Punk rock politics keep trailing Bad Religion
At first glance, seeing punk stalwarts Bad Religion opening for teen heartthrobs Blink-182 seems almost sacrilegious. For Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley, however, it was anything but.
When the members of Bad Religion wanted to go out on tour recently, they decided that they wanted to gig with younger bands that they had helped rear, bands like Green Day and the Offspring.
According to Bentley, "... Greg [Graffin, Bad Religion's lead singer] and I talked for a long time. We talked with these people--Billie Joe [Armstrong of Green Day] and Dexter Holland [of the Offspring]--about taking us out on the road with them when we went on tour, and both of them said no. We were quick to remind them, 'Look, we took you guys out on the road all the time.'"
Armstrong and Holland said that they respected Bad Religion too much to let the group open for them. Bentley's reaction: "That's just horses--t. But whatever. That's not my call.
"But ... the first thing Blink said was, 'I can't tell you how much this means to us that you're coming out and playing with us. It's just awesome.' It never got off on the wrong foot."
Bentley said, however, that "I wasn't jumping up and down like, 'Wow, we got the big tour.' Because financially for us, it lost money. We would have made more money if we went out on our own."
Bad Religion is currently in the waning days of its own headlining tour of North America. The band is pushing its fifth Atlantic Records' release, the hummable and melodic "The New America," which was produced by Todd Rundgren.
"It was actually more pleasant than I expected it to be," Bentley said of working with Rundgren. "Everybody that I know that works with producers has an image of Todd Rundgren as a producer, and it's not a very good one. I guess in the past he's been difficult to work with, to say it lightly, which I was actually looking forward to.
"We self-produced ourselves on all of our records up to [1994's] 'Stranger Than Fiction,' because we just got to the point where we needed some help. But everyone that we hired, other than Andy [Wallace, who produced "Stranger Than Fiction"], haven't really gotten in our faces and said, 'It sucked,' which is what we used to do to ourselves. ... I was hoping to get that out of Todd. To have someone go, 'What the hell are you doing?'"
Rundgren, Bentley explained, was instead into "self-criticism."
"Todd was into being your own worst critic. So he was very like, 'What do you think?' Depending on how lazy you were, you might say 'It was the best thing I've ever done.' That's kind of where his head was at--was to really let us do the record."
Bentley said that Rundgren had more influence on Graffin lyrically than musically on "The New America." When Graffin was penning the lyrics initially, they were heading in a socially negative direction, similar to past Bad Religion efforts.
"But he spent a lot of time with Greg: 'What are you trying to get at here.' He's the second person in the world that called Greg 'obtuse.' [The first was former Bad Religion member Brett Gurewitz.] Because Greg is a very big Todd Rundgren fan, he took it the way he meant it..."
"Todd said, 'You spent 20 years trying to change the world. Why don't you change yourself?'"
Another positive note of "The New America" recording sessions was the return of Gurewitz, whose contribution was the first since Bad Religion's 1994's gold-certified "Stranger Than Fiction" album. He and Graffin reunited to pen "Believe It," which includes a guitar solo from Gurewitz.
"It's nice," Bentley said about Gurewitz's return. "It's nice to have the long lost brother who you got in a fight with and never saw again. I think he's a great songwriter. Time has kind of proven that Greg and Brett are both great songwriters within the context of Bad Religion. Once these guys write a song, Bad Religion gets a hold of it and mangles it into whatever amalgamation it's going to become. It really is special and different. I enjoy having Brett's presence in that songwriting capacity."
It wouldn't be a surprise for Bad Religion to receive negative emails about Gurewitz's return. Bentley said that no matter what the band does, fans--or one-time fans--get in Bad Religion's face. Whether it's the Blink-182 tour, or the fact that one of their songs was used in the series finale of "Beverly Hills 90210," Bad Religion has heard about it.
"We've been getting responses from people since about 1989. I think it was something that we quickly grew into, when you're running your own label [Epitaph], and everything that you do is on your own. You show up at a club to play and the club holds 500 people and there's 250 people in the street telling you to f--k off because they came all the way down from somewhere and ... couldn't get in," he said.
"The next time, you play a little bit bigger venue. You go and play a place that holds 1,000 people, and the same guy who was standing in the street is now standing in front of you at the box office going, 'F--k you, sell out.' That was the moment for me when I went 'F--k you.' I'm not here to make you happy. I'm just here to play some f----n' music, write some albums and try to get something to happen here. If your biggest complaint is what I eat for breakfast, then I'm sorry for you.
"That was a real quick lesson in terms of we do what we do, and if people like it, great. If people don't like it, great. It's not for them. It's for us."