|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||7/10/2009|
In a time when much of American radio was dominated by highly produced, cookie-cutter, pop artists, four young musicians in Southern California were drawing their inspiration from underground cult bands like The Ramones, The Clash and the Sex Pistols. But in 1980, members of the newly formed Bad Religion had no way of knowing that their raw energy would lead to the revival of the entire "punk rock" scene. 14 albums later, the band continues to create great music, tour extensively and inspire generations of musicians.
Epiphone's Don Mitchell recently caught up with founding member and bassist Jay Bentley just as the band was wrapping up rehearsals for the 2009 Vans Warped Tour.
EPI: A lot of us were in bands during our high school years but few of those moved out of the garage. You on the other hand were part of something that was far greater. As a high school student did you have any idea that Bad Religion would become such an iconic punk band?
JAY: Not really. That's not to say that we didn't believe in what we were doing, but punk rock had no model for success. Other than the Ramones, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, the idea of attaining success was simply playing the Starwood in Los Angeles, a relatively small venue. We were watching Black Flag and the Adolescents, the Circle Jerks and Fear playing to between 200 and 500 people, and that’s all we wanted to do.
EPI: What was your plan to get there?
JAY: We did what other bands did, made demo tapes and shopped them around, tried to get shows at venues, all to no avail.
EPI: So, the doors weren't exactly slinging open for you in the beginning?
JAY: We started getting shows because bands like the Adolescents and the Circle Jerks, who became our friends, would tell promoters that they wanted us to play their shows with them. In fact, when we made our first demo, Lucky and Greg from the Circle Jerks were the ones that took it down to Rodney on The ROQ (KROQ). He liked it, so he continued to play it.
EPI: Ha... It's nice to have connections. Especially ones that can get your music straight to radio!
JAY: That was a monumental push for us because after that we didn't care if labels liked us or not. Suddenly we didn't need to be signed. All we needed to do was find out where they were making records so we could go there and make our own.
EPI: And that's the attitude that would eventually develop a huge and loyal fan base for you guys.
JAY: Being told "no" so many times really drove us to prove that we could do it without being signed. We had a number of doubtful remonstrations thrown at us early on, and I think that by accepting those challenges with a fierce determination to accomplish our goals set the standard for how we would approach everything with the band. We made our first E.P. in 1980 with a $1500 loan from Brett's dad. We paid him back out of the profits from 1982's full length album "How Could Hell Be Any Worse?" and have been pretty much doing what we love ever since.
EPI: Over the years a lot of punk bass players have mentioned you as a huge influence. How does it make you feel to have impacted a generation of bass players and musicians?
JAY: Pretty weird, considering I don't read music, my timing is fairly suspect and I play with a pick! But, I am truly humbled and suddenly, I feel remorseful for all those hours I should have spent practicing!
EPI: After all these years and 14 albums, what is it that motivates you to still play music with Bad Religion?
JAY: I think that Greg and Brett are very vibrant, prolific songwriters who are always trying to expand the definition of what Bad Religion can be. As a beneficiary of that drive, I am always excited at the prospect of working on new material, especially now with Brooks. I really enjoy hammering out passes and trying to create subtle nuances. We are always trying to create something unique… we don't always accomplish it, but we try.
EPI: So it sounds like it's still fun.
JAY: Yes, I look forward to getting together with the guys and that in itself is a huge motivating factor for me.
EPI: You guys will be headlining the Vans Warped Tour this year, which has an intense schedule through August, then you head out of the country for more dates before the Fall. Is touring still as fun as it used to be for you?
JAY: Far more fun than it has ever been! Over our 30-year career we have had our share of ups and downs and right now is definitely an up. Going out on the 2009 Warped Tour with bands like NOFX and the Bouncing Souls, Flogging Molly and LTJ is something that I look forward to. I get to spend quality time with some quality people and I am far more appreciative of the fact that I get to go to all of these places with my friends and play music than I was when I was younger.
EPI: What Epiphone basses are you currently playing?
JAY: Right now I am playing a Jack Casady Signature model onstage.
EPI: That's a great bass! What was it that drew you to that model?
JAY: What initially drew me to it was the idea of having a Les Paul Signature bass that didn't cost 5 grand! At first I was hesitant to bring a set neck hollowbody onstage but it has performed like a champ! I've played lots of bass guitars and I have to say that I've never heard some of the tones this guitar can create. It's really a natural, beautiful sounding bass. That being said, I'm in Bad Religion... and there is no room for natural sounding bass onstage! So I removed all the tone and volume pots (we never turn down!), swapped the pick-up out with a Dimarzio split p, threw on a brass nut and now it just screams! It's got that great hollowbody tone with just the right punch and I think it really defines my sound.
EPI: You certainly weren't afraid to dig into it!
JAY: I've always been an advocate of owning your guitar, I mean really owning it. I see so many timid players afraid to "hurt" their instrument, but you've got to dig into that thing and make it sound the way you want it to sound.
EPI: We're just honored that you play our stuff!
JAY: I'll tell you what I like about Epiphone. When I got my first guitar in 1977, it was a no-name sunburst Les Paul copy. I was about 13 years old and the action on that guitar was at least 1/4" at the 12th fret and the pick-ups were just awful feedback machines. I thought it was cool because it resembled what Ace Frehley played... but it was not cool, it was damaging. I'm surprised I continued to learn on that guitar but the choices back then were pretty much zero. You either bought a Gibson or whatever... Today, there are so many great options for young players thanks to Epiphone. A few years ago, when my son expressed an interest in playing guitar, I went to the local shop and was amazed at the selection, quality and prices of the Epiphones.
I bought him an Epiphone Les Paul Special-II and right out of the box it was amazing! I couldn't get over how well it played and how great it sounded. It was definitely better than anything any of us had when we started and that means a lot to someone like me because I remember what it was like to not be able to afford a guitar that sounded good, played well and stayed in tune. As a parent and a musician, I would like to say thanks to Epiphone for helping people find their sound and fulfill their dreams.
EPI: And as a representative of Epiphone, I'd like to say thanks for the kind words and also the musical heritage you are leaving for tons of musicians... Thanks Jay and we look forward to seeing you on the 2009 Vans Warped Tour!
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