Mr. Brett of Bad Religion was interviewed after their packed show at Medusa's in Chicago by Aaron Nauth and Tom Mumford.
Aaron: How do you feel about how the new album ("Against the Grain") came out, as compared to past ones?
Brett: We're pleased with how it came out.
Tom: Why did the single sound so much different?
Brett: We did it real fast. It was a timely thing and time was of the essence.
Aaron: The thing you did with Noam Chomsky for MRR?
Tom: I like the way it sounds.
Brett: We did it raw in one day.
Aaron: How did that whole project came about?
Brett: Well, we were, of course, writing songs for the upcoming album, and the war was going, and it was on many peoples minds, including mine and Greg's, and we coincidentally wrote a song pertaining to the war. At that time I was somewhat interested in putting out a 7", although, at that time, I hadn't asked Greg if he was interested in writing a song yet. I didn't have time to release the 7" myself. It just happened that Tim Yohannon from MRR called and asked me if I was interested in doing a single and giving it to MRR. Maximum Rock N Roll would release the single and give all the proceeds to a charitable organization. So it was a non profit thing with some literature put in it. It was kind of Tim's brainchild. I called Greg to see what he thought about it, and he said, "oh, I happened to have a song too!" So we recorded the songs basically overnight and sent them to Tim.
Tom: The single came out and the war was all over already, did you expect that to happen?
Brett: Yeah, I expected it to be a short war.
Aaron: Do you think Bad Religion's music and attitude goes across the grain ("Against The Grain" is the title of their most recent album)?
Brett: Our music?
Brett: No, not really. But I think our lyrics do.
Aaron: More the attitude.
Brett: Our philosophies, our values, and perhaps our, you know, all that's capsulized in our lyrics.
Tom: Is the new album already recorded?
Tom: So is it coming our at the end of this year?
Brett: Probably, yeah.
Tom: What's it called?
Brett: I don't know what it's called yet. We have the songs recorded, but we haven't chosen the title.
Tom: Is this the beginning of your tour? I know it started here last year.
Brett: This is show number three. It started in Buffalo, then Detroit.
Tom: Are you going to Germany again?
Brett: Yeah, we love Germany.
Aaron: What kind of crowds do you have in Europe, I hear it's a lot bigger?
Brett: Yeah, it's a lot bigger than this. (Medusa's was packed).
Tom: What do you think about all that stuff written in FlipSide about you playing $20 shows, and basically putting out the same stuff every year?
Brett: You asked me two questions, which one do you want me to answer?
Tom: The first one.
Brett: About the $20 shows, that was one time that happened and it was basically a misunderstanding, like tonight was a misunderstanding. I thought the ticket price was exorbitant tonight ($13), but even that, I feel was high. But what had happened at that particular show you are talking about is that we had one show where there was a big riot. I don't know if you heard about it. It was in North Hollywood. It was on CNN and national news. An entire city block was destroyed, there were three firetrucks, big black and white police cars and they opened the firehoses on the kids. It was at our show, and it happened even before we got to play. So all those kids had paid to see us, at a reasonable price, and didn't get to see us. Meantime, the promoter who promoted that show (Goldenvoice) lost like $20,000 because of all the damages. What he did was book a second show in a larger venue, because the reason it got destroyed basically because the venue was too small. He honored all the tickets from the first show, and he put on this show to try and let some of these kids see us who didn't get their money's worth. That was what our understanding was. But actually, he intended to make back what he had lost. We thought it was going to be the same price. And what he did was put up these exorbitant ticket prices on which we didn't know about. But he did that to make up for his exorbitant loss. I guess FlipSide really got down on us for that. But recently we played in L.A. at Al's Bar for $6. We usually play in L.A. for $12. In L.A. that's cheap.
Tom: What about the second question?
Brett: I don't think that's true. We have a style, but I think "Against The Grain" is quite different from "No Control." You know what it's like? It's like someone saying, "All beer tastes the same." That's true, it all tastes like beer, but it doesn't really all taste the same. I don't drink beer, but it's a good analogy anyway.
Aaron: Along the lines of being able to control things like show prices, etc. do you find it hard to self manage and control these things from going wrong?
Brett: We've always done things in a very grass-roots fashion. That's probably the most punkest thing about us is the do it yourself ethic. We're probably the biggest band, us and Fugazi, of course, are the two biggest bands ever that have done it completely on their own. From conception to the present.
Aaron: So you find that reaching this point, it gets harder to control?
Brett: No, it's easy to control!! All you have to do is have a little bit of intelligence and tenacity -- a little bit of good fortune. It's really not that hard, ya know. You just have to have a little bit of motivation and intelligence. Most people have that, they're just lazy. They just don't believe in themselves. A lot of people would be surprised at what they could achieve if they just weren't afraid to try in the first place, ya know.
Tom: What do you think of all the bootlegs that are coming out of your band?
Brett: I think it's fine. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. You know, I might be...if somebody bootlegged "Against The Grain," that would be fucked.
Aaron: You guys pretty much run your own record label?
Brett: I run it. Well, that's a fallacy. I'm a 50% partner in a recording studio.
Aaron: So you have a lot of control over what you're doing?
Brett: Yeah. I record and mix all that shit.
Aaron: Have you noticed any of Bad Religions influence on young bands today?
Brett: Have I noticed any?
Brett: I don't know, I don't want to accuse anyone.
Aaron: I don't mean accusing, I mean in a good way.
Brett: I don hear that now and then, but I don't want to name any names.
Aaron: Have you noticed a significant increase in your following over the past few years?
Brett: Yeah, it's been growing, and I think the reason is because we've been putting out a new record every year. And each record is as good as the rest. I don't think we've put out a bad record yet. Of course, when you do that, people retain their faith in you. Then maybe some new people become aware of you.
Aaron: I think Tom said this before, that Bad Religion is that type of band that you need a dictionary with you when you listen to the album to decipher the lyrics. Do you think these lyrics have a tendency to go over peoples heads?
Brett: Well, maybe they will look it up and learn something. I think maybe we go overboard sometimes, but I don't think it's a bad thing. We both read a lot, and vary influence by lyricists who were very eloquent as well.
Brett: My influences would be Darby Crash, Elvis Costello, and Bob Dylan, they're me three favorite lyricists.
Aaron: That's a pretty diverse selection.
Brett: They're not all that different.
Aaron: Along the lines of lyrics, do you think "21st Century Digital Boy" is the anthem for the 90's? Death of the youth.
Brett: Well really it's an anthem for the year 2000, the 21st century. So we got nine more years before that song holds true.
Tom: I think it will be less than nine years.
Brett: Probably not, but I might be putting my foot in my mouth.
Well, their show this past summer at Medusa's totally jammed, except for the fact that it was sweltering. No fans, maybe no air conditioning. Everyone was drenched in sweat. This is one of the best damn punk bands still around. Thanks to Mr. Brett for so kindly giving us this interview, even after a very hot performance.
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