’s going wrong on a larger scale.
JB: Yeah, there hasn’t been an attack so obviously he’s doing well and if the liberals would let us drill for oil, gas wouldn’t be four dollars a gallon. Riiight. I think you’ve got four hundred million people and if you take three quarters of them that choose to ignore what’s really happening, that’s a lot of people that are choosing to turn a blind eye.
BA: I’m fairly certain that three quarters of the population of the United States is still far larger than the entire Canadian one.
JB: Of course. And the funny thing is that every Canadian knows that the dollars of our two countries are on par. Every last one. And I’d be willing to bet that about ten per cent of Americans know that.
BA: Yeah, but I think part of the thing with Canadians is that—and this doesn’t matter if you’re Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican minded—they all define their country the same way: ‘We ain’t the States.’
BA: Every last one of ‘em. And the thing of it is, as soon as the dollars were on par, there wasn’t quite a party thrown, but everybody noticed and everybody was pretty happy about it because it felt like we were gaining ground. I don’t know if that was actually the case.
JB: Well, there was a good, healthy, Canadian productivity so it didn’t only gain on the slipping of the dollar—that was part of it—but there was also a lot of good stuff happening.
BA: Yeah, and good government business in Canada helped it improve to a certain degree as well. But, by the same token, there was so much money being hemorrhaged on the federal level that the dollar was beginning to slip.
JB: The cool thing about currency is that it’s almost like religion because it really is faith-based. If you don’t have any faith in your money, you’re fucked! [chuckling]
BA: That’s funny because it’s true. [loss of signal] Sorry about that Jay, I messed up and inadvertently unplugged my phone.
JB: No problem, I thought it was me; half the time, my phone just dies.
BA: Oh good, that only makes me feel a little better. You can take solace in the fact that you surprised me so much that I knocked my phone off the counter.
BA: We’ll play that public relations card. Anyway, as you were saying, I think that in the final analysis this political race will come down to a matter of PR and instilling that Bush was bad, but not all Republicans are bad.
JB: No, they’re not. It’s just unfortunate that the party has taken a super beating and I get the impression that McCain is going to be this race’s Kerry.
BA: You figure?
JB: Yeah, I think so. He’s a documented war veteran and people will like that, but, like Paris Hilton said, he’s an old, wrinkly, white-haired old dude. At that point, you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want another wrinkly, white-haired old dude running?’ I think we’re done with that. That’s my feeling anyway, and the people that have felt the most repulsed by this administration are the ones that are going to show up on election day looking to make a big change. I think that’s one of the things that hurt Hillary Clinton was the fact that one of her catchphrases was ‘I know Washington DC.’ I think that really worked against her because people were sick of the folks that knew how to play the system and had friends of friends and insider bullshit, we want something different.
BA: ‘We want a man of the people,’ unfortunately, none of them are running.
JB: Yeah. I mean, it’s not over yet—there are still tons of independent people to show up on the ballot.
BA: But saying that implies that you’re hoping for a decent independent alternative. Would you vote independent?
JB: No. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a third party is fantastic and I think it’s necessary, the problem is that there is no third party. If you put a third party, as in individual, up there with nothing below him, what have you done? You can’t build something from the top down. You can’t hire a president and expect him to build a party around him, you need governors, senators and congressman to be parts of your party. I’d love to have a third party; I think it would be fantastic. But the people that also want it also want a president right now and with no backing, what good is that going to do? Hire an alien and I don’t mean an illegal one; I’m talking about a UFO.
BA: Find someone from the outer reaches of space that can do it better than we can.
JB: I don’t understand how people do not get that concept of ‘you need people to help your president’ because if you’ve got Democrats and Republicans running the House and Congress and some independent, green party president, they’re just going to veto everything he does and it’ll be useless.
BA: But that might also be the lesson to learn for the American people. I don’t think they’ve realized it yet.
JB: [hemming] It’s not going to happen because the majority of people that are going to vote will never vote for a third party president; it’s just not going to happen. There are simply too many people ensconced in their Democrat and Republican ideas. People with an elephant or a donkey tattoo are just never going to have any part of that; no one’s going to say, ‘Well, things have been going pretty shitty, let’s elect this weird standalone guy.’
BA: You could always try the dartboard method of voting….
JB: Right. The majority of the best people to run third party candidacies have maybe garnered eight per cent at most. It would have to be someone really, really, wildly popular and I don’t mean popular politically. No politician would be able to run a third party into anywhere close to being the president.
BA: No. You’d need a Paris Hilton or a Colin Farrell or something.
JB: Maybe Bruce Willis.
BA: You figure? Because he could use ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ as a campaign slogan?
JB: [laughing] Harrison Ford. I think Harrison Ford could probably pull it off because he’s played the president in the movies before so people could be duped into thinking, ‘Well he did really good on that airplane, he took care of those terrorists right away.’
BA: Sure, but under that rationale, Samuel L. Jackson could pull it off and then you’d get someone that people recognize AND a black president and he took care of those snakes on that motherfuckin’ plane.
JB: I’m into that. I’d vote for Samuel L. Jackson, as long as he plays the character from Pulp Fiction as the president, I’m right into it.
BA: That’d be fantastic.
BA: Without that happening though, how are you going to vote? Or don’t you know yet?
JB: I don’t know yet, I'm waiting it out. I'm a registered Democrat and I'm watching my party unfold. I'm very happy with the way things are going too; there's nothing thats happened making me think that I can't vote for Barack Obama. I'm okay with it. A lot of people like to claim that it really is a matter of the lesser of two evils anytime you're voting for politicians and I don't know if I agree with that philosophy, but I understand why they think that.
BA: Part of the problem is the media. If it bleeds, it leads and what they see in the paper on the front page is either someone screwed up, someone got killed, someone got shot and didn't die but Mr. Reagan might not pull through or something and that's what they see every time. They don't see any virtuous conduct on the front page from any politician, so how can you blame people for thinking it's the lesser of two evils?
JB: I don’t and that’s kind of what politics are: selling an idea that makes people believe your point of view—whatever that happens to be. So I guess if you go the absolute hippie route which is to just leave everything alone, then everybody’s evil because they’re all trying to get you to do something. They’re all the man.
BA: However, because I’ve never seen it on page one, has Bad Religion ever endorsed a candidate?
JB: No. We know flat out that we don’t use the band as a collective voice to sway voters. Part of what the band espouses is individuality so for us to try and collectively dictate anything would be pretty hypocritical. The closest we’ve ever come to aligning ourselves with a party was mine and Baker’s involvement in Punk Voter in 2002. Everybody has their own ideas and not even everybody in the band votes for the same individuals and we don’t all have the same principles. That’s an important part to staying together: respecting everybody’s individual lives. We don’t have a flag that we all fly and we don’t have a uniform that we all wear. We ask of each other what we ask for everyone to do and that is respect people for being people and whatever their values are unless they’re murderers or bad people. It’s none of your business who people vote for what people want to plant in their front lawn; worry about yourself.
BA: That’s understandable, and I think it’s a pretty good note to end on unless you’re thinking that there’s something I’m obviously missing.
JB: Not one damn thing.
BA: That’s cool. Thanks for doing this, it’s good to finally talk to you.
JB: [chuckling] No problem.
BA: Hopefully I’ll be able to catch you when you’re playing through town here.
JB: I hope so.
BA: Take it easy. Have a good day.
German transcript updated
English transcript added
English transcript added
Article added: Fracture #19
Interview image(s) added: Diplomatic Defense
Interview added: Diplomatic Defense
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