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Interview: Brian Baker of Bad Religion

Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker

Seminal punk band Bad Religion hasn’t played Buffalo in 12 years, but it’s nothing personal. In fact, guitarist Brian Baker is a big fan of the city’s history and architecture.

And it’s not due to lack of demand either: Bad Religion’s show tomorrow at Anthology in Rochester has been sold out since last week.

With warm memories of cold days in Buffalo still fresh in his mind, Baker was happy to check in with fans in the Queen City.

You grew up on the East Coast and you’ve played in a number of bands that have come through Western New York. Do you have any good road stories about coming through our area?

Well, I remember playing in Buffalo when I was in my band Dag Nasty. And I remember the venue because it involves this insane staircase to get your gear up. And I remember playing in the winter, in Buffalo, It must have been, I’m going to guess 86? Possibly 87. And having to negotiate this insane stairway. It was an old building, a very, you know, probably late 19th, early 20th Century… does this ring a bell? (Note: The venue in question was The Pipe Dragon.)

That (experience is) sort of a metaphor because, basically the struggle and getting up and doing this awesome show in Buffalo — the work of getting there was totally worth it. And the response was fantastic. And it’s just the same analogy that always goes through. You know, you’re known so much for this kind of devastating winter, but the fucking architecture, the vibe. I played Warped tours there many times. I mean, I must have play 10 shows there. I love it up there. The whole thing is just beautiful. And I have friends who are there who are taking advantage, like restoring old houses. And I dig that. It’s like a set piece of a moment in time that’s still there but yet it’s modern. It’s just a great spot.

 

It’s been a long time since Bad Religion played in Buffalo. It was a great show, but I remember there being a heavy stench in the crowd and wondering if it had made its way up to the stage.

Maybe it was us? I can tell you that when something like that is going on, you kind of just don’t pay attention. You’re really just trying to play the songs as best as you can. Something like an odor is nothing, it would be more like an earthquake or fire, that’s the kind of stuff that matters.

 

I’ve really enjoyed Age of Unreason. The album has a new producer, some new players, and comes after the biggest break between Bad Religion albums ever. For fans, there’s a sense of freshness around the new record and tour. Does the band feel that way? Is there a feeling of renewal or excitement?

Absolutely. And, you know, there’s certainly the hiatus between doing records, which was not intentional. It’s just kind of how it works out. A Bad Religion album can get made when (guitarist) Brett (Gurewitz) and (singer) Greg (Graffin) have written enough stuff that they think, “It’s time to put it down.” And sometimes, it takes a year and this time it took a lot longer.

But in the interim, you know, it seems like every time we get a member change, we just we upgrade and (guitarist) Mike (Dimkich) and (drummer) Jamie (Miller) are just so great. And we got to play with Mike and Jamie for years before we went to record. So we already developed this kind of pocket. And that has a lot to do with why it sounds the way it does, we’d been on the road for so long with the current lineup and you can hear it. I mean, you really can.

And, we’re never trying to do anything. I think that’s the key to our longevity, this is just kind of a high school hobby that kind of turned into (an) old hobby. There’s nothing really planned out. I think it’s just a product of us continuing to love to play, and being able to transfer that on to tape with our friend Carlos De La Garza, which is also cool, you know, having a fresh ears, quite frankly, younger years, trying to figure out what Bad Religion sounds like in the 21st Century was really cool.

 

Sometimes people tell me that all Bad Religion sounds the same, and I argue with them. But I can’t deny that there are some core elements that maintain the Bad Religion sound. What do you think the core of Bad Religion’s sound is? 

I mean, Greg Graffin’s voice is incredibly unique. And I happen to think he’s the best punk rock singer there is. And the songwriting, you know, Brett and Greg’s dynamic, is why we’re all here. I mean, you know, any bunch of clowns could figure out how to play instruments well enough to play fast and mid-tempo punk rock… the Bad Religion vocal thing is just completely something in and of itself.

And I will say, that Bad Religion does not just have one song, We have three songs. Okay. So you know, we have a really fast one, we have the fast one that sounds like it’s a country western song, and then we have the slow one. So we do have three, so you can tell your naysayer that there’s tons of variety!

You know, you’re familiar with what we do. So you can see that there is a difference between Age of Unreason and say, No Control.

