|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||5/31/2004|
Bad Religion - Jay Bentley talks about the band's near ending, notoriously complicated lyrics, and Bush. Okay, mostly Bush...
by Sophie Baker
rockmidgets.com, May 31, 2004
Sophie and Matt caught up with Jay Bentley, bassist for the seminal punk band Bad Religion, on their current tour promoting the latest album 'The Empire Strikes First' (released 8th June 2004). They chatted about the band's near ending, the notoriously complicated lyrics, Jay's favourite songs and Bush: well, mostly Bush... In fact questions weren't even needed to start a heart-felt political rant, and the sentiment that we really need to make a difference didn't falter, even if the belief that we can, did.
"I've done a lot of interviews and all I'm going to say is just make sure George Bush is no longer in office. So I'm looking forward to just sitting and talking. Anybody that's saying "I'm making a 20-page xeroxed fanzine", come and talk to me! "My circulation is 50 ppl at my school", come and talk to me. Cos this is all I'm gonna be talking about is get that f**ker out. Even though it doesn't really make any difference here, cos you guys can't vote him out."
Well no, but we can make our voices heard...
Well I'm pretty sure you had millions in the streets as well, and that didn't make any difference, did it? So isn't that a sad state of affairs, when over 5 million people on the planet can protest one single act and one individual can say "I don't care, f**k you all". Wow.
Blair is just as bad...
I feel bad for him cos he got sucked in as well. Once again it's the politics, right? It's a sad day when you can't listen to the people you represent because by going against George Bush bad things will happen to you. Even though everyone now sees in hindsight that we'd probably have been better off telling him to stick it. I'll sit here and say yeah, I kinda thought well, yeah, ok… maybe there is a milk truck in Iraq somewhere with a nuclear weapons program in it. It just didn't seem right, but at the same time it was … ok… but there's nothing there. It's weird that you declared war against Afghanistan, but not against Afghanistan, against a shadow army of Al Qaeda terrorists who could be anybody, and then sent 300,000 troops into Afghanistan specifically to make them about-face and march into Iraq. Then you start going, this is f**ked, he had this all planned out! This was all like get them over there and then turn them around and go up into Iraq.
Yeah that's f**ked up, it was all "Osama Osama" and then... "oooo, Saddam!"
Yeah, it's f**ked up. My kids will say, 'Saddam Hussein flew the planes into the World Trade Centre'. No he didn't, he had nothing to do with it! I kinda wish someday that they'll put him on trial, cos I don't think they will. If they put him on trial all he's gonna do is start talking, and the things that he's gonna say are gonna shock the sh*t out of everybody on this planet.
On the punkvoter website you've written an article about the wasted Third Party Vote. (http://www.punkvoter.com/guest/guest_detail.php?GuestColumnID=5) There's an obvious reason; if you wanna get Bush out, then that's not the way. But do you think a Third Party vote is a bad idea generally?
No. what I need to clarify is, because I get a lot of emails about this, what it says is in a Presidential Election. You vote a Green Party president in the USA into office, no Green Party representation in the house or the senate, you've got this guy on his own thinking "we're gonna do all this good stuff!" and everyone else is going "you go f**k yourself. We're not gonna ratify sh*t that you do. You are Nothing". So what I say is that you'd be better served voting in a Green Party Sheriff in your town, and then a Mayor, and then a Governor, and then a Senator…then vote a President in because you've got an actual Green Party. These people are putting the cart so far before the horse that there is no horse! There's just this guy standing on going "Save the World!" Bring it on dude, bring on your powerless self.
Yeah, it's like a knee-jerk reaction.
It's a knee-jerk reaction, and unfortunately I'm the only one that stands up and says this is bullsh*t, don't do it. Don't fall for this f**kin' vote Green President. It's bad, it's a bad idea, and the Republicans know it and they're funding the f**ker's candidacy. They're saying, give Nader all the money, because the more people vote for him, the less people vote for the Democratic candidate. The Republicans and the Greens never mix, that's oil and water. So just to clarify that, I said flat out, in a presidential election.
I think politics is a lot different here in this country.
