"I mean, we know our place - we'll do this for as long as it's fun. For the most part, we do feel like those same anxiety-driven teenagers we were when we started the band; we just have a lot more knowledge, I hope."
Bad Religion - vocalist Greg Graffin, lead guitarist Brett Gurewitz, bassist and backing vocalist Jay Bentley, drummer Jamie Miller and guitarists Brian Baker and Mike Dimkich are punk rock legends.
You could assume that from their name - it's a brilliant name for a punk rock band, let's be honest - but with timeless staples Generator, Suffer, American Jesus, 21st Century Digital Boy, You, I Want To Conquer The World, Infected, Do What You Want and countless more, Bad Religion have defied the odds and expectations of an ever-changing industry, remaining as innovative, influential and important as ever. They've earned a high status in the ranks of rock stars alongside Green Day and The Offspring.
Let's be honest, though: are Bad Religion a little bit underrated? How often do you hear someone talk about them with the same fervour of conversations around blink-182? They may not feature the same jokes about body parts, but the music is awesome and pulls from influences as distinctive as The Stooges and The Beatles.
Over the last 43 years, Bad Religion have become synonymous with the sound, spirit and enduring legacy of Californian punk rock. Retaining their underground credibility while building a staggering punk empire, the band's storied career includes 17 studio albums and the status as one of the best-selling punk bands of all time.
Bad Religion's career has been a journey of constant evolution and philosophical exploration. Over that journey, they've incorporated elements of psychedelia, heavy metal, hard rock and a whole lot of their trademarked vocal harmonies while continuing to examine the world and push for change. They remain a relevant and vital voice in the hardcore community.
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Tonight, fans will watch the band at the Powerstation in Auckland. On Friday, the band begin their Australian tour alongside Social Distortion - the first Social Distortion headline tour of Australia in their history, travelling through Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
The tour with Social Distortion marks Bad Religion's first headlining tour of Australia in over a decade.
Bassist Jay Bentley has been babysitting baby Dragon with his wife, Natalia Fabia. It was a difficult birth; Dragon was "born with a rare heart defect known as an interrupted aortic arch and needed surgery on august 1 to repair the anomaly and save his life. The operation was successful, and he is recovering. We are recovering," Bentley wrote on Instagram in August last year. Since then, he's posted gorgeous photos of a healthy Dragon alongside the family dog, Salad. A family man first, the Bad Religion muso prepares his itinerary from home.
"I am super excited to get down there [to Australia], especially like you talked about with this touring package because I don't think we've played a show with Social Distortion since 1982," Bentley says from his home study. The two bands are good mates and see each other all the time, but their schedules haven't lined up together until now in Australia and New Zealand, which shows how lucky we are to score these shows.
It's almost impossible to organise a tour like this one, Bentley explains. "In a time when everybody is trying to get back out on the road, using venues that are foreign to you and your crew is kind of hard to keep track of because there are so many tours out there. It's great, and it's sort of terrifying at the same time." He's known the Social Distortion lead vocalist and guitarist Mike Ness and rhythm guitarist Jonny Wickersham very well; the guys have been talking about playing shows together for 15 years.
"Whether Mike has a solo project, or Greg has a book, or we have an album, or we don't have an album, our schedules have always not lined up. This was the first time where it was like, yeah, we can do that together. It's kind of a miracle. I don't know if it will ever happen again," Bentley admits. "I think that's what makes this magic. Conceptually, we're bringing Southern California in 1980 right to your front door."
Bad Religion celebrated their 40th year as a band in 2020 and released their 17th album, Age Of Unreason, in 2019. Of course, the band's plans to celebrate the anniversary and an excellent new record were unceremoniously halted by the Covid-19 pandemic, so Bentley feels like the band is making up lost time now. Although, he does acknowledge that it's challenging to put together a Bad Religion setlist when you have 17 albums and 300+ songs.
"I think there's always a handful of songs that we're going to play because Greg will say, 'hey, how many people are seeing Bad Religion for the first time ever?' And so many people raise their hands that, you know, a song like American Jesus or Digital Boy has to stay in the setlist," Bentley shares. "Maybe that's how someone even found us. So, you know, if I'm going to get somewhere between 25 and 30 songs into a setlist, I pretty much know that between six and nine of them are going to be the standards that I already know."
After being in a band for 40 years, does Bentley feel like Bad Religion have become a legacy act, or do the guys still feel like a bunch of kids playing punk rock music? "Yeah, a bunch of dudes hanging out making music. I mean, we know our place - we'll do this for as long as it's fun. For the most part, we do feel like those same anxiety-driven teenagers we were when we started the band; we just have a lot more knowledge, I hope," he laughs, and that same anxious energy reverberates throughout Age Of Unreason.
"I feel that same outrage we felt as 15-year-olds when you see a moral decline," Bentley explains. But it's an impression of moral decline from an American standpoint, Bentley points out. "It's not solely American, but we're living in the middle of a time - an age of unreason of no truth. There are no facts; there is no science; it's just all opinions.
"A very popular person's opinion, because they're popular, can actually be more important than a fact. Those concepts are what sort of drove this album in the sense of our inability; maybe it's our inability to deal with the fact that we have all of the information available to us at our fingertips and we're being led around by opinions.
"This is a fairly new dilemma for humankind because things are travelling so quickly," he continues. "Misinformation travels at the speed of light. And once it's out there, it's hard to put that back in the bottle and say, 'well, that wasn't true.' It doesn't matter anymore." And that's why Bad Religion still raging against the status quo is so important and why we still need punk music.
Punk, to Bentley, is the antithesis of whatever you think it is. "Punk to me is just it's obviously rebelling against whatever is expected. But it's also rebelling against whatever is expected of you as a punk," he says, not going into the musical side of things - it's an attitude, not just picking up a guitar and shredding, after all.
Fans still approach the guys in Bed Religion to tell them that they found the music through Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 (You), Tony Hawk's Underground (Big Bang) and Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (We're Only Gonna Die). "It's cyclical; it kind of comes in waves," Bentley comments about the resurgence in popularity of early-2000s video games and pop-punk. "Something that we talked about in the very early 80s was we felt that our style of music wasn't respected as a true art form. People would call it 'punk crap, three chords and screaming', and we kept saying, 'there's more to it than that.'
"Punk got much bigger with that presentation of a Southern Californian sort of lifestyle. And that's what keeps cycling around is this whole skateboarding and video games punk rock life. To us in Southern California, and I'm sure you feel the same way in Australia - we live to surf and skate and listen to music."
Bad Religion are touring with Social Distortion across Australia. Age Of Unreason is out now; listen to it here.
WEDNESDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2023 – TRUSTS ARENA, AUCKLAND
FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2023 – RIVERSTAGE, BRISBANE
SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2023 – HORDERN PAVILION, SYDNEY
SUNDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2023 – MARGARET COURT ARENA, MELBOURNE
WEDNESDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2023 – RED HILL AUDITORIUM, PERTH