A couple Fridays ago (March 10th, to be precise) Greg Graffin released a stellar new album, Millport (ANTI- Records). It marks the first time in more than a decade that the Bad Religion frontman has pressed the “pause” button on his punk rock day job in favor of a more traditional, folksy Americana vibe. Millport features not only a core lineup that should seem very familiar to fans of both punk and Americana: Social Distortion‘s Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham, Brent Harding, and David Hidalgo Jr., but it also includes production credit from Brett Gurewitz, long the musical yin to Graffin’s yang.
While Graffin and his Millport session colleagues rank as some of the most legendary names in punk rock, a project like this allowed them to let go of the traditional constraints of trying to hone a singular sound. “The great thing about this project is that you’re hearing unconstrained love of the songs, and unconstrained love of creating something that we felt was a blend of many genres and therefore something that’s truly creative,” says Graffin, though he quickly points out that none of that is to say that crafting a new Bad Religion album is formulaic; it’s just a different standard. “It’s one of the great challenges as artist is to maintain the tradition of his or her prior work. That’s hard to do. It normally takes (Bad Religion) two years to put out an album. Why has it taken us four year to release an album after True North? Well, True North was such a great album — and we owe it to our fans to take it seriously as a great album — that to do another one is going to take a lot more work.”
Graffin and company holed up at California’s Studio 606 and Big Bad Sound for ten days of creating and recording last April, in what he says was basically akin to “hitting record and having a party.” The result is an album that’s the strongest and most cohesive of his solo career, with sounds that range from folk to bluegrass to 70’s rockers that would make Neil Young and Crazy Horse proud. Perhaps the album’s most upbeat singalong is “Time Of Need,” with it’s “Hey Man!” chorus that draws heavily on traditional Gospel hymnals, a bit of a curious decision for someone who’s spent close to four decades fronting a band called Bad Religion. He explains: “One of the greatest things about religion — if it can be said from a guy in Bad Religion — there’s something good about it and it has nothing to do with theology or the philosophy of it, but it has a lot to do with the music. The music is what is handed down through the generations, and punk rock is a kind of roots music now.”
Instead of focusing on the lure of paradise and an eternal afterlife, “Time Of Need” places the responsibility for making things better squarely on the shoulders of the listener, and of humanity. “In the old days,” says Graffin, “the Gospels would sing about how hard times were and how God is going to deliver us. What I’m trying to say is that God’s not going to deliver us. We have to be responsible ourselves for this changing environment and changing surroundings. No religion can help this time of need.”
We caught up with Graffin over the phone during a recent late winter blizzard that blanketed much of the Northeast with some of the biggest snow totals of the season. As you might imagine, we talked quite a bit about Graffin and Gurewitz’s long history as collaborators, and just how the solo, Americana projects inspire the two punk rock icons in ways we might not have expected. We also touched on just what the Social D trio brought to the project, and how Graffin hopes to balance solo and Bad Religion material going forward while raising the bar in both areas.
Head below to read our full Q&A!