well...here it is. It's pretty long but some points are definitely worth reading. I'll sum it up briefly in case you don't feel like reading it. Basically the experience was very unnerving for me. The whole thing started off on a strange note...and stayed fairly odd. To add to my discomfort, he kept putting his hand on my leg. I don't even feel comfortable when people I know do that. Plus the point that he has no clue that a lot of his original fans consider his latest album to be complete trash. All he knows is that they keep gettting "more and more popular". Well...I ended up disillusioned about Bad Religion and not particularly liking Greg Graffin. -Kelly
"Have you ever been inside a tour bus before?" ...and thus began the 25 minute interview from hell with Greg Graffin, lead singer for Bad Religion. 10/15/93
interviewed by Kelly E. and Cathy D.
(situated in the back of Bad Religion's tour bus. I'm sitting on a couch, next to Greg. Cathy is sitting in a chair across from us.)
Kelly: So where are the other band members, are they out
Greg: Did you see me just pull up in a taxi? So I have no idea.
K: Have you been out touring Portland?
G: Not really. I've been in my hotel room. But I did walk around downtown a little. I asked the lady at Ticket(?) if she's got any tickets left for Bad Religion. She said, "no it sold out."
K: It did sell out?
G: Tickettron did at least. I was just curious. I was gonna buy one.
(crusty, ol' bus driver walks in)
Bus Driver: Who do we have here?
G: I forgot her name.
K: My name's Kelly and that's Cathy.
G: They're trying to do an interview.
BD: Well it's always nice to remember your interviewer's name.
G: Cathy's the bodyguard. That's what Kelly said.
BD: (to Cathy) Want to arm wrestle?
BD: Let's leg wrestle.
C: No. No. I don't want to leg wrestle either. I'm sure you'd beat me.
BD: Let's just roll on the floor.
G: She's not interested.
BD: (to me) Be good to this boy. Write nasty things about him. He needs it.
K: Ok. I'll try.
G: (to Bus Driver) Thank you. (chuckle) He's our driver.
K: Ok. So I wrote a little list of questions so I don't get lost. How 'bout that?
G: All right.
K: We can start off with
G: Are you gonna edit this.
K: Yeah I will.
G: Why don't we make this as quiet as possible (closes door). Are you going to play it over the air.
K: No...well I'm going to
G: If it's for a radio station then
K: I know...it's for a radio station...but we're putting out a zine and we're
G: It's really for a fanzine.
K: Kind of but then we're gonna do
G: You used those call letters to get you an interview.
K: No no...actually I just called up to get free tickets and they asked me to do an interview.
K: Yeah I just called up Kris at Atlantic and said, "Hey, I'd like free tickets to this show." And she said, " would you like to interview them too?" And I said "Oh...all right."
G: Who's this, Kris who?
K: At Atlantic records. I don't know her last name.
G: Very strange. You don't have to do an interview. I think that's stupid. If you want to see the show I think you should just see the show.
G: You shouldn't feel compelled to do an interview.
K: But it's kind of cool though...
C: Major label? I was just wondering if that was typical stuff?
G: Well...I don't know. I'm new to this thing. I just think that it's another example of how major labels are rather clueless. You know? Plain and simple. Fanzines are supposed to be self motivated. If they want to do an interview with a band they should just do it. I don't think it's the roll of a major label to tell a fanzine to do an interview. I think that's absurd. So just like anything, major labels are bad at some things and good at other things.
K: What are they good at?
G: Well they're good at their distribution and marketing. I mean, that's what major labels are all about.
K: Is that one of the reasons you signed?
G: Mostly for the distribution. We did a good job of marketing ourselves.
G: Is Corvallis far away?
K: It's about an hour and a half drive.
G: That's not bad. (leans over and pulls my jacket out of the way so he can see my t-shirt) What does that say?
K: Guzzard (t-shirt has a cartoon of a woman hitting a man and says "pow").
G: Pow? What the hell is that? Are you guys like (pause, looks back and forth between me and Cathy) Are you radical feminists?
K: No. Not really.
G: (to Cathy) So...you hate men.
C: No. Why would you think that?
G: Because that's what radical feminists do. You're not that radical. You're just a feminist.
