By "Slick" Nick Smith
You know, it's not every day you get to share the same air space with a living punk legend in a swanky South London hotel. A relatively new addition to Graffin and co.'s troup but certainly not the punk rock scene, Brian Baker's played in so many bands since the eighties it's hard to keep track. Arguably MINOR THREAT was one of the most significant. Then after brief spells in GOVERNMENT ISSUE, DAG NASTY and RED KROSS he found himself replacing Mr. Brett in LA's finest BAD RELIGION on guitar from the mid nineties until the present day, which sees the lyrically skilled veterans embarking on a miniature European tour as a means of 'testing the water' so to speak.
The Metropolitan Hotel was certainly a culture shock for me. I didn't think they'd let me in with my baggy jeans and RAMONES hoodie but I was wrong. I sat with other industry types in the reception. Greg Graffin and Brett have been working with TV and radio people all day for a punk rock documentary and are no where to be seen, as is Brooks. Jay Bentley's been in his room conducting phone interviews. In walks Greg Hetson with a bag that looks likely to have come from a CD shop. He explains he was doing a bit of shopping for his dad. Then Brian Baker appears from a lift in front of me, in ripped jeans and a yellow T-shirt. Behind me sit a cluster of slick suited types, chattering about the stock market and such. But the animated Brian and I are here to chat about punk rock, naturally, and that is exactly what happened. If you don't believe me, read this interview:
pastepunk: How are you finding England so far?
Brian Baker: Well it's really kinda windy and the park was really pretty, I spent, like, an hour in the park today it was cool. It was awesome. Hotel's a little fancy but it's not England's fault.
pastepunk: Did you need to rehearse much with the new drummer Brooks in preparation for this tour?
BB: Surprisingly little. He's one of those idiot savant guys. He knows everything. It was really quite shocking how quickly he learned our songs. We spent maybe four or five days and he came in ready to go so I'm really impressed with his drumming.
pastepunk: Could you describe a typical day on the road?
BB: You know what? A typical day on the road is getting up earlier than I want to and… I do a lot of reading. You know I like to think it's this big rock 'n' roll party but it's like whether we're travelling by van or by bus or if we have to take a plane somewhere, it's always the same. It's me getting up an hour earlier than I want, trying to shove everything in my bag because I forget to put it in the night before, and then I read until it's time for a sound check. It's always the same no matter where I am. I know it sounds really boring but to be honest, touring is kinda boring except for playing the show. The show's always cool but everything else is just nothing.
pastepunk: Do you ever get nervous before a show, and if so how do you combat this?
BB: I have never been nervous before a show. I don't know why, I'm lucky. I'm one of those people that doesn't get nervous.
pastepunk: Do you keep to basically the same set-list for every show like the RAMONES or are you constantly making changes to what songs you perform?
BB: We change it constantly and I think it's important to do that. We got so many songs, I mean there's gotta be 170 BAD RELIGION songs and, like, right now because we've just started with Brooks and Brett, ya know, there are limits to how many choices we can make but we still change it pretty much every day. If people in the audience yell loud enough for one song then we'll probably play it. You gotta keep it interesting.
pastepunk: What's your favorite song of your own to play live?
BB: I like 'Recipe For Hate' and I like a song called 'Epiphany' off the new record, it's really fun. It's like a medieval chant or something. It's really cool, I feel like a Viking.
pastepunk: Now that BAD RELIGION has three guitarists, will this make it easier to recreate the sound of the albums in a live setting or will it make the experience completely unique?
BB: It does make it easier to recreate some of the things because on the records there's always more than a coupla guitars but in general what it really does is it just sounds so huge without having to do that down tuning thing that all of these bands do now when they play with one finger going across the neck which I think just looks ridiculous. All of that type of thing, people do it for this heaviness, like DEFTONES or things like that, but there's only one guitar player! Well we have three doing it normally and it's just as huge. It's perfect. It's a great marriage of both styles.
pastepunk: Has a criticism/praise for one album ever influenced the creation of a future record?
BB: Not to me because I really haven't been a writer in BAD RELIGION, ya know. I guess it hasn't influenced the artistic pursuit and artistic endeavor. I'm gonna have to say no but it really is a question for Brett or Greg.
pastepunk: How was the producing of 'The Process Of Belief', what with Brett returning etc?
BB: It was amazingly easy and comfortable because Brett has always been a huge part of BAD RELIGION even in his absence. We were still playing all these songs he wrote and it was a real pleasure. It was so enjoyable to go to work every day. There was no arguing, no fighting with some outside producer who didn't understand what we were supposed to be doing. It was really very comfortable.
pastepunk: People insist on likening it to specific past albums, but I think it contains elements of them all, so it kind of brings everything together. Was this the intention from its initial conception?
