Bad Religion: Any Religion Is Better Than None
Guitarist Mr. Brett and bassist JAY were interviewed by phone for Rockpool Magazine on March 18, 1992. About 1/20th of the following transcript appeared in that magazine's Indie Label Issue the following month. Still another 1/20th subsequently appeared in Creem magazine in August.
This is our second interview with Bad Religion; issues no. 28 and 29 contained a long chat with Brett and singer GREG GRAFFIN. For a full history of the band, we refer you to issue no. 28.
Here's part of the introduction that appeared in Rockpool: "Bad Religion are a fierce juggernaut. Working in the tempos of the early '80's hardcore scene they originally came out of, they nevertheless craft some of the catchiest and most supremely melodic, clean sounding guitar music around, with words that could only have come from two of the most well-read musicians I've ever encountered.
From the Creem intro: "Fugazie is not the only wildly successfull group still holding on to the indie label, spurning major suitors and doing it themselves. To paraphrase an old Clash t-shirt, L.A.'s Bad Religion is the only hardcore band that matters. With a career that spans 12 years (with their original lineup more or less intact), they've issued six albums, two EPs, and two singles, all on their own Epitaph label. With the exception of their now-disowned second LP, actually the decent, bizarre excursion into more commercial-sounding progressive rock Into The Unknown (which made it to CHUCK EDDY's Top 100 Metal LPs ever in Stairway To Hell!), Bad Religion is a numbing yet crisp and beautiful aural assault. They rely more on high-speed hooks and stunning, rapid-fire melodies than on wall-of-noise bashings to establish their soaring impact. Only their older contempories the '80-'84 Bad Brains and Minor Threat, ever equaled this kind of clean, overdriven power, and Bad Religion surpasses both for truly catchy tunes. And when they cool down to mid-tempos, they're even more powerful. But along with Fugazi, their innovation is to take the integrity and passion and bring it to broader audience, far beyond the constricting confines of later-day punks."
Thanks to Richard Bensam for the transcription.
JAY: What's happening?
JR: Not much. Just glad to be here, glad to be doing the interview.
JAY: Where's Greg [Graffin]? Couldn't he get on the freeway?
JR: Nope, he wasn't home.
BRETT: I called him.
JR: So let's talk first about your new album Generator. Obviously you're breaking in a new drummer. How did you arrive at Bobby Schayer?
JAY: He was the second drummer and he tried harder. (laughter)
BRETT: Actually we tried three drummers.
JAY: (agrees) We tried three drummers...
BRETT: We tried Nicky Beat, who's in the Cramps now.
JR: That's the old Weirdos drummer.
BRETT: Yeah. Is is bad to name names?
BRETT: We played with Colin Sears from Dag Nasty who, we must say, didn't really have a fair stab at it 'cause he just didn't have any time to learn the songs. So he might have been... (searches for word)
JAY:...but we didn't give him much of an opportunity to learn the stuff.
BRETT: He didn't have any time so he didn't know the stuff, so we were just kind of improvising together, which isn't our forte either.
JAY: Yeah. And there was Bobby, who walked in and knew every single Bad Religion song ever recorded. We didn't have to teach him anything.
JAY: So we said, this guy's the best for us 'cause he's simple.
JR: That's one way to get a gig.
BRETT: Plus he's a punk rock historian, which was kind of cool because it's good to have somebody in the band who's familiar with our discography and our lineage and the scene that we're from and, you know... it was good.
JR: That's kind of surprising since the three times I've seen him play in the past have been all with pop groups.
JAY: We're a pop group.
JR: Well, not quite the same...
JAY: We're a pop group with punk sensibility.
BRETT: I guess he plays in pop groups but he's a big punk rock fan.
JR: Initially, having seen him play with the Clay Idols and with the Question and with 2 Free Stooges, when I heard he had joined your band I was like, how can he handle the faster tempos?
JAY: Well, what did you think of him when you saw him with those other bands? Did you think he was a competent drummer?
JR: Certainly at those tempos, but I've seen quite a few competent drummers who couldn't play thrash.
JAY: Couldn't play thrash, yeah.
BRETT: He's an amazing musician.
JAY: He really is an amazing musician, all around, not just an amazing drummer.
BRETT: He can play guitar and bass also.
JR: I thought maybe that you'd picked him because he does such an amazing stick roll. (laughs)
BRETT: He does have a good stick roll, doesn't he?
JR: He's definitely a showman. What was it like auditioning Nicky Beat?
BRETT: He was interesting. He had notes on all our songs and he seemed to be taking it real seriously. I just don't...you know, it was just a matter of his style and Bobby's style, and we thought Bobby's style was cooler. Bobby has a real, like...real kind of wild, enthusiastic approach to drumming, and we thought that would be refreshing for us.
JAY: He's the LIBERACE of drums. (laughs)
JR: Nicky's a bit of a crazy man too, isn't he?
BRETT: Yeah, but his drum style is more minimalistic. We've always had that anyway, so we thought maybe add someone to the group who could do a little bit more... I don't know, it's hard to put music into words.
