The world’s plans have been derailed in 2020, as is the case for Bad Religion, the Los Angeles-based punk band marking 40 years since their inception in 1980. Bad Religion was set to play Buffalo on April 8 as part of a tour with Alkaline Trio. The tour and the rest of the band’s live dates were scrapped due to the coronavirus outbreak. The following interview with bassist Jay Bentley took place before the outbreak and the tour cancellation.
However, the release of the band’s autobiography Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion is on as scheduled for today, Aug. 18. The book, co-authored by Jim Ruland, navigates Bad Religion’s path as one of America’s most influential and prolific independent bands.
Along the way, Bad Religion has played the Buffalo-area nine times, if you include Darien Lake:
- June 7, 1991 – Randall’s Rehearsal Hall
- Sept. 18, 1996 – Ogden Street Music Hall
- July 28, 1998 – Warped Tour, La Salle Park
- June 3, 2000 – Touring with Blink-182, Darien Lake
- Aug. 14, 2002 – Warped Tour, La Salle Park
- Aug. 18, 2004 – Warped Tour, Darien Lake
- Aug. 10, 2007 -Warped Tour, Darien Lake
- Oct. 12, 2007 – Town Ballroom
- July 16, 2009 – Warped Tour, Darien Lake
Bentley spoke about Bad Religion’s first show in Buffalo and his connection to the city, the band’s most recent album Age of Unreason, a Bad Religion song that sounds too much like The Offspring and much more. A high school dropout, Bentley explains how his bandmates provide a unique, long-term education that he values dearly.
The first time Bad Religion played in Buffalo was at a place called Randall’s Rehearsal Hall. It was also the first date of the Against the Grain Tour in 1991; your next show was in Toronto. This was a key time in the band’s history. Can you reflect on the beginning of that tour in Buffalo?
Randall’s Rehearsal Hall was where the Goo Goo Dolls had their setup. And that’s how we got into that place because (former guitarist Greg) Hetson was talking to somebody there and they said, “Play our rehearsal hall, it’s where people play shows.” So, I remember that’s how that came about. Generally speaking, in ‘90-91, maybe even ’92 what we learned was on the Suffer tour in ’88 through America, we lost money. When we went to Europe in ’89 on the Suffer tour, pre-No Control, we made money, and it was a successful tour.
So, when we got home, we said, “Okay, so what we do is, we play some shows on the West Coast, we play some shows on the East Coast and just go to Europe.” So, when we would come to the East Coast, we would rent Randy Ellis’ van from City Gardens (nightclub in Trenton, NJ) and drive up and down the East Coast and then just jump over to Europe and then do a tour.
Buffalo and other Rust Belt cities have changed a lot since the early ’90s. What was your impression of this area of the country at that point?
You know, it took a lot for me to think that something wasn’t a good town. On the Suffer tour, we went to places that I just never thought I’d go, whether it was in the South or the Northeast. And I remember vividly thinking everywhere I went was the greatest place, and the people were the nicest people, and I don’t know why. I just remember, Buffalo was a place I go, “This place is great!” But people say the winters are brutal. And I’d go, “Buffalo’s great, but the winters are brutal.”
And then I don’t know at some point, obviously, (when) Brian (Baker, guitarist) was in the band when Brian and I discovered a store called Horsefeathers (now closed). And it was like an architectural antique store. They had doors and chandeliers and windows, stuff that had been taken out of houses in Buffalo that they were tearing down.
That’s interesting, because I interviewed Brian last year before your Rochester date, and we kind of stumbled onto the topic of renovating homes and antiques.
You know, my current wife, Natalia, her parents moved from Poland to Buffalo in the ’70s. So, they were like, just right out of the Eastern Bloc. So, they were there during the Cold War, and he’d tell me stories about Buffalo all the time. It’s still the same thing, “Nice people, brutal winters.”
Age of Unreason came out in 2019 with a revamped lineup, and it’s been very well received by fans. With Age of Unreason out for about a year, what are your reflections on this album and where it fits into Bad Religion’s catalog?
