Published Sep 26, 2010Thirty years and 15 albums later, SoCal punks Bad Religion refuse to relent or stagnate, as latest effort The Dissent Of Man asserts with vitality, drive and graceful execution. Smooth yet steadfast, slick while still severe, it finds the seminal sextet in complete creative unity and Zen comfort, it's a stunning affair boasting expectedly expedient and contextually provocative tracks such as "The Day that the Earth Stalled," "The Resist Stance" and "Meeting of the Minds." More impressive is the startling, engagingly fresh direction many of these songs strike out upon. Maintaining their inherent sound while flushing the pipes with some newfound moxie, a half-time ― for Bad Religion ― pace, subtlety and darkness come frothing forth on a number of works, including the modestly Celt-inspired "Pride and the Pallor," the anthemic "Ad Hominem" and twangy "I Won't Say Anything." Rich with back-ups, melody-heavy lead vocals and a general feeling that this was crafted with an appreciation for the process over the end result, the entire experience readily maintains the stellar upswing Bad Religion has enjoyed over the past decade. Even then, few of those moments possessed the compelling thrill of inner-peace, outer defiance and celebratory dynamics as The Dissent Of Man.
Not that anyone wants you to quit, but would you be happy seeing this as your career capstone?
Bassist Jay Bentley: Honestly, I've had that feeling since we put out The Process of Belief. After that "redeeming record," everything has just been gravy. We're okay now and we're having fun. We're not really sure where everything will end up tomorrow. We don't think about it, the next tour or record. In terms of the future goal? Nothing; it's just to be happy.
It doesn't seem like an easy album, insomuch that you guys were always too busy to just nail it down.
Yeah, we really picked up the touring pace for a couple of years, Greg was teaching at UCLA for a while there and life was just taking off. It was cool and we weren't really thinking about tomorrow. That meant not really thinking about making an album. Even the whole 30-year thing didn't enter anyone's mind until we were halfway through the album. We were like, "Hey, we've been together 30 years. Wow, that's a long time."
A lot of marriages don't last that long, let alone bands.
We've certainly had our ups-and-downs; people come and go. We got some new guys in and some are original, but the fact that Brett [Gurewitz, guitarist], me and Graffin are still together working, that's cool.
Even drummer Brooks Wackerman, he fits in so well, not to discredit his predecessors.
I feel what you're saying. When [guitarist] Greg Hetson joined, it was natural. We didn't go looking for anybody; he just showed up and wouldn't leave, so it was, "Whatever, you're in the band." With Brian [Baker, guitarist], we had to find someone to replace Brett and that was more stressful, but it seemed like a natural fit, again. He came in, was funny, smart and well read, so he couldn't fit the band better. Brooks just rounded out what I consider to be this incarnation of the band that works really well. I didn't even realize he was in the band ten years. I was like, "Shut up! You're, like, 23." "Ya, I joined the band when I was 13."
The past few years have been great for you. I recall speaking with you around the time of The New America and you weren't feeling it.
Absolutely. I think the feeling around The New America and when it came out was that it was the end of something. I can't explain it, but you kind of diagnose this thing and it's terminal; you think there's no way to fix it. It just didn't feel right, so being down that far and when Bobby [Schayer, drummer] left, it was just the end. Greg and I talked about how we could pick it up again and we just couldn't do it. So when Brett came back around and said, "Come back to Epitaph, we need to find a drummer and here's Brooks," we made The Process of Belief and that sort of started it all over again. In a way, the best part of it was that the expectations of our band were so minimal, putting out The Process Of Belief was ― nobody expected that. It was like, "Take that!"
Well, you're calling a spade a spade! But we did all feel that way at the time and Process saw you back with a vengeance.
"Vengeance" is kind of the right word too, 'cause I remember having this feeling of being so fucking angry that the band were going to end on this wimpy little squeak. Not really feeling that all the things we'd accomplished ― we'd fucked it up so bad. So, yeah, there was this sort of Revenge of the Nerds attitude going in. We wanted to just make the greatest rock record ever. Not that it was or wasn't, but it felt good to get back to where we were around Suffer, where our mindset was.
