In the year 2010 Bad Religion celebrated their 30th anniversary by touring, putting out a free live album and a 15th studio album, and creating a special 3-night event for their NYC fans covering material from the 80s, 90s and 2000s, respectively. Interviewer Jason Epstein got the chance to speak not only to bassist Jay Bentley, but also guitarist Brian Baker (who jumped at the chance to be in a Punknews interview). They spoke about the new album, their 30th anniversary and of course, Jesus.
Congratulations on 30 years, how do you feel about the progression and evolution of Bad Religion's music and message in that time period? Jay: Well, we've grown up from saying the first lady is a fucking lez to "Ad Hominem". [Laughter]
Brian: You think you're better than I am? [Laughter]
Nice reference, you guys must be huge Bad Religion fans. [Laughter]
Jay: It took a while to get there, you know musically…for myself I've gotten a little bit better and everyone that we've inserted into the band (Brian Baker, Brooks Wackerman) has been better than the previous performer in their talent and the songwriting has hopefully matured. I think the message has always wanted to be the same but when you're 15 years old you don't know how to say itâ¦And when someone asks me like what is the overall idea of Bad Religion, really when you stop to think about the song "Do What You Want" that pretty much sums it up…just do what you want, just don't do it around me, just go over there, do your thing over there.
Right now we're at your 80s show where you will be performing a night of material from that decade and a week from now the band will be doing the 90s and 2000s. I'd assume you will be pulling out some songs that haven't been played in years or maybe some you havenât played at all for these shows? Jay: Both.
Whoa, secret? The interview will be up in 5 or so weeks probably so this show will be ancient history by then. Brian: This will mark the first ever performance of a song off Into the Unknown this evening.
You have played things off of Into the Unknown before, right?
Jay: We've played parts of things, we've broken shit up, played maybe the beginning…but not all the way through.
Brian: At least in my tenure and I'm 16 years now…
Jay: I don't think it ever got played as far as I know.
Brian: And maybe there's a reason. But we're gonna do it anyway.
Okay, I'm excited. I'm not going to pretend like I listen to that album… [Laughter]
Brian: I've never heard it and I don't own it and I heard it to learn the song. And also âcuz I'm not the original guy so why would I listen if it wasn't required listening?
Jay: It's a good album from probably the wrong band name.
A Bad Religion tribute just came out called Germs of Perfection, how does it feel being emulated in that way? Jay: Well, thought that was pretty weird and the only one that I really kind of have listened to twice was Frank Turner's.
Yeah, that was pretty good, I like that one.
Jay: I like Frank Turner so I like what he did with it. There's been a lot of tribute albums over the years in different places but this is by far the most marketed one. People actually know there's something like that coming out.
Also, it's free I mean…there's no better marketing than that. Brian: You can't beat free.
Jay: I've gotta tell you something, everything is free.
Yeah, I remember when I found out you could download books and I was like, "Those are free too?" When can I just download, like, a sandwich? Jay: It won't taste very good…
I've read in past interviews that not all members of Bad Religion feel the same about the message of every song in terms of religion and politics. Would you mind elaborating on this a bit more specifically? Jay: Well, yeah I'll do it. Brett and I one time had a conversation about a song called "Hooray For Me (and Fuck You)" and I said I don't agree with that philosophy because I don't feel like hooray for me and fuck you but I understand how you feel that way and you want to write that song. This is about someone who's like, "You've been shitting on me my whole life…well fuck you, I'm gonna do what I want and be what I want." So, it wasn't one of those things where I wholeheartedly disagree with the sentiment of the song, I just really don't feel that way. There was a song - and I can't for the life of me remember the name of it - that Graffin wrote and it was very Jesus oriented and Hetson goes, "I can't even get behind this at all". It would have been around No Control or Against the Grain, somewhere in that [time]frame and that's the only time I've ever seen a song go away for the disagreement about the content.
Pro-Jesus or anti-Jesus? Brian: They were gonna call it "Canadian Jesus". [Laughter] The riff was backwards.
Jay: The lyrics were "Jesus/why'd you have to go and do that/Jesus/where'd you go and get those strange ideas"…I was like…."OK." And Hetson was just…"NO." In 280+ songs it's fairly rare to feel that something is so out of place with someone in the band. I remember having a conversation with Greg about his song "The Handshake" and I said in listening to this and reading this I could construe this in a very wrong way. And he said, "Wow, I never thought about that," and he manipulated a couple of words that changed that entire sentiment where it couldn't be thought of as you know, something completely different. Those are the only moments I can really think of in terms of moments where….I don't understand this.
And how about you [Brian]? Brian: To answer your original question…little known fact: not everyone in the band is an atheist, yet we co-exist peacefully.
The world should learn a lesson from you. Brian: I think it would be fantastic if they would.
Jay: I think we all have different levels of faith…
Brian: …and spirituality, exactly…
Jay: …and different ideas [though] politically we're probably really close.
