Bad Religion: Vocalist Greg Graffin on Punk Rock Nostalgia, Their New Album
Today, Southern California punk legends Bad Religion return to record stores with True North, their 16th studio album. You can stream the entire album here.
As with all the records they've released since their inception in 1980, the full-length is bursting with thought-provoking lyrics and driving tunes; one listen to the leaks of the title cut as well as the charmingly titled track "Fuck You" will attest to this statement.
Bad Religion vocalist and Ph.D. holder Greg Graffin was kind enough to share some time with Noisecreep recently to discuss the album as well as Bad Religion's songwriting process and his thoughts on punk rock nostalgia.
Bad Religion has been pretty spread out geographically in the past few years. You are in upstate New York at Cornell, guitarist Brian Baker is in Washington D.C. while the other guitarists - Greg Hetson and Brett Gurewitz - are on the west coast. How does the song writing process for a new record take place for you guys?
Well, we've always been a band that operates differently than most others. I remember when I told Brett that I wanted to continue in my academics and he said, 'That's fine, I'd like to concentrate on running our record label.' Also, at that time Greg Hetson was in the Circle Jerks and (bass player) Jay Bentley was in Wasted Youth. So we always had other things to pursue. But all of that was in 1982! [laughs] Who knew this arrangement would last this long? But to answer your question, I'm always having ideas for songs come to me, and so are the rest of the guys, but we are not communal with our songwriting. We're very content to work on our own when time allows itself. You can come into my house and see a few lines jotted down near the piano and it's the same way if you go over to Jay's house. But it's not until we arrange to get together that the songs get seen by the rest. That's when we start to work them up into actual songs.
I noticed True North is pretty stripped down in terms of production compared to your last few albums. Was this a conscious effort?
The one thing I can say about Bad Religion is we've been pretty prolific considering our circumstances. We've never really looked back, but this time around we looked back on the records that people consider the 'classic' era of the band; records like Suffer, No Control and Against the Grain. With True North, I think we took the classic formula and mixed it with what we've gathered over the years as musicians and ramped it up a little bit.
Is there a running theme to True North?
Like most of our albums, it's a collection of songs that are a snapshot of what we're thinking and what we're going through at the time. But this time around, we are going through something collectively as a band that is unusual. Most of the members of the band have kids who are the same age as we were when set out on this punk journey. It's both interesting and heartbreaking to see them struggle with the same pains that we did when they were our age. The title True North is a metaphor for the idea that we are given a set of instructions like a mapmaker. But maps are just guides. Everybody knows that when you're out in the world, maps are meaningless because your compass needle will point you to magnetic north, it doesn't match up with what the map makers told you to follow. And this goes on throughout life. It's not just young men and women who struggle with finding their way in the word. True North celebrates this quest for identifying and dealing with the world and the expectations thrown upon you.
As you stated before, Bad Religion is a band that has kept on progressing after many bands from the early '80s era of American hardcore stopped. What are your thoughts on the bands that have been reuniting as of late and the rise of nostalgia for that era in music?
The feeling of nostalgia might come from what I just described. Maybe it's generational; maybe they're seeing something in young people right now that they see in themselves. Until you used the word 'nostalgia', I didn't really think about it in that way.
Oh yeah, you see a lot of bands reforming to play just the eight songs they recorded for a seven inch EP in 1983.
I would call that a heritage act! From the beginning, that's something we never wanted to be. That means the only reason anyone is coming out to see you is to relive their high school years. Whether or not this nostalgic punk thing will catch on, I guess only time will tell. It's not until these bands start playing state fairs that we'll know for sure.
- Tony Rettman