The Ramones recorded 14 studio albums, while The Clash and The Adolescents made six. On Sept. 28, Bad Religion released their 15th record, The Dissent Of Man. The event marked a milestone in Bad Religion’s career, an achievement that reminds us why the band’s “Crossbuster” logo hangs on the graffiti covered, puke stained wall in the Punk Rock Hall of Fame.
It was a grand occasion, over 30 years in the making. Flashback to 1979: Four So-Cal punks in high school decide to tap their musical influences—Black Flag, The Germs and The Sex Pistols, to name a few—and start a band. The result was Bad Religion, a creation that infuses intellectual song writing about social consciousness with vocal harmonies and fast melodies. Signed to Epitaph Records (the label owned and operated by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz), the band released their debut, How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, in 1982. The rest, as they say, is history. Bad Religion went on to deliver many more LPs from there, including 1998’s Suffer, which many critics sight as one of the most important punk rock records in history.
Along with the accumulation of years, Bad Religion has also increased in size; adding two members to the lineup, which currently consists of vocalist Greg Graffin, guitarist Brett Gurewitz, bassist Jay Bentley, guitarist Greg Hetson, guitarist Brian Baker and drummer Brooks Wackerman. It’s a roster that has remained unchanged for the past 10 years, a cast of musicians who will assemble at New York City’s Irving Plaza on Oct. 20, 26 and 27 as part of a three-day stop for The Dissent Of Man tour. Well, everyone except Brett Gurewitz…
How does it feel as a musician and a band to have released your 15th album?
Well, the 15th album is kind of a milestone. Not to put it into too much of a personal perspective, but it’s like having a kid (laughs). You kind of work at this thing and then you put everything into it and there it is. It’s always exciting to have something to offer. It’s exciting to feel—positive is part of it. We’ve made some records in the past where it was like, ‘Wow, that just felt like a contractual obligation. It didn’t really feel too artistic.’ This is one of those moments in a band’s history where you put out a record that you’re just extremely proud of.
Why are you proud of this album?
I think it’s the songwriting. It’s that the band has been together—these particular members of the group—has been together longer than any other. I think we’re really enjoying each other’s company, as well. So, I think this record kind of exemplifies part of what we want to do in terms of a band when you want to do something cohesive and be able to put something out there and go, ‘I’m really proud of this.’
This is the fourth album where all members have been steadily in the group, so do you think that has tightened your sound compared to what was being produced in the past?
I think it’s allowed everybody to kind of feel like this is now their band. I’ve been in the band 30 years, as well as Greg and Brett. Well now everybody kind of feels like they’re not the new guy. Even Brooks Wackerman, the newest guy, has been in the band 10 years. I think that bodes well to how we feel about each other, how we play together, you know, the camaraderie at the top.
You’re also celebrating the 30th anniversary as a band. Do you have any standout moments in the band’s history?
(Laughs) There’s so many. It’s so hard to pick just one. One of the things that Greg and I were talking about earlier was that you kind of hope that your biggest standout moment will happen tomorrow, that there’s still something grand to achieve. So from the moment we got together and made our first demo tape, which was kind of the ultimate achievement at the time, to making this last record, those steps and moments are all accumulating towards something that we hope is that one great moment. I think the feeling is that if you actually have an answer that your best moment was in 1992, then what the hell are you doing here in 2010? (Laughs)
Being together so long, there must have also been troubled times.
For sure! Anything that you’ve done for this long has its peaks and valleys. The down times, they’ve been personal, they’ve been professional. The band has gone through, obviously, member changes and people coming and going and albums being put out that we just didn’t feel connected to. The down times, even though there haven’t been many, those have been the things that we’ve been able to surmount and figure out. People say, ‘How do you survive 30 years?’ The answer is to try to figure out how to not just avoid confrontation, but to deal with it. When things are going wrong, you have to be mature enough to kind of get over it and figure out what do you do to make this better. It’s funny. One time, Greg said, ‘Compromise means no one’s happy.” (Laughs)
In your three decades, do you think Bad Religion has changed musically, especially in regards to the new album?
I hope that there’s been some sort of maturity in the song writing and the technical aspect of being able to play and learning our craft. It’s not something that we set out to change the world with. The whole idea was always that we want to share things that are in our heads with other people. In 1980, it was just pound on your guitars as hard as you can and play it as fast as you can, and that’s how we’re going to do it. But you start learning that, much like other things in life, you’re not going to be the fastest band; you’re not going to be the loudest band; but you’re going to be the best Bad Religion that is out there.