Brian: Well you gotta be a good leftie. There's just no other…
Jay: I'm pretty sure there's no secret republicans in the band.
There's no such thing as good republican punk rock. Jay: Well, Joe Escalante.
Isn't he doing all the lawyer stuff for The Vandals now? Jay: Yeah, he's a TV executive.
Is he? OK. What was one of the best Bad Religion shows you can ever remember playing? Brian: Montreal was really good.
Jay: A couple days ago?
Jay: Tonight should be fantastic.
But, you're predicting the future now. Jay: If I'm not hopeful for tomorrow then what the fuck am I doing here? The best thing we ever did was years ago and nothing will ever touch it! Yeah, there's been a handful of really big shows. We played a show in Germany for 110,000 people back when.
Brian: Soldiers Field with Pearl Jam was cool. For me, anytime I get in an NFL situation and I get to play there…that's pretty fuckinâ rad. I mean I'd still rather be at the game but the idea that me and my dumb guitar are in the same place that people can see [that]…
Jay: Sometimes it's really simple things like on the '88 Suffer tour coming and playing at CBGBs or at the 9:30 Club. And you roll into a town and play a club you've heard so much about and you finally get there and you're like, "we're here". And you know, they're dumps, but…[laughter]
Whatever, they're charming dumps. Jay: They're charming dumps.
Brian: Yeah, this is so much more charming. I first played here I think in '81 and really the place is much nicer now. It's totally nicer-
They've got that TV too [pointing to a broken flat screen]. Brian: Well someone melted it. I suspect it was the light bulb that is no longer there. I remember coming here and playing here and I was such a little kid and the first Samhain show I was here and in the audience and I just remember this place being so huge, like, "oh my god!" Even when I was playing here and now I come in today and I'm like wow it's really not that big but it's still the same vibe and it still sounds good which is cool which to me as an old guy is important because I'm upstairs…I'm not exercising while I'm listening like I used to.
So you guys are both in what, mid-forties now? Brian: Yeah, I'm 45.
How does it feel playing in your 40s as compared to your 20s? Brian: It's a little more slow motion.
Jay: Sometimes it's weird.
Brian: For me it's better because I used to sacrifice what was coming out of the amp because of my "I hate my parents" rage and all that super hardcore stuff and now I really get pleasure out of playing the guitar and so at 45 I can kind of be like look I'm not supposed to be jumping around like a fucking jackass anymore. It isn't elegant, it doesn't look good. Let's kick back and play guitar and make every note sound as good as possible and I totally get zoned into it and dig it. Nothing against my bald colleague on the other side [Mr. Hetson] who still hasn't gotten the goddamn memo but I feel like after all these years I've kind of earned the right to enjoy playing the instrument and enjoy the songs while I'm playing on a level I never used to before. It used to be just this huge, just aggressive expression of physicality…and emotionâ¦and now it's so much more subdued, but I think it's much more powerful, at least it is for me. And it's much more pleasurable.
That's great. Brian: Plus, this stage is too small so where am I gonna go?
Jay: For me, I am a lot more active. But, I can't stop myself, even when I'm sick, I'm like not gonna jump around, I'm not feelin' it. And then I do-
Brian: Well we're not talking about standing still; it's just about whether you're [out of control]. How do you play a guitar when you're in the air?
Jay: It is hard to explain because you think like, "I'm gonna do this" and I couldn't imagine that I'd be into doing [that] but when you get out there and do it, all that goes away. I've gotta tell ya, it's ridiculously immature what we do, it really is….What do you do for a living? This.
Brian: But I swear for me that hour and a half I'm onstage is still fucking as much fun as it always has been. The other parts of the day aren't as much fun. I don't like being away from home as much and the traveling isn't as fun cuz I've kind of been everywhere. But the playing is exactly - it's just this weird thing, when you get out there it's so much fucking fun and it's just like it always was, so it's nice. If that goes away though, I might have to re-think my job description.
Jay: That's pretty much - we feel the same way. If that part goes away where it's just not fun…you can have a bad show based on equipment failure or you just fuckinâ whatever, but if it were consistently bad and you really weren't into it and you're just dragging…
Brian: What's the point?
And you don't even have any health benefits. Jay: There's nothing, you get your own retirement package.
Brian: Do it yourself.
Jay: Do it yourself.
What was it like knowing you were entering a new era of the band when Brett re-joined and Bad Religion began to write and record The Process of Belief? Brian: It was an incredible relief that I didn't have to leave.
Yeah thatâs right, that could've been… Brian: It could possibly not have worked out for me, but for me it was fantastic. I was a Bad Religion fan and I always felt the band was better when Brett [and Greg] were both writing. So, now I get to be in the best version. So, for me it was totally cool. You know, we have only played with three guitar players live probably ten, fifteen times.