Yeah, you have many more parties than just two, as does most of the rest of the world. Even in Canada it's the same, there's more than one party, and they're trying to build a Green Party. They're smart enough to be starting small. They can't even win riders in small cities cos it's just like "who wants these guys in? Who wants a bunch of tree-hugging hippies? We live in a city, who cares?" And unfortunately Americans say things like "I don't want you to take my big truck away. I like guzzling gas. I like doing what I want. I don't want anybody that's gonna tell me to be politically correct and economical". Unfortunately Americans are idiots. ALL OF THEM! (laughs) How's that for a bland statement? Everyone is an idiot! (laughs)
I do believe that now, more people are aware of the ramifications of not voting and in this scenario, having this guy in office, the most important thing is to get him out and splitting the vote between a third party candidate and a Democratic candidate that has the bigger chance of getting in is dangerous. I know they're all pretty much the same, Democratic and Republican, they all come from the same Harvard skull and bones sh*t, but if you can get a Democratic president in, maybe you can get a Democratic majority in the house. And that's really what you want because it wasn't until (pause) when the House of Senate changed in the second half of Clinton's presidency and they started f**king with him and trying to impeach him and spending millions of dollars to prove he did bad things with a cigar, oooo. All of a sudden now you have a Republican president and a Republican house of senate – and that hasn't happened in like 50 years – so the first thing they do is send us to war! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to think that having Republicans in command maybe isn't the best idea for us!
Do you think people have realised that yet?
No. No. I think people wanna watch television and eat their TV dinner and not be bothered with what's happening. So when they watch their 11 o'clock news, which unfortunately is so biased its not even human, they just think, "well, this is the bad stuff that's going on in Iraq so I'm glad that we're there".
Bad religion's lyrics seem to have become more politically specific recently, for example with 'Kyoto Now!' and the title of the new album 'The Empire Strikes First'. Is this a fair statement, and is it because of the current world situation?
I think that when we started, you're 15 years old, you're not very eloquent with your speech, you use terms like 'the First Lady is a les' – what a great line! And as you mature, you start being able to focus on what you're angry about, and by 'Suffer' it really seemed as if we were headed toward a global community. It really felt that way, it felt that we were learning more about each other and we were growing towards something that meant more than just nationalities. Even though we would talk about nationality is an evil friend, right, we said things like that because that's what everybody kind of agreed. And those lyrics could apply to anybody; German, Canadian, English, French, didn't matter. If you feel this way, its kind of dangerous ground to be treading on. Lately more of our stuff has been focusing actually on American policies because – we just keep talking about this – this current administration has just been so horrifyingly bad, and rewound the feelings to like 1950, 1940. Everyone's living in terror – now it's no longer the Soviets, it's the 'terrorists', and George Bush saying things like, 'we're not signing the Kyoto treaty because its not good for us.' Well how is it not good for us? its good for everybody. 'Well, no, because China doesn't have to sign it and they're the biggest defenders…' its like, that's so bullsh*t. It's all just crap. And so it's been a lot easier for us to actually just focus on the social political issues at home rather than humanity as a goal.
In BR's lyrics there are a lot of words that you have to look up...
Yeah, tell me about it! (laughs)
Do you think the majority of fans actually understand the songs?
You know what, I think that the majority of people understand the songs in their own way. I've had multitudes of people come and say "this song means this", and it's always different, and I'll always say "absolutely, that's exactly what it means". Because I also am a fan of music, I put on headphones and vanish into m own world where the singer is saying something that I interpret in my own way. Only if someone comes up and says something horrifyingly awry will I tell them what it means. Other than that, everybody's opinion has always been really close to the sentiment. Because of the way that we structure our sentences, everything is about three layers deep. There's the base layer, then there's the hidden layer, and then there's a sarcastic layer. And it's really hard to start deciphering which one is the reality here. The sarcastic layer very rarely gets the attention that it deserves.
Do you put a lot of work into that?
Yeah! Sometimes you have to watch Graffin's (Greg, lead singer) hand signals cos he'll give it away when he's singing. A perfect example of that is when he says "You are the Government" in the song 'You are the Government', and the last line is 'I make a difference too', and he'll hold out his thumb and forefinger and squeeze it to like nothing. It's an empowering statement, 'yeah I do make a difference!' but as we discussed, millions of people couldn't make a difference.
I don't understand what 'Positive Aspect, Negative Thinking' is about in any of the layers!
(laughs) Well the first half is about us as a band. The second half is a punk rock tirade against everything I don't like as well! (laughs) The third layer is just like "Yeah, whatever". (laughs)
Recently you've gone back to Epitaph from commercial Sony and Brett (Gurewitz, Guitar) is back in the band. Has it changed the way the band's been working?
