There are some bands that don't always translate on the first listen. You could love a band. They could represent some great time in music, but when playing them for a friend to hear the first time, it won't carry. Maybe that friend needs some kind of context or narrative to explain why Lifetime was such an important band. Then maybe after a few listens, and a mixtape or two, they'll get it.
That is not the case with Bad Brains. Nobody is going to argue whether or not The Bad Brains are important. It's pretty much accepted that they were the first band to play the style that would become known as, "hardcore." Their first album is unquestionably a perfect record. Their records are peppered with reggae tracks that provide an often much needed respite from the hardcore blitzkrieg of songs like, "Supertouch," and they did a great deal to break down the color barriers of a music scene that was predominantly white.
Punknews interviewer Jon Reiss recently spoke with member Daryl Jenifer shedding some light on went into the making of this band that engendered a genre, gave rise to a whole new style of mosh and introduced a slew of people to the word, "Jah."
Listening to Bad Brains, it feels like the guitar, the bass, the drums and vocals are all this one vicious instrument, this force that came out of nowhere. Many bands have done their damnedest to re-create that sound, but nobody had ever really come close. What would you say is the one secret ingredient behind the Bad Brains?
First, the style we have is punk rock, right? So, we grew up musicians in our various neighborhoods, and in any hood youâve got your athletes, your musicians, etc. You know what I mean? So in our hood we were the cats that played the guitar and the drums and stuff, you know? So, what Iâm trying to say is, firstly we were the cats that played the guitar and the drums and we opened our minds to various styles of music. When we discovered punk, most punk bands were cats that had a political stance or they sung about drugs, but most cats that played punk rock couldnât really play. But, that was the beauty of it, you know? Like, "Iâll be the bass player, you can play drumsâ¦." With the Bad Brains, we already knew how to play a little bit. Weâd been playing music since becoming teenagers. So now bringing that to a genre of music where most folks really donât know how to play and you got a style being born of cats that can play but they want to play punk. So we started to create our own style based on the bands we loved from the punk era like The Ramones and The Damned. When you listen to those bands you can hear similarities between their style and our style. So now weâre going to play our style, being black and from the hood and loving punk rock, playing it our own way. Eventually we create our own style which I like to call "progressive punk," like weâre thinking about this shit, were not just bashing out the chords, weâre thinking about the type of chords. Weâre thinking about this punk rock style. So our sound and style was thought-out. We cared a lot about it. Before shows weâd figure out what our plan was. We always had a plan, like a struggle. Like a football team. Weâd be rehearsing and go, "Okay, weâre gonna come out and kick it like this and then kick it like thatâ¦" So all that too was coming into this punk rock music.
So, hereâs what happened. We used to play veryâ¦what people thought was fast, but if you look back, it was kind of slow. So when our style started to pop off, the kids that started to create bands around our style, which was like the Ramones and The Dammed type of style, they tried to kick it like us but they couldnât really do because they actually played much faster, thinking that we were playing really fast. So it was like this juxtaposition where you know, you try to be something, and you might not necessarily end up being that, but you end up creating your own shit. Hardcore is something that I donât know. Hardcore is something that kids made trying to play punk rock like the Bad Brains. The Bad Brains is not a hardcore band. When we came out playing this fast technical style, kids tried to emulate it and created their own little beats and their own way of playing. Thatâs hardcore. I donât know which bands, I guess like Madball, or something. Even Fugazi and Teen Idles are more punk rock. I read some magazine recently where they had it flipped. Hardcore is the baby of punk rock. D.C style punk rock grew into hardcore. We rolled with it. Every time someone refers to the work Iâve done as hardcore, Iâm a little perplexed because honestly I donât really know shit about it. I just know punk rock. The Bad Brains had already obtained some recognition by the time people had started using it. You know what it reminds me of? Vegan. All of the sudden there was this word Vegan, back when we were vegetarian or I-tal in the early 80âs. I remember like 85, hearing the word, "vegan" for the first time. I think I was in Europe. Hardcore to me is a word like that, a style. So when people started to create punk bands, making it more technical with breaks and stops and shit, there you goâ¦ hardcore. The reason why we were playing fast with breaks and stops was because were just trying to play more interesting punk rock.