C: Where would you get that formula for radical feminists equals man-hating?
G: Why? Because radical feminists go to extremes that are militant against, obviously, the other sex, because that's why they're feminists. (laughs) Right? I mean if you're going to be radical-militant, you're not going to be against your same sex.
C: I suppose some women are...that's pretty general.
G: (slaps my knee) Perhaps I'm being stereotypic, which is not good and I'm not usually like that. But you have to admit that there are stereotypes.
G: That's the only reason I asked. To see if you would say yes or no. Sometimes asking point blank is the only way to get an interesting conversation.
C: Sure...I'm trying to be polite because I'm here with my friend, Kelly. But for the same reason I asked that question of why did you get that image.
G: Yeah. I guess it's just because theres a lot of heated debate. It's like racists, you know? When you put a racist in a room with the race that he hates, you often get an inflamed argument. Which I think is stemmed from the hatred deep inside. And so I think that feminists aren't immune to that. Doesn't mean that's bad or good. It just means that they're human. That's exactly why I try to stay away from causes and I try to stay away from political groups because I don't carry that much hatred around with me. I don't hate anything that much I don't think.
K: So what about the songs that you write. A lot of your songs are about religion and against religion, etc...
G: Have you ever read any of our songs?
K: I have actually...it seems to me that they're like that. Like the right to life song...or what is that one called.
G: We have one called "Operation Rescue". That was written in 1990. Do you realize that Bad Religion has 108 songs that we've written and of those, maybe 5 or 6 are about religious issues. Religion we use as a metaphor. Yeah, our symbol is a cross with a slash through it but the cross is more metaphor than it is iconography.
K: So what is it a metaphor for?
G: It's a metaphor for any kind of shared belief that is prescribed by an individual or a group. Or a shared way of thinking that is prescribed by an individual or a group. And we think that's bad.
C: Some people would define religion that way.
G: Well that's the point.
C: I was trying to equate what you were saying with the 7 or 8 songs being about religion.
G: No, 7 or 8 of our songs actually spoke of religious groups or religion. But in general we try to write relevant lyrics that are pertinent to the common man. Regardless of political affiliation or regardless of religious affiliation. In that respect government can be religion, because you bought it from a young age, being told told how to think about a certain government or political group or whatever. And in a lot of respects very small interest groups can be thought of as bad religions too, because they definitely prescribe ways of thinking. They don't allow freedom of thought and expression. And many would say, "Well that's just the nature of mankind to be group oriented." But I disagree. And I have a little bit of knowledge on the subject because I'm getting my Ph.D in evolution. I think that the human mind is unique among all other forms of life in that it can spontaneously create unique thoughts and provide unique behaviors. Instead of rewarding that uniqueness we, for some reason probably because of cultural and social necessity, we chastise unique behavior and reward conformity.
C: Kill it if it's different.
G: Right. But I don't think you have to be like that. I think that even within a group of individuals you should reward uniqueness. In other words, the grouping should come from without. Other people should be the ones to prescribe the groupings. It shouldn't come from within. Understand?
K: We're taught at such an early age to conform to everything.
G: Right. Well conformity is ok as long as you know why you're doing it, and that you're not afraid
K: That you do it for yourself.
G: Right. For instance, the clothes I wear aren't that extreme. Some people might argue, "You're in this band. Why do you dress like everyone else in the audience?" The fact is, I wear what I enjoy wearing and the pertinence of my art, if you want to call it that, is in the lyrics and my delivery, etc. It's not what I'm wearing. So I know that in a sense I'm conforming by wearing similar clothing, but I'm not conforming because of my actions and my thoughts that I share. Some people might say "Well, I know I'm different deep down inside." But they don't really share any of their knowledge...nobody else knows they're different. And that's ok too. It's just harder to make your case that you're different.
K: That's true. So you're getting your Ph.D from Cornell?
G: That's right.
K: And how far along are you?
G: Well I got my Masters at UCLA and I moved to Cornell 3 years ago. I'm starting my 4th year in my program. I think within 2 years I can finish. But obviously, it's school time and here I am on tour so it's hindering my progress a little bit. But that's all right.
C: When you say you're getting your Ph.D in evolution, I'm not exactly sure what department that falls under.
