"People want not only to make music, but people want to be in bands. I still believe that. . . . I think there's still a desire for people to share their creativity."
If it sounds as if Graffin could write a book about it, you're right. The musician, who will be fronting Bad Religion at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Friday, is working on a guide to navigating the music business.
His how-to tips are based on the insights he has acquired during nearly 20 years in the trenches with Bad Religion, and are shaped by the scientific method--Graffin has a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a master's in geology, both from UCLA, and is working on a PhD at Cornell University in zoology, in the field of vertebrate evolution.
It might seem like a stretch from analyzing the molecular structure of fossil bone tissue to roaring out Bad Religion's corrosive social critiques over a churning mosh pit, but for Graffin--more soft-spoken professor than rock firebrand during a recent interview at an L.A. coffee shop--it all connects.
"I think we're still animals essentially. We're not that different from the squirrel trying to get at the bird feeder. We're kind of genetically programmed to behave and think in a certain way, and to go against that is something that as humans we have to strive to do.
"I'd say that's ultimately at the core of what punk means: questioning those compulsions that we have and trying to get it out of the instinctive realm and go more toward the conscious side of ourselves."
Through his scientist's eyes, Graffin sees punk-rock moving into a new stage of its evolution.
"I think punk is becoming a form of folk music," he says. "The songs are usually easy to sing, they're melodic, the accompaniment is not as important as the melody and the message. . . . They tell a story, a story that's somewhat relevant to modern society. The great folk songs are the ones that persist through time, through different eras, and talk about the struggles of the timeless issues like work, the family. Finally, there's the populist scope. It's for everyone. . . . If anything, it's breaking down the 'them' and 'us' stereotypes."
Bad Religion has been working at it since 1980, when Canoga Park teenagers Graffin, Brett Gurewitz, Jay Lishrout and Jay Bentley formed the band. Over its 14 albums, there have been stylistic experiments and personnel changes, but the band's unwavering commitment to commentary and a dissident stance has secured and maintained a loyal audience. The label the band founded, Epitaph Records, became a significant incubator for California punk, developing such bands as the Offspring, Rancid, NOFX and Pennywise.