Holed up in Bad Religion's Hollywood practice pad the day before their first live show in 6 months, Greg Graffin digs into a burger and tells a tale of corporate evil.
"We're a straightforward band", says the singer, researcher of bone tissue evolution at Cornell and daddy of two. "There was no intervention from any label owners. But just to show you how bad it could have been: You know the great duo Simon and Garfunkel? Did you know that Garfunkel had to change his name? Because Paul Simon, who with the support of his label, wouldn't even play with Garfunkel unless he did. Today we know him as Art Garfunkel. But that's not his real name."
Graffin pauses for effect. "what is it?" someone asks. "Fartimus. Fartimus Garfunkel." Snickers ensue, but Graffin looks sober.
Nothing was changed when Bad Religion moved to major. In fact, the new album, The Gray Race, is easily their best since 1989's No Control. There is pressure to conform, but ironically coming from the"indie scene," who may have forgiven the Stooges, Ramones, Pistols and Clash their major-label deals-but no one since.
"Well, when those records came out it didn't occur to anybody that the name on the outside of the cardboard album cover had anything to do with the record itself," guitarist Brian Baker steams, albeit grinning. "And nowadays apparently there's some correlation between the two. But they had to be told it wasn' tcool to like that before they knew they wern't supposed to. A message to those people: Kill yourself!" he laughs. "Or better yet-just go fuck yourself!"
"File Under:'Wasting Oxygen,'" adds Graffin. "But if your'e a punk band it sis easier to sell records today than 10 years ago. I don't think that detractts from the intent of the music, though."
Unless some particular fashion sense dictates that selling records somehow compromises your credibility-a supposition that has existed with the punk since Johnny Rotten first donned his "I hate Pink Floyd" shirt in '77.
"We aren't really good commentors on the early English punk explosion," Graffin emphatically states. "I'm glad it died three years after it started because it shows that people weren't really into the fashion element of it. I think the reason Green Day and Offspring are more popular today than any of the bands from that era is because they're striking a nerve in people that is very fundamental-a lot more fundamental than weird-loking guys with English accents talking about how hard their working conditions are."
"You mean Rancid?" asks Brian, grinning. Nonetheless, Graffin recalls a time when he'd listen to anything-even prog raockers like Emerson, Lake & Palmer-as long as it wasn't popular.
"There are bands operating under that very premise today: 'Don't make it too good, man. Too many people might like it,'" he says. "Their main thrust in creating music is to not make it generally appealing, a juvenile persona of being not like anything else. But more often than not it means...bad."
"Every kid goes through it," agrees bassist Jay Bentley. "But by the time your'e playing on stage in front of an audience, it's time to abandon that. Because people are actually paying for it now."
"Either that or have a damn good light show!" says Brian. Bad Religion don't really even have a light show. They don't sing about parties girls or cars. By rock and roll's flashy standards, it might be understandable that they're wrongly perceived as near puritanical. The tag is certainlt not helped by Graffin's occassional description of the band as "folksy."
"I never used that term! I said it was 'like folk music' but I didn't say folksy!" he almost yells, the rest of the band cracking up."Certainly the delivery of my voice isn't that different really from a lot of folk music-I'm not trying to sound like the singer of Stone Temple Pilots or something. The music is very sparse, the guitars aren't multi-layered or processed. It's not elaborate;it's something that anyone can play in their garage. It's very populist oriented, Even the things we talk about are populist in scope. So it's very much like folk music. A lot louder of course..."
"The element of rebellious rock has reached its limit," Jay says, sitting back down. "The last great threatening act was hip hop/gangsta rap, and you saw all these white suburban high school kids going 'Yeah, Homey G!' and everyone else going, 'What a dick!' Imean GG Allin shoved a microphone up his ass-you don't go much beyond that..."