At this point, you can pretty much visualize what a new Bad Religion album sounds like in your head before pressing play. By all means, this is in no way a bad thing. For forty years, the Los Angeles punk band have remained the unimpeachable torchbearers for the brand of Southern California hardcore mixed with air-tight pop sensibilities that has inspired countless bands throughout the years. The band recently released their 19th album, “Age of Unreason”, which finds them as ferocious and politically charged as ever. Metro’s Kris Hayes, arguably one of the biggest Bad Religion fans you will ever meet, got the chance to speak with the band’s longtime lead guitarist, Brian Baker, about the new album, changes in the band’s lineup, and keeping the fire burning on the road after all of these years.
“I think part of the longevity of the band is we’ve all been very conscious about having enough home time to balance it,” — Brian Baker of Bad Religion
Brian Baker playing with Bad Religion. Photo: Getty Images
You’ve been making records with Bad Religion now through four administrations. With Bad Religion being such a socially driven band, does the creative process differ at all in regard to the political climate?
Brian Baker: You know, actually it doesn’t, and even more strange, the writing process has nothing to do at all with politics. I think that a certain tableau is laid by what’s happening globally and that is, I guess politically motivated. But Brett [Gurewitz] and Greg [Graffin] really are writing day to day experience and sonically and lyrically things that they’re interested in at the time the song was written. There’s no grand plan. It’s not like, “Well, okay, here comes the Trump record.” It winds up being, you know, there’s definitely some criticism I would say, lightly, of the current administration, but that’s just a product of the time and when it was written. It’s not a directive in any way.
When I listened to “Age of Unreason”, I don’t get that the writing is really bashing you over the head sort of with a political message necessarily. I mean certainly some of the tunes for sure. But that’s an interesting response.
Brian Baker: Yeah, it really is the same. I mean the record, even the timing of when records come out. We make records when there are enough songs that everybody likes to make a record. And sometimes that can take a short amount of time, a year and a half. Or in the case of this record, it took five years. I think it’s because Bad Religion has the luxury of not really needing to have a new product out. I mean we’re not trying to break that new market. And so it kind of frees us up that the records come out when there’s enough to say and that we think they’re great.
Sure. So, do you find that with Bad Religion there’s not really as much of a push to tour as there is, necessarily, for other bands?
Brian Baker: Well, we tour because we like doing it. It’s really fun to play this music, and in my opinion I think we’re definitely the best band playing Bad Religion songs. And we basically, we tour the amount that we can without disrupting our civilian lives to the degree that this is no longer, where it feels like a job. I mean the privilege that we have is to be able to do this, it’s amazing. And the last thing I want to do is by trying to monetize it to some high level to make it not fun anymore. And I think our touring schedule reflects that. I mean it’s awesome to get to go to all these different countries, which I would never go to if it weren’t for Bad Religion. And so we’re just trying to, I think part of the longevity of the band is we’ve all been very conscious about having enough home time to balance it. And that’s really the only thing we do. I mean, there’s no push or pressure to do anything. I don’t know if you know this, but one of the guys from the band owns a record label. [original member Brett Gurewitz owns and runs the successful label, Epitaph Records]
Yes, I do. I do know that. And actually one of my questions was going to be if it’s different being in a band where one of your members owns the label.
Brian Baker: Well, I mean all comedy aside, really no. I think that maybe within Epitaph there might be some sense from some of the staff like “Okay, well this is Brett’s band. So you know, second prize is just a set of steak knives.” But as far as our interaction, no. I mean, Brett’s in the band. He doesn’t like to tour, so he doesn’t tour. He plays shows when he feels like it, when we’re going somewhere fun or doing something fun that he wants to do, he does. Otherwise, he doesn’t. I mean it’s very, again, no grand plan. No mapping it out. And I’m really happy that he runs and owns Epitaph because I think it’s the best independent label on the planet. So it works out well.
Mr. Brett … living the dream, man.
Brian Baker: Yeah, for sure. Well he’s earned it. He’s a smart, smart man.
So before the album was released, the band put out two singles, “The Kids Are Alt-Right” and “The Profane Rights of Man” ahead of the LP. With neither of them making the cut, I was just wondering if there was a thought process behind that, if that was planned or…
Brian Baker: Yeah, well there was no cut to make. I mean we went in and recorded those two songs. My timelines are terrible because I’m a thousand years old. Basically, we recorded those songs with the intention of having them be stand alone songs, and they were. They weren’t like not successful or outtakes of the album, in other words. I mean there was a lot of, Brett and Greg write a lot of songs, and it was like we had been inactive as far as we hadn’t put any material out in a long time, and we weren’t quite ready to make the whole record. And so we’re like why don’t we just go record these couple of songs? I mean the concept of an album or a release or a single is so completely skewed now because we’re dealing with a streaming world. So why not?
Those two songs were recorded in the same session?
Brian Baker: Those are recorded in the same session, and they were the only two that were recorded in that session. And that session was months and months and months before the [new album], maybe even a year, I don’t know.
Was that sort of a catalyst to do more stuff, you think?