One thing I was curious about was the album’s title, which is a play on words. Where did it come from and how does it fit in with the record’s theme?
It’s kind of loosely based on Charles Darwin’s The Decent Of Man. Ours is the uprising of man. It’s the upheaval. It fits in well with more of our first album title, which was called How Could Hell Be Any Worse? Some of the songs aren’t really part of a dissention—an anger. But I think that the majority of the songs have a feeling of, in a typical matter and fashion, we can make things better if we just try.
Were there any social issues that influenced the album, as some have in the past?
I think that we kind of got as political as we’re going to get with The Empire Strikes First. The follow up to that was New Maps Of Hell, where you kind of have to move away from Bush bashing because that’s already been said and done. Moving into this album, I think both Brett and Greg were experiencing more personal growth in their lives by having a new baby and Greg going back to teaching, and he wrote a new book and he’s kind of just moving in different parts of his life. I think that those two things seem to be more informational in terms of the material they were writing.
That being said, the way that those two write, the songs come into play in so many different parts of my life. I remember somebody had read the lyrics to the song “Sorrow.” They said, ‘That’s really cool that you guys wrote a song about 9/11.’ I looked at them and I said, ‘You realize that song was written almost a year before that ever happened?’ It’s just something that is part of what we do, to try to share information in a way that makes sense in every application.
Did you collaborate with any musicians on this album?
Mike Campbell came in and did a few guitar solos. I can’t remember the name of the slide guitar player. Someone came in and played slide. We like to add little parts to certain songs just because it makes them that much richer for us to hear someone play on our songs. [Mike Campbell] is awesome! He was on the last record. He was working in the studio next to us with The Heartbreakers. When they asked Mike if he wanted to come and play a solo on one, he came in and said that it was the greatest thing for him because now his kids would think that he was cool (laughs). So I totally got that. I go, ‘Yeah, my kids don’t think I’m very cool. But I’m sure if I went out and did something with Eminem, I’d be rad.’ (Laughs)
You’re currently on tour to support the new album. How’s the road treating you?
Tonight’s the fourth show. We’re in Cincinnati. It’s been going well. It’s a process of learning how songs work on stage. We don’t really practice, and we don’t do a whole lot of rehearsal. That’s sort of that part of impulse, with knee jerk reaction and stuff. ‘Oh, we’re gong on tour? Great!’ It’s been great and we’ve kind of been celebrating this 30-year anniversary. We’ve been talking about it on stage, and everybody’s been really supportive of that. I always get a big smile on my face when Greg says, ‘Well, this is our 30th year,’ and everybody claps. When he says it, I still can’t really believe it.
I’ve heard that Brett doesn’t go on tour with you guys.
No, he hasn’t been able to tour because he’s the only one that actually has a real day job. (Laughs)
Is it strange playing with a stand in?
It flows. Brett left the band in ’94 and we got Brian in, so that just became how the band was—Brian, and Greg, and me and Graffin, and, at the time, Bobby Schayer on drums. So not having Brett on stage isn’t that weird because we’ve been without him for so long. Even when he came back, he came on the first tour. When we were done with that tour, he said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I can’t leave my company for that long.’ I said, ‘Totally understand.’
That was one of the things we couldn’t get over in ’93-’94. The Offspring were exploding, and he had to spend a lot more time at the label. We just didn’t know how to deal with that, so he quit. Now we’re here and he says, ‘I just can’t do this.’ I said, ‘You don’t have to. We’re totally golden. You take care of the business end of Epitaph; we’ll go out on the road.’
Fifteen albums, 30 years. What’s next? Is there anything else that needs to be achieved?
As a band, you want to put out the greatest record in history. That’s one reasonable goal. [Laughs] You want to play Madison Square Garden once in your life. But all of those things don’t really make that much of a difference. I think right now, we’re in this wonderfully comfortable area where we’re allowed to create and we’re allowed to go and play. We’re just really happy. I think in 2000, if it would have stopped, I would’ve been fairly bitter. I look at it right now in 2010, and if it all stops tomorrow, I’m okay with that.
Bad Religion will be performing at New York City’s Irving Plaza on Oct. 20, 26 and 27. For more info, go to BadReligion.com.