LiveDaily Interview: Greg Graffin of Bad Religion
by Don Zulaica
LiveDaily Contributing Writer
Now celebrating more than 20 years as a punk rock luminary, Bad Religion is set to release it's latest album, "The Process of Belief" (Epitaph), on Jan. 22, with a full tour to follow.
Originally slated for a fall 2001 release, the band received bad news earlier in the year when drummer Bobby Schayer developed shoulder problems that forced him to retire from playing drums professionally. Ex-Suicidal Tendencies/Vandals drummer Brooks Wackerman joined in time to record "Belief," Bad Religion's first studio album since 2000's "The New America."
"Belief" also marks the band's return to its original label, Epitaph, which released Bad Religion's first self-titled EP in 1981. In the '90s the band released four albums on Atlantic, including its most successful release to date, 1994's "Stranger Than Fiction." "Fiction" also marks the last time guitarists-songwriters Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz collaborated professionally, as Gurewitz left the group to run the Epitaph label, which enjoyed much success with bands like Offspring and NOFX.
Graffin, much like Henry Rollins, is an engaging speaker who sometimes hits the lecture circuit. The punk progenitor boasts a Masters in Geology from UCLA and is working on a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from Cornell.
Graffin spoke to LiveDaily from his home in upstate New York.
LiveDaily: "Belief" was originally slated to be released in October?
Greg Graffin: Yeah, what happened was we kind of got ahead of ourselves. We set a due date for October when Brett and I started writing the album. But then with the problems with Bobby and everything, and getting the new drummer, we realized we weren't going to meet that deadline.
What happened to Bobby Schayer?
We were playing our tour in South America, and Bobby was really having a hard time getting through those shows. By the end of the night, he was in so much pain--it was kind of like a pitcher after he'd pitched a long series of innings, having to ice down his elbow. Bobby's pain was in his shoulder. He couldn't raise his arm above the level of his shoulder, so it was virtually impossible for him to crash the cymbals, or get around on a lot of fills.
So he went to check it out with a doctor right when we got home from South America, and to our shock, the doctor's report was much worse than we had thought. The doctor basically suggested that he give up professional drumming. He had done so much damage over time, that the procedure would have been very dicey. If they go in and operate, there's something like a 50% chance of recovery. Bobby wasn't willing to go through that risk, and even if he did, the doctor said his professional career was probably over anyway. So he made a tough decision. We all miss him.
On the flip side of that, you're now playing with Brooks Wackerman.
People often times think that punk drumming is just for slackers who can't really have any finesse. Brooks is able to play the fastest drum beats, but he's incredibly meticulous as well. In Bad Religion, we've always had a history of having song structures that were more sophisticated than the average punk band--that's what we wanted to do--but we had been frustrated at different times in our career, because we weren't really able to elaborate on song structures and embellish them with a nice rhythm section. Bobby was as close as we had gotten, and he is an excellent drummer in his own right. Having Bobby allowed us to explore some of those things, he added finesse and style that we weren't able to do before. But now with Brooks, I feel like we've got a whole new world available to us. The sky is the limit. Brett and I co-produced this album, and it's so much fun when you can have a rhythmic tool like Brooks in your band. And he's also a great guy, we get along really well.
What was going into the ideological writing behind "The Process of Belief?" I read where you said "Belief is a biological phenomenon." What do you mean?
I just think that so many people hear the word "belief," and they get afraid of it because they think it's some religiously imposed doctrine. The fact is, the human brain has a capacity to take in information and synthesize it and construct a world view for the individual. Your world view entails a certain amount of belief. Bad Religion has always talked about the dangers of believing in something just because someone else believes in it. We emphasize objective truth, the kind of truth that you come to yourself, the kind of things that you can do with your own sense of rationality and observation.
What's your take on the state of the business today, with bands like Green Day and Blink-182 enjoying massive amounts of success?
I think it's a good thing. I would never criticize the bands, but I do criticize the philosophy of major labels and major corporations in general. Their desire to make things easily digestible. I think the bands that have become popular, they've actually done a great service, in the sense that they've exposed punk to a larger general audience. It makes it a lot easier for bands like Bad Religion to do their job, because instead of being shunned as a lousy punk band with no musicianship, we can be taken seriously.
I would say the fact that a lot of labels are looking for--you'll hear them say things like "the next Blink-182," or who's going to be "the next Green Day" or Metallica--that kind of attitude is really demeaning to musicians and the unique qualities that those musicians can bring to the table. It's kind of demeaning to the whole concept of artistic integrity.
This summer you did a tour opening for Blink-182. Was there a lot of negativity from your die-hard fans?
Oh, sure, we got a huge backlash. You know, the writers and the people in the scene can make that distinction between "pop-punk" and "punk rock" and "hardcore" and all these different sub-genres, but the average fan just wants to hear some good music. So we thought that going on this tour would be a way, first of all, to introduce some of these fans to what punk rock is all about, and to show them that it's not just pop-punk. That there's this element of original sounding punk that is a lot different from what [fans have been exposed to with Blink-182].
The other big factor is that Blink-182 are good friends of ours, and they've always been very generous. And it was a lot of fun. The detractors really didn't make much of a dent, they just stayed away. And we told 'em to stay away. We said, "Look, you don't have to come to this show, because we'll be back later that summer," when we put out the biggest tour we ever did.
You live in upstate New York. Where were you when the World Trade Center attacks happened?
I was here, but I drove down that night to get my girlfriend out of New York. She lives in Manhattan, on 22nd Street, so I'm down there all the time. I was at my home in Ithaca on the 11th, and she doesn't have a TV, so I called and told her to get the hell out of there. So I went down there and picked her up. That was pretty hairy.
Is that affecting any performance plans?
It's an interesting time for Bad Religion. We've always maintained that fanaticism is a natural outcome of religion, and this is a time when we're seeing fanaticism on both ends of the spectrum. From the religious freaks that would do this horrible thing, to the outpouring of nationalism that's happening now in America. Bad Religion's goal, if you will, is to try to be sensible and hopefully spread some of that calmness in asking people to be rational. That's what all of our songs are about.
There's nothing wrong with saying, like in our new song "The Defense," "This world is a dangerous place." But it's not logical to take that to another conclusion and say, "Therefore we should become nationalistic." We need to work on ourselves more than we need to work on fixing anything in the country.