You know, the best way for me to put things without ranking them is, it’s the album that we wanted to make. And I know that sounds weird because you would think that like, “Well, aren’t all albums the one you want to make? And I think the answer to that is, “Sometimes.” You may have an idea when you go in to make this record, but when it’s finally said and done, you’re like, “Oh well, that was close!” But it’s like a cake, it just didn’t bake all the way through, or it didn’t rise.
Age of Unreason, much like True North, and maybe the best way I can put this is, when we did True North, after it came out, Brett (Gurewitz, guitarist) and I were on the phone. And we both sort of said, “If True North is the last record we make, we’re okay with that.” Because we both really liked it and thought this is a fine way to end our recording career. When we started talking about the concept of even making Age of Unreason, there was a little bit of, “Well, what if it’s not as good as True North?”
There was a moment of that. And then there was this “Fuck it” moment. Let’s make this record. And the funniest part is we usually work on sequencing for a bit of time. So, after the recording, there’s a bit more work that goes into making the package. You set this sequence just as sort of like, “Here’s an idea I have, I’m going to take it in to master (it).” And I listened to this preliminary sequence, and said, “This is great.” And Greg (Graffin, singer) and Brett go, “Are you sure?” And I said, “I think this is really good.” So it was very organic. The package came out, the record came out, and once again, Brett said, “If this is the last thing we put out, we’re okay with that.” It is the record we wanted to make.
I did seek the wisdom of Bad Religion fans to pull questions for this interview, and a recurring theme I saw were very specific questions on why you don’t play certain songs live.
Well, each song has its own answer. There are different reasons why songs don’t get played, and it’s not always what you’d think.
First off, is it true that you have the job of crafting the setlist?
Sort of. Yes. I don’t want to ever say that, because then I take the heat for it, but okay.
A song that kept coming up was a Shattered Faith (bonus track on the Japanese release of 2002’s The Process of Belief). Why or why not play a song like that live?
For me personally, and this is only me, and it doesn’t mean that’s why we don’t play it. When Greg brought the song in, I went out and bought the Offspring album that has whatever that song is that sounds the exact same. We had a bit of a heated discussion about it, and I said, “Look, I’m not trying to say that it’s a bad song, what I’m saying is it’s exactly the same song as this song.”
That’s right; I think the (Offspring) song is The Kids Are Alright. They do have a very similar hook. I had forgotten about that point.
And the other thing was, there was a band from Los Angeles called Shattered Faith, and I’m like, “Why are we writing a song about a band from LA?”
An interesting question came in from Ross Ryan. Ross said he saw a photo of a whiteboard from the Age of Unreason sessions. He felt like he was doing some sleuthing and seeing that there were a lot more tracks on the board than were recorded. Were there more songs conceived during these sessions that that didn’t make the record?
I think there were a few, but just so we’re clear: There are songs that come into the recording process, and we’re about halfway into it… back to my cake analogy. We’re halfway into this song, and you can tell this, this just isn’t gonna fly. It’s not going to happen. We’ll just stop the song. It may be written down, but we’re like, “No, this is not happening.” We can tell the song is not rising. And when you say, “Hey, man, we’ve got 18 days to get this done.” The last thing you want to do is spend a day on a song that you know is not working.
I was pleased last year to hear The Dichotomy on your live set. I was wondering how you got everyone on board for that, because it’s such a unique song off of a record that’s kind of been written off (1983’s odd, proggy synth-pop album Into the Unknown. Bentley quit the band before the album’s recording).
It was a lot simpler than you think. I put it on the setlist and said, “Learn this song. Don’t worry about the keyboard part. We’re not playing that part. We’re not playing an 8-minute solo; it isn’t going to happen. We’re just playing the meat of the song. And we played it at rehearsal. And because the guys have not played it, I don’t think they understood the Pink Floyd part of it, the Black Flag heaviness of it, but once we started playing it, we’re like “This is great!” It’s just different enough for us to put in the setlist, and people go, “That was cool as hell. It was a cool moment.”
The goal of writing a setlist for me is sort of like building a rollercoaster, where you have a ride you take people on that has a beginning, a middle and an end. And unexpected twists and turns are part of the deal. It’s difficult because people say, “Why don’t you play these songs?” And I go, “We have 380 songs to choose from.”
