Interview with Brett Gurewitz - by Kai / Waste of Mind - Nov / 2002
How did it happen, that you rejoined Bad Religion after all this years?
Well, it was actually pretty simple, Greg came by one day, we had lunch and he said that Bad Religion is finished doing records with Atlantic and asked my, if I was interested to write a whole record together with him. I didn't had to think twice about it, cause I was really in the mood to write a record and so I said yes.
The return of Bad Religion to Epitaph, so came afterwards?
I think it was just natural, that they come back. They were no longer on Atlantic, cause the contract was finished, so they would have to resign with Atlantic or search another label and thru the fact, that I was involved in writing this record, it was just normal that they came back on Epitaph and I think there was no big discussion about it, it was just obvious for everyone involved. Hmm, I don't wanna make it sound, that it wasn't a big deal, cause it was at that time. I didn't write a song for four years and the offer from Greg came just at the right time for me in my life.
You just told thet you haven't written any songs for four years and I think even longer together with Greg. Was it hard to get things going again?
It was unbelievably easy, it was just like we stopped doing it yesterday. It was one of this magic things, I can't really explain it, it was like we never have taken a time off and it shows in the music.
Absolutly, I really have the impression, that it sounds more like the earlier Bad religion stuff. Was it just a natural devolopment or something Bad Religion really wanted to do?
It was totally natural and organic. To give you an idea, we wrote and recorded the entire record in only about four months. It just came out!
How would you consider your role in the band?
Well, it's interesting, when we started playing together my role was the same as it used to be. I think what it is, I'm like a sounding board for Greg, he can bounce ideas of me and I think that helps him. Also I'm writing the songs so I have a songwriting role, I'm a bit of a producer, cause Greg and I shared the producing credits. We did the producing together and I think helped a lot in which direction the records should go, how it shall sound like.
I would like to come to Epitaph, you're active in a lot of ways which leads me to the question, how is Epitaph organized? How much time do you have to spend in the office?
I don't have to be here all the time anymore. I have about 35 people, that are working here and I have some really good people, who can handle everything here, when I'm not here, except of signing bands, only I sign bands. When I'm here I'm involved in everything, but it's no problem for me to leave the office. There are people here who I trust.
I know it from myself, that it's not easy to avoid getting it stress, doing several different things at the same time. How do you handle it, can you avoid it?
No, it's not easy. It's something you have to work on and it's important to to take a break once in a while and I do things like bagpacking oder going to the mountains or just read a book, but it's very important to have a stradegy to handle the stress.
Is there anything that got more important for you in the last years, than it used to be?
No, I actually cannot think of anything I have less ambition now, than I had when I was younger. The important thing for me now is really getting most out of each day. I really enjoyed working on this new record and it was a wonderful process to write it, record it and produce it and I just take life as it comes. I'm really not super ambitious to grow my business, I just try to find and produce things that are interesting and I'm also doing some interesting things outside of the world of punkrock also, for example Anti Records and working with Tom Waits.
Is there are label policy of Epitaph?
Yes, Epitaph defintly has one, this is also the reason I started Anti. Epitaph is a punkrock label, whatever that means. I try to sign bands that I consider as punkrock. That's basicly the policy, cause in our days Punkrock is so much more diverse, than it used to be. You can have a group like Get Up Kids, who are called punkrock and than you can have a band like Sick of it All. One sounds like pop and the other like hardcore, but they are both punkrock. I used to be that Epitaph had a certain sound and I don't want to have this anymore, I want to spread it, but what I can do is that I still keep it punkrock. ANTI is the opposite, it's like not punkrock at all, on ANTI are interesting, challenging artists, who have nothing to do with punkrock.
You have so different artists on ANTI like Tricky, Buju Banton, Tom Waits, DJ Muggs or Promise Ring, so that there is propably not a musical policy of ANTI Records, what is then the poicy of ANTI?
