Few bands have weathered as many storms as Bad Religion have: break-ups, drug addiction, a failed stint on a major label and the defection of one-half of the band's songwriting team, the group have seen it all. Yet over their 30-plus year career the Los Angeles punks have reached as many highs as lows, participating in L.A.'s influential hardcore scene, helping to bring the underground into the mainstream and then actually benefitting from punk's mid-'90s multi-platinum heights. Like a punk rock AC/DC, they've maintained razor sharp focus, rarely deviating from a script written when their key figures — singer Greg Graffin, guitarist Brett Gurewitz and bass player Jay Bentley — were 15, becoming a highly respected institution in the process. Sixteen albums deep, including last month's excellent True North, Bad Religion show no sign of letting up or calming down.
1964 to 1978
Brett Gurewitz is born in Los Angeles in 1962, and raised in a Jewish family in the San Fernando Valley. He discovers the Ramones via his local independent record store and sees them play at the Hollywood Palladium in 1978, attending the show by himself because no one else at his school has "gone punk." The gig inspires Gurewitz to seek out local shows, but there aren't any in the Valley. Armed with a driver's license, he sees the Germs at Flipper's Roller Rink in Hollywood. Greg Graffin is born in Wisconsin in 1964. Growing up he sings in the school chorus. At age 12, his parents divorce and he and his brother Grant move with his mother to the San Fernando Valley. He spends the school year in Southern California and summers in Wisconsin with his father, a pattern that continues throughout his teenage years. Graffin finds it difficult adjusting to his new home's life-style, and takes solace in the punk records he discovers while listening to legendary KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer on his show Rodney on the ROQ.
1979 to 1980
Graffin meets drummer Jay Ziskrout at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills. They're introduced to Gurewitz through mutual friend Tom Clement. Gurewitz is already a member of a New Wave group called the Quarks. As the only punks at the school, there's an immediate sense that they should stick together. Gurewitz, who also owns a van, prefers punk and quickly ditches the Quarks and throws his lot in with Graffin and Ziskrout. The trio pen "Sensory Overlord," "World War III" and "Politics," all of which end up on the band's debut EP. Noticing a lack of bottom end to their sound, Graffin recruits schoolmate Jay Bentley. Born in Kansas, Bentley is Graffin's age and plays guitar, but not bass. Nevertheless all parties agree to the situation and Bentley buys a bass guitar from Sears. "It took minutes to learn to play," Bentley recalls to Goldmine Magazine in 1997. "Hey, these four strings are the top four strings on a guitar, cool. No chords, I get to play one string at a time; I can do this easy, all you've got to do is follow the guitar player."
The quartet first plays together in Graffin's parent's living room, before moving onto the living room at Ziskrout's. In a 2010 interview with Bad Religion fan site thebrpage.net, Bentley says this is where they came up with the name Bad Religion and the cross-buster logo that they use for the next 30 years. Despite Graffin's later reputation as a devout atheist, the name isn't meant as an attack on religion; rather it's meant to show that religion can be "any kind of social group that prescribes a certain way of thinking."
It's also the period in which Gurewitz receives his infamous nickname. "There was somebody at his house," says Bentley, "I want to say a nanny, and whenever we'd call his house and ask 'Is Brett there?' she'd say, "No, Mr. Brett no home' so we just started calling and asking, 'Is Mr. Brett there?'" The name sticks. After moving out of Ziskrout's parent's place, they try to make a go of it in Bentley's garage, but leave after the cops come by on the first day. They eventually settle into the Graffins' garage, which they dub the Hellhole, and make it their permanent rehearsal space. Graffin and Gurewitz quickly emerge as the band's songwriters, penning complete songs, both music and lyrics, separately, rarely collaborating. It's a method that continues to this day. "Mine [songs] tend to be a little more accessible and Greg's lyrics have been called obtuse," says Gurewitz. "He uses big words and obtuse concepts." Gurewitz tells Exclaim! in 2004 that the Adolescents' Blue and Kids of the Black Hole albums were his biggest influences as far as his writing style.
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