BB: No there was no intention at all. Like every BAD RELIGION record, believe it or not, it's just what happens to have been written prior to the recording and this is the same thing that happened with this one. I think there's a certain quality when Greg and Brett get back together that brings things up a little bit and I'm perfectly aware of that, so we do have that going for us. But they didn't sit down and consciously say 'we need to write a record that encompasses everything that BAD RELIGION has become'. They just wrote songs and this is what they sound like.
pastepunk: Could you describe the typical song-writing process?
BB: Yeah. The typical song writing process is I go to Brett or Greg's house and they push a button and I hear a demo with amazing vocals and ok guitars and a drum machine of what will be a song. From that point forward we take these songs into a room with actual musicians and we twist them and change them a little bit and more importantly add the personality of each band member. That's basically the process.
pastepunk: Greg and Brett seem to write all the songs, but do the other members have their own creative inputs as well?
BB: Yeah I mean absolutely. They don't write guitar solos. They'll have a skeletal framework and it's our job to make that into a real BAD RELIGION song and that takes on many many things. So I feel that there's a lot of creative input from the rest of us.
pastepunk: How different would BAD RELIGION albums have sounded if you hadn't produced them yourselves? Would they feel less personal?
BB: Well the ones that we didn't do ourselves… some of them are good and some of them aren't. We did one record ourselves which is my least favorite BAD RELIGION record called "No Substance" so that blows the whole 'doing it yourself being better' thing. But then again the guy Rick Ocasek who did "The Grey Race," that was an amazing record. I really love that record and that was produced by an outside guy. It's about record for record; it's not a general concept. Either the record is good or it's not. There are so many different variables. We're just as capable of making a bad record ourselves as we are having a producer make a bad record.
pastepunk: What's more important, the music or the message?
BB: I think it's a combination but if I had to pick one I think it's the message because if it were not for the type of thing that BAD RELIGION has always sung about I don't think we'd be here having an interview.
pastepunk: I read that Brett played 'Skyscraper' to an interviewer in his office on piano. Would BAD RELIGION ever release an album of that theme, like BAD RELIGION unplugged?
BB: For information on that look to the "American Lesion" record released by Mr. Greg Graffin as a solo effort I believe in 1995 (it was actually 1997 - ed.). In that record you may learn why BAD RELIGION will never do that.
pastepunk: How would you feel about kids having to study BAD RELIGION lyrics in school, like they do with Shakespeare etc?
BB: I think it'd be hilarious but I wouldn't wanna make 'em do that. They should study RAMONES lyrics instead.
pastepunk: If you were President, what would you do first to improve the world?
BB: Abolish money.
pastepunk: How different would your life have been had you not been a part of BAD RELIGION? Have you ever wanted to leave at any point?
BB: No I've never wanted to leave, and with me specifically I think I'd be in another band that wasn't quite as good.
pastepunk: Since you've been in the band for many years, you've seen a lot. Are there any years that are particularly memorable to you?
BB: I think this one is have been quite memorable thus far. 2002 has a really great promise for being the best BAD RELIGION year ever from the way the record is being received to the tours that we've booked so far. We're doing the US Warped Tour which is really an amazing experience. We did it in '98 and we're really looking forward to doing it this year. It sounds like propaganda but this is probably gonna be the best year I've ever had.
pastepunk: What do you aim to achieve by having BAD RELIGION's music featured on computer games?
BB: There's no real aim with that. What happens is the guys that make the games are BAD RELIGION fans and they ask us if it's okay. And if we like the game, like "Crazy Taxi" which was an awesome game, we say 'yeah.' And Tony Hawk, who's a friend, of course you say yeah because I think Tony Hawk's rad and I think his games are good. But I don't think I'd give a song to a game that I didn't like. There's not really any goal; it's really more the relationship between the makers of the games and us. It's not a big business deal, it's like friends calling friends.
pastepunk: Where will the band be in five years? Is the best still yet to come?
BB: You know it's hard to tell. We're already old so we can't just stop because we're old. I think it's gonna keep going until what we do is no longer relevant or until the members no longer have the energy to pursue it. I would see us playing in five years.
pastepunk: You touched on it just a minute ago but what plans do BAD RELIGION have for the rest of the year?
BB: We're going to go back and do a tour of the states in March, then we're coming back over here in May and we're gonna do some festivals in Europe and our own shows. We're actually gonna get to play Ireland for the first time which is really exciting. Then of course we'll be back in the UK. I don't know how many shows, they're still booking them, but we're definitely playing more than just a London show, I can guarantee that. Then after that we go back to the US to do the US Warped Tour which will be almost two months in the summer and probably take a much deserved three week break because then there's so many other places. There's South America, there's Australia, there's Japan… I would like to play China. I would like to play Moscow. BAD RELIGION's played in almost every place in the world but there's still some areas left. I'd like to play in Iceland. I've never been to Iceland. Book a show, I'll be there!
pastepunk: So this show today was kinda like a test run?
BB: Yeah exactly this is just the opening act right here. This is the first inning.
pastepunk: Finally, do you have any message for the readers of Pastepunk?
BB: Continue to read Pastepunk. It's the best magazine I've ever done an interview for.