There is an artistic integrity and this is the guiding principal/ policy of ANTI. It's about artists who are making their own roles.
Do also wanna built ANTI as an alternative for great artists, who are sick of the majors?
It's a place for artists, that are tired of major label, who don't wanna work anymore in this world. It's another way for them to work and that is also the reason that it is called ANTI Label, because they are tired of the corporate music establishment, but need at the same time a certain level of support, that is a bitter greater, than what a small indie can give them. I wanna ANTI to be that for them.
How big do you think, ANTI could grow in the next years, because I think there are a lot of great artists, who are sick of their major label?
I don't have a vision in that direction, I don't care if it gets big or stays small, I want it to serve the artists. Tom Waits don't does a record and ask himself how big I'm gonna to get with this record, he doesn't care. Sure I would be happy if everybody in the world hears his new reord, but it's not my goal, my goal is to get some cool music out in this world.
Epitaph is one of the bigger Independent Labels and I often read the expression "indipendent Major Label". What would you consider as biggest differences between Epitaph and the majors?
Oh well, the people should realise, that also we are considered big, or maybe are big in comparrison to other indipendent labels, but in comparison to the majors we are so tiny. People say that we are an indi major and maybe they get this impression, because we do a good job at the record stores and they see a lot of records from us. Even from the Independent labels, we are only about the 40th in the world, we are not even in the Top 30. If you are punkrock kid, you only see the punkrock world and think that punkrock is so big, but salsa is a lot bigger or also chinese pop, also you propably never heard of it. Compared to a major, we are really a tiny Indi. I think that is a credit to the punkrock scene, that Epitaph got as big as it now is, because to be honest, it is only the kids who support the scene, that made us so big. We are 100% independent, which means I own Epitaph 100%, even in the US and Europe we have independent distributors, I do business with one major and that is only in japan, I licenced to Sony and the reason is, that the japanese music culture doesn't really have good independent distributors and so I had no other chance, if I wanna sell records there. We been going, since I put out the "Suffer" record and we're still going, we're still alive and I still own everything. We also not as big as we were on time, when the Offspring came out, but we managed to stay around and in our days I just try to put out good records and sign interesting punkrock bands and major labels are not doing to much of that thing.
Do you often have to fight this prejustice?
I know what the kids think, it's cool, the punkrock scene polices itself, it always has, even in the very early days. I know what they mean, if they call Epitaph an independent major and it is cool like this.
Did I get you right that you like being controlled by the scene?
No, what I mean is, that punkrock is about trusting nobody except yourself, investigating things for yourself and not accepting things that you got told automaticly.
You said, you're the only one who's signing bands at Epitaph, what are looking for in a band?
Usually I look for a very cute singer … (laughs) .. yes it's very important that the singer is cute and skinny, the band have to be very young and let me tell them what to do! (laughs) The main thing I'm looking for is song writing ability and I also look for bands that have really good songs and the singer is important to me. I'm not choking now, cause he has to have a strong voice. It doesn't matter what kind it is, but it has to have something that grabs me. And there is something I look for, that I can't put into words, it's hard to explain. They have to be real bands, I don't sign bands of tapes, you have to be a real band that plays together, that rehearses, that goes out and plays shows. It's also imporrtant that they have a following in their hometown, if they don't, it's kind of a sign.
So who do you find out about most bands?
Mostly from my other bands and them I have to go see them. Even bands that aren't on my label help me, for example Dillinger Four, who are from Minneapolis say, hey there's a band in our town, which you should check out. So I often find out about bands and can then get their demo.
Is commerical potential important?
No, it's the the opposite, I don't give a fuck. I mean, that's not how we got big. There was no commercial potential in The Offspring, when I signed them, I didn't see it. It just happened. I believe the next thing I got success with, is another band that I don't consider to have commercial potential. That's the way to really do it.
