|Category:||Article - Internet||Publish date:||2/1/1996|
|Source:||Addicted To Noise #2.02 (February 1996) (United States)||With:||Greg Graffin, Greg Hetson, Jay Bentley|
|Synopsis:||Article about the band's history with comments from Jay Bentley, Greg Graffin and Greg Hetson. Note: this article only includes page 1 to 5 (6 to 8 are missing).|
Sleeping With The Enemy: Bad Religion Tries To Sell Out
The race is on for the members of one of the most influential bands of the '80s to discover if there is life after punk.
I. "I SEEK 100 ANSWERS / I FIND BUT ONE OR TWO"
You could say Bad Religion have something to prove. The veteran L.A. punk band are survivors of the West Coast's second great wave, the early '80s hardcore scene which took place at clubs like the Stardust and the Masque, those glorious days of safety pins and pogoing, when Hollywood put its own distinctive spin on the new, three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust music that was coming from New York and Londonbands like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash.
There was a heady feeling in the air back then, like rock & roll could be taken over from the dinosaur arena-rock acts which had bloated it past the point of identification. That was the atmosphere back in 1980 when teenaged midwestern transplants Greg Graffin and Jay Bentley met and became best friends while attending junior high school in the heart of L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, just 30 milesbut worlds awayfrom the scene fomenting in Hollywood.
"If I were to give that time and place any credit, it would be that the absolute staleness of it was what forced people like Greg and myself out, leading us to think, 'This isn't comfortable,' without exactly knowing why," says Bentley. "People say, 'Oh, it was just a bunch of suburban kids rebelling against nothing.' Well, that's exactly what it was. Nothing was happening."
They started reading books on existentialism by philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Kant and Lao-Tzu, cut their hair, began hanging out in Hollywood and formed a band "under the siege of persecution," according to Graffin, with fellow punk converts guitarist Brett Gurewitz and drummer Jay Ziskrout. After rejecting such potential names as "Head Cheese" and "Smegma," they settled on Bad Religion and designed their now-famous logo of a crucifix inside a red circle with a slash through it. Greg pinpoints the root of his adolescent anger from growing up on the "wrong side of Ventura Blvd," raised by a single mother in a lower-middle-class pocket in the midst of affluence.
Just a bunch of suburban kids rebelling against nothing.
"I was not angry at my socio-economic standing," insists the erudite Graffin, now 30 and living in Ithaca pursuing a Ph.D. in paleontologyironic for a 21st Century Digital Boy and punk-rock dinosaur to be studying fossils. "I was angry more at the disrespect shown. My mom always put food on the table. I'm talking about the working poor... I think their biggest frustration is not being respected as citizens of the United States."
II. "IF YOU HAVE GOT ENOUGH NAIVETE AND CONVICTION THEN THE ANSWER IS PERFECT FOR YOU"
Back then, the enemy was obvious... the bloated carcass of the rock & roll establishment and the decreasing importance of the individual in an increasingly mechanized corporate monolith. So a flourishing parallel rock & roll universe grew up alongside the mainstream industry, with its own hierarchy, its own magazines, its own style of dress and its own moral code... one that hopefully allowed, at the very least, musical variety.
"There was a musical community," reminisces Bad Religion bassist Greg Hetson, an original member of the L.A. punk group the Circle Jerks, who first put his current band on the map when he played their demo while guesting on d.j. Rodney Bingeheimer's influential KROQ show, "Rodney on the ROQ." "It wasn't just punk. Everyone hung out together. The Blasters, the Plimsouls, Los Lobos, X... The camaraderie was fun in those days. But that stuff about the glory days was overrated. Playing places with no toilets and holes in the wall, police harassing you."
The establishment's fear and antagonism fueled the movement's aggression and Bad Religion's anger, especially on their '82 full-length album debut, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? which Gurewitz put out on his own Epitaph label financed in part by a $1,000 loan from his fatherand sold, much to the band's amazement, almost 10,000 copies within a year.
"It seems like we reinvent ourselves every four years," says Bentley.
