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Interview with Greg Hetson of Bad Religion
Bad Religion, the legendary punk rock band from Los Angeles, was not born yesterday: the band celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. But instead of feeling their age, the punk rockers are angrier and more zealous than ever, says guitarist Greg Hetson, interviewed on his day off in California.
— We’ve got energy in abundance. Where does this passion come from? I don’t think it comes from anywhere in particular. We just love playing. This used to be a favourite pastime that turned into a job, and what could be better than that.
Ilosaarirock Festival welcomes the anniversary tour
In the spring, Bad Religion went for an anniversary tour in House of Blues venues along the United States’ West Coast. Every week, they played four or five shows.
— During that tour, we played different songs every night, which made it all the more interesting. We also had songs in our line-up that we hadn’t played for ages.
But some new songs were tried out as well, and Heston says that the new material will make it to the soundtrack of slam dancing at Ilosaarirock Festival as well.
— People really liked our new songs, given that we knew how to play them. I think there’s some footage in YouTube that shows how I completely dropped the ball during one of our new songs, Hetson says and laughs heartily.
The band intends to start the recording of the follower to New Maps of Hell (2007) before this summer’s festival season. The upcoming album is Bad Religion’s fifteenth. Apart from a couple of more experimental albums, the band is famous for its punk-rock-style wall of sound and the singer Greg Graffin’s melodic but deadpan vocal style. According to Hetson, the new album will return to these well-functioning essentials.
— The songs are still far from finished, so it is difficult to say precisely what sort of stuff will be on offer. The end result will become clear when the whole band starts to work on the songs in the studio. But it’s pure Bad Religion from beginning to end, Hetson promises.
Irons in the fire
For many, the name “Bad Religion” brings to mind the red-black-and-white logo, also known as crossbuster, and the massive 1990s hit Punk Rock Song. Bad Religion’s strength lies in the band’s ability to combine an intelligent message with sharp, almost lethally acute catchphrases, easily understandable symbols and catchy melodies. In terms of lyrics, Bad Religion is unarguably one of the most important political rock bands in the world, and the band has had a vast influence in punk rock circles and beyond.
Greg Hetson, who joined the band in 1984, says that political content is as important to Bad Religion today as it was thirty years ago, when teenagers Greg Graffin, Brett Gurewitz and Jay Bentley founded the band in Los Angeles.
— There is heaps and heaps of work to do. The world is not doing well, not at all, Hetson summarises.
Hetson doesn’t participate in writing the lyrics, but subscribes to the band’s message.
— I have been interested in society and politics since I was very young, because my family liked to follow news and current issues.
The current global situation makes Hetson sigh.
— The world is going forward and making progress, but it feels as if we in the USA are just walking backwards. With this comment, I mean the Bush period. Barack Obama has started his career with some good initiatives, even if they’re not perfect.
What is particularly problematic from Henson’s view is the increased popularity of extremism.
— A lot of very frightening things are going on in the USA at the moment. Right-wing extremists are only a very small minority, but they have a lot of money and a lot of power.
Hetson says that it is now as important as ever to talk about everything in a fearless, open manner, just as Bad Religion has always been striving to do.
— There are lot of issues in the USA that you can’t speak about without a label being pasted onto you. Many other countries enjoy better healthcare and better economy than us, because these things have been arranged in a different manner, but just by saying that aloud is enough to get yourself labelled as “socialist”.
It seems that Bad Religion is not running out of messages anytime soon.
Over the years, Bad Religion has had a variety of line-ups, but their present one is particularly enthusing. At Ilosaarirock Festival, the band will consist of six men: the founding members – vocalist Greg Graffin, guitarist Brett Gurewitz and bass guitarist Jay Bentley – are accompanied by Greg Hetson, originally from Circle Jerks, Brian Baker, one of the founding members of Minor Threat, and Brooks Wackerman, who has played drums with Korn, Vandals and Devin Townsend, to name just a few. Sounds very much like a punk rock super band. And something special will also be on offer at Ilosaarirock Festival – what’s that going to be?
— I don’t want to say yet, somebody could get disappointed if it all fails, Greg Hetson laughs.
Heston has been to Finland for several times, and he’s got nothing but good things to say about the country and its people.
— We have always had a good time in Finland. We’ve got lots of great memories, particularly from Seinäjoki. But it must be said that you are one funny kind of people. In the beginning, everybody’s terribly shy and reserved, but after a couple of drinks you get on like a house on fire, the guitarist chuckles.
Hetson can’t wait for the summer’s festivals.
— Clubs may have a stronger, more intimate atmosphere than large festivals, but festivals’ party mood is unbeatable. It’s also great to hang out with other bands and to listen to new music.
— Make sure you hide your alcohol well, Hetson shares a piece of advice for Ilosaarirock Festival 2010 goers, and laughs.
Interview by Olli Sorjonen
German transcript updated
English transcript added
English transcript added
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Interview added: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
German transcript updated: Gähnend in die Punker-Rente