Bad Religion's Brian Baker: "Rage Is a Powerful Tool"
Brian Baker, left, with Bad Religion
It's not uncommon for punk bands to live by the credo that it's better to burn out than fade away. Naturally, neither option has ever suited Bad Religion. After 16 albums over three decades spent toting the genre's banner across the globe, it doesn't appear as though the ultimate Southern California punks have any intention of surrendering the stage anytime soon.
To hear guitarist Brian Baker tell it, they may not have a choice in the matter. If not to the House of Blues on Wednesday, where else would these guys even go?
"I started touring when I was 15 years old in Minor Threat," Baker says. "My entire life has been part of this particular scene, playing and listening to this kind of music. It's not even an attraction; it just seems to be in my DNA.
"I really can't help it," he says, laughing.
A lifetime of music out of Baker and his bandmates has kept fans coming back for more, year after year and album after album. In fact, Bad Religion may enjoy more fan support now than ever before: Their new record, True North, became Bad Religion's first to crack the Billboard Top 20. Not bad for a speedy little hostile punk album without a single song lasting three minutes.
Predictably, Bad Religion seems to be taking its success in stride.
"I'm certainly pleased, but I'm not really sure what any of it means anymore," says Baker of the album's chart position. "I think perhaps that part of the reason this still works is not overanalyzing it. To mistakenly believe you're in some sort of exalted position just because you've been throwing bricks at the same wall for 33 years, I think, would be a mistake.
"We take care in what we do, but let's not take ourselves too seriously," he adds, chuckling. "I mean, you've seen us live, haven't you?"
If you haven't, you've probably never been punk. Bad Religion has crisscrossed the country more times than can be counted. They may strive not to take themselves too seriously, but they're plenty serious about taking their music to the people.
But whether you've seen them a dozen times or you're a Bad Religion virgin, don't fret about paying a nostalgia act to pump out the classics. Taking pains to keep the live experience fresh has proved key to the band's continuing relevance.
"Choosing a set list is kind of daunting now with so many songs to choose from, but you want to have a good representation of the new record, because otherwise you're just a heritage act," Baker says. "Part of our longevity is continuing to try to keep the quality of the songwriting up, so an album's not just an excuse to go back out on tour.
"So you have to really represent a new record, and then you look at previous tours and say, 'What songs haven't we played in a long time?' he adds. "It's very important to keep things fresh, not only for the audience, but for us."
Much of the fresh material is plainly inspired by today's biggest issues. The new song "Robin Hood in Reverse," which Baker tabs as a favorite, manages to sum up the band's attitude towards the nation's current political and economic power structure in four measly words.
Though the political villains and social ills that suffer Bad Religion's withering critiques on True North may be ripped straight from the headlines, one element remains mostly unchanged from Bad Religion's first album to its latest: the fuel.
"Rage is a powerful tool," Baker says. "You want to poke the bear! That's what Bad Religion has been doing for 33 years. Maybe there's a more mature way to look at it, but basically the lyrical content Brett (Gurewitz) and Greg (Graffin) come up with is what they're thinking about that's bothering them.
"The salve is the writing of the song," he says.
Expect those simultaneously pissed-off and soothing lyrics to be screamed back at the band at maximum volume on Wednesday night. As long as Bad Religion's dedicated, lifelong fans keep showing up to concerts and buying records, the group seems likely to keep delivering the goods. Maybe even longer than that.
"The thing is, it's not just a band or a job," Baker says. "It's something we do for fun. And why would anyone stop having fun? We're very lucky that we love to do this and would continue doing it whether anyone showed up or not. For me, I really don't see an end to it.
"I see, maybe, chairs... sitting on chairs up there," he adds, laughing. "That could possibly be our later phase."
Bad Religion skanks into House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, Wednesday night. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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