The band's approach was young, fast and scientific, but right from the beginning, they had a way with rhythmic hooks, abbreviated guitar solos and multiple harmoniesas much influenced by the Beatles, folk and Graffin's childhood idol Todd Rundgren as by Black Flag or the Germs. Graffin momentarily strayed from the formula after Gurewitz bought him a Roland Juno 6 synthesizer and he ended up using it to write all the songs for the psychedelically moody and aptly titled Into the Unknown EP in '83, which led to the first demise of the band. Graffin went off to study at the University of Wisconsin, Gurewitz became a recording engineer, drummer Finestone fled to England while Bentley joined Wasted Youth and T.S.O.L.
"It seems like we reinvent ourselves every four years," says Jay. "Not necessarily dramatically, but something happens where we have to stop and go, 'What was that?'"
Remarkably, the group got back together when Graffin, kicked out of Wisconsin when they discovered he wasn't a legal resident of the state, returned to UCLA and put together a version of the band which included Circle Jerk Hetson and drummer Finestone, a line-up which recorded a return to their hardcore roots, '84's Back to the Known.
III. "EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU"
For all the media attention and activity, punk was soundly rejected by the mainstream record industry, who argued it had no following. Punk cultists fervently believed, if it were given the exposureand promotional budgetsof mainstream rock & roll, it would find its audience. By the mid-80s, MTV was starting to make a dent with groups like Blondie, the Clash, Talking Heads and the Cars, but for the most part, hard-core punk-rockers were kept under wraps, relegated to specialty shows like "120 Minutes" or "Headbanger's Ball."
In 1986, Bentley returned to the band, soon to be followed by Gurewitz, who saw a Bad Religion reunion as the best thing to relaunch his Epitaph label. With the 1988 release of Suffer, the group took a quantum leap upwards in songwriting, beginning to define its turf with songs like Graffin's "Best For You," which laid out one of the band's major themes of being caught between two worlds: "Above us lay the borders/Below us lay the truth/We're somewhere in the middle/And we're all discontent too."
In "You Are (The Government)," he rails against the pressure in modern society to conform and lose your individuality: "Sit down and listen and they'll tell you when you're wrong/Eradicate but vindicate as progress creeps along." There's an abiding feeling on Suffer, as well as '89's No Control and '90's Against the Grain that mankind is being turned into robotic ants, cogs in the wheel, grist for the mill. That same theme of dehumanization is apparent in the band's brand-new The Gray Race album. And while some may accuse Bad Religion of preaching to the converted, Graffin is quick not to absolve himself from the morass he describes.
"Since I was young, I always thought it was ugly hearing a band preach or put themselves on a moral pedestal," says Graffin. "I've always tried to stay away from that and I feel I've succeeded. I don't think things are hopeless. I'm trying to find a new slant on something we've taken for granted. It's an illustration, not an absolute."
"We don't get pissed off at anyone in particular," echoes Jay. "We sing about the stuff you do when you're frustrated, whether it's being stuck in traffic or something about yourself. All the songs we do are not written about what we expect or want to see happen, but what is. 'We're all in this together' is what you want, but what you have is 'Them and Us.' That's the way it'll always be."
IV. "SANITY IS A FULL-TIME JOB"
And then along came Nirvana. And Pearl Jam. Suddenly, an entire generation was discovering punk-rock. And, thanks to their steadfast longevity, relentless touring and hip, indie standing, Bad Religion started to see their album sales rise steadily. Suffer sold 8,000 copies worldwide, while '89's No Control sold 20,000 and '90's Against the Grain 40,000. Gurewitz's Epitaph had likewise expanded, adding bands like Pennywise, NOFX, Offspring and Rancid to its rapidly expanding roster. By the time of '93's Recipe For Hate, which included cameos by the likes of admirers such as Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, the band was being pursued by the likes of Atlantic's Danny Goldberg, the very man who had managed Kurt Cobain. The group wrestled with the decision, made more difficult by the fact that band member Gurewitz was also running the band's record label Epitaph.
Graffin, never one to follow any sort of party line, pushed to expand the group's base by signing with a major, even though he was now living in upstate New York, pursuing his doctorate in biology at Ivy League Cornell University.