Yeah, infinitely, it's back to business as normal for this band. When we made 'Stranger Than Fiction' as a band I thought we were formidable, as a band I thought God, we're good at what we do. I don't consider us good in the outside, in the real world, but in our own little bubble, I thought, we're good! That started to not be the case the further away we got from Brett and Epitaph. It just started to dwindle and get weird, and then maybe we weren't so good. And then we were done. And then Brett came back and brought Brooks (Wackerman, drummer) with him basically and all of a sudden, we're good again! I feel good about what we're doing, and I feel that we have a good strength in the band. And I think we're the strongest talent line-up that we've ever had, for sure.
So does Brett play on any of the tours?
No. He came on the first promo tour, and then he said he can't do that any more because he's got Epitaph to run. He's kinda said that if he can drive to the show he'll go, so anywhere in LA he'll go.
Does he play in the studio?
Oh yeah. But Brian (Baker, guitar) does 99% of the work. He's so good it's like, why waste time? Brian can play it, Graffin can sing it. We're super efficient. There's things that Brett can do though that are very specifically Brett, like the way he plays a guitar, a lot of things will be lined up like "you do this because you have that thing that you do!"
So where do you see the new album in relation to your other stuff?
It probably would have been the logical progression to follow 'Stranger than Fiction', maybe even 'Recipe for Hate'. Because it's definitely out there in terms of trying to maintain some stable formula, I think on this record we kind of just stepped out and said 'f**k it, lets extend the envelope a little further – tempos and textures and production work.' Sometimes we would say lets only do 3 part harmonies, but on this album we were like, lets try 30 part harmonies! Literally. We were just going f**k it! Let's just see what happens when we just go nuts! It was a blast.
Do you guys still have things that you do outside of the band?
I have a wife and two sons, so when I'm not with the band I'm with them. I'm here 8 months out of the year so I'm there 4. Greg had his schooling but he got his PhD so now he's kind of in this limbo-land of what to do with it – so I don't really know what his plans are right now. Brian's doin' some production work, he's got a little crew goin' on in DC which is pretty cool, and he's doin' some bands and he's got a team together, I like that a lot. He also has Dag Nasty. Hetson (Greg, guitarist) has the Circle Jerks and the Punk Rock Karaoke. Brett obviously has Epitaph…
Just a little side project…
(laughs) Just a little side project that he does, yeah, so we all have something that we do.
You said that you thought the band was coming to a close before Brett came back. Do you think you would have made another record if it hadn't happened?
No. I can only preface it by saying that I wouldn't have made another record. I don't think I would've been in the band. I was done. We got dropped off of both of our labels, Sony and Warner Brothers, Bobby (Schayer, Drums) quit, no-one was really that happy. I was done. I was like, "f**k it, whatever, I'm finished with this, it's just not working." And it is truly surprising that the guy who left was the one that got everybody excited about it again.
When he left, back then, was it on bad terms?
Oh yeah, hideous. Really bad. But I mean it wasn't just bad between he and I, it was bad between everybody. We were just fighting, and not talking, like sitting in a room and not talking for four hours. And any time anyone did say something it was just sooo harsh and negative I was like, Oh My God!! F**k! It was really bad. And the first thing that happened when he came back in, we went into a rehearsal studio just to kind of play, and I don't know what but Graffin came up to me and said "don't fight with Brett". Everyone always has this thing that me and Brett fought, Brett and I worked together every day at Epitaph. Greg's in a band with Brett and they're co-songwriters, but they never shared anything! I was in the office with Brett every day and we shared everything, so the fact that we were fighting was totally natural, we knew what we were fighting about. The things he was fighting about with Greg was just personal, like "wow, that hurts". Then the fight that Brett and I finally got into was personal, and that's when things got squirly because even we were getting personal and things were bad. But in the studio, Brett and I sat down, no-one else was in there, and I said "if things hadn't happened the way they happened, we wouldn't be sitting here right now. I wouldn't trade this for anything." If anything had been different, you and I wouldn't be sitting here now!
If you could choose one song that's quintessential Bad Religion, what would it be?
(laughs) I think it used to be 'Do What You Want', cos it pretty much summed up how we felt in the first lines: "do what you want, don't do it around me" and that's kind of us – it's like just don't involve me in your sh*t!
"The band completely guided by their own vision" (a quote from their website – SB)…
(laughs) What we're guided by is, I dunno, something strange…
Um, I still feel that way. I still feel like it's important for people to feel that they can do whatever they want to do and not be told what to do, and that eventually given the proper information and education everyone would make choices that would be surprisingly similar. And I really do feel that way, that education is so important and crucial, and unfortunately is so undermined. Teachers are the lowest paid people in America. And they're teaching our kids! This is so wrong, basketball players get the most money and teachers get the least. I do like, on the last record, 'Can't Stop It' was the best song. And now on this record I really like that 'All There Is' song. Like you're always questioning it. "Is that all there is? Is there something more?"