Here’s a broad music question. You’ve been playing bass for most of your life, 40 years with this band. For someone who’s played bass for so long, I wonder if you’ve had the opportunity to really dig into the guitar or another instrument for that matter.
I am like almost every bass player I met; I started out playing guitar. I moved to bass because we already had a guitar player. So I never stopped playing guitar. I started when I was eight; I had a guitar. So, when I was 16, and we started the band, Greg (Graffin) said, “Hey man, we’re starting a band” and I’m like, “Cool, I got a guitar.” And he’s all, “You need to get a bass.” So, I said, “Fuck, do I have to be Gene Simmons?”
You do get to show off a little more on guitar.
I get plenty of that with me and the bass on the stage. There’s no lack of me showing off for my bass licks! Brian and I used to have this thing where every night, we would have to play the set completely differently. Different runs, different solos, everything would be different. And sometimes you get yourself into a spot where you can’t get out, and you just wave both hands, going “I got lost.”
Bass guitar, it can be like a forever solo. You don’t have to sit there just playing the root notes; you can keep moving for the entire song. I don’t recommend it because the other people on stage don’t like it.
Earlier this year, you posted a picture of yourself at age 16 on Instagram, and you talked about the journey that was about to take place in your life with Bad Religion. How often do you consider the rarity of being in a band for most of 40 years, and do you often think about where else your life could’ve gone without the band?
I don’t really reflect on what else I would be doing because that’s a hard game to play, right? Brian called me recently and told me a story about one of his high school buddies (who) called him and said, “Hey, we’re having this party, a get together with people that haven’t seen each other in decades. And we’re having a school reunion, and we’d love you to come,” and he was all excited about it. “This is going to be great; I get to go and be Brian Baker.” And he drove up, and this place is a super fucking mansion, and these people are all super-wealthy. And Brian’s like, “Fuck.”
And Brian was all like, “It made me wonder what life would have been like had I gone a different path.” And I just remember thinking, that conversation is more about where you would be materially, and I don’t know if we would have the life experience that we had. And I said, “There is no amount of luxury items that I could purchase that would replace the traveling in a van around the world and getting that education.”
I don’t really ever look back and think of what could’ve been. I do wake up every morning and think of how grateful I am; that I’ve been allowed to do this. In 40 years, there have been a couple of moments where I was out of the band. And a couple of moments (like) where Brett left, and everything was very tenuous at best. Like, “Is this gonna go off? Is this gonna end?”
Obviously, one day we know that it will end, and that will be okay. At 16, none of us knew that this was going to happen, because at that point it’s live fast, die young. I don’t even think 21 was on the radar. Being 16 was hard enough.
Just taking it away from being in a band, it’s rare to stay at the same job for 40 years, especially a job you started at when you were 16. And for most “jobs,” if you started when you were 16 and never left for 40 years, you might worry about some type of arrested development. I don’t think that’s the case with this band, though.
I have to say that thanks to Greg (Graffin), and Brett, and really everyone else that’s come through this band in my time, my education never ended. And to be honest, I’ve played with other bands, I travel with other bands, I hang out with other bands. (Bad Religion) is not just about that bland rock and roll diet of, “Let’s just get fucked up and party.” (Party) as a verb, which it’s not.
It has been about the long drives and just having these crazy, in-depth conversations because that’s what we do. So, you know, when you’re traveling around driving across Texas having metaphysical discussions on Schrodinger’s cat, this is my education. I dropped out of high school in 10th grade, but I never stop learning because these guys that I’m around, they never stop learning. They’re voracious readers, and they just consume information like… like I can’t. I can’t imagine a life without these guys around me. I need to have these guys around me because everything that comes out of their mouths is just fascinating.
I think that you know, making some mistakes early on, and sort of learning some those, and realizing that this as an art, what you do collectively is quite unique and special. That set the tone for the band always thinking, “Look, the band is bigger than any of us.” And for some reason, what we do works. I don’t know why. And I don’t mean this in terms of being successful, I mean, in terms of us walking into a rehearsal room with nobody there, turning on the amps and you can just feel it, it’s like, “God, this is good!”
Lead image: Alice Baxley