By: Kayla-Jane Barrie -
Bad Religion began making punk rock in 1982 with their debut album How Could Hell Get Any Worse? Today, they’re on the 25th floor of Westin hotel encircled by journalists in a maroon room painted with gold trim. The hot topic of the press frenzy is their latest album, True North, released last month. Despite being industry veterans, the band still has a distinct, wide-eyed punk sound—the only thing that has aged is their looks.
“There’s never been a system or formula. There’s no, ‘this record is going to sound like the Beatles or Discharge,’ it’s really just about enjoying the songs for what they are. Real Bad Religion fans enjoy the ride because none of our songs sound the same. If you really dig into Bad Religion you’ll see there’s an incredibly diverse spectrum to what we do,” Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker tells Aesthetic Magazine Toronto.
Baker first appeared on Bad Religion’s The Grey Race in 1994. Since day one it’s never been about fame or fortune; it’s the reckless guitar licks and evocative lyrics that have kept these guys together for almost 30 years. And when it came to their new album, True North, there were no rules or system in place for recording. “We recorded it in the same studio with the same producer. The process is the same; everyone gets together and listens to what they’ve done and we decide what we’re going to do. It’s really that simple. We find out what works in the studio; what’s the most fun, most streamlined, and gives the best result.”
“You know what’s not punk? Having a fucking job.”
Both nerdy and esoteric, Bad Religion’s True North metaphor comes from the geographical term referring to the magnetic direction of the earth’s surface toward the North Pole. Due to magnetic field activity in Canada’s arctic regions, fluids in the planet’s core polarize, resulting in a chaotic magnetic field. As a result where we think the North Poles are they technically aren’t. It’s an illustration of how everything is in flux. This is true in society, and for Bad Religion.
Creating new, relevant punk songs is what Bad Religion does best. While the band is touring they take a few weeks off to keep things fresh and maintain their relationships with each other. “We’re really great friends first who all happen to be bonded in the sense that we like to play music. If that doesn’t come first, [playing] becomes a job, and you know what’s not punk? Having a fucking job.”
Bad Religion takes laser sharp attacks on contemporary issues by writing powerful songs that make crowds stand up and feel like they belong. “Bad Religion has always had a lock on global problems, societal ills, and specific policies and politics. We’re interested in the understanding of global misdeeds. It makes for a long career because someone is always doing something terrible to someone else,” Baker explains.
Conversely, the band feels that singing about historical events that happened 30 years ago is stale and predictable. “There’s a downside to being too specific in songwriting. When you write a song about how much you don’t like Ronald Reagan, it’s hard to play it in 2013 without looking like a moron,” Baker says. “We have some really good songs we just don’t play because we really don’t want to sing about the Kyoto Accord anymore. You have to cut a bit of a wide swaft and that’s what makes our music relevant and stand the test of time,”
“When you write a song about how much you don’t like Ronald Reagan, it’s hard to play it in 2013 without looking like a moron.”
This timeless confidence has allowed the band to weather the music industry changes— from record store loyalty to instant digital downloads. Even though you can now own Bad Religion’s entire discography with the click of a button, the punk rockers see this digital media controversy as beneficial. “A lot of people talk about how no one buys records anymore; that it’s all about digital. What they don’t really touch on is that the whole point of having records in the first place was to make the music more accessible,” he says. “More people hear our records now then they did 20 years ago when they waited outside Town Records. The whole point is to disseminate information with a catchy beat that’s fun for us to play. The more people who know who Bad Religion is, the more we are able to get our ideas out there. There is no downside to that.”
This grassroots notion is integral to the future of punk. As more new bands spring up online, it’s time to embrace the quirks of the digital era. With unlimited platforms to both create and share music, musicians can truly own a DIY aesthetic instead of relying on record label politics. “The early indie punk labels were a reaction to the fact that there were so few major label entities that would even allow this kind of music to be disseminated. You had no other choice,” continues Baker. “But now, I see tons of people doing it on their own; people who record something and make it available by putting a homemade video up on YouTube. There is no exchange of cash, there’s no label, no system, no structured distribution. Anyone can go on tour if you have five songs that have garnered any attention on YouTube; that’s super do-it-yourself. I think that’s cool. That’s punk.”
As long as Bad Religion’s bones are intact and their hearts are pumping blood through their veins, our generation will still enjoy new, innovative music from these punk pioneers. “It would be nice to continue to enjoy ourselves, manage to stay relevant, and not hurt anyone in the process,” Baker admits. “We’re still children to the degree that this is an artistic expression that happens to be the most fun for us. As long as it continues to be that way I’m going to continue to do it. Hopefully that will be for many more years.”