|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||10/16/2010|
|Source:||Guitar Edge October 2010 (United States)||With:||Brett Gurewitz|
Most of us know punk rock as a socially conscious form of art, and no band exemplifies that as well as Bad Religion. Standing at the front of the punk movement for 30 years, Bad Religion is considered one of the forefathers of the movement, and is held in the same regard as trailblazers like the Ramones and Black Flag. But they're also frequently set apart from their peers by fans and critics, who refer to the band's activist, cerebral messages as "the thinking man's punk." (That should come as little surprise, considering that the band's frontman, Greg Graffin, has his PhD in zoology.)
Brett Gurewitz has served as the band's guitarist and co-songwriter since the very beginning, except for a brief hiatus in the mid-'80s and six years in the mid-'90s when he left the band to spend more time working on his record label, Epitaph. Since then Epitaph has become a punk powerhouse, releasing albums for such bands as Rancid, The Offspring, Social Distortion, and most recently, Weezer. Gurewitz' label is also home to Bad Religion's 15th studio album, The Dissent of Man, which was released on September 24th to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Though Gurewitz admits that he is "no virtuoso" when it comes to playing guitar, he is indeed a prolific and talented songwriter, responsible for some of the biggest hooks and catchiest choruses in the punk canon. He is also one of the most enduring guitarists working today. He has overcome drug addiction and tension within the band over the years, and he says his dedication to the music has never been stronger.
Guitar Edge caught up with Gurewitz to discuss the making of the new album, the times and how they are a changing, and the instruments he holds so dear.
Take us on a journey from your first guitar to where you are today.
Well, first of all, I'd have to say that I'm more of a songwriting guitarist than a pure guitarist. Anyone who knows my music knows that I'm no virtuoso. We do have virtuosos in the band with Brian Baker [guitar] and Brooks Wackerman [drums]. I have my own style, and I do take some leads and solos. I know that I'm not as highly accomplished as the rhythm guitar player in Bad Religion, but I think that my songwriting style comes through a lot on the records, as well as in my production style.
My first guitar was a Hohner. It was back in the '70s and Hohner was better known for making harmonicas. It was a beginner's guitar. At the time I took some lessons from the local guitar shop. My first couple lessons, I learned open chords and then somewhere around my third or fourth lesson I learned some bar chords. Then I bought a book called Chord Chemistry and every chord in the universe was in there. So I quit the lessons and just worked off of that book.
Over the years I've had a lot of guitars. My favorite guitars over the years have been Les Pauls, but I'm probably most noted for playing this thing I call the Red Rocker guitar. The Red Rocker is a bit of a monstrosity. I was on tour in the early '80s and my Les Paul was stolen, and I had to find something quickly. So I found a cheap Charvel at a shop in Boston. That's where the Red Rocker started. It now has a Charvel body, an ESP neck, a Fender bridge, and Seymour Duncan JB pickups. I've played it a lot over the years and it is now covered in stickers. So that's what people see me playing a lot.
On past records the Red Rocker got a lot of play. On the new record I kept trying it out and I didn't really like it. The new album uses a lot of different guitars. I use a lot of a goldtop Les Paul with a P-90. There's actually a lot of Telecaster. I have a 1950 Telecaster—a real one, not a remake. And that one made the record a lot. There's also a company called Nash that makes excellent guitars. I used a Nash Telecaster on the new record quite a bit.
There are not a lot of those old Telecasters from the '50s around anymore.
I think there are about 500 of them left in the world, total. I got this one from a vintage guitar shop about 15 years ago.
Tell us about the new album, The Dissent of Man.
I'm really pleased with it. The new album is quite a departure from our previous records for those who are familiar with our music. The last three records were pretty safe records—conservative punk rock records, if you will. I would say that the new record is slightly more along the lines of the more experimental stuff we did in the mid-'90s. But when I say "experimental," I don't mean we sound like Tool or anything. I feel like we delved a little more into alternative rock territory with our writing on this album.
How would you describe the relationship between you and Greg Graffin these days? You had a bit of a rough patch a while back.
Our relationship is better than ever. It's one of mutual respect and admiration. I admire him because of his intellect and his achievements in life. We have a very strong bond now. We really don't talk that often even when we're writing songs. We do the bulk of our work independently, but when we do get together, we always have a lot in common. Greg lives in New York and he's an academic and a writer as well as being a touring musician, and I live in Los Angeles and I'm a full-time record executive and a dad. Our relationship at this point is very good—I'd say he's a cross between a colleague and a brother to me.
How has becoming a father, getting clean, and running Epitaph Records changed the way that you approach your career as a musician?
Just getting older in general has changed my perspective on writing so much. I'm 48 years old—who the fuck am I kidding? I'm just not that "punk" of a person anymore. The challenge as a songwriter is to write songs that can resonate with everybody. Some of my favorite bands like The Clash and Rancid write songs that transcend punk, to where anyone could enjoy it. I definitely try to keep the punk rockers in mind whenever I'm writing music, but I also need to stay true to the person I am today.
The last time we spoke, we talked about doom and music. I remember you telling me that we were about to enter a golden age for music. That was about two years ago. Do you still feel that way?
I still feel that way and you may accuse me of being overly optimistic, but it's always darkest just before the dawn, and I think that's what we're experiencing right now. It's a tough time out there right now for everyone, especially for any kind of company that specializes in intellectual property like a record company or a publishing company. I really think that ultimately we will see a reshuffling and there will be an altered landscape in the industry. But there will still be great bands out there and good labels who support those bands. It will not be a golden age for record companies per se, but it will be a fertile environment for artists.
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