AMP Magazine recently conducted an interview with BAD RELIGION bassist Jay Bentley.
You guys have had 30 years of rock with Bad Religion. How does time affect the writing process? Do you go in thinking that this might be the last album you’ll make?
That’s not really a thought. When we go in to make a record, the thought is, “This is going to be the best record we’ve ever made.” We’ve all said if you’re not going to make the best record you’ve ever made, then why would you make it? I’ve been a part of records that were good, that were bad, and I’ve been a part of records that were actually indifferent. To make records now at this stage in our career, there is no reason to make something that you don’t think is the best thing you have ever made. Obviously that is subjective, and once you have made the record and sent it out on its own path, people could say, “This record sucks!” and that you are no good anymore, but that is not why we do it. We go in and think, “Oh man! This is great!” Being together for so long gives you sort of a map of how you do things, and I don’t want to say efficiently because that sounds to scientific. We know how we work best. We’ve learned over the years and we go in to make a record and if we spend too much time, we are going to fuck it up. It just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. At the same time, when we made Suffer, we recorded and mixed that record in seven days. We are never going to be able to do that again. We sort of talk about it, but we’re not going to be able to do anything in seven days. It’s just not going to happen. We’ve kind of learned how to get the best end result that we want, without everybody just sort of either forgetting what it is that we’ve done or you play it so many times that you suck the life out of a song. With this record, Brooks [Wackerman] had a small window where he was off tour with TENACIOUS D, and told him, “Come on out here! Let’s make a record!” Then all the guitars went on and then the singing and everyone was happy. Then Brett mixed it and everyone was happy. And okay! We’re done!
I like that I can put on any Bad Religion record from any point in the collective and, no matter how different they are, they all have that Bad Religion feel. Whether you’ve heard it or not, it is a Bad Religion album. Is there a formula? Or is it just the chemistry you get when dumping you guys into a room?
Sometimes there is something that you can say sounds like this and sounds like that. We have 240+ songs, so obviously some songs are going to sound like those. There are only so many notes you can play, and obviously you are going to start repeating things. With that being said, I think that what happens with us is, if you were to bring in a song from any other artist… If Brett brought in a DAVID BOWIE’S “Man Who Fell To Earth,” because I’ve seen NIRVANA do that… If Brett brought that in, by the time we were done with it, it would sound just like Bad Religion! It wouldn’t sound anything like David Bowie at all! [Laughter] People would be like, “What the hell is that? Oh, that’s just Bad Religion.” We kind of strip it all down and play it at a reckless tempo, where it almost feels like it is going to fall apart. The guitars are just turned up and Greg has a very unique voice, then Brett and I go [sings background vocals to me followed by laughter].That’s kind of what happens!
In a past interview you talked about how people have a tendency to not like the albums upon release. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t like New Maps of Hell or Dissent of Man when they were first released, but when doing research, they blew me out of the water! What makes your albums growers, and not show-ers?
Not to brag, but maybe because they are good! I think they are good records. When Brett left the band in 1994 and we went and recorded The Grey Race, I listened to that record and I said, “This will be the ultimate sleeper.” People won’t get this, maybe forever, but this is a really great record. There is something about that record, to me, that was the ultimate, ultimate sleeper. [Laughter]So I’m still waiting for people to go, “Oh man! That’s such a great record!” The only reason I say that, it isn’t really scientific, it is a little bit more anger. When we recorded Suffer, the general consensus from all the press was, “This is the greatest record ever! You’ll never top it.” We were really fucking angry and we went in and made No Control and they went, “WOW! This is the greatest record ever! You’ll never top it.” Well FUCK THEM! We went in and didAgainst The Grain, and while we were recording it, Brett almost had a nervous breakdown because he was so focused on itbeing better than No Control or Suffer that he almost wasn’t paying attention to the Against The Grain record! He was listening to No Control or Suffer and going, “Fuck this has to be better!” He finally said to us, “Hey I’m freaking out. We just need to make records and not worry about whether people or how people compare our materials to our old materials. It seems like we can’t win.” That was how we started thinking that no matter what we did, the people are going to think it’s not as good as this and we can’t be caught up in that because that can really destroy you.
Why work with Joe Barresi (PENNYWISE, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, New Maps of Hell & Dissent of Man) rather than just have Brett produce it yet again? Does that help break the mold?
Brett mixed this record, which is what was happening in the late 80′s and early 90′s. Brett was producing and mixing the records and I think what happened was that it was just one too many hats. “I’m a songwriter, I’m a guitar player and I really want to be involved in the songs, but I don’t want to be involved in the intricate details of where the drum mic goes. I don’t want to get caught up in guitar amps all day long.” So [we brought] in someone else to be part of that and who is totally fascinated with the process of recording, which is Joe. Joe loves the process of recording. He’s just a true studio dog. Having him in there, that opens Brett up to sit and listen to the music as it’s developing, and have ideas about directions for ways the music should go and not be worried so much about the sound that is going to tape. And to be honest, to have a guy like Joe who has done a jillion records, you can look at him and ask, “What do you think of this?” and his opinion is super valid.
Let’s talk about the actual record. I like that the song “Dharma and The Bomb” comes out of nowhere with this weird little song that has such a different and distinctive sound. Where did that come from?
It’s probably my favorite song on the album. Brett was still writing that in the studio while we were recording. He was still kind of finishing that up. It was something we were all really excited about. It has a surf vibe to it, and that’s something we haven’t ever really done. As he was writing it, the concept of the song changed twice. It finally became “Dharma and The Bomb.” He and Greg were sitting there talking about lyrical ideas, and I’m just sitting there thinking it’s brilliant. It’s only a two minute long song, and it is the greatest thing ever! [Laughter] Other than that, it’s an odd Bad Religion song, and I don’t mean odd in a negative way, and I like it. It’s one of my favorite songs ever. It’s Brett singing and one of the things Brett wanted, and this is the studio magic stuff, one of the things Brett wanted was a California surf kind of dialect. Greg is from Wisconsin and he doesn’t have that [mimics California surfer] “Hey, dude! What’s up, bro?” That’s just not in Greg’s thing. So Brett was like, “Fuck! What am I going to do? I guess I’m just going to sing it!” You can hear it when he sings, [mimicking Brett’s surfer voice:]“Stoked to watch all cre-ay-shin” [Laughter] He was so surfer on that track, and that’s right. That’s it!
Am I crazy, or did I catch some “I Dream of Jeannie” references in the lyrics?
Yeah! There is! When it comes right down to it, it’s kind of about terrorists having a dirty bomb and India having an atomic bomb. [Laughing] Oh, here’s a cute little song about terrorists having a little dirty bomb in a suitcase. Awesome! [Laughing] I remember when we got the song tracks all down, and everything was done. The sequencing was done. The mixing was done. I got my first copy and I called Brett, I think “Dharma and The Bomb” into the next two songs in a row [“Hello Cruel World” & “Vanity”], may be the best few minutes of Bad Religion I can remember hearing. [Laughter]
After all these years and all these changes in the world, why are people still attracted to Bad Religion?
At this point, I will just defer to the word “tenure.” [Laughter] I think that if you just stay around long enough, people will like you. “Oh, you’re not going to go away now, are you?”
The rest of this interview can be read here.