Brett's not available very much… Jay: Yeah and he made that clear in the beginning that touring couldn't really be part of the deal, he couldn't leave the label and go and do stuff like that. We've been on the road eight months this year so it's kind of impossible for him.
Brian: So he sits at home and writes cool songs and spaces out and does his thing. It's good.
Jay: It's good.
Are there any new punk rock bands that you listen to? Brian: Well, people ask me that and my idea of a new one is like Bouncing Souls âcuz that's how fucking old I am.
They're like, over 20 years old I think, as a band. Brian: Exactly, they are.
Jay: Bands that we've played with, I've really enjoyed Gallows, Off With Their Heads, there's a handful of other bands that I've seen that they could be good but you're not sure where they're going and maybe they're not either. It's tough right now because from my memory of being a punk rock band that's just underground. You know what I mean? You don't really show up to things like this âcuz you're playing warehouses and parties…and breaking shit.
People aren't happy to [just] do that anymore, there's no scene…. Jay: See, I always just assume there is one. I'm not part of it obviously, at home I hang out with all the people that I did in 1980, but that's kind of our scene and I know that there's other kids running around doing the same shit, just someone else.
I think the whole punk rock thing has mutated over the years. People are into hardcore or ska [or some hybrid genres] but they're not into [new] punk rock. That's my experience. Jay: Yeah, I mean it did fractionalize from the late-80s to the mid-90s. Everybody had to have some term to define exactly what they were. "We're a punk band." "Are you hardcore punk? Ska punk? What are you guys?" I don't know what the fuck I am. [Laughter] You never know what the hell you are. Where are you coming up with all these terms? I've never heard of this shit. It's like I guess we're not in it at all and you actually start thinking of yourself as a rock and roll band âcuz you don't even know where you fit in anymore. You're like well, we're not disco, we're not country western…
And hopefully you never will be. Jay: No, I don't think so.
What about Graffin's Cold as Clay album? Jay: But that's cool, cuz it's kind of his deal. That's kind of like what I was saying about Into the Unknown, if that was your guy's deal it probably would have been a lot cooler than saying it was [from Bad Religion]. âCuz that had already had a definition of what it was.
Which Bad Religion album is your personal favorite? Jay: Wow. That's tough. The problem is that I get attached to records for the process, not for the end result so it's more like moments in time when I can be like, "God, it was great to make Suffer", or to make Process of Belief when Brett came back. Those moments…that was amazing. In the sense of what can I listen to right now without pausing it or going over songs is the new album. âCuz we finished it and went on touring Europe and never really got to hear it, so now we do get to hear it. I'm listening to it now and [it's a] damn good record here.
Brian: It's a solid âBâ.
Jay: I don't know when that will wear off. I'm sure by the time we start working on the next record I'll be like ah, whatever.
What's your favorite Bad Religion record [Brian]? Brian: Recipe For Hate. Yeah cuz, believe it or not it was the first record I'd ever heard from Bad Religion. Well no, that's not true. I had How Could Hell Be Any Worse… when it came out, I bought it the same day the Jealous Again 12" [came out]. I had that record and I really liked How Could Hell Be Any Worse… and this is when it came out which was like '81?
Brian: And then I never heard of Bad Religion ever again after that. This was pre-internet and they never really came to the East Coast very much until around '87, '88 and by then I had moved to Los Angeles so I completely missed it and by then I was on my metal trip. So, the first Bad Religion record I really got…just really got me, was Recipe For Hate and I got a pre-release of that in '92 from Epitaph and literally that story was true - it was stuck in the tape deck of my car and I couldn't get it out and the car didn't have a radio so that was all when you'd drive you'd listen to that record. And it was just ingrained and I remember just driving [around] like, "God I'm such a fucking idiot; if I had kept Dag Nasty together we could have been this good." I mean I literally said that to myself. And, I managed to weasel my way into the band almost a year and a half later just from that record. So, I love Recipe For Hate.
Awesome. What's your least favorite interview question ever? Jay:" How did the band start?"
Brian: "How did you come up with the name?"
Jay:" What does the logo mean?"
Brian: "Do you have any last things to say or add?"
Jay: That's pretty good. How'd you come up with the band name is probably the one where I just go….really?
[It's like] have you ever read one of our interviews? Jay: I think that a lot of times interviews that don't have a discussion where someone is reading questions and you answer it and you could have a discussion about something but they just skip it and go to the next question…oh, it's going to be one of these…I just want to go, "Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no."
Have you had interviews where someone doesn't know their shit as well? Jay: I've had those-
Brian: But sometimes that's kind of fun-
Jay: It's fun-
Yeah we were formed in the 60s, my grandmother was in the band just for a little while… Jay: Historically, our band is probably the worst band to have any facts about because we would always do that; People would ask us questions…"where are you from?" [We would reply] "We're from Milwaukee." So, yeah we make up a lot of shit but it's just because like you said, a lot of those questions have been asked and anybody that knows knows, anybody that doesn't, well that's kind of weird.