Interview: Jay and Brian of Bad Religion discuss True North, band history, and their recent tour

A few weeks ago, Bad Religion hit the road in support of their 16th studio album, “True North.” We were able to catch up with bassist Jay Bentley and guitarist Brian Baker in Chicago to discuss the tour’s happenings including Against Me’s abrupt cancellation, the recording of “True North”, and more.

Read it all right here.

Dying Scene (Connor): How’s the tour going?

Brian Baker: Considering the potential problems, we turned out to be pretty lucky. Starting out that we found out that [Against Me!] weren’t going to go via social networking four days before the tour could be, you know, somewhat stressful. And then Brooks had to leave for a few dates. So I consider that to be a rocky start. But what was fantastic is that Steve [of Polar Bear Club] knew all the songs and is a fantastic drummer and totally pulled it off. If it weren’t for that, we would have had to go home. I’m not really sure the reason Against Me! didn’t come because I haven’t talked to anyone in that band, but what I read on the internet is that they just weren’t comfortable with their choice of drummer replacement. I’m sure they had replacements lined up, but maybe this one wasn’t wearing the right color shirt and that one’s birthday was not in the correct moon phase or whatever. But I think the idea for me that you’ve committed to a tour that’s pretty much sold out and has been booked for 6 months, the idea would be to go and fulfill your commitment rather than worry about what type of cologne the drummer replacement is wearing.

Certainly a vital component to consider.

BB: Well, of course. When you first hire someone, that’s the first thing on the list.

Does Bad Religion have a specific cologne you’d like to take this opportunity to endorse? 

BB: I actually prefer to go au natural, but whatever Brooks wears is just delightful.

How was having Brett sing on “Dharma And The Bomb?”

BB: It was a Brett song that came up later in the writing process, it was fun to play but we didn’t even think it was going to be on the record at all. In fact when we recorded it Brett hadn’t finished the lyrics, but it was such a fun song to play.

Lyrically it certainly stands out.

BB: Yeah, I feel like by now fans can really tell the different bases that Greg and Brett cover lyrically. Brett’s lyrics tend to be a bit more fanciful or esoteric, as where Greg’s come out as obviously more educational. But yeah, I love that song, we’ve just started to play that one live, with the role of Brett being filled by Jay Bentley, who is also tall and an original member, so it seemed like the next best choice.

How much of the new album do you tend to play each night?

BB: You have this pattern when a new record comes out where you want to play songs from the new record but when you have a history such as ours, you can’t skip certain bases. We try to avoid being a “greatest hits” set and try to do some interesting things, but there are certain parts of our history that you can’t ignore, so you only really have a small number of songs that you can play from a new record. This tour, unlike any of the other ones that I’ve been on in these 20 years, we were like, “Well how about we do this? We’ll wind up playing all the songs [from True North]. Before, we’d pick these six songs from the new record and play them for the entire tour; This time we’ve played  entire record live and we rotate songs in and out every night. It keeps it interesting for us, as well as people who see us for more than one night on the tour. Going and playing the entire record in one night is kind of a bold move. We’ll leave that to Fall Out Boy.

Jay Bentley: We tried it but it just wouldn’t work. The costumes just didn’t work. I couldn’t fit into the half-suit.

This is your first album to make it on the Billboard Top 20. Was that surprising to you at all?

BB: Intensely. But there is a caveot, which is you can be in the Top 20 of Billboard and have just sold like, two or three copies. It’s not the top 20 paradigm that we all remember from like, the Beach Boys vs. Beatles feuds. I think it’s neat, but it doesn’t resonate quite as hard as it did before the digital domain.

JB: I’m just happy that anybody likes anything we write [Laughing]. I don’t care about chart positions.

You said that going into the album you had the mindset of “This is going to be the best album we’ve ever made.” Now that it’s been released, do you feel it’s the best Bad Religion album?

JB: If you don’t go into the studio with that mindset, why are you going in? It doesn’t necessarily mean that when you’re done you can’t go “Well, that wasn’t that great.” They can’t all be winners. When this record was being made we were all having a very good time. It came together very efficiently and organically. When I got my first copy on a raw disc from Brett, I put it in my car and giggled like a schoolgirl and said “This is a great fucking album.” You shoot for the moon and probably 90% of the time, you fall short. But sometimes you hit it just fucking right and you go “Wow, that was really good.”

BB: I still think it’s fantastic. Having performed all of it numerous times and heard it hundreds of times, I still think it’s great.

How much apprehension or nervousness do you feel right before releasing the album to the fans?

JB: On this record in particular, I couldn’t wait for people to hear it. The same way I felt about “Process Of Belief” and the same way I felt about “Suffer.” That’s a pretty great feeling.

BB: I don’t give a fuck what people think. It’s nice to be respected and have people dig what you do, but we would do this anyway. So on the eve of a record coming out, I’m not really thinking “Gee, I hope everyone likes it,” I’m thinking “Very soon I’ll be on tour getting to play this.” That’s what I do this for, is getting to go play.

JB: I spend way too much time in the mirror in the morning to not care what people think about me.

In retrospect, how do you feel about doing the live video chat with fans to release the first single?

JB: The technology was there so we tried it, and it worked out. If we had that in the 80’s we would have done it.

BB: Don’t glorify wheat-pasting flyers.

JB: Yeah, making flyers and all is great to promote your band, but if we would have had a Facebook page back then, I would be on that shit all the time.