When I look at the older punkorama samplers, your roster really changed a bit. I also think of band like Zeke, Zen Guerilla, Dwarves, New Wave Hookers, …
No, it wasn't a cosious descision, it's I don't wanna Epitaph getting to much bands, it's a problem cause I need to sign 2 or 3 bands a year, just to keep it interesting, so sometimes I have to say two records are enough. I do a two record deal with most bands and sometimes I don't do a new contract with them. It's not because I don't love them anymore, it's because I have something new, I have to sign. I can't get to point, where we are releasing a hundred records a month, you have to keep it to a point, else it becomes to big to handle.
I don't know when you actually bought Burning Heart, but was this also a point, which changed the whole situation, cause it's the same as signing 20 new awesome bands at one point?
Yes, that's absolutly true.We don't really control Burning Heart, cause Peter own's it also and we are partners. I don't know if you knew this. Peter's got some excellent bands, I love THE HIVES so much and having the REFUSED backcatalog is amazing, or the T(I)NC and of course MILLENCOLIN. I'm a fan of Peters signings and you're right, we are one company and I don't want to get us too big. It's painful to do it and say to the bands, we did two records, it was great, but now it's time to move on.
I have the impression, that most Burning Heart records are released in the US, but the old BEATSTEAKS record is the only one from Epitaph Europe that got released in the US. What's the reason?
It's like, Epitaph Europa doesn't have signed too much bands. It's very hard, but if you take a european punkgroup, american punks don't necessarly buy it. It's hard to covince them to try, but it's hard and I don't know why. There are so good groups from Europe, but they just don't sell here. It's one of things. Back in the 80s or 70s British people wouldn't buy american punk, it's the same. Maybe It will change a little bit.
Do you think, that releasing the Burning Heart stuff in the US helps changing this a little bit, cause I heard that MILLENCOLIN is not doing so bad in the US.
Yes, It's already changing, for example also T(I)NC is doing pretty well, is starting doing pretty well. Epitaph Europe is trying to do what they can, to give the european something back. They are sitting in Amsterdam and they released a couple of records from the HEIDEROOSJES, which are really known in Holland, but I can say you, that american kids won't gonna buy the HEIDEROOSJES, they cannot even spell the name. It's just who it is.
I wanted to come to speak on hellcat. I heard you own it together with Tim Armstrong from RANCID and I wanted to know how is everthing organized there?
Tim does the signings and I care more about the business side. I also have an opinion on the signing, but actually I care more about the business stuff.
You also produce bands from time to time, like for example the last Millencolin record. What's important for you to produce a band, cause I can imagine that a lot of bands want you to produce them.
Well, it's different things. Sometimes they are friends and I think I can help, sometimes I'm a fan of their music, but I just love producing. I don't do it too much, but I just love it.
If you look back, who important was the success of the OFFSPRING for Epitaph, cause you also have a bunch of other releases that done well.
It was extremly important, if it wasn't for the OFFSPRING, who knows, were I would be right now. I maybe would work in a gas station.
Could it happen again?
Of course it can happen, but It don't know what it makes happen, I know it has nothing to do with me. Let's put it this way, if it ever happens again, this time I'm prepared. I was totally unprepared the last time. This time I'm gonna hold on to my own ass. I just exploded over night, we were six people here. This time I would do thing differently if it happens, or maybe it won't happen. I think it's still possible that it happens again, but time changed and I think its harder.
Why would you do different now?
I would keep a sense of humour. I would take myself not so seriously and I would realise that I have nothing to do with it. It went to my head a little bit. I came back down, but it's hard to avoid.
Yeah, I think that can happen to anybody. Just have to imagine if you play every night in front of, lets say a thousand people, night after night people come up to you and tell you how great you are, see you as something special and wait to talk to you. In this situation every punkrock kid that blames band, is in fear of getting arrogant or whatever.
Exactly, that's true, it can happen to anyone, who is in this situation!!!
Thanks really, really a lot for the interview!!!!