"When we sat down with Atlantic and Sony (for the rest of the world), we said, 'Here's what we sell, and we can roughly expect to do better than that... whether it's 50% more or twice as much,'" explains Bentley.
They say they're not pissed off at anyone in particular--but would you want to meet these guys in a dark alley?
What was even more attractive to the band, though, was Atlantic's promise to give them complete creative freedom.
"Danny told us he didn't want to know... he just wanted to hear the final album," says Jay. "Everybody else just told us to go, have a good time and make a record. Hey, we've been doing this for 15 years. We didn't need any creative direction."
After selling 35,000 on Epitaph, Recipe For Hate SoundScanned another 57,000 when it went over to Atlantic distribution. Label officials told Billboard, because one-stops and Mom-and-Pop outlets were not accurately tallied, the album ended up selling between 200,000-250,000, setting the stage for the group's authentic major label debut. That same year, they toured the U.S. with a fledgling punk group from the Bay Area known as Green Day opening for them.
V. "WE'RE LIVING IN THE DENOUMENT OF THE BATTLE'S GRIPPING AWE"
The band which now included drummer Bobby Schayer found themselves back where they started in the Valley at Rumbo Recorders, a studio owned by Daryl Dragon of Captain & Tennille fame, to record their official major label bow. "It's such a fuckin' depressing feeling," grumbled Graffin to Spin magazine. "We spent the worst years of our lives here."
With veteran metal producer Andy Wallace on board, the band set out to make an uncompromisingly hard-edged punk-rock record, going out of their way to prove the major label affiliation would not soften their approach, itself an overreaction to being signed.
"It was definitely a hesitant album," nods Jay. "It was the first time anyone had given us a recording advance. On Epitaph, we did things based on the budget we had, which was 'How much money do we have?'"
"You think about that pressure all the time. I would say there were times when you're sitting behind the board going, 'I really don't want to go overboard on this.' It's easy to sit in a studio for 10-15 weeks to make an album. We walked out in five with Stranger Than Fiction and said, 'We're done.' There's a lot of fun to be had when you're doing something on your own and you stretch the borders. And there really are no rules. But I think we began to feel as if we were entering an arena where there were a few more rules. Which is OK. They weren't rules necessarily imposed on us, but it's just kinda like, you don't want to get too carried away with yourself."
VI. "WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS ACCOUNTABILITY"
A funny thing happened to Bad Religion on the way to the release of the prophetically titled Stranger Than Fiction. Former opening act Green Day went on to sell nine million copies of their album, Dookie, while former Epitaph labelmates Offspring moved more than five million copies of their record, Smash. All of a sudden, expectations for Bad Religion were heightened. A quarter million records was a drop in the bucket. And just as they were about to embark on a nine-month tour, Gurewitz, overwhelmed by his label's growth in the wake of Offspring's massive success, decided he didn't want to go out on the road, preferring to stay home and mind the office. All involved termed it an amicable, if somewhat sudden, parting.
"Things happened pretty quickly," acknowledged Bentley.
The band moved fast to hire Brian Baker, a veteran of D.C. hard-core punk bands Minor Threat (the legendary first group of Fugazi's Ian MacKaye), Meatmen and Dag Nasty as well as, more recently, mutant metal act Junkyard, who were briefly signed to a deal at Geffen Records.
"We were a little concerned, of course," says veteran Hetson. "But it brought us closer together, man. That's a cheesy sentiment, I know, but it did."
The band was then off to Europe, Japan and North America before playing a string of dates as special guests of Pearl Jam, all of which boosted Stranger Than Fiction to the 300,000-350,000 in sales, the most in the band's career, even if some in the industry viewed it as a disappointment.
"We're happy the band has grown a certain percentage, saleswise, with each album," says Hetson, who curtailed his own comeback with the Circle Jerks, who failed to take advantage of the punk revival when they were signed to Mercury Records last year. "Longevity is better than being a flash-in-the-pan, where you have two years of glory and then you're bitter for the rest of your life.
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