While having a classic punk and aggressive sound, Bad Religion has never come across as preachy or didactic. With a fantastic back catalogue featuring killer tracks like “American Jesus”, “Come Join Us”, “Stranger Than Fiction”, “21st Century Digital Boy” and “Punk Rock Song”, they have continued to inspire, excite and be incredibly thought provoking.
Bad Religion have also been a fine example of the ‘do it yourself’ ethos, with one of the founders, Brett Gurewitz, being the founding father of Epitaph Records, which has given a career start to many a fantastic band over time.
With Bad Religion, one of the band’s most striking visual aspects is its “Crossbuster” logo, which features an upside down cross with the ‘No’ circle on it, a provocative statement of intent if there ever was one. How does founding member and bassist Jay Bentley feel about the logo and by extension the place of organised religion in the world today?
“Thirty two years ago, I thought the ‘Crossbuster’ logo was totally rad. I still think that it’s totally rad today,” begins a laughing Bentley. “In regards to organised religion and its place in the world, I don’t really feel there is anything wrong with religion. It’s what people do with it and to it for their own self-serving reasons and/or gain. The more I read about things, what upsets and offends me is the way that people twist it into their own interpretation and meaning and want to beat people with it like a big stick in order to make them believe what they believe so they don’t feel lonely.”
How does Bad Religion make music that, while having something to say, manages to never come off as maudlin or depressing? “The way not to be depressing is not to get on that boat. If you tell people the boat is sinking, you’re not being a pessimist, you are being a realist. I am angry at what surrounds me. I choose not to walk around with a permanent scowl on my face and, via music, do something about it. The guys all share that mentality with Bad Religion.”
“I suppose that because I’m an American, the partisan movement that’s going on in my country in relation to politics is the big thing that pisses me off about the world and fuels the fire in 2012. I’ve had enough of the people who have their beliefs, which I’m more than happy to defend your right to have that philosophy, but I’m not happy about defending their rights to beat everybody up about what the believe in. The political climate in America has become pretty obscene,” says Bentley.
“When we first started, we were amazed when we were on our own indie label and the band kept growing and growing. The next logical step was to go to a major label to see what was out there and what they could do for us. There was that question in the heads of the band members along the lines of ‘are we missing something?’ I can guarantee you that within five minutes after signing, we realised that there was nothing there for us. We had to stay with Atlantic for seven years because we had signed a contract. After that period expired, we got back Epitaph and everyone was happy,” says Bentley, with a caustic chuckle.
The band members have, at one time or another, experienced dark chapters in their lives such as dealing with the concept of fame or drug abuse. What made them, as a collective, overcome that which tried to bring them down? “We started Bad Religion when we were young men,” explains Bentley. “Making mistakes in our lives early on and having the ability to work through them made us who we are as people. We all are able to say sorry to one another or accept an apology if conflict or issues arise and just break through it.”
Brett left the band in the mid-nineties, and returned some years later. Was their ever any question of Bad Religion continuing? “Absolutely,” says Bentley. “The first thing I did after Brett announced he was quitting the band was call Greg and ask if that was it for Bad Religion. Both of us felt that we still had a lot to say and decided to continue. Brian Baker, Brett’s replacement, has been wonderful. When Brett re-joined the band, we were happy with both him coming back and to add him to how we kept things during his departure.”
Does the band have any concrete plans to record new material? “Definitely. We started talking about this around the end of last year. We’ve been touring for the past eighteen months. Hopefully, we should be able to get into the studio at the end of July and, if things go to plan, we should be releasing the album by the end of the year,” says Bentley.
A living, breathing personification of Johnny Rotten’s battle cry of ‘we mean it, man’ in the Sex Pistols track “God Save The Queen”, Bad Religion are still as important and relevant in the world as they have ever been.