|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||11/5/2000|
Keep the Faith - After 20 years in the business, punk band Bad Religion works to improve the world
by Brent Hopkins
dailybruin.com, November 5, 2000
Photos by MINDY ROSS/ Daily Bruin Senior Staff Greg Graffin points his finger at the crowd during the band's long set at the Hollywood Palace. Graffen, an alumni of UCLA, received his Master's degree in geology.
Jay Bentley never runs out of things to talk about. While his forte may be music, a result of nearly two decades in seminal Los Angeles punk outfit Bad Religion, he can talk for hours about almost any subject imaginable, from weekend hobbies to interstellar physics.
“Let’s talk about those Bruins,” said the loquacious bassist, speaking by cell phone while commuting through L.A. traffic. “Let’s talk about the state of the economy. Let’s talk about the voting registration scenario. Let’s talk about Korn and Limp Bizkit. Let’s talk about fishing and golf.”
Punk has rarely been thought of as the most intellectual of genres, but then again, Bad Religion isn’t cut from the same cloth as most bands. Indeed, most hardcore groups can’t boast members who split their time between screaming into the microphone and working towards a doctorate, as is the case with lead singer Greg Graffin. Punk’s most learned acolyte earned a Master’s degree in geology from UCLA and is currently studying at Cornell. Though his educational accomplishments are the most striking, the rest of the band are certainly no slouches in the knowledge department, either. According to Bentley, since day one, the entire group has worked hard to increase its awareness of the world.
“They never feel like there’s an end to education,” he said. “There’s no end to reading and learning about everything they can. I’ve watched Greg go through all his educational endeavors, but at the same time, I’m a high school drop out, and I’m interested in everything.”
Even as the band snakes its way across North America on its current tour, Bentley isn’t slacking off in his own studies, alternating between reading heavyweight thinker Carl Sagan and more recreational pursuits.
Bentley appreciates Sagan’s ideas, but understands that his writing is not for everyone.
“Carl Sagan’s got some great ideas,” he said. “You can go on one side and say ‘Contact’ was a ‘Fantasy Island’ type book, or you can go on the other side and say ‘Yeah, this guy’s got a brain in his head.’ I also just got done reading a book about a guy who plays poker in Atlantic City called ‘Shut Up and Deal.’ I highly recommend it for anyone who plays.”
MINDY ROSS/Daily Bruin Senior Staff Jay Bentley plays the bass for Bad Religion, Thursday night, at the first of three shows in Los Angeles. As an offshoot of the members’ academic interests, the quintet began the Bad Religion Research Fund scholarship in 1998 as a means to aid unrecognized fields of study. The project arose out of a combination of Graffin’s frustration in securing endowments for his own academic work and a respect for other artists’ charitable actions. After a brief tour with Pearl Jam in the mid-Nineties, Bad Religion found itself impressed with PJ-frontman Eddie Vedder’s generosity with the band’s money.
“We were sitting there after a show one night watching Ed sign off all this money to the Surfrider foundation and all these things, and I said to Greg, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get to the point where we could be like that?’” Bentley recalled.
The fund is still in its nascent stages, but Graffin and company hope it will grow in time.
“We’re at that point now where we can give $5,000 or $10,000 dollars a year to someone,” Bentley said. “It’s not a ton of money, and it’s not groundbreaking, but it’s a start. Hopefully in a few years, we can do three or five each year instead of one or two.”
Playing the role of educational philanthropist is a bit different from the way the band began, 20 years ago, as a group of angry teens from the San Fernando Valley. From that caustic, wild beginning, Bad Religion has learned to focus its energy more cohesively, Bentley said.
“We’ve matured to the point of being a little more sensible with our anger,” he mused. “I don’t think my level of anger has diminished, but my being able to figure which specific spot makes me angry has gotten better. When I was fifteen, I was mad at everybody.”
Anger has certainly been a key concept for the group, with its biting sociopolitical critiques becoming the signature sound of the more than a dozen albums it has released since 1982’s “How Could Hell Be Any Worse?”
From the outset, the members always claimed to run against the grain of society, gaining themselves a reputation as a truly independent group of artists.
This reputation took a serious drubbing from fans when the band switched from ultra-indie Epitaph Records, run by former guitarist Brett Gurewitz, to industry titan Atlantic in the early Nineties. Gurewitz later left the band, causing a flurry of rumors and accusations that Bad Religion had sold out to corporate music. Though fences have since been mended with Gurewitz, who appeared on the latest album, “The New America,” controversy erupted once again after the band toured as an opening act for mega-corporate blink-182. Bentley admitted that last spring’s tour was indeed an unusual step for his group, which is generally considered to be among contemporary punk’s elder statesmen.
Greg Graffin pours water on the drum set of Bobby Schayer during Bad Religion's performance.
“It was bizarre,” he said. “It’s something different, something other than what we do ... but it was fun.”
Economics did play a factor in the decision to tour, Bentley conceded.
“Everybody keeps saying ‘blink should have opened for you,’” he said. “The reality of it is, we didn’t sell 7,000,000 records. We don’t sell 20,000 tickets. We couldn’t sell out the Forum on our own, but they did. In a sense, we opened for them because they’re bigger than us.”
Bigger in numbers perhaps, but not in spirit. In spite of the criticisms, Bentley remains positive.
“That doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “This band has achieved so much more than it ever dreamed possible, so to sit down and think about things like that makes everything that we’ve done seem worthless. I don’t believe in that.”
Now on its own tour, playing largely in the small clubs that were the band’s home for many years, Bad Religion is moving on from past attacks and enjoying itself. Plans are underway for a record to be released next year, though Bentley remains mum about the specifics.
Wherever the next few years take the members of Bad Religion should prove to be interesting, but don’t expect them to hold on too long after the time has come to hang it up. Bentley doesn’t want to become a rock dinosaur, clinging to long lost youth long after the golden years have passed; he has no illusions about the word commonly associated with his group.
“Old. We’re ... old,” Bentley said, chuckling. “I’m happy, because we started this band when I was fifteen. Now, I’m thirty-five and that’s cool with me, because the bands that I was watching when I was fifteen were thirty-three, thirty-five years old, too. I’m looking forward to the next couple of years and then that’s the end. And that’s cool.”
MUSIC: Bad Religion plays The Hollywood Palace with Ignite and Promise Ring tonight, Monday, Nov. 6 and Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20, call 323-462-3000 for more information.
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