Is that why everyone feels this reinvigoration, because you're back to that state of being? It does seem like some of your best works have happened in this decade because you have that vitality back?
It goes part and parcel with getting back to only being responsible for ourselves. Getting on a major label, having management and doing all those things normal bands do every day worked against us. It led us down these paths of doing what everyone else was doing. It sucked ― was not a good ride at all.
But you had to go through the experience to realize nobody knows what's better for you than you.
That's true; it's always a learning experience. Take everything we've done and it's a lesson we learned. We've learned a lot of them throughout our career, like when we put out Into The Unknown. That was a lesson learned about what a band can or can't do and what their philosophies are. You have to adhere to them. I never really look back but when I do, I get a big, goofy smile ― that was funny.
It does stick out a bit.
Yep. It was fun.
Well, everyone's coming on side 'cause there's anticipation around this record now. People feel you're getting better and better, charting higher now that you're older, which never happens for bands. Normally, they fade away but you're burning brighter and brighter.
I'm not sure if that's part of the equation of being around long enough that you're no longer a threat of being a flash-in-the-pan or not. I know that's weird, but so many people have been burned by bands that they fall for and then they make one record and break up or the first record is great but the second record isn't. We've made enough good and bad records that it's like, "Oh, have your pick." It doesn't matter what era you want from us, 'cause we've been around long enough that you can still have good records. And we didn't even make 'em recently.
I wish I had your realistic philosophy.
That's how it is! You're not going to change it!
It's pretty Zen.
I think you get that way after a while; you realize you're just along for the ride, make the best of it and when things are bad, admit it. That's one thing I learned. When things are bad, you paint on this clown smile and you're telling everyone things are great, but inside you know it's really not. When you're really honest and say, "This isn't really very good," then you have a sense of where you want to be. My philosophy is that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, wherever that is. I got that from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That movie will change your life.
Who's Mr. Hand?
Greg Graffin is!
That's what yields great music: not fretting.
I'm sure Brett, in a marketing capacity, has a different opinion, but in terms of popularity, you don't worry about it. I don't know. Who does?
It's going to happen the way it happens.
Yeah. Once you put it out in the stratosphere, it's none of your business anymore. It's an 18-year-old: bye! Records are more about the emotions around the time than the material. I don't think about that 'cause I was there doing it; they are snapshots of a life.
Well, I hope you're still feeling good about these snapshots.
You know, I was talking to Erik Sandin [NOFX drummer] and he said, "Some days when you walk onstage, don't you get that feeling?" I said, "Sometimes I'm kicking cans to the stage going, 'Damn it.' The minute I'm out there though? Big smile on my face and I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
There are some diverse elements on the record: rock'n'roll tunes, relationship aspects to the lyrics; it sounds fresh.
I feel the same way. It wasn't really planned to be this way but when planning to do this 30th anniversary tour we've been on, Greg [Graffin, vocals] and I were talking about how maybe it's time to move on into wherever we are now, away from the past 30 years. When I hear the record, I really feel it's representative of us. I know that's weird, but it feels exactly where we are in our lives, which is good. That's the same feeling we had with How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, Suffer and Process ― records that were more indicative of where we are in our lives than anything else. That's where this record is now.
At least you have those moments because as we said, some bands are a flash-in-the-pan, but your career is dynamic.
It's a wild ride, that's for sure.
The Dissent of Man is album 15, a rare number for bands to reach. That's some sort of achievement, isn't it?
I just feel that releasing 15 albums in 30 years is good production. That's how I feel about it: totally emotionless!
How does it feel internally though?
If I were to look at a band that had 15 albums in 30 years, I'd say, "Wow, that's impressive." If I wanted to, and had the time to, listen to all 15 records chronologically, I'' say, "Wow, you guys have really progressed." Hopefully. (Epitaph)