Rocking For the Free World
Click here to read the full transcript of interview between Dennis Lyxzén and Brett Gurewitz.
In the first part of an Exclaim! exclusive (online at www.exclaim.ca), Dennis Lyxzén, leader of fashionable Swedish political garage punks the (International) Noise Conspiracy interviewed Bad Religion co-founder and Epitaph Records honcho Brett Gurewitz about the early days of the California hardcore punk movement. "I'm really into early hardcore and that's why I wanted to talk about that," Lyxzén says. "There's such a history of punk rock and for a lot of people punk rock starts and ends with Blink 182 and I just wanted to show people that from the late '70s there's been an amazing counter culture and punk rock culture and Brett was a part of that and I want people to see that."
In the conclusion of the conversation, Lyxzén confesses it was Bad Religion that helped spark his fascination with global politics and his subsequent desire to try to make a difference through his music. It also took a decidedly more political tone as the master (Gurewitz) and the student (Lyxzén) discuss the state of the world, the upcoming U.S. presidential election and how the two things are interconnected.
"Our whole album is dedicated to getting Bush out of office." Brett Gurewitz, guitarist/co-founder of political punk icons Bad Religion and Epitaph Records has a really hard time hiding his disdain for the current president of his country. "I'm not a presidential scholar but I don't think you'll find a worse president in the history of the United States," he offers on the line from his California pad. "He's probably one of the worst leaders in the history of world leaders. I just hate the guy."
If the anger in his words is palpable, the message in his music is equally forthright and potent. This former angry young man is a lot greyer in the temples and much more worldly-wise than he was when he and a few school chums put Bad Religion together nearly 25 years ago and perhaps his voice - that of a man who turned 40 in May - is calmer, but there's no denying his passion or his dedication.
When it comes to putting across his point of view on the current state of affairs in the U.S., he's an articulate orator and an insightful, thoughtful and rational debater. It's an odd juxtaposition to the bilious, profane, saliva spraying outbursts many younger punk bands employ when raging against the machine and would almost appear to be counter-intuitive. After all, punk rock has always been about loud, fast and angry youthful rebellion. More refined protest is the stuff of hippies.
But since re-joining Bad Religion almost four years ago (he left in the mid-'90s in order to devote more time to his burgeoning Epitaph Records and to get sober), the man formerly known simply as Mr. Brett has helped his band reclaim its crown as the most authoritative voice of social and political conscience in punk rock. And it's something he makes no apologies for.
The band's 14th album, The Empire Strikes First, is a whip-smart, lightning fast wake-up call to arms that advocates change in Washington, and by extension the rest of the free world. That change, insists Gurewitz, must be to a more moderate way of thinking.
"I just don't understand what's going on today," he says with an exasperation that you know is accompanied by a vigorous head shake. "There's something happening in the U.S., it's this wave of conservatism unlike anything I've experienced in my entire life. It's very, very frightening and it's very, very polarising and I don't know how you fight something like that because the more I fight it, the more it seems to polarise the kids. Nevertheless, I can only act in accordance with my own conscience so I'm going to continue to do everything I can to promote the liberal cause and promote social justice and to promote whatever I can through my art. Not only that but to try and get kids to question authority and question the establishment."
Songs on The Empire Strikes First, like the ironic, anthemic bootstrap chant-along title track, put it in simpler terms, comparing the current campaign in Iraq to the U.S. action in Vietnam in the 1960s and unapologetically attempting to recruit fans to rise up in protest. Flashpoints like the Iraq occupation and its tenuous links to the 9/11 tragedy in New York is exactly the kind of thing that gets Gurewitz really angry and in turn really motivated.
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