So what is your vision now? Where do you see yourselves headed after this album?
It doesn't seem like human beings are going to change as we were talking about. That human scenario, that synopsis, that social political unawareness of almost everyone on the planet is wonderful fodder for lyrics and it's never going to go away. So obviously there's something to write about every day. I don't really know what's going to happen with America right now, we've got an election coming up, they're in the middle of something that's absolutely falling apart on them, things are gonna get really interesting and strange. So to say where we're going to point ourselves in the next 18 months is really impossible. Unfortunately the majority of my brain says that there's no happy sunset in this. We're on the brink of a religious war, that will encompass the world, and will last mine and my children's lifetimes, and I really believe that. And that scares the sh*t out of me. There might not be another Bad Religion record cos you just don't do that any more. You don't go on tour any more because no-one flies on planes any more. You don't take tour buses out because they're just giant targets. And I'm not being paranoid and thinking there's people out to get me, I'm just saying the future doesn't look very bright right now, for anything, for people who just want to live their lives. They're dividing the world in half, and unfortunately Western culture is wearing the blinders when it comes to Eastern culture, and I hate to break this news to people, but they're half the planet. This is America entering into a Vietnam times one million. And its surprising that people are oblivious to that, it really blows my mind. Five people that have had this plan since Nixon, finally got the right buffoon in office.
I think we'll agree that religion is just synthetic frippery, but do you think in these times that religious piety is a dangerous thing, especially in world leaders?
I think that using religion as a weapon or as a reason or an excuse for violence is the problem. I do have nothing against religion; I think it should be the great thing that it's pretending to be. But because it always gets replaced with a guy with a stick, you start thinking, well maybe this isn't that great. So when people ask me what's the best religion, I always say, the one that tells you to put the stick down. Whenever that one comes along, then we'll be ok. But for now, they all seem to advocate the use of the stick at some point or another. When you stop to think that kids will go up against a M-16 fully automatic armoured weapon with a handkerchief and a rock, you think "f**k, that's dedication, that's not even messing around", but wouldn't it be nice if somewhere in his thing it said, "put the rock down"? I agree that the guy with the M-16 shouldn't be there… I mean, I don't know why it seems so difficult to anyone that you're not accomplishing anything, fight is never right, it just doesn't work that way. It's really shocking that in 2004 we're still here, in this same f**king squirly boat, and you can't understand why. My philosophy used to be that we would take all the bad people and shoot them into the sun in some crazy rocket thing, but now… I'm like, well why don't we just take all the good people and go to some other planet?! (laughs)
I know you guys have always been concerned with the environment, do you do anything more hands on that just singing about it?
I think we all have different takes on what our environmental policies are. Graffin's is probably more Greenpeace because that's something that he can relate to, Mine probably more Earth First because that's something I can relate to. Brett has his Epitaph website and he's always got polls, and they have a great thing where they donate a specific amount of money to the charity that the majority of people think needs to be funded, and that works. I do things in my community like hep build pre-schools and sh*t like that, and that's great, but if you have the ability to put your money where your mouth is, that's always better. That's another thing that people just don't see – how can you not see what's going on in the world in front of you? D'uhh..
You did a split CD with Noam Chomsky a while back (1991, a 7" by Maximum Rock 'N' Roll), have you got any suggested reading for fans of the Bad Religion philosophy?
Brian is reading a George Bush book that he says is phenomenal. 'The President of Good and Evil'. He just finished reading it and says it's like, must-read.
Is it by George Bush? Um, obviously not penned by his own fair hand…
He can't even say nuclear…
The one thing that I've learned through all of this is that when I was really young I felt out of control, because I was 15 and didn't have any say. By the time I was 18 and could have had a say, I really felt despondent and it didn't make any difference what I did. Understanding that gives me the reason to go out and say "look, I know how you feel, but get over it and get your butt out there and if you think it all is meaningless, it's not, and you can change it and it can be better". Together we can actually change everything, it can be better, because we know this, right? We're the next ones that get to inherit all this sh*t from these people, so why don't we just take them out now? I don't want to be living on a planet run by a bunch of 60 year old people who still think that you can dump that sh*t in the ocean and it'll just go away! I'd rather put my kids in office!
Just go and learn and read. You don't have to be super-genius and understand foreign trade and weird policies, you just need to get involved and say this is not the kind of planet that I want and these are not the kind of people that I want representing me.
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