Brian Baker: No, we knew we were going to do a record. I think it was just a kind of… Well for one thing, I think a little bit of it was kind of testing out the studio and getting… Brett is such an audiophile. And he really gets a lot of enjoyment about recording in different places, and that whole recording experience is so much fun for him. And so we went to Sunset Sound and did these two songs, and that’s where we wound up going back to to record the album. So I think it had a little to do with that, having some play time with a new space. But it was also, I think maybe in a sense it’s kind of generating some excitement for a new release. If you haven’t heard from us for many years that we’ve got these new things to kind of get Bad Religion back into the conversation for people who are not or not diehard fans.
Did you do those songs with Carlos de la Garza, who did the record?
Brian Baker: No, that was just part of the crew that did the record and Brett basically producing.
What was it like working with Carlos after doing a whole bunch of records, if I’m not mistaken with Joe Barresi in a row?
Brian Baker: Yeah, it was great. Carlos, he has a much different approach, and he’s done a lot of things that are really not, that you would think might not be compatible with Bad Religion. And that’s kind of what we were looking for is to have kind of fresh ears on what we do with the understanding that we are kind of, we’re pretty monolithic in what happens. I mean, there’s not a lot of production or how should I put this? There’s not a lot of revision of Bad Religion songs from outside sources. I mean, they’re written and they’re done. It’s still a punk band. So it wasn’t that Carlos had a lot to do with changing arrangements or anything. It was just about his, just a fresh idea on recording and also someone fun for Brett to work. Because Brett does co-produce all of these things. I mean, they’re both in there on the chairs. So, it was just, he’s totally, he was an awesome guy, and he just brought a lot of interesting ideas sonically to the table. And I think it worked out well.
To me, this record sounds like the band is really rejuvenated. You are working with new members, Mike Dimkich (guitar) and Jamie Miller (drums). What’s it like working with those guys?
Brian Baker: Well, it’s great, and bringing new people is always a breath of fresh air. And in this case with, especially with Jaime when we had lost Brooks [Wackerman] who was just such a fantastic drummer and so technically skilled, and Jamie came in and Jaimie’s able to do all of Brooks’s stuff, but it was more about why don’t we look at how these songs used to go. We kind of ignored the source material because we’d been playing this live act for so long. And we found out that a lot of our stuff was a little slower than we thought and just had more of a pocket that we just didn’t really, we were kind of overlooking. I mean, the 10,000th time you play the song “No Control”, it’s kind of morphed into something a little different.
I totally agree. And I mean, for me it’s always been very interesting because the lineups through Bad Religion’s history all sort of have their own identity, and the records that Bobby [Shayer] played on all sort of have this bounce to them. Do you know what I mean?
Brian Baker: Yes.
And with Brooks, it was really, everything was straight ahead, like a pushed kind of thing. So it’s really, it’s very cool to have Jamie’s take on this. He almost sort of fits in between those two drummers.
Brian Baker: You know, he really does. And that’s an astute observation, and I believe accurate. And Jamie does exactly. I think he has the best elements of both, because, God, just Bobby was so great. Bobby has this sort of, Bobby was a Ramone’s guy, and the Blondie guy…
There’s Clem Burke [the drummer of Blondie] in his playing for sure.
Well there’s also Clem Burke in his haircut.
As far as touring now versus touring in the 90s, what’s that like? Is it different?
Brian Baker: No, you know, it’s remarkably similar. I think it’s pretty much the same thing. I think we’re just better at it now, and we’re, I would say a little, we’re much more streamlined. We’ve had people working with us who have been there since the 90s, and so this entire idea of traveling around and putting on these shows, the crew people are absolutely the most important part of it or this isn’t going to work. And you know, so we have some great people who’ve been with us for a long time. And also we’ve just learned how to do this. I mean, there’s not a, I mean, I think that maybe my and Jay’s [Bentley] sobriety might have something to do with the tamping down of the anarchy. I think it’s just, we’re just better at it.
Definitely a healthier approach. I know you and like to cycle before gigs, right?
Brian Baker: Precisely. That kind of thing. I think it’s just, we’re just better at it. But interestingly, I mean, the touring, the profile is the same, and a lot of the venues are the same, and we do the same kind of festivals here and then our own shows there. So there is a similarity. I just think it’s, we’re just better at it. That’s really the best answer.
The song “The Dichotomy” off of the out of print cult classic “Into the Unknown”, for those unfamiliar, it’s consistently made its way into the set list now for the past handful of runs. What prompted that one to come out?
Brian Baker: Complete accident. We were at a rehearsal before we started the tour cycle, just kind of shaking off the rust. And Jay started playing the keyboard line to that song on his base, and he was kind of smiling and Jamie started to pick up a rhythm to it, and I believe Graffin was there because Jay and Greg were the only ones who knew what the song was. Right? And so they’re kind of trying to get this going and Graffin’s singing, and I’m just like, hold on, what, where, what is this? Where did this come from? And Jay’s like, “This is ‘The Dichotomy’ off of ‘Into the Unknown’.” And I’m like, “This is awesome, and we should play it.” And we just kind of worked out a version of it with the instrumentation that we have available. And it’s so much fun to play, and it freaks people out. And most people don’t know what it is. They think it’s some weird new song or maybe a Pink Floyd cover. They don’t really know.