JAY: He's kind of flamboyant, kind of like how Lucky was with the Circle Jerks.
BRETT: Yeah, but not his personality. I wouldn't want you to take this wrong, his personality's not flamboyant, but his drumming...he can go crazy on drums.
JAY: Yeah. He sits down and becomes like this machine that goes "brrrrum."
JR: His nostrils flare a lot too.
BRETT: Do they really?
JR: Which isn't like him offstage.
BRETT: No. He does that Clem Burke hairshake thing that just drives me wild.
JR: (laughs) Yeah, he does look a little like Clem Burke.
BRETT: That was another plus.
JR: You can start covering Blondie songs now. Am I right in thinking that Pete played on the two songs on the Maximum Rock & Roll single?
BRETT: Yes, you are.
JR: Now, were those both rerecorded for Generator?
JR: It's funny, because it's really hard to tell the difference in the drumming.
BRETT: He copied them.
JR: Very well, I should think.
JR: And how was it working him into a brand new album? Did you have a lot of time to prepare for this?
JAY: One day. We had a day.
JR: He learned the whole album in one day?
JAY: The whole group did. We kind of went in and just learned it while we would...we would play a song, me, Brett, Bobby, and Greg Graffin would be playing a song until we learned it all the way through, and then we would start the tape.
BRETT: We hit the record button. And to learn it all the way through took an hour and a half.
JR: Huh! That's definitely a different style of recording.
Jay: Trying to keep it fresh.
BRETT: What you're hearing when you hear the record Generator is the first performance ever of that song in its entirety by Bad Religion. I'm being perfectly honest with that.
JAY: It's true, because Greg Graffin was never in L.A. when we were learning the songs, basically, he was never here to like, sing with us and be a band.
BRETT: I never even taught the group my songs!
JAY: No, that's true, you never taught them. You just kept saying, we'll just learn them in the studio, and we did!
JR: What a bizarre talent. (general hilarity) Does Greg Graffin actually play anything?
JAY: Greg played some guitar, but I don't think we kept any of it. (Jack laughs)
BRETT: He played some piano and guitar.
JAY: You know on "Fertile Crescent" where it goes derdle-derdle-derdle-day-du, but only on the Maximum single. He played that because we couldn't figure out how the hell he did it, and because we recorded that bi-coastally, we just kept it on there.
BRETT: Greg took a stab at a solo on "The Answer" and it sucked...
JAY: I remember that.
BRETT: ...so I did a solo. I was really insulted that he even wanted to try.
JAY: Look at it this way: Henry even took a stab at a solo on "The Answer."
BRETT: No, "Fertile Crescent."
JAY: Oh, that's right.
BRETT: I played piano on "Atomic Garden."
JR: Who's Henry?
BRETT: Henry's our...well, my spiritual advisor. Jay's also.
JR: Your "spiritual advisor"?
BRETT: Don't you have one?
BRETT: I'll be yours, then.
JR: Okay. (Brett laughs) It's a deal. How did you record bi-coastally?
JAY: The band recorded the music...
BRETT: You're talking about the 7-inch, right?
JAY: This is for the Maximum 7-inch. We recorded the music for "Heaven is Falling" and sent the tape to Greg, the 24-track to Greg....
BRETT: I sang a scratch vocal on it to guide it to how we wanted it to sound.
JAY: ...and Greg went into a studio and recorded the vocals for "Heaven is Falling," and then recorded with a drum machine, guitar, and bass, and his for-real vocal on "Fertile Crescent" and then sent the tape back, and then we had to record "Fertile Crescent" around his vocal.
JR: To a drum machine. (laughs)
BRETT: We overdubbed the music to his vocals.
JR: That's really, really funny.
JAY: That's bizarre, isn't it?
JR: You'd certainly never be able to tell, I can tell you that much. In fact, in some ways I think those two versions are somewhat tighter than the ones on the album.
BRETT: Huh. That's interesting.
JR: Very, very strange. So how many copies did you sell of No Control and Against The Grain worldwide?
BRETT: 80 and 88.
JR: (repeats) 80 and 88?
BRETT: Well, Against the Grain has only been out about a year. It's done about 89 or 90.
JAY: Yeah. About 90. 90,000 Against the Grains and about 80,85,000 No Controls.
JR: That's an absolute massive number for an indie label.
BRETT: Well, not really, because Generator has already done that much.
JAY: In one day.
JR: Already? Just in advance orders? Jesus. How much is the split between Europe and here?
BRETT: Europe is 35 percent. I don't know if that's true for Bad Religion. That's true for Epitaph, it's probably about the same for Bad Religion.
JR: JESUS. That is an absolute massive amount for an independent label band.
BRETT: It might be more than 35 (percent), it might be 40 or something.
JR: GOOD LORD. That's a really big pile. Why do you think that you outsell...
BRETT: Believe me, it is a pile, we had 'em out in the warehouse. (laughter) We saw them before we shipped them, because we don't drop-ship, we had to look at every single one. We touched every single box. Put it this way, we touched every single box before it went out the door. We had to charter a fucking plane to get 'em to Europe! (all laugh) You think I'm joking, do you?