G: It'll be a biology Ph.D, but I study fossils. It's evolutionary biology-paleontology.
C: Are the political lyrics that you're singing connected with the research that you're doing?
G: That's just it, we have some songs that are blatantly political, but in general our songs are not political songs. I try to stay away from politics.
C: I think maybe we're using the word differently.
K: Maybe just talking about society and
G: Yeah. That's not political though, we write songs that have relevance to common people. They don't pertain to the portion of human life that affiliates you with a group. Our lyrics...we try to make them be thought provoking. That's sort of the goal of Bad Religion is to make good catchy songs that are infectious but that make you think.
C: We're using politics in a different way. But that's ok. I'm wondering if there's a connection with the way you're going with your research and your ideas and social commentary.
G: No. Not really. I get some ideas from them, but what I do in school sort of answers questions for me. I don't have any religion, but I'm sure, like all humans, I'm curious about where I come from and where I'm going. But I don't believe that God created me and I don't believe that I'm going to heaven. And so I can answer those questions better through studying biology, because it give me the same kind of answers. But it allows me to pursue them in a framework where I can actually test theories myself. That's a good thing about science. It's really for everyone. I mean, we don't have to make believers out of anyone, you can go do it yourself. Sure enough if you drop a feather and a ball they fall at the same rate. [fairly patronizing...besides this only occurs in a vacuum...I should have pointed that out to Greg, but I was too stunned by his brilliance]
C: Kelly's a geophysics Masters
G: Geophysics? (slaps my hand) My Masters was in geology from UCLA. I love geology. but geophysicists are a weird type. No offence. (squeezes my knee)
K: Don't let the secret out. So you got your Masters in geology?
G: Yeah. Geology at UCLA is pretty good. It's a great dept. and there are some great geophysicists there, because they have geophysics and space science in the same area. But even so, the clique of people who are geophysicists, you could point them out far away.
K: Yeah, they don't really mix with anybody.
G: And you're right, they do not mix. So you never did any field work?
K: No my undergraduate degree is in oceanography so I don't really know geology at all.
G: I was all field oriented because I studied fossils, so every semester I was out in the field.
K: So what is your area, what are you trying to do with the fossils?
G: The Ph.D will give me the license, so to speak, so I can contribute to the science. And that's what I'd like to do for the rest of my life.
K: Do you want to be a professor and do research?
G: Yeah...I mean I don't know. My dad's a professor, my mom was a professor. Seeing the different side of life like I've been able to do has enlightened me. It's kind of sad to me that a professor is a hard life and our country doesn't really reward professors the way they should be rewarded. But I still enjoy interacting with people. I teach classes at Cornell for my training, I'm a T.A. I get a lot of good feedback from that and it's fun. I would like to be able to teach in some way, but I don't know if the traditional academic route would be the way. If I could make a million dollars with Bad Religion, I would start an institute that would be for research on early vertebrates, that's what I study. Be able to fund research and stuff like that. So maybe some day you'll see
K: The Bad Religion Research Institute
G: Yeah (laughs). Instead of Jurassic Park, I could make everyone really excited about early vertebrates. I could call if Ordovician Reef or something.
K: So how long do you plan on doing the Bad Religion thing? How much longer?
G: You just keep going until it tells you to stop. You know, I'm not going to give myself a due date, but I will say that every year we've gone out, we've gotten more and more popular. And every record we release gets more and more popular. So until that starts on the decline, I don't see an end in sight. It's probably the same with huge bands like the Rolling Stones. You wonder, "Why are those guys still around?" But the fact is, I bet you, if they release a record now it'll sell more than the early records did. So, even though you and I might look at them as washed up, from their perspective they're more and more popular each year. I don't want to get to the stage where my original fans think I'm washed up, and I don't think it's come that far yet.
C: Do you think there was a reason for your increased popularity? Have you slanted your music some
C: or is it because of the whole alternative culture becoming mainstream?
G: Exactly. We benefited from that, obviously. We've been around since 1980, and throughout the early middle and even the end of the '80's nobody would give our music a second listen. You'd hear the name and get turned off. Now that you've got all these other bands in the limelight, our name doesn't turn people off, our music doesn't turn people off and indeed, they're realizing that there's this whole history that they missed. So, we're sort of the living legacy of the early '80's hardcore sound from LA.
