While virtually every other band on the scene either moved to major labels or dissolved, Bad Religion maintained its semi-underground pace, releasing its albums on its own Epitaph label and finding its own ways to build a following, without having to cater to the tastes of radio programmers.
So what was this last bastion of independence doing backstage recently at its Hollywood Palladium show, glad-handing with Atlantic Records President-designate Danny Goldberg for photos that ended up in music industry trade magazines?
And what was Bad Religion doing onstage last month at the Universal Amphitheatre as part of the "Acoustic Xmas" concerts alongside such corporate-affiliated acts as Billy Idol and 4 Non Blondes--a benefit sponsored by KROQ-FM, one of L.A.'s biggest commercial-rock powerhouses?
It's all part of the new era for Bad Religion, which plays Saturday at UC Irvine's Crawford Hall, next Sunday at Red Dog in Santa Barbara and Jan. 11 at Montezuma Hall at San Diego State University. The band now is part of the corporate-rock world, having signed a five-album deal with Atlantic Records. Atlantic is now distributing the band's latest album, "Recipe for Hate," which was recorded before the deal was struck.
Brett Gurewitz, Bad Religion guitarist and songwriter, takes on one of these heard-it-all-before looks as he considers the reactions he has gotten to these moves from some of the group's old fans.
"We stand for individuality, we stand for independent thought," says Gurewitz, 31. "Lyrically that's the crux of most of our topics. And I don't think moving to a company with broader distribution necessarily contradicts any of those concepts."
Greg Graffin, the band's singer and other primary songwriter, concurs.
"We had always maintained that having the benefit of a major distribution network would be something that would benefit us," says Graffin, 28, in the band's tour bus before a recent show. "An indie band can only go so far with indie distribution. We felt that what we had built thus far worked perfectly well, but it wasn't getting to enough people."
Gurewitz and Graffin are as odd a pair as you're likely to find fronting a band. The former, a California native, is completely immersed in the rock world, finding and developing new acts for the group's label when not playing with Bad Religion.
Wisconsin-born Graffin is into another kind of rock--the fossils he studies in pursuit of a doctorate in evolutionary biology at Cornell University to complement the master's degree in geology he already has from UCLA. He's even abandoned Los Angeles, moving his family to Upstate New York.
"We're not a typical rock 'n' roll band," Graffin says of the lineup that also includes lead guitarist Greg Hetson (formerly of the Circle Jerks), bassist Jay Bentley and drummer Bobby Schayer. "We're a bunch of weird guys onstage who have really good melodies and relevant lyrics, but we're not your average rock band."