I don’t know about you, but for me if I’m going to see a show ,and I’m a big fan of who’s playing, and I know the deep cuts, there’s a little bit of perverse joy in seeing a confused crowd.
Brian Baker: Yeah, I suppose so there is that. You can also see confused band at least when we first started playing it. We make a great effort to keep our sets interesting and to take songs in and out and mix it up. We try to play a different set every day. All of this is about it not becoming a heritage act, and I can’t think of anything less entertaining for me as a player or for anyone who comes to our shows to be seeing the same set of the greatest hits over and over and over again. I mean it’s really, the live experience is unique and it should be made so, and doing things like this is really part of it.
And with that being said, I hesitate to ever tell an artist what they should be playing. But I don’t know if you’ve rehearsed “Old Regime”, but if you have and you feel like pulling it out at one of the New York shows, I would not be upset. Just saying. I think it’s the best song on there.
Brian Baker: Point taken. We are currently playing, I believe, five songs from Age of Unreason, which is a huge chunk for us with the time constraints of an entire set. I do know that we will be, there’s a lot of touring coming up through 2019 and 2020 where we’re going to be swapping in and out of songs from the new record. And I can guarantee you though, maybe not the New York shows upcoming, but we will be playing “Old Regime” in the future because it’s an awesome song.
It is an awesome song! And I’m required to ask you, there are no plans for an “Into the Unknown” reissue currently, correct?
Brian Baker: Not to my knowledge.
What about “Recipe for Hate”? It’s the only pre-2000 record that didn’t get a remaster in some shape or form.
Brian Baker: Well, that’s quite possible. I mean, these are obviously Epitaph questions. But I do know that that a while back, Brett got all the rights to every Atlantic release, and I’m sure you might know that “Recipe for Hate” though it originally came out on Epitaph became an Atlantic release as part of the deal with “Stranger than Fiction”. So what that means is that Epitaph has all the rights to everything and the masters and that is all you need. So I would not be surprised to see that.
Well, that’s good news! While I have you, I wanted to ask you about, you’re involved in a slew of other projects. I’ve seen a bunch of them. Is there anything that you wanted to mention upcoming with any of those? Will there be new full lengths from Beach Rats or Fake Names?
Brian Baker: Yeah, that’s Fake Names. Yeah, I can mention both. Beach Rats are working on a full length, but as the Beach Rats are, it’s whenever we feel like it. I mean, Beach Rats is really kind of just a super fun New Jersey hardcore band that I and my friends who live near me. You know, I live in New Jersey now, and I live at the Jersey Shore and where the Bouncing Souls guys are, and so this is really just like kind of a fun basement project. But definitely we have songs but we don’t have quite enough for a record yet. And hopefully we’ll be able to put some, once the touring season dies down in the winter, that’s when the Beach Rats really come out. Because everybody’s home and yeah. So we’re going to definitely try to get something together for next year. Also Fake Names, which is my band with Dennis Lyxzen [of Refused], Michael Hampton, who is in Embrace and Faith, and S.O.A. people Know with Henry Rollins, who was Garfield at the time. And also Johnny Temple, who is the bass player from Soulside and Girls Against Boys. This is an awesome, fun band. We have a record recorded, and if I’m not mistaken, it’s looks like a February release, and it is on a label called Epitaph. You’re familiar with it?
I think I’ve heard of it. They’re like an Indie label, right? Or something.
Brian Baker: Yeah, like an Indie label. But it’s so great because Dennis and I, of course, are longtime Epitaph veterans. It was just the right place for us, and I was very excited that Brett really liked the record, and it’s going to come out. It’s really, I love it. I don’t know how much touring we can do with it because everyone is hyper occupied and Refused have a new music coming out very soon. But we definitely will be playing some shows, and I hope everyone likes it. It’s really interesting. It sounds well, sounds kinda like the bands that all the people are from if that makes any sense. It sounds kind of like Embrace and a little like Dag Nasty with Dennis singing Pretty weird.
I wanted to ask you real quick, tell me if this is not a cool question to ask, but I know that Peter Cortner has a band, I think it’s called Field Day, that he’s doing Wig Out at Denko’s era Dag Nasty songs. Is that all mutual and good?
Brian Baker: Yeah. Well, I mean I’m a fan of anything that Peter does, and basically if he wants to go out and play Dag Nasty covers, I’m totally into it. He’s an awesome singer and, I mean, why not? Life is too short. Go have some fun. You know, I mean, I totally support this effort.
Great. That’s awesome. Is there more material coming out from Dag Nasty with John Brown?
Brian Baker: Well there will be, but we’re on a little bit of a hiatus right now. I mean, I’m just, I’m spread very, very thin.
You don’t say.
Brian Baker: Yeah, I’m spread pretty thin. But yeah, of course. There will be more Dag Nasty. It’ll probably, I would say that we’re gonna be down for probably the duration of the Bad Religion, Age of Unreason run. So Dag Nasty is probably gonna be more of a 2021 thing. But I mean these are my guys, so. We’re going to do more.
Make sure to check out Bad Religion on tour this summer.