JR: No, I don't, actually.
BRETT: The freight company had to charter a special plane. It was 11 pallettes. That's...how many boxes is that, Jay? That's 11 times 48?
BRETT: (computes) It was like 528 cases.
JAY: 53,000 units.
JR: PHEW. I bet you're glad the CD revolution has come? (laughs)
BRETT: Well, they're smaller.
JR: Takes up less space.
JAY: Yeah, but the boxes are still the same size. They just pack a 150 CDs in a box that would hold 50 records. They weigh a lot more, so my back doesn't appreciate it any that they take less space.
BRETT: I like records but I'm not one of these people who hates CDs. I like CDs.
JAY: Personally I like factory cassettes.
BRETT: I think a really perfect analogue system with a great pressing has better high end than a CD, but I like the low end and the stereo imaging better on a CD. And most people don't have audiophile-quality analogue systems, so CD's probably a much better configuration for the general populace.
JR: With the kind of sales you're generating, are you getting anybody from major labels sniffing around?
BRETT: Well...who's that guy who came here, Jay?
JAY: Uh...what was his name?
BRETT: Bruce Springsteen's keyboard player. Jack, what's Bruce Springsteen's keyboard player from the E Street Band? [Roy Bittan? ---- Richard]
JR: You're asking me?
JAY: From the E Street Band.
JR: Mitch Easter's band? (laughs)
BRETT: No, the E Street Band! Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
JR: I've never heard of Bruce Springsteen.
JAY: You never heard of him? (Jack laughs) That guy...he came from Asbury Park, he's like friends with Little Steven and the Disciples...
JR: Nope, never heard of him... (laughs)
BRETT: (bravely continuing) That guy came here and offered us some song demos.
JAY: What he actually offered us was...
BRETT: No, don't tell, don't tell! (laughs)
JR: Wait a minute, waite a minute.
JAY: What he offered us to do was to go and rerecord Against the Grain in its entirety. In its entirety, with his structuring.
BRETT: Rerecord the whole thing with him producing and with, like, slower tempos and modern production techniques. Slower tempos so that people can understand it.
JR: You're kidding me.
JAY: He wanted to rerecord the whole thing and change it all around. We're like, "No." We're like, "that's gay."
JR: And he ws really serious about this.
JAY: Dead serious.
BRETT: He brought along a guy with him.
JAY: He brought his checkbook.
JR: So he thinks he could turn something like "Turn on the Light" into this, like, massive hit.
BRETT: Right. Like, he thinks there's all kinds of potential hits on the record if we just did them with different arrangements.
JR: With his arrangements.
BRETT: I think it's probably true! But you don't just take something like that and do that! It's horrible!
JR: I think the masses would really find a happy tune like "Misery and Famine"...
JAY: If Whitney Houston did "Misery and Famine" it would be huge. Hu-uu-uge!
JR: There was a story in the paper yesterday that Randall Terry's mother's sister --- that is his aunt..
BRETT: Thank you for the genealogy.
JR: She's one of the foremost pro-choicers in the country, and Operation Rescue is coming to Buffalo this week, and she's going to be leading the anti-anti abortionist 'cause, and there's the possibility that he'll have to smash through the lines set up by his aunt.
JAY: Yeah, really? Is he going there? Is he going to be there?
JR: Yeah, well, he shows up around all their protests, right?
BRETT: That's hilarious.
JR: Have you actually heard from anybody in Operation Rescue? [A song about them is on //Against the Grain//.]
BRETT: They haven't taken any notice.
JAY: No, they have more important things to do.
JR: So to speak. [Nothing I can think of! --- JR]
BRETT: No, I haven't heard from them. No majors have made the band any offers yet.
JAY: I think we've kind of, in the press especially we've kind of put it out there that we're not...
BRETT: They're scared of us.
JAY: We're not willing to be wined and dined and swayed and anything. It's like, if they want to do it, it's going to take a lot of money and a lot of them backing off. It's like, we've been together for 12 years. For them to come up and say we can really do you guys --- we know better! If the band has been together two years and they say, we can really do you guys, you're gonna think. "Yeah, you can. You can really do us!"
BRETT: It's not a money issue, Jack, it's an issue of artistic integrity.
JAY: Yeah, exactly.
BRETT: I don't think anyone is willing to offer us that.
JAY: You don't want to have...that's why Epitaph is selling 85,000 Generators on the first day, because we know where to go! These guys are going to be trying to push us on some other level that we're not really at, you know what I mean?
JR: What exactly is Greg studying again?
JAY: Evolutionary biology.
JR: And how close is he to getting his doctorate?
JAY: Close. Really close.
JR: Has he begun work on his thesis yet?
JAY: I doubt it. He's been busy getting ready to write his thesis in essence, buying computers and shit to make it easy for himself. I can see it coming, a five hundred page thesis on why man crushes other men's skulls. (laughs)
JR: He's got to pass an oral
Only 1/3 of the interview is displayed here. The rest of the interview can be found in The Big Takeover #32 (1992), which is available as a back issue.