Good God! How Bad Religion endures
Introducing the new ugly Americans
As a founding-father of one of the greatest political punk bands ever to grace the stage, Bentley has rocked out in more countries over the past two-and-a-half decades than he dares (or cares) to recall. Still his inexhaustible spirit and love of good music compel him to continue creating memorable songs and to travel as far as necessary to spread the good word and the good vibrations wherever and whenever possible.
Bad Religion’s penchant for seeking out like-minded individuals and kindred spirits has led to a monumental tour which will see the band team up with the union-boosting, whisky-downing Dropkick Murphys in what promises to be a punk rock extravaganza of mosh-worthy proportions.
"This tour has been in the works for a couple of years," Bentley explains of their latest venture. "We’re always looking for bands that are doing their own thing and have something different to offer, and I kept running into the Dropkick Murphys’ piper Scruffy (Wallace) all over the place. We played a festival together in Europe earlier this year and had a great time, so we had to make it happen. He’s from Calgary and I live in Vancouver, so what do you know – we decided to do a cross-Canada tour together. We can’t wait to get out and play! Canada is a great market; the people here really love music. The market in L.A. is so jaded and the Germans just don’t care anymore."
Speaking of jaded, it’s not unusual for a band to be whisked through a pan-global tour without seeing much of their host nations beyond the airport and the venues in which they perform. While Jay Bentley admits that the experience of performing live hasn’t changed much for him over the past decade, he has noted encountering a relatively new air of hostility and reproach when it comes to declaring his own U.S. citizenship.
"Whenever we travel through Europe I’m always awed by the sense of history," he recounts. "On a personal note, the first person I encountered on our very first trip to Germany came up to me and said ‘I love your band, but I hate you!’ I was taken aback, and then he said ‘I hate you because you’re an American.’ I understand it that people in other countries despise America. That’s the true beauty of travelling to other places. You can see firsthand how their culture deals with these issues on a daily basis. I value that global perspective and being able to see how the decisions George W. Bush and his friends are having a negative impact on the rest of the world."
Clearing the decks and taking stock, the Bad Religion crew decided it was time to jump on the "Live in Concert" DVD bandwagon. But, as with all of their ventures, their penchant for perfection soon took over and their long-awaited concert video Live at the Palladium morphed into an all-consuming project that took far longer than anticipated to complete.
"It took a long time for us to finish the DVD," Bentley explains. "When we first started putting material together it was just for fun, that’s how we start most of our endeavours. We thought we’d do a live recording and throw it out there. We worked on it more and more and it just kept on getting better. We’re really pleased with the result."
Weathering the slings and arrows of outrageous popularity, Bad Religion has experienced many more highs than lows over the course of their career, but they have always remained steadfast when it comes to using their music as a force for social change. Furthermore, the band’s stalwart lead vocalist Greg Graffin has made his PhD thesis on religion and evolution, dubbed "the Cornell Evolution Project," available for purchase through the band’s website.
Constantly "raising the sonic stakes," as they put it, Bad Religion has never shied away from confronting the issues, it’s the machinery that drives those issues that has long been their nemesis.
"The thing about Bad Religion that hasn’t changed is that we still really stick with doing what we like, except these days we’re allowing ourselves more freedom," says Bentley of the band’s in-studio esthetic. "We used to have this strict rule that if we can’t play it live we won’t do it in the studio, but that’s so limiting. Now we say – let’s see what’s available to us and use it. As long as I don’t have a foot pedal, I know I’m not fucking with things too much."
By now, putting it all together comes naturally to Bentley, Graffin, guitarists Brett Gurewitz, Greg Hetson and Brian Baker and drummer Brooks Wackerman (such a good name for a percussionist). It seems inevitable that they will continue to produce great music with an even greater message for many years to comes, of course, it has been two years since the band’s last album, the amazing The Empire Strikes First, was released for public consumption. When can we expect another installation in this exciting saga of vocabulary-exhausting, lyrical and musical masterpieces? What has Bad Religion been cooking up in their L.A. studios lately? Bentley lays his cards on the table.
"What have we been up to in the studio lately? Nothing, nothing, nothing. We call it a hiatus. Relaxing? No – terrifying," he laughs. "I always thought of the band as a group of poker buddies or drop-in hockey guys – if we’re available and into it we’ll get together and play when we can. If we don’t get together for a while it’s no big deal. But now we’ve got too many side-projects blooming everywhere, and that’s a sure sign that it’s time to get back to work."
Bad Religion performs at The Corral - Thursday, September 28, 2006
by Christine Leonard
Originally published September 2006 in FastForward Magazine.