|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||1/1/2000|
Getting Something Out Of It
More than just sound, music is a force. It can be a vehicle to relaxation and inspiration, a motivator, instigator and outlet for expression.
Bad Religion, one of the oldest, most revered punk rock bands to ever come out of the rich So Cal punk scene of the early 1980s, utilizes social commentary, moral responsibility and a healthy dose of common and scientific sense to get across points of human nature, political and social activism. Beyond that, says drummer Bobby Schayer, they’re in it for the fun. And at this point, why not?
Bad Religion has been pounding out conscious punk rock music for 20 years now, and though they’ve never really found a huge swell of MTV and radio support, they’ve managed to keep busy, releasing albums and touring pretty much non-stop since their inception in 1980. Their latest release, New America (Atlantic), finds the group — Greg Graffin (vox), Jay Bentley (guitar), Greg Hetson (guitars), Brian Baker (guitars) and Schayer — working with ‘70s underground pop sensation and producer Todd Rundgren on an album that not only contains a track co-written by, and featuring on guitar, OG Bad Religion guitarist and Epitaph Records owner Brett Gurewitz, but also showcases a more melodic, slightly pop-y sound — you might call it a Bad Religion for the next millennium.
Schayer, phoning in from Portland, where the band was taking a day off from their opening spot on the current Blink 182 tour, explained why he doesn’t mind opening for "punk" new jacks Blink 182, how the band gets work done despite living in five different parts of the country, and expounded the real motivation behind 20 years of music.
How’s the tour going?
Really well, actually. The only boring thing is waiting around. We play 40 minutes a night, so we just wait around to play. That’s the only downside to it.
Being that Bad Religion is one of the seminal punk rock bands out there, is it interesting to play with a bunch of new-jack punk rockers?
Yeah, but you know, honestly, the reaction has been really good, so that’s the reward of it. A lot of people were down on us for doing this, like "How could you be opening for a band like them?!" Well, look at it this way: I think the people in their crowd have heard of Bad Religion, but have never really seen the band, or really listened to us. So this way, we get to play for 40 minutes, something like 20 songs, do our thing without any breaks, and if they get it, great, if they don’t… and the reaction has been really good.
You mentioned that a lot of these kids may have heard of Bad Religion, but haven’t seen the band or even heard any of the music. What does that tell you about your place in punk rock these days?
Well, if they’ve heard of us, that’s okay with me. If they said they never heard of us, then we gotta start worrying about something. I’m okay with it, though, and I know a lot of people have different opinions about it, but the way I look at is, if they’re at least interested, then that’s good enough for me. You can’t knock ‘em, because they will hopefully, eventually be your buying public. We play to 10,000 kids a night, and if 1,000 of them like Bad Religion, then that’s a thousand kids who will buy our records, and those kids will come to our show in the fall.
It’s been about 20 years since Bad Religion first started making noise. What do you attribute such long-standing success to?
It’s just enjoyment. We remember why we started doing this in the first place — we picked up a guitar or drum kit, and played for the fun of doing it. I think, originally, a lot of it for was boredom. What has kept the band together, too, is separation of all five members; the fact that we’re all spread out actually helps keep the band healthy together.
Logistically speaking, it must be difficult though, especially when it comes to writing and practicing and recording.
Well yeah, but honestly, the fact that we are spread out and we don’t see each other all the time, it’s like a family member you haven’t seen in a while, and when we do get together, we’re excited to see each other. Whereas if we were all living in the same place, the same building or whatever, we wouldn’t be talking. I’m really happy with the situation. It’s a milestone in the sense that we’ve proved that we can last this long and still do it, and still enjoy it. People have asked me, "Doesn’t it bum you out that all these other bands have made millions of dollars and records?" No it doesn’t bother me, because the one thing we have against them is longevity. We definitely exist in cult status, but that’s OK. If that band breaks up tomorrow, I’d still be satisfied because I can look back and remember that it was fun, we got to play with a lot of cool bands, see a lot of cool things and meet a lot of cool people. You can’t take that away.
You guys just released New America, and it has a bit of a new sound.
It’s a bit more melodic than the last few records, it has a bit of a pop element to it. But look at who produced it.
Yeah, Todd Rundgren is kind of an unusual choice.
Yes, but not really. Look at the records he’s produced: The New York Dolls’ first album, Patti Smith, The Tubes’ first album, Grand Funk Railroad, Bad Finger, Cheap Trick. There are a lot albums he’s done that I actually really respect. People perceive him as a pop star, but they don’t often realize what he’s done on the side as a producer. Some of the things he’s done as a producer are phenomenal, like the XTC album he did. And he’s definitely a cult figure too. What’s really interesting, something that people don’t really know, is that one of Greg’s idols as a kid was Rundgren. A lot of the Bad Religion songs that are written by Greg have a lot of elements taken from Rundgren, which people don’t realize.
But New America still has a lot of aspects that are vintage Bad Religion.
Sure, it’s still Bad Religion. It hasn’t changed that much, but there’s definitely a different approach in the way songs are written.
What was different about the writing process for this record?
Well, there was a lot more thought that went into it, and a lot more planning. Greg had written these songs over a year ago. When he finishes one record, it’s done, and he starts writing songs right away for the next album. He’s pretty consistent, and that’s great. Comparing this one to the last record, No Substance, which was pretty much written in the studio, this one was a bit more planned out. It was a fun experience, and the way I see it is, if people like the record, great; if they don’t, thanks for listening anyway.
The recording process all went down in Hawaii, so that must not have been too rough.
No, not at all, but it was strange because this album was recorded all on ProTools. We got to the airport and Todd was there asking us, "Why did you guys send over 19 pieces of equipment?" We said, "Because we’re a band." But it was all done on ProTools so we ended up sending out a bunch of equipment we didn’t have to. But like I said, the whole experience is something that I’m really happy about. If the record does great, fantastic; if it doesn’t, that’s okay too because the whole experience and the excitement of it is the thing for me. I’ve always told people that I’m more of a music fan than I am a musician; I enjoy it, and that’s the whole point of it. We’re having fun doing this. I’ve always thought that I’m making an ass of myself up there on stage, but I’m having a lot of fun doing it. Why did I get into a band to begin with? It was out of enjoyment, that’s the whole point.
I felt a little nostalgic flipping through the liner notes of the new album when I noticed that Brett Gurewitz is on the record.
Yeah, he co-wrote a song with Greg called "Believe It," and plays guitar on it. I’m really happy that he did it for the simple fact that it’s put a lot of the bullshit aside. Whatever bad feelings existed in the past, I think that this is a step in the right direction, towards moving on. You know, it’s the 20th anniversary of the band, and I guess Greg had talked to Brett and told him that we really wanted him on this, and that we thought it was important that he did it. And Brett complied, he said, "I’d love to." The thing is, he was a partner of ours, we were there to create music, something we enjoy doing, and we can’t let personal things, things that happened in the past, effect it anymore. We just had to move on, and in this case, I think time healed the wounds.
It sounds like the main motivation behind Bad Religion is fun.
It’s enjoyment, and I’ve always said that what was pretty much a hobby has become a career. That’s the exciting thing about it: People think it can’t be done, but it can. You just have to stick with it, regardless if other people like it or not, that’s their tough shit. We do this because we like to do it. I like music way too much to not get something out of it.
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