What’s the biggest difference in recording this album vs. your first?

BB: The ability to do something quickly and to repair mistakes and not waste a lot of time trying to get a perfect performance because you can easily fix a single problem comes at a time when we don’t make a lot of mistakes. It would have been great to have that advantage when we started playing music. The technology now is there when we don’t need it.

JB: Yeah, but playing to tape forces you to be better. You don’t have the luxury of, “Oh, we’ll just nudge it in the mix.” You have to do it 100 times to get it right. This new record was made through a tape; we made a tape and transferred into digital just because the sound is better. You can take advantage of the things you can use that are more efficient, but people are getting fucking lazy. Guys go in there and play shitty chords, and go “You just fix it in the digital mix.” And the producer sits there all day long nudging and deleting and editing. Fuck that. What’s supposed to be efficient is now just using all of your hours fixing shitty band’s songs to sound perfect, and then you spend your good money to go see them play shitty onstage, and then you go “Fuck this, I’m never buying music again,” and you steal it on the Internet. That’s why we’re where we are [laughing].

A heavy-hit concept in “True North” is trying to find the right direction to take in your life. When did you become confident in your decision to be in Bad Religion? How did you become confident in the idea that was what you were doing with your life?

JB: When I was 15, I wasn’t indecisive. My parents didn’t want me to be doing this, and I didn’t care. I was going to be in this band. So I had to get a job at 711 and Orange Julius because I want to have pinball money, and the band isn’t really giving me any money, but I didn’t care because I want to stick with the band, so I had to have a job doing nothing so that I can still do that. That’s what I see as the generational gap. Now my kids are basically saying “Why can’t I just be in a band?” Well, you can, but you have to make money as well or starve. That’s the other option. The indecisiveness is basically “I want to have my cake and eat it too.” You need to be willing to go through the effort to make your dream come true.

BB: Speaking as someone who doesn’t have kids…that sort of indecisiveness at 21, I didn’t really have the idea that I was doing what I wanted to do and that what I was doing with my life was viable until I was about 35. I always had this feeling of “This is a great experience, but what am I going to do after this is over?” I just didn’t really embrace the feeling that this is what I was doing and it just took a long time for me to be comfortable with it. Now I am of course, and this is an awesome use of my time and I think I was incredibly lucky at 15 to just happen to be in a band, just like Jay was.

JB: I think while having a band is a great hobby, it’s a ridiculous pursuit. What I tell my kids is to find something they like to do. Find something in your life that you enjoy, because that will give you the reason to get any kind of job to afford those things. If you get really lucky, you’ll get a job involved in the that thing that you enjoy, if you work really hard for it. That makes it really simple. But once again, there has to be some sort of drive to not only do the thing that you like, which is get super stoned and play Nintendo all day.

BB: But actually, there are people who have that job, I think.

JB: And those people go online and ruin it for everybody [laughing]. All it takes is one person to blog about how awesome it is that their life is getting ripped on weed and playing Halo 3, and everybody says “I’m getting that job.”

BB: I call it the NBA concept. Everyone’s not going to make it to the NBA. It’s a great game, and I’m glad you enjoy it, but the law of averages says…you know.

I imagine that touring in the earlier days had to have a lot more sense of adventure and danger than it does now. Do you still get a feeling of excitement from touring or is it simply routine?

BB: The excitement for us is that Greg Hetsen is such a wild cannon that we never know what’s going to come next [laughing]. “Is he going to show up? Is he not going to show up? What’s he going to play?” But yeah, there’s a certain predictable rhythm to our touring now, and it’s pleasant and I love it. Yeah, the swash-buckling, Viking-attack-the-world aspect of it has been tamped down into a tour bus.

JB: See, I still having the Viking-attack-the-world feeling. I do think it’s and us-and-them thing, and I also know that our tour bus has oars that come out the side [laughing]. The terrifying part is, when you start touring, crazy shit happens to you. If you’re a logical, sentient person, you think, “I don’t want that to happen to me again.” When I went out on the Suffer tour, I went with a brown paper bag with a t-shirt in it. And I was in Boston wearing ripped jeans a leather jacket with holes in it, and it was minus fifty. And I’m from California, so I was crying going “I’m never letting this happen to me again. I’m traveling with a sweater, fuck all of you.” You do that twenty times, and then suddenly you’re bringing gloves and tour and you’re like, “Holy shit, I’m fucking smart.” [laughing]. That’s really all it is.

What younger bands do you want to see last long enough to make their 16th album?

BB: Hot Water Music.

JB: Bouncing Souls, The Bronx. [Yelling across the room.] You hear that? You guys need to put out a 16th album.

BB: I like how our idea of “younger bands” is “Oh, they’re just forty.”

JB: It’s funny because you start thinking about what younger bands can do and you hope for the best, and then they put out “The Black Parade” and say “This is our Sgt. Pepper’s” and it’s just like “I wish you would just shut up.”

BB: See, I like “The Black Parade.”

JB: Yeah, that’s fine, but you don’t go in the press saying things like “This is our Sgt. Pepper’s.”

BB: Never say that you’re “Saving Rock ‘n Roll.”

JB: Our new record “True North” is The White Album. Plus Revolver. Multiplied by Cream.

Many thanks to Jay and Brian for taking the time to talk to us. True North was released in January via Epitaph Records. Check out the Dying Scene review over here.


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