So let me ask you this. During the early days of the Bad Brains, did you identify as a punk? Was that a considerable part of your life outside of The Bad Brains?
Absolutely, for every style of music that Iâve loved, Iâve lived. I was a punk, with two-tone hair. I was a hippy with the jeans and fringe jacket and shit. I was all that, I was living it. When I played reggae, I was Rasta. Thatâs why it comes through in the music, because I live it. I donât emulate it, because I have the pedigree. I could play bass for Metallica or the Wailers. I could do it because Iâve lived these things. Some cats if you donât live it, your style isnât going to be bona-fide enough to play with them. Like if you donât know shit about rock you wonât be able to play bass with a good hard rock band. If you havenât lived with the culture, youâre not going to be able to play real (Jamaican accent) Rub-a-dub bass.
So you guys are playing the Afro-Punk fest. Iâd like to get some perspective, so Iâm just going to ask you outright, whatâs it like to be a black punk, particularly back then? What did your family think? What was it like having this thing that maybe a lot of people around you couldnât relate to?
That goes back to that thing we were first talking about. Where I come from, everyone had their thing, and I was the musician. Say were going to play basketball theyâd say, "gimme pee-wee, gimme this guy, gimme Jenifer." So, I played, but that all came second. Then when someone wanted to act up theyâd be like, "Donât mess with that dude, have you seen him play guitar?" Thatâs in any hood, what Iâm telling you, white hoods black hoods.
My mother knew I was progressive with my music. She knew it was going to be a little wild down in the basement. Iâd be playing Frampton Comes Alive or some shit. Thatâs in the hood where youâre supposed to be listening to Soul or Funk, but that music was a part of me too. I was exploring. Cats used to try call me a white boy because I was wearing leather pants or some shit. But all I had to do was be me. Once I caught onto to punk it was so fresh, and I knew the shit was real. When I started listening to The Damned and the Sex pistols and the Buzzcocks, I liked that they were trying to kick it and they cared more about the passion and expression than how well they could play their instruments. They were going to rock that shit no matter what.
We were already trying to do a fusion type group. We were called, "Mind Power." We were going to be thoughtful jazz-fusion. Then we discovered punk rock and we were like, "Yo, this is going to be Bad Brains. Itâs going to be this shit, but itâs going to be this punk shit also." During this time, Teen Idles and Minor Threat werenât around yet. None of it was contrived. The first poster we had said, "The Greatest Punk Rock Band in the World." It was because we had this book and it was all about PMA (positive mental attitude) and the book was telling us we had to project that positivity. So before we even played it was like, "We got that PMA Ahhhh! Weâre the best!"
PMA was a big thing. One of my favorite local bands growing up was called The Degenerics, and the Bad Brains was one of their big influences and they sung about PMA all the time. A lot of people that I know sort took that on. So to what extent is PMA still an important thing to you.
What that is, is a spiritual connection. Itâs about staying positive and always looking to the bright side. Mostly itâs just simple things, stay positive, donât be a downer. Donât be afraid of obstacles. Thereâs always going to be trials, you know? When I first started talking about PMA, when I was a teenager, my father asked me about it. He said, "Boy whatâs that PMA youâve been talking about?"
I said, "If something goes wrong, Iâm not going to start freaking out and running, around. Iâm going to start thinking positive and making the right moves." Itâs about composure in life and staying positive and knowing that, and this is where the faith comes in, but knowing that the Great Spiritâs got you. A lot of people reach an obstacle and they put their head down and turn back. They donât have the fighting spirit. Like they say, when one door closes, two open. Because itâs so easy to say, "fuck it." PMA is all about having a positive mental attitude, and it came from this book called, Think and Grow Rich. But the more I look at it, being a spiritual cat, the more I realize that Bad Brains was a tool for god to help certain youths. Like you said about your friends. It wasnât us. It was the Great Spirit using this band to let people know that itâs okay to keep that PMA. Like with Beastie Boys rapping, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing funk, the Bad Brains playing punk, itâs like god mixing up his little stew to show the world, to spread it out and have more versatility.
