|Category:||Interview - Newspaper||Publish date:||7/16/2010|
|Source:||times.spb.ru, no. 1592, July 10, 2010 (Russia)||With:||Jay Bentley|
Giving religion a bad name
The punk rock band Bad Religion is set to make its debut in Russia.
Bad Religion, an influential Southern Californian band that blends convincing, melody-based punk rock with intelligent, anti-establishment lyrics, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a tour and a live album.
Although the band has not yet been to Russia, it managed to annoy the Russian authorities last year, when a St. Petersburg district prosecutor ordered a rock record shop to stop selling Bad Religion paraphernalia with “Crossbuster” — the band’s logo featuring a black cross with a red prohibition sign over it — on the grounds that it “might be promoting certain intolerant national, racial or religious attitudes.”
Bad Religion, whose most recent album is “30 Years Live,” a collection of live recordings made at U.S. concerts earlier this year, will perform in St. Petersburg and Moscow early next week.
Bassist Jay Bentley spoke to The St. Petersburg Times by phone from Los Angeles.
Q: Your Russian concerts are part of Bad Religion’s 30th Anniversary Tour, so can we assume you’ll perform songs from the band’s entire history?
A: Yeah, we’ll play something from everything we’ve done, part of our whole catalogue. We’ve got 30 years of music to play, over two hundred and something songs — we obviously can’t play them all, but we’ll play the ones that we can.
Q: Could I ask you about the ideas that led to you forming the band?
A: I think that when [vocalist] Greg Graffin and [guitarist] Brett Gurewitz met, they had an idea to start a punk band. Not a new wave band or anything; they wanted to start a punk band. And as the songs were being written, I think at one point there was this decision of what kind of a band we wanted to be, and after a little bit of discussion we decided we wanted to be thought-provoking, and we hoped to have lyrical content that would last longer than just the current President of the United States. So we gave a bit of thought to the things that we wanted to talk about and how we wanted to present them, and that was pretty much the beginning of the band. And that idea hasn’t really changed much in 30 years.
Q: You’re pretty melodic for a punk band. Where did the influence come from, maybe some British bands like Buzzcocks?
A: Yeah, there was a bit of that, but I think there was probably more of an influence, maybe, from bands like the Ramones and Elvis Costello. I mean we were all big fans of Elvis Costello as well, and Brett and I have always admitted to being huge suckers for pop music. I would say that when the band first started, my favorite band at the time was The Jam. I think the melodic part of it, like the songwriting part, was just a natural reaction to not wanting to be thought of as a three-chord punk rock band. Even if that’s what we were, we wanted to be thought of as something different.
But the melodies, the singing, the background vocals, all those things didn’t really come until later, when we made the “Suffer” record in ’88. That was just a whole different ball game.
Q: Where did the idea for the band’s name come from? What came first, the band’s name or the song, “Bad Religion?” Has it proven to be controversial?
A: The band name was before the song. Then Brett wrote the song, and then came up with a logo. It’s never been as controversial as people would think, never really been some kind of an issue we’ve had to deal with. It’s never been anything, it’s just been a band name.
Q: What was punk rock to you when you first started? Was it a return to true rock and roll roots or something else?
A: I was only 14 years old at the time; the idea of it returning to anything was unknown to me. All I know was it spoke to me, and it was everything. It answered all my questions about life. I’m not sure why, but it worked for me. I came out of the school of kind of liking KISS, when I was 10 or 11, 12 or 13, and then all of a sudden the Sex Pistols came out and that was the end of that. Yeah, it was weird.
Q: Is there anything particular in your music that makes you a Californian band, that sets you apart from New York bands?
A: I think you touched on it earlier, I think it’s the melody. Southern California bands, especially bands coming out of Orange County, they could play and they could sing. They would write songs. It wasn’t just abstract anger.
That’s what I can get from the East Coast-West Coast thing, though DC had a whole different ball game as well with Minor Threat and the Bad Brains. But in Southern California, a big influence was coming out of Orange County with The Adolescents, Social Distortion, Agent Orange, Middle Class, the Minutemen — these guys were all just fantastic musicians… So that kind of pushed everybody down here to be better. You had to be good enough to play with these guys, otherwise it was sort of embarrassing.
Q: Some bands say that they are into music, not politics. What made you become articulate about political issues?
A: Well, there are only a few schools of thought in the music world, which is 1) you’re angry at your girlfriend; and that’s not gonna work for us, 2) you’re not gonna clean up your room, “I hate you” and whatever; that’s not that great. And the other one is like sharing a philosophy, which is more of a folk idea.
It goes back to what we were talking about earlier, wanting to be relevant and wanting to sing about something other than just being angry at the cops. It was so easy to be angry at the cops. But let’s break it down and get more into what it’s like to be a human being. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. That was the idea we were thinking of. It’s bigger than just being in Los Angeles and being harassed by the police.
Q: Do you think that music can change anything?
A: Well, I was changed by music, because I allowed myself to be changed by music. I allowed myself to listen to the lyrical content of bands that I really enjoyed and said, “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me.” And that led me to read more, and to examine my surroundings more. All these things came from me being willing to listen to what these bands were saying to me.
But not everybody’s like that. Not everybody cares about what a band is saying, and not everybody wants to think while they’re being entertained by music.
So it can have a profound impact on an individual, but as far as changing the world, I really don’t think so, because a great-selling record is a million copies. There are seven billion people on the planet; that’s a pretty low percentage of people that buy a hit record. And I don’t know very many bands who have been thought-provoking that have had a hit record! Most of the hit records are about “my girlfriend doesn’t like me.”
So I think it has more of an impact on the individual than on society as a whole.
Q: What are people looking for in your music?
A: I think it is the sharing of an idea; and if you have something in your head… There is a feeling, and I remember this from when I was younger, because I didn’t have the vocabulary and emotional skills to deal with the way I felt. And when I heard someone else write a song about the way I felt, it connected me to someone else. It made me have a direction to put my feelings in. Now I can understand that. So maybe if we’re doing anything good lyrically, we’re sharing a philosophy, maybe an idea, maybe a feeling, and someone says, “Oh, I feel that way, too! I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that I was feeling, but you put it into words and now I get it.”
Q: How has punk rock changed over the years? Has it become more commercial?
A: There’s certainly more commercial success now than there ever has been. In the history of punk rock, ’94 to ’95 was about at the half-way point. Most punk rock bands just went along unknown, even the most popular ones weren’t really known outside of the punk rock circles. Nirvana kind of kicked the door open for everybody, and then it was the Offspring and Green Day and Rancid, and now you have bands that wouldn’t be considered punk rock, but they call themselves punk rock, and so they’re kind of flying that flag. But it’s the commercialism that’s led other bands to say, “Well, I want to be in a band like that,” because they’re popular, versus wanting to do it strictly for the art of doing it. That said, there are tons of true punk bands still out there, still playing. It’s just been a bit of a different time frame right now, because people have ideas of success that were never viable before. No one ever thought about a punk rock band selling millions and millions of records. That was never going to happen.
Q: You’ve never been to Russia. What expectations do you have of the country?
A: I’ve never been, I have no idea. Having never been there and getting an opportunity to go to someplace is truly humbling, and I’m really excited to go somewhere that I haven’t been before. This is a place that I’ve been looking forward to getting to for a long time. I’m really excited.
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