by Kim Hughes
Rock 'n' roll is a business built on lies. Thigh-slappers like "He left the band because of creative differences" or "It's all about the fans and not about the money" or -- our personal favorite -- "The gig was cancelled due to routing problems" attempt to mask ugly facts musicians and their record labels would rather you didn't know.
So it's breathtaking to hear a performer as candid as Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley. Over coffee in a downtown Toronto hotel lobby, the affable Bentley freely admits one of the reasons BR re-grouped with departed co-founder, songwriter-guitarist Brett Gurewitz was to ensure 2000's dismal-selling dog "The New America" wasn't their final statement.
The great granddaddies of SoCal thesaurus punk are far enough along in the game to know they weren't fooling anyone with their last release, least of all their fans who've known such BR epics as "Recipe for Hate," "Suffer" and "Stranger Than Fiction."
In fact, many had Bad Religion on death watch since Gurewitz's departure in '94 to focus on the Epitaph label Bad Religion had founded years before. But not even so-so post-Gurewitz titles like "No Substance" or "The Gray Race" could soften the blow dealt by "New America." The songwriting just wasn't there.
Though he's not actually touring with Bad Religion, Gurewitz did contribute songs to their solid new "The Process of Belief" (Epitaph), which conveniently hit shops prior to the group's inclusion on this year's punk pig-out, the Vans Warped Tour.
Like the band's best releases, "The Process of Belief" balances incisive social criticism with jagged, furiously paced punk-pop, with singer (and evolutionary biology doctorate-holder) Greg Graffin howling like a carnival barker with a bad attitude and a subscription to "The Economist."
Clearly, Bentley -- currently a resident of Vancouver Island -- has genuine enthusiasm both for the new release and for the band's continued well-being.
beer.com: Characterize the sessions for the new record.
Jay Bentley: Dr. Frankenstein. We had lost our drummer (Bobby Schayer), our last record was lame, Brett had rejoined the band, and as far as everyone else was concerned, we were finished. Nobody had any idea that we had this in us. But we just didn't want to stay stuck in a rut. It's like, who can name the Ramones' 13th album? I can't and they were a great band. We didn't want that legacy for ourselves.
b: You toured "New America" with Blink 182, a band that obviously owes you a debt, if only spiritually. Was that weird?
JB: No. The Blink guys are really cool and they treated us very well. My perspective was we are never going to play amphitheatres as a headliner, so this was our chance. I mean, really, we've been doing the same tour -- same clubs, same bus driver -- since '91. Every once in a while, it's nice to do something different.
b: This is your second time headlining the Warped Tour (they also played in '98). Does it seem as though the audience keeps renewing itself?
JB: I think the music goes hand-in-hand with the skateboarding aspect of the tour. Every year some 14-year-old kid gets a skateboard for Christmas. It's all just part of the package. So there's always an influx of new people coming to punk rock and to this lifestyle. The urgency of the music is a perfect soundtrack to extreme sports.
b: Yet so much of Bad Religion's music is cerebral. The kids you describe are after a visceral experience. How does that sit with you?
JB: We've been asked many times which is more important -- the music or the lyrics. I look at it this way. It's possible for a good band with a sh*tty lyricist to be successful, but it's not possible for a great lyricist with a sh*tty band to be successful. Bad music is bad music and if it is, your message will not get through because people will just turn you off.
b: England has always been curiously disinterested in your band. Why?
JB: I think the attitude among the English, at least in the early days, was that they already had their own punk rock scene. So we were like, fine, we'll go play Argentina. But it's started to turn around for us just recently, which is nice.