One time I saw this dude and heâs following me. So I go into the bathroom and when I get out heâs waiting for me and he says, "Mr. Jenifer," and Iâm like, "Whoa, nobody calls me that." He goes, "I just wanted to thank you and your band because I used to be a racist and an asshole and your music changed my outlook and now I have a family and a kid, and I want to thank you for making positive music, positive punk rock." Now, my mother wouldâve said, "How you going to help someone with something that sounds like this? How do you inspire someone with this fast erratic music?" But for some people, thatâs their flavor. Eventually I learned that this PMA thing was The Great Spirit, and that I needed to be into that, to find this.
Youâve been mentioning spirituality a lot. Where are you at now with your spiritual life? What truths do you feel youâve discovered?
Be patient. Thatâs what youâll learn from the OGâs, patience. Being a spiritual cat, I think about like this oil spill thing, and what came to mind was, god runs things, things donât run god. Jah runs things, things donât run Jah. Iâm just here on earth. Itâs just something beyond man. We just have to live it, and if youâre spiritual, give thanks and praise daily, if youâre an artist, be creative. Be positive and progressive and kind, in whatever you do. You just have to wait on The Great Spirit and have faith. Iâm not saying nothing like, just donât help, donât do anything. Thereâs always a positive bright future. That might sound too idealistic and dreamy but what do you want me to say? The world is coming to an end? The oilâs going to fill up everything and the world is going to end in 2012?
I got to ask you this because I think itâs important. Youâll be playing this weekend and at the same time the Gay Pride Parade will be going on in the city. A lot of people have written about and speculated on the whether the Bad Brains are homophobic or anti-gay. I was hoping you could address that and tell me exactly why the controversy exists, maybe put it to rest.
Check it out. All the things Iâve been telling you about the road and path of The Bad Brains, there was an era that lead into us discovering Rasta and Jah, and these things that were part of us being black and recognizing this part of our culture. Like with anything, say youâre a young Krishna, thereâs a tendency to be over-zealous. We were over-zealous in our views about homosexuality, due to our ignorance, and the fact that we hadnât matured to a certain level. Just like anyone getting into anything. Every member of The Bad Brains are loving and we have nothing against any of godâs creatures. In our growth and in trying to become wise and see life for what it is, without judgment, we went through a time where we did judge. Anyone can remember a time and say, "oh you remember when I was like that." A doctor can say, "Remember when I first worked the ER and was all nervous and people were looking at me when I was crazy." So when youâre coming in as a young Rasta and discovering it, just like in Christianity, homosexuality isnât accepted. So being young Rasta and studying the religion thatâs what you see. But if you still continue to study and mature youâll find other texts that say, "love all godâs creatures." So you canât just make your own thing and say, "This guys black, or this guys homosexual, I donât like him." The Bad Brains had a period of time where we might have said some things. Meanwhile, we were in a band and were popular, so it got out there. But someone took that and ran with it. People that hated us for various reasons, people that were trying to be like us. I donât want to call any names, but like the band MDC were the first to go out of their way to find something wrong with the Bad Brains. Everybody loved The Bad Brains, so they want to find something wrong with us. It happens with everyone like Tiger Woods, you get popular and people are going to try and hate on you.
So now, Rasta was born in Jamaica and the Jamaicans take the homosexuality stuff literally. But itâs about loving all Jahâs children, accepting them and letting them live. I love all Jahâs children. No one in the Bad Brains hates any of godâs children. So people need to stop hating on us with the homophobia stuff and think about it in a more mature, realistic way, like, "Yo, who are these dudes?"
Iâve seen on your Punknews.org, a whole bunch of people hating like, "Fuck them, they hate gays." And Iâm like, "Wow, that aintâ really so." In short, no one in The Bad Brains hates gays, we love all godâs children. To someone who wants to hate and continue the rumor and put their energy into it, fine, if thatâs what they want to do. What were going to do is keep a PMA, stay positive and do what we do, till the wheels fall off.
