Bad Religion interview
Dug out from the archives, this interview with Bad Religion vocalist Greg Graffin appeared in an issue of the long defunct music magazine Logo back in the summer of 2004.
Update: It’s now included on the BR Page’s excellent Bad Religion media site.
For two decades now, Bad Religion have been delivering a brand of punk rarely surpassed musically whilst being the clear leaders in delivering cerebrally challenging lyrics. Their forthcoming Epitaph album, ‘The Empire Strikes First’, is as essential as they’ve ever been; its onslaught combining direct punk nuggets with more experimental techniques. However, for a band that’s renowned for giving the listener tongue-twisting lines such as “syntactic is our elegance/incisive our disease/the swath endogenous of ourselves will be our quandary” the lyrics, and thus the meaning, of songs such as ‘All There Is’ and ‘Let Them Eat War’ is more linear.
“I’m glad you got that,” begins Greg Graffin, vocalist and, with guitarist/Epitaph head honcho Brett Gurewitz, key Bad Religion songwriter. “Although there’s our share of ‘dictionary’ words – I only say that because many of our fans have said that we’ve helped them to improve their vocabulary – we do not use dictionaries or thesauruses when we write. We did make a strong effort to be very direct in our language.”
It’s a philosophy that stretches as far as the pun-worthy, but no less appropriate, album title.
“We chose a title track that was particularly appropriate for the political climate in America. Certainly a dominant trend in America now is a general feeling of intolerance and punishment. Everyone’s punishment obsessed and they want someone to pay for something. If it’s not make terrorists pay for their bombings, it’s make the corporate leaders pay for defrauding investors. A lot of this comes from religion, this culture of punishment.”
As if you haven’t gathered by now, Greg is quite untypical of someone who makes his living through a form of popular, if non-mainstream, music. Usually in such an interview, a pause is a silent request for the next question. For Greg, it’s a case of a quick sip of tea and a glance around his curiously decorated hotel room to collect his thoughts before expanding on the original point.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more critical of the Roman Catholic tradition than I am on the first song ‘Sinister Rouge.’ The rouge in that song refers to the red capes and caps worn by the cardinals in the church and the song suggests that the tradition is really an evil one that’s responsible for some of the worst atrocities in human history, starting with The Inquisition right up to modern day with the child-molesting priests. And all of this occurring right beneath the administrators nose. Throughout the album, we talk about the Roman Catholic church, we talk about America’s identity crisis; this time in our history not knowing whether we want to be a punitive society of whether we want to be a global society that partakes in a global community.”
Greg gives the impression that all the while that there are such topics to examine – and there doubtless always will be – he’ll remain a strong creative force.
“My academics has always helped to inform my music writing,” he adds in reference to the PHD in palaeontology that he completed last year.
From the perspective of the outsider, Bad Religion were reinvigorated with the release of 2002’s ‘The Process Of Belief.’ The return to Epitaph after the major label years – which saw the band deliver the cutting ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and the more sophisticated sound of ‘The Gray Race’ as well as the career low of ‘No Substance’ and the occasionally brilliant ‘The New America’ – coincided with the return of Brett and also the introduction of Brooks Wackerman on drums after injury forced Bobby Schayer’s early retirement. Bad Religion – currently completed by Jay Bentley (bass), Greg Hetson (guitar) and Brian Baker (guitar) – were back firing on all cylinders, though Greg plays the situation down, observing simply, “I’d like to say we rediscovered ourselves.”
Aside from the need to be creative, the motivation behind the band has varied throughout the years.
“You’ve got to remember that we were kids when we started out,” observes Greg. “I was only fifteen when we recorded our first record, so back then… we did it to get laid. Now we do it because we want to provoke people and make them think. Oh, and get laid!”
In all seriousness though, and to counter any accusations of preaching, the fact that Bad Religion construct songs with depth of meaning has certainly impacted upon the lives of many listeners.
“Well I get e-mails all the time and fan-mail. People say, ‘because of you, I’m going to college’ or ‘because of that song I heard when I was thirteen, I started studying evolution and now I’m studying biology.’” Greg pauses and looks awe-inspired, perhaps even dumbstruck for once. “That is really touching to me and makes me feel like I’ve contributed something valuable. And if that’s only five percent of our listenership, well that’s five percent more than it would’ve been.”
The lyric sheet to Bad Religion’s 1992 album ‘Generator’ featured quotes from the likes of Darwin, Buffon and Leakey. On that same album Greg wrote the lines, “I don’t believe in self importance folks who preach/no Bad Religion song can make your life complete/prepare for rejection/you’ll get no direction from me.” Sure enough, Greg Graffin and Bad Religion have given no direction, but they’ve certainly provided a lot of inspiration.