K: But your music's changed quite a bit
G: Yeah. It's evolved, obviously, 'cuz we've matured as people. I started when I was 15. Think what you were writing at 15. You know, it's pretty immature kind of stuff. So just by necessity we've matured.
K: How do you compare the two scenes, like back in 1980, and shows that you used to play
G: It's not comparable, because then I was part of the scene. I was going out to clubs everyday in Hollywood. Now I live in upstate New York, I have a nice home and a family. So I don't go to shows anymore, so I can't compare what it's like. I'm sure that, just like me, there are all these kids who find their release in going to these cool shows and go out and hang out together. And then when Bad Religion comes to town they go to that show. I sort of lost touch with that.
C: There's a fluent crowd, apparently you are the snowboard band, so there is some influence on that scene. I don't know if that's a west coast thing or Portland...
G: Yeah. Definitely. Skateboarding in the west, well actually skateboarding everywhere and snowboarding. That's true, but...I wish I could say I've been on a snowboard but I haven't. I'd like to try it, but I'm so fucking busy that I don't have time to do...I mean I can't even go on vacation. Because when I'm done with tour, I feel like staying home and getting some research done.
C: So when you were saying "making a million dollars with Bad Religion" was that a flip comment? Or is that actually kind of a goal?
G: No. That's a flip comment. I just mean, in a perfect world what would I do with my money. Because I'd like to contribute to science. I don't think I could do it...I mean I could contribute if I went the traditional academic route and devoted my life, stopped Bad Religion today and became a professor. That's really the politics of academia, you have to devote your whole life to it. I'm more in the position to make some money with Bad Religion and be able to contribute monetarily and scientifically.
K: Do you have anything to do with Epitaph records?
G: No. Brett does. He's sick, he's not coming. He'll be at the show, but he's still at the hotel. I was sick last time. You probably didn't come to the show. But I was really sick when I played here. I had no voice. I just sort of screamed that whole night. Everyone said, "Thanks Greg, thanks for destroying yourself." It was terrible. I don't know if I can impart how uncomfortable it is when you don't have a voice. It's like something you take for granted. When you want to communicate something you talk. But singers go through it every so often, where they just have no voice. It takes a week or two to heal.
K: Do you get sick of touring?
K: Are you at the end of the tour right now?
G: Yes. It's almost over (grabs my leg). We've got these 3 shows, and then one in Frisco one in San Diego, and then Hawaii. So 6 more shows. But who's counting? This is at the end of a 12-week tour of Europe and then America. That's a lot of shows.
K: So you're just going to go home and collapse?
G: For about 2 more months. Then we might be back out in January. Just for 3 weeks though.
K: Do you know when you're going to get together to work on a new album?
G: We write in separate quarters. I write in upstate New York, everyone else lives in LA. I've already written about 5 or 6 songs for the new record, and Brett, the other song writer, has written 3 or 4. So we're on our way.
K: How long does it usually take to record?
G: About 3 weeks.
C: Does the rest of the band share your philosophy about music? I mean, you're writing the lyrics sort of sets the tone?
G: Pretty much. Yes. We know not to stray too far from our constraints. Whenever you're in a band, the title of the band constrains you and your history constrains you. You can't go off and do a jazz album if you've got this history of doing a certain type of music.
K: Didn't you have one EP that was kind of off the road? Into the Unknown?
G: Yes. I was 17 when that came out. I was a kid, who didn't have any concept of historical constraint or how to make your audience happy. I was just doing what I wanted to do.
K: So what happened?
G: Well...they hated it. But what the hell. If we would've quit then, they would have said that Bad Religion was a failure. But we came back and did the music they like.
C: How much of the music is the music that you all like?
G: I love it. I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it. It's all from the heart. Just because it's constraining doesn't mean that you don't love it.
K: What are your influences when you started? Have they evolved as well?
G: I still love the bands that influenced me, like Elvis Costello, the Ramones, the Buzzcocks and the early LA music. Even strange people like Todd Rundgren. (phone rings) All right. Well that was one of the stranger interviews...