Pre-eminent LA punk band Bad Religion’s Jay Bentley talks to Big Issue North about the band’s 35-year career, the political content of their songs and the importance of having lives outside the music. They play Manchester Ritz on 3 August.
Although Bad Religion never gained major worldwide recognition you are now one of the most successful punk acts in terms of sales and legacy. Does slow and steady win the race?
Thanks for the vote of confidence! We have been incredibly fortunate to do something we enjoy and believe in for the past 35 years. We have made lots of mistakes and learned from them, we have had opportunities arise and capitalised on them… but I don’t believe any of those things are as important as doing what you love, and doing it because you want to. I think that constantly wanting to share ideas and philosophies artistically, and continuing to make new material and going on tours is really the best reason for the current status of the band.
Do you think it is possible for new bands/musicians to have such longevity or slow-burning success?
Sure. Don’t break up. Seems pretty easy. Just play because you love it. Write because you have something to say. Always believe that the next record you make will be the greatest. They won’t all be winners but you just keep going… and leave your egos at the door.
How has returning to, largely, the original lineup affected the band and your music?
In the best of all senses it feels “complete”. I really think that the band benefits musically from Greg and Brett’s writing somewhat competitively. They way they compose their work seems to push and pull each other along, scientifically and poetically. It feels like breathing in and out. We’re just in a really great spot right now and I think that shows in the last few records and live performances.
Much of your lyrical content is political or social. Can music affect change?
We’ve been having that debate forever. There have been many different variables attributed to what constitutes “change”… and from a purely scientific point of view the answer is no. It’s romantic to think that art can play a role in the changing world from a global perspective, but from an individual’s point of view, I think that it can absolutely have an effect on someone’s life. I know it has on mine. The leap of faith comes from the thinking “would Apple computer be what it was without the Rolling Stones?”… That’s a pretty big jump.
Greg Graffin (lead singer) has a PhD in zoology. Do all band members have other lines of work and is this necessary for the success of the band?
All members do things outside the band, even if it’s – like me – raising kids. I do believe that part of the longevity of the band has to do with us respecting our outside time. We learned a long time ago that we don’t fly a flag and we don’t have a uniform. We are just guys who get together and really dig making loud, fast music with each other. I think once you put away the pressure on the band to make you happy in all aspects of your life, you can actually enjoy it and get to scream at the top of your lungs too.