Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz (L) and Greg Graffin (R)
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Bad Religion On Performing At Coachella, New Music & Their Legacy
Coachella is a fitting place for Bad Religion guitarist/songwriter Brett Gurewitz and vocalist/songwriter Greg Graffin to reflect on the band’s 35-year career. The seminal Los Angeles punk band has just made their first appearance at the long-running Southern California festival and witnessed a new generation of fans mosh and scream along to their 18-song set that included “F*** You,” “Infected," "Spirit Shine,” and “Los Angeles Is Burning.”
Following the well-received set, Gurewitz, later joined by Graffin, took a moment to reflect on the experience with GRAMMY.com. The two talked at length about the Bad Religion legacy and why, as they’ve gotten older, that reputation means more to them than ever before.
How did the audience respond to your Coachella debut?
Brett Gurewitz: To be honest I was a little worried that Coachella is not our kind of crowd, we’re probably the hardest band of the day. But, in retrospect, I thought it worked out great. There were three pits going, kids were dancing and singing.
How rewarding is it for you guys to be able to come out and win over a new audience?
Gurewitz: It can really work to a band’s benefit, being the odd man out in a lineup. We’re the only sort of aggressive band at the festival today and if that’s the kind of music somebody is in the mood for, they’d come see us. It helps you stand out. And, at the end of the day, I’m not comfortable tooting my own horn really, but I think Bad Religion is just a good band. I think people who like all kinds of music like Bad Religion. So yeah, it’s a challenge. Greg said that very thing, he said he was going to really push himself today because these kids weren’t our people. He just wanted to be at his best.
It must have been inspiring to play your songs to a new audience hungry to hear them.
Gurewitz: It was pretty cool to see the reaction to “American Jesus,” which is one of our signature songs. It’s a song whose subject matter has been echoed in a number of our songs, but it’s probably the most emblematic, questioning social norms and nationalism. Seeing a whole new generation singing those words and just feeling it is quite powerful.
Are there other songs that you are excited to do live?
Gurewitz: The two songs of my own that are probably my favorites and very sentimental, one is “Sorrow,” and the other is “Stranger Than Fiction.” For me, they’re two of the best songs I’ve written. I’ve not played with the band for a couple of years now and being back with them and playing those songs … [Graffin walks in]
Greg Graffin: I was talking to Brett about complacency and I don’t care if it’s writing or teaching or sports or rock and roll, once you reach a plateau of achievement it’s very easy to fall into essentially resting on your laurels, what we call a cruising attitude. And when you get there you start to stagnate and I’ve felt it in this band at times in our career. But this is part of a bigger tour where we’re playing 60 different songs, it’s a big repertoire. I’m going on stage each night with nerves. I haven’t gone on stage nervous since I was like 15 years old. It’s a challenge, and yet I think it’s bringing out our best because then you put all of that experience to good use and you combine that with the edginess of the nerves and you create something that’s pretty special I think.
Interesting you haven’t had those nerves for so long.
Graffin: I can’t speak to other artists, but I think part of that is coming to terms with your own humanity, we’re obviously getting older. And as you get older you realize you’ve been very lucky and in the past when I wasn’t nervous I was probably resting too much on that fortune, on that good fortune. I still think we had a level of competence, we weren’t cheating the audience. But now I think trying to do more means building on your repertoire. For us, we have like 350 songs or something. We have an incredible catalog and we’ve only touched probably 40 percent of that ever in our career. At least 60 percent of the catalog that we can look through is quality stuff we’re pulling out and performing each night.
Maybe that’s what I’m finally touching on in my career, getting to a place where you recognize your own frailty and realizing that it takes tapping into that in order to give your best performance. I have another interesting angle on that. Brett and I started this when we were teenagers. I was 15 years old and I think I carried that through my thirties, that kind of teenage bravado, “Of course it’s gonna be great.” Then you get into your thirties and then people are like, “That wasn’t so good.” People close to you, either band mates or spouses or family. They’re like, “It was okay.”
How is this new push influencing your writing process?
Graffin: I just asked Brett earlier today, “What do you think, at this stage of the game, could hurt our legacy?” So we could stop today and I think we’d have a very proud heritage. But I don’t want to stop because I think we haven’t reached our full potential. I think there are a lot of people who haven’t heard of us yet and a lot of people who have started to hear of us, then they discover this huge catalog. I want to keep that catalog growing.
You also become a better musician as you get older.
Graffin: I absolutely agree with that, I’m singing things now I couldn’t have sung as a teenager, absolutely. Brett has pointed that out too, because, as the principal songwriter of the songs I sing, he claims he can write better because he knows my voice can do it now.
Gurewitz: Greg is an incredible singer, that’s the essence of Bad Religion right there. Most people think about punk rock as fast and loud guitars. Great punk rock is all about the drummer and the singer. Guitars are a f***ing afterthought, I’m sorry, and I am one.
Graffin: He’s a guitarist, if I said that I’d be fired (laughs).
Gurewitz: The drum is the pulse and the singing is the spirit and emotion of punk rock. It’s about that snare drum and that voice. Greg’s melodic sense coupled with how technical his delivery is and how accurate his pitch is and the feeling in his voice, unmatched in punk rock.
Graffin: Brett just touched on probably the most important part of this interview.
Gurewitz: But my contribution is as a writer, but also a producer. I recorded and mixed a lot of the records. I’m telling you, that’s what it’s about.
What is on the horizon for you guys in 2015?
Gurewitz: There’s another leg of the tour coming and then Greg and I are in writing mode. It’s early days, but it feels good. He’s got an early batch of songs and so do I and that’s how it starts. So starting the songwriting process and probably fall get together and start recording.