|Interview - Internet
|ocregister.com (United States)
|Brooks Wackerman, Jay Bentley
|Jay and Brooks talk about the 'cute' factor in the music industry nowadays, recording True North, the layers of a Bad Religion song, and the future of the band.
By Kelli Skye Fadroski, Orange County Register
The punk legends headline opening night of the annual music and tattoo fest in O.C.
The past few months have been a productive blur for Bad Religion.
We caught up with members of the veteran punk band while they scurried around an L.A. rehearsal space after a lengthy session last month. Guitarist Greg Hetson was finishing his portion of Sharpie autographs on special CD sleeves of their new album True North, which dropped Jan. 22. Vocalist Greg Graffin was busy confirming travel plans for the East Coast while guitarist Brett Gurewitz wiped sweat off his forehead and fired up his laptop to check emails, and guitarist Brian Baker made tweaks to his instrument. Everyone had a job this day, and they were hopping to it.
Drummer Brooks Wackerman and bassist Jay Bentley, both of whom currently reside in Costa Mesa, were tasked with being interviewed. We got cozy, sitting cross-legged on the one-step stage riser in their rehearsal room, filled with the smell of sweat and drive-thru burritos. The band has been warming up for its next North American tour, which kicks off March 8 with a headlining turn at the 6th annual three-day Musink Tattoo Convention and Music Festival at the OC Fair & Event Center.
Local favorites the Vandals and Guttermouth will open that show, while the rest of the event features sets from reunited Pennywise, Lagwagon and T.S.O.L. on Saturday and Reverend Horton Heat, Lucero and Lemmy Kilmister’s the Headcat on Sunday. The fest also boasts an impressive lineup of hundreds of tattoo artists from around the globe, highlighting some homegrown talent as well.
“We’re all getting new face tattoos to start this tour with,” Bentley says with a hearty laugh, but is he kidding? “I do appreciate that the tour is starting right down the street from my house.”
As we chat, the guys’ T-shirts still damp from practice, the conversation turns to how hard artists have to work nowadays to get attention if they don’t have a gimmick. Bad Religion is one of the most influential punk rock bands to come out of Los Angeles in the early ’80s, yet the guys agree that in these times it’s difficult for even moderately successful, long-running acts to get new material heard.
“I’m 48 years old and I remember when MTV came on the air, but for a lot of people music is visual and it has been their entire lives,” he explains. “There’s a lot of this ‘cute’ factor now in music. Talent be damned, it’s ‘oh, those guys are so cute.’ Yeah, but they also (stink) and write songs about nothing. It’s all about being cute. We’re like the Christopher Cross of punk rock – we don’t have a chance in hell.”
True North is their 16th studio effort, issued on Gurewitz’s independent label Epitaph Records, which also put out the band’s first six albums as well as its latest handful. Bentley says the process of releasing new music every two years or so just comes naturally to the sextet.
“Now I can say that making a record and releasing it is a lot like having a kid,” he continues. “You create this thing and you set it forth into the world to do whatever the hell it’s going to do. You watch it for a few years and some people are like ‘God, this is so great’ and some people are like ‘this (stinks).’ It’s a privilege to have 33 years to look back on and say, ‘Well, these are the times we did good and these are the times we did some not so good things.’”
“Some kids aren’t so great,” Wackerman adds. “You just have to let those ones go.”
Bentley notes this current lineup is the longest-lasting incarnation of Bad Religion since its inception in 1979. Wackerman, who previously anchored Suicidal Tendencies, is the newest – and at 36 the youngest – member, having joined in 2001. The only mainstay is Graffin, a prolific philosophizer who’s now a professor at Cornell University. He founded the group with Bentley and Gurewitz, but over the years both have left and returned. This steady stint, Bentley says, has once again made their recording process fun and anticipatory.
“I can remember when we were on another label and making records felt like a contractual obligation,” he says of the band’s five years on Atlantic Records. “Check writers would come in and they don’t care what you’re doing, they’re just like: ‘Is there a single? We don’t hear a single.’ We don’t make ‘singles’ – we make albums. Now, though, I feel like a mad scientist in a laboratory who has been left to his own devices and we’re all in there like ‘oh my God, wait ’til they hear this!’ It’s fantastic.”
Without the pressure of being forced to create, the band signs on to do one album at a time, rather than an extended multi-disc deal. They record only when they feels like it.
“This last time,” Bentley explains, “Brooks was on tour with Tenacious D and he had a window of eight days, so we said, ‘Let’s make a record.’ We just pumped it out and it was solid work, work, work.”
“We had no pre-production on this record,” Wackerman adds. “Not having well-rehearsed songs brings out a spontaneity that you wouldn’t normally have. Most of the songs were done in two or three takes.”
Though often flagged as an outspoken political firebrand that has always peppered in thoughts on religion and current affairs, Bentley says there’s a broader outlook behind it. Aside from 2004’s The Empire Strikes First, admittedly the group’s most direct aim at the political climate, few Bad Religion albums and songs are so rooted in that. Most are concerned with “human issues,” while recent tracks, he adds, can be categorized two ways: “No, I won’t clean my room” and “No, I won’t go to school today,” plus a few focused on “I love this girl, but she doesn’t love me back.”
“A lot of the stuff Greg is writing is about his kids and their point of view and how he sees himself,” Bentley points out. “Lyrically every Bad Religion song is like peeling an onion. There’s a layer where it’s your first impression and then maybe there’s a double entendre, then there’s a sarcastic layer of ‘but, do we really mean it?’ It’s all about how we approach things as humans and how we can be incredibly mean to each other, and how is it that I feel so inferior to what’s happening.
“With us, it’s never really a statement. It’s more of a question. … We still have something to say and we’re still just as angry as we were when we were 15. We’re just a little more eloquent.”
“Maybe we are,” Wackerman says with a laugh, reminding that the lead single from their new release is titled “F*** You.”
“OK,” Bentley defends, “we may be the only band on the planet to be able to say in a song ‘f*** you / It’s Pavlovian rude.’ I don’t see any other band going: ‘Yeah, “Pavlovian rude” … that seems to work really well for that.’ What the hell does that even mean?”
“I had to ask Jay the other day what that second line even meant,” Wackerman admits. “I really don’t use that sentence on a daily basis, but it’s a nice dichotomy. The beauty of being in this band is that it’s the best college I never had to pay for.”
Since Bad Religion celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2010 with a slew of gigs at House of Blues Anaheim, where they dusted off deep cuts from some of its earliest works, Bentley says the band will cut some of that material from future shows and focus more on what’s been created in the past dozen years.
“If we were to play an odd song from The Dissent of Man (2009) or from New Maps of Hell (2007) I think you’d see more people excited than if we played some random song from 1991 and some weirdo at the bar screamed ‘wooooo!’ One guy? Who cares? People are like, ‘You should have played ‘Suffer.’ I’ll respond: ‘You should have been there in ’88.’ I don’t care that you’re only 20, that’s your fault. I mean, we can’t possibly please everyone.”
For now the band takes things one show at a time, but when Bad Religion decides to call it quits, Wackerman says, there won’t be any Kiss-like farewell tour. He and Bentley agree that they will continue to make music as long as their fire is still burning.
“When people ask me what I attribute our longevity to,” Bentley says, “I always say tenacity times naïvety. We’re too stupid to do anything else, so we just keep bull-heading forward going: ‘We’re not going to stop.’”
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English transcript added
English transcript added
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Interview added: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
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