(From Las Vegas Weekly - 2000)
Sound: Rant and Rave
After 20 years Bad Religion is still calling punkers to action
Brian Baker is on a mission. He's driving around Portland, Ore., looking for old photographs for his girlfriend. Not some serene nature shots or anything. The Bad Religion guitarist is in search of old "spirit" photos, turn-of-the-century hoaxes that became a national phenomenon. Around 1900, photographers would doctor snapshots to look like a ghost was hovering overhead or some long-dead relative was sitting next to a newborn baby.
"People didn't understand how photography worked, so they thought these photos were real," Baker says. "They still exist. My girlfriend says this area of the country still has a lot of them, but I have no idea where I'm going. It's frustrating the hell out of me. Can you say needle in a haystack?"
It's not like Baker doesn't have enough to worry about already. Bad Religion just released its 14th album, The New America, to mixed reviews. In a move that confused many diehard fans, the punk legends decided to spend the summer opening for poop-poppers Blink-182. Baker admits that at first he was leery of the pairing as well. "In theory it should be the other way around," Baker says. "But there's this little thing called market share. We sell 400,000 records; they sell 6 million."
"But it's worked out great," he continues. "We have a captive audience of 10,000 people every night who know they're supposed to like Bad Religion but have never bought a record. We go out there and scare the shit out of them, give them this audio/visual assault. The next day we're always getting emails that are like, 'I'd never heard you guys, but you rock.'"
It's odd to think that people haven't heard Bad Religion before. One of the original California punk bands, Bad Religion has been playing supersonic hardcore longer than the members of MxPx have been alive. In that time, the band has done more for the genre than most people even understand.
Formed in a garage somewhere in the San Fernando Valley around 1980, the band slowly evolved from a grinding intellectual hardcore group into a living legend, scoring a few minor hits along the way--think "21st Century Digital Boy" from 1993's Stranger Than Fiction.
Singer Greg Graffin became the blueprint for a politically savvy punker, injecting his lyrics with social commentary and insight. The band's blitzkrieg sound has inspired every SoCal punk pop group to ever play a power chord. And the quintet became the model for the DIY ethic, helping to establish the leading indie punk label in the world, Epitaph Records.
Of course there's been some casualties. Graffin and bassist Jay Bentley are the only original members left. Baker, the last to join the group, was added in 1993 after the band split with original guitarist and Epitaph founder Brett Gurewitz. Graffin had decided to take Bad Religion mainstream, signing with major label Atlantic Records. Gurewitz didn't approve. The band continued on.
Like other long-time punkers like Rancid and the Offspring, Bad Religion doesn't stray far from the formula it created for itself, instead opting to fine tune it each album, continually tweaking the nuances. Guitars blur by, mimicking the sound of revving stock cars. The drums snap off like anti-aircraft fire. It's all dipped in hook-laden melodies and Graffin's now-signature political and sociological rants.
The New America is no different. Graffin rallies against computers, the American dream and the current state of government, calling everyone to action with tracks like "You've Got a Chance" and "It's a Long Way to the Promise Land" and the near-perfect title track. But underneath it all, The New America shows a punk band grappling with growing older. Songs like "Whisper in Time" and "1000 Memories" touch on the encroachment of time.
The band had been discussing calling it quits after this record, debating if 20 years was enough. But according to Baker, those discussions ended when the band finished the album and realized what it had come up with. Now like groups two decades its junior, Bad Religion is looking toward the future with bright eyes and big goals.
"The only way we'd stop," Baker says, "is if someone leaves the band, it isn't fun anymore or if it's not relevant. Right now I think there's still some things we have to say. And I don't feel like some old man jumping around playing a kid's game."
By Jeff Inman