Soon after getting into the Bad Brains, I started to listen to a lot more reggae. Out of all the newer artists that I heard, I thought Buju Bantan was the best. He was passionate and had an amazing voice. All the reggae acts that got big in the US like, Beanie Man or Sean Paul, I didnât think were anywhere near as talented as Buju, but the homophobia in his lyrics kept him down.
He had a lot of energy behind the music, but what people have to realize is, thereâs different levels of radical-ness. Whether you read the bible or the Koran or whatever it might say one thing, but if it also says to love godâs children, thatâs what I choose to follow. To me, itâs a higher way of being. I canât vouch for it personally, itâs not my thing but hey, god bless. Some dude may look at me and say he doesnât like something that I do. To each his own. It kind of bothers me a little bit sometimes that people run with it.
I thought you gave a pretty good answer.
The answer that I gave, I could be like that Salman Rushdie of Rasta for saying something like that. Iâm saying live and let live, but some Rasta might not accept that. The thing is that there are mixed up translations of all ancient religions. But there is always The Great Spirit, thereâs always that we should love all of godâs children. If you take the spiritual route in life, you donât have to be judgmental. So thatâs what Iâm saying to the world. Those dudes on the blogs saying, "Fuck them," they need to go chill. Weâre not even saying, "Fuck you" back. Weâre just saying, "We love you too." Mostly, weâre sorry that we confused things back then, but weâre human too. Weâve experienced our share of prejudice, being the only black people in the club or whatever, but we put up blinders to that. You know, we might be touring and trying to figure out the next place to crash and HR runs up phone bill at someoneâs house and theyâll be like, "Those N-words are acting up." If we go to hotel and smoke some weed, itâs like, "You see what they do." Then some rock band comes through and smashes TVâs. Itâs a double standard.
I would think that youâd have an interesting perspective on punk rock. Since youâre partly responsible for this album thatâs a staple of the genre, Iâd think that if punk is doing well, youâre doing well. In recent years, punkâs been a big deal. So, what do you feel has been the best time for punk rock?
Well, punk is youth based music, so itâs always in motion. It may not have the same sound, the same clothes, the same tempo. But someone is always going to be young somewhere trying to do something different thatâs radical and with a message. There will always be underground music, it might be different, electronic or whatever, but there will always big some kid in the basement going against something. So, itâs always in motion. Whether itâs a fuzz guitar or a clean guitar, or itâs fast or slow. I started to go really fast because that was the young people of my time saying, "Fuck disco! Disco sucks!" So maybe people will be like, "Fuck this hardcore, lets play really slow." At one point the metal image with the Van Halen T-shirt was the corniest thing ever. Then the skate punk image will be considered corny. Whatâs cool now? The Jetsons or some shit? The corniest thing used to be the 80âs, then the sound came back. For rappers, the worst possible thing was tight pants, so theyâd wear the baggy pants all low. All the sudden they started to tighten up and tighten up. Now I see rappers with the tight pants hanging off they ass.
Whatâs your favorite Bad Brains song to play?
"I Against I".
What did you think of tribute that came out?
I just appreciate that they did it. I enjoyed it. All I can say is that Iâm thankful people would even want to do it.
You guys are playing now. What would you like to accomplish that you havenât?
The Bad Brains have accomplished what they set out to do. Iâm a success. The band is success. When the band started off we, would have considered it a success if we set one person off on a path toward a more positive way of life. If we set off more than one, itâs even better.
It must be a good feeling to still be able to play shows, and to have your family see you out there.
Itâs a twisted feeling. Thereâs always stress behind what we do, itâs part of the energy, thereâs ying, and thereâs yang. Like, Iâve got to play tomorrow. I havenât played since April, but Iâve learned that I can always do what The Great Spirit sends me to do. They say, "You wan to go out there?" I say, "sure." I make a set list, practice with my brethren, then we go out and be who we are. But thereâs still stress. Weâre all different people. We have our reunion.
The Bad Brains is like a mission. Itâs like a SWAT team. Those dudes may love that shit but when they go out those missions, itâs like, "What?"