 

I think one of the most remarkable things about Bad Religion isn’t just your consistency, but your longevity and ability to collaborate for so long. Can you speak to the personal dynamics that have kept you invested in the band for 25 years?

You know, every band has its bad days, and sometimes bands have bad years. But the thing I think we figured out in Bad Religion — probably about 20 years ago — we’ve really figured out that the band is so much more important than the people who are in it. And so that really takes out all this potential for the band squabbles and issues that tear everybody down. I mean, we recognize that the body of work, it needs to be maintained, the personalities don’t need to be maintained.

We are grownups, this is what we do, we love each other, we still love playing. I mean, we’re playing because we like it, it’s a fun thing to do. I mean, if it’s not fun, we’re not going to do it anymore. So I think, just respecting what Bad Religion is, you know that respect being given by the members is a big part of how we keep going and still have a great time.

 

When that change occurred 20 years ago, was there a relief of tension as far as musical direction, or did it have more to do with the personalities in the band?

Before we kind of figured this out, we were still (in) arrested development. Being in a band as your job when you’re in your 20’s or 30’s… you know, I would say, it’s just doesn’t mature you.

And so it took us so fucking long to figure out what the point is, because you’re just, you know, you’re running around and your ego is running you and there’s “I want this or that.” You know, nobody says, “No” to you, if you’re in a band that’s doing well. And, you know, just the story is always the same: Someone thinks (bassist Jay) Bentley and I are fucked up. We’re drunk all the time. You know, you went through that phase, and it just kind of came up to what we have now: We’ve got a bunch of older, sober dudes going out there and just killing it. 

 

You’ve been known as a musician to the public since your teen years. What are Brian Baker’s interests outside of music? 

Well, I read a lot. I’m very interested in American history. I live in New Jersey, so I really, really like the beach. And my favorite time is not the summer, I like being out there when it’s cold out, which is amazing. And I run and I ride bicycles, so I kind of got that angle.

You know, it’s really pretty peaceful when I’m off the road. And where I live, there’s not a lot of people. I spent most of my adult life in cities. And I wanted to know what it’s like to not live in a row house with someone pounding on the wall.

So basically, I bought some shitty house that is always just basically falling down. So I’ve learned how to fix things. (It’s) very sedentary. It’s almost, a very senior moment, but that’s really kind of my thing. I like just hanging out with my friends and riding bikes, fixing broken shit. And, you know, if I’m lucky, (I’ll) have a fire.

 

Bad Religion started in 1980. I don’t know if the band has ever had “the talk”, but has there ever been any discussion of what the end of Bad Religion would look like, or how you guys would like to go out?

You know, when you’re talking about what is the longevity of a punk band, it’s never been tested. I’m (now) using the metal model: I look at bands who are 10 years older than us, who are still relevant to their fans, or still seemingly seem to really enjoy what they’re doing. And I do realize that it’s possible to continue just along those lines.

To me, I can tell you that we’re not interested in becoming a heritage act, and if it comes to the point where we’re not able to continually, you know, expand on what we’re doing… if the art is dead, and it’s just a reenactment, no one’s gonna want to do it.

Also, if it’s not fun anymore. I mean, it sounds kind of, you know, level one, but this has to be a good time, and we just love playing. And if it ever feels like work, then you know what? It probably is. And it might be time to get a better job.

 

That’s good, because I think the world could use Bad Religion for a little while longer. Plus, when the time comes, you guys can continue to tour as holograms.

Considering how much fun we’re having now, by the time we do call it that will be in play regularly. Yeah, it’ll be Bad Religion, Ramones, Sex Pistols, it will be great. What we need to do is franchise our holograms, so that we can play four or five shows a night. We’d have to actually play at least one of the venues, otherwise I’m not in.

 

Bad Religion plays Aug. 6 at Anthology in Rochester. The concert is sold out.

Written by Kip Doyle

Kip Doyle

Kip Doyle is a writer and marketing professional. His interviews have been read in The Public, Artvoice and on Metal Injection, and his satire work has been published by The Hard Times. Doyle is a former managing editor of the Salamanca Press and a former reporter for the Olean Times Herald. He was also an editor at Punknews.org. He graduated from Buffalo State College and has a master's degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from St. Bonaventure University. His interests include music, comedy, pro wrestling, sports and technology. He lives with his family in downtown Buffalo.

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