|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||2/26/1996|
by Kristin Fiore
dailybruin.com, February 26, 1996
Although they have never cracked the pop market like their punk offspring, Bad Religion has built a strong following through provocative lyrics, an intense musical style and intriguing political discourse
hile politicians quibble over the degeneracy of today's rock music and their opponents' sexual exploits, Bad Religion goes not-so-quietly about the business of tackling society's toughest issues. Who says irony is dead?
For those who have followed Bad Religion's 16-year career, this should not come as a surprise. Since 1980, the band has held a provocative mirror to its audience and forced them to see problems in themselves and in society that they may prefer to ignore, all in the unlikely guise of hard-edged punk rock.
"You can use the art platform to make people think, and I think that political platforms don't make people think. They do quite the opposite. They have a way that is appropriate to behave and they expect you to follow it," says Greg Graffin, singer and principal songwriter for the band. "Good art can inspire people and motivate people, and move them in a similar way."
Graffin takes this role quite seriously, asking tough questions about dark and troubling subjects. Instead of the nihilism found in many bands, however, Graffin hopes to spur arguments that may lead to a light at the end of the postmodern tunnel.
"Bad Religion has traditionally talked about very obvious and yet very terrible issues that are going on in the world. Not as a hopeless cause, but in order to bring them to the surface, so that there's something ... at least a platform we can talk about," says Graffin.
In "The Gray Race," released today, Graffin explores the dehumanizing consequences of ruthless capitalism, corruption and commodification. Even though the population is skyrocketing to dangerous levels, competition and technology leave people even more isolated than before.
"I believe in telling people what I think and yet being compassionate to their response ... but I don't believe in lying to them just to save them from being hurt," says Graffin.
"'Pity the Dead' is an example of that. The chorus says, 'look at all the living and then ask yourself, why do we pity the dead?'... We should be fearing the life that's around us. That is what's frightful. The way we treat other people is pitiful. Why do we waste our pity on the dead?"
Graffin takes the anger and rebellion against the status quo inherent in punk music and gives it a focus and a purpose - a fact apparently lost on the media, who continually see punk as vacuous and destructive.
"Maybe that's what attracted me to it. I saw that there was definitely a vacancy. People didn't perceive (punk) as valuable, and I like challenges ... What better thing to do than use a style of music that the media characterizes as all negative and use it for something positive?" says Graffin.
"There has always been this problem because the media (have) stigmatized punk from the earliest days. I think what they were concentrating on was the fashion. When you say 'punk' people automatically think of spiked hair and leather jackets and violent people. And that has nothing to do with what I thought of it in the early days, (which was) really thought-provoking music with a great melody," says Graffin.
"And it's funny, because those two things were never picked up on. And it's what Bad Religion's done since I was 15 years old. That was exactly what I loved about our music, about all the bands that inspired us," says Graffin of Bad Religion and their early influences - X, the Ramones and The Adolescents, among others. Graffin took their mentors' love of melody even farther, though, adding layers of tight vocal harmonies that have become one of their trademarks.
"So we were part of this L.A. punk scene, but I always thought that scene was terribly mischaracterized by the media because they always thought of it as violent ... delinquent kids, and I always felt misunderstood," says Graffin.
This intolerance was unfortunately not limited to the media. In the grand tradition of rock-and-roll misfits, Graffin, too, got hassled in school for his musical tastes, his clothes and even his hair.
"There were three people at my high school that were punkers. I mean, I got beat up every day by long-haired people who listened to Rush and would beat me up because I didn't," says Graffin, remembering his days at El Camino Real High when even dyed black hair and leather boots were an open invitation to a beating.
But the American punk movement was never about pure fashion, another common misconception among the media and "punkers" themselves.
"That we can blame on England," says Graffin, "because the English movement was all about fashion ... And when we all heard 'punk is dead' in the early '80s, it came out of England. Their fashion movement was dead. There were plenty of bands that were considered punk ... that did not die, that continued through the heavy metal era, that continued through the grunge period, and finally people started to really listen - a couple of years ago."
Now, of course, punk is on MTV, and Billy Joe of Green Day is on the closet doors of pre-pubescent suburban girls everywhere.
Bad Religion, while enjoying their own success, has helped to pave the way for this new generation of punk bands who reap the benefits of a more accustomed and open-minded audience.
"The pioneers of anything never get the benefits of the later generations ... I feel like we had a lot to do with the modern success of a lot of bands," says Graffin.
Patriarchy is not without its rewards, however.
"Virtually every band that we ever come in contact with come up and say how important we are to them ... That's better than financial reward - to know that you've touched people and you've motivated them to do better," says Graffin.
"It just feels good to me that the reason why it's so popular today, with Green Day and Offspring, is the same reason that I got into it, and that is really catchy, melodic songs that talk about something worthwhile. Now we can argue about how worthwhile Green Day tunes are, getting high and masturbating ..."
Maybe we'll leave that topic for the next album.
Bad Religion band members (l-r) Bobby Schayer, Jay Bentley, Greg Hetson, Greg Graffin and Brian Baker.
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