Sometimes you just need a vacation to kick back and do only what you want to do. For Greg Graffin, that vacation is his roots and old-time solo affair, Cold as the Clay.
Graffin, who?s served as Bad Religion?s front man for more than 25 years now, took a break from his punk-rock rabble-rousing (and his stints in academia and writing books, too), to hook up with producer/Bad Religion founder Brett Gurewitz to lay down Cold as the Clay (read Aversion?s review). Venturing into days gone by, Graffin dabbles with old-time Americana and roots-rock forms on his second solo affair.
It?s been almost nine years since your last solo project, American Lesion. Why such a lengthy gap between that one and Cold as the Clay?
It?s a great privilege to do a solo project. The opportunity doesn?t come up that often because I am so busy with Bad Religion and with academic pursuits. Brett came up with the idea for the current project a few years ago but we didn?t have a space free in our schedule until January of this year. This project has a lot more collaboration than my last project. I hope to do more in the future.
Anyone who's been in a band for a while can start to feel constrained by its established direction. How refreshing was it for you to sit down with a guitar and write a tune and not worry about fitting it into the Bad Religion machine?
Well, refreshing is a good word for how it felt. I am always writing songs, many of which are not appropriate for BR. I also like to play traditional old-time tunes whenever I have time, so it is almost like we recorded an album?s worth of material that I usually play in my living room and that is a great feeling of musical whimsy.
There are a lot of old-timey story songs and ballads on Cold as the Clay. It seems as if you're writing from a totally different vantage point ? if not persona ? than when you write for Bad Religion?
Well, I don?t really ?get into character? the way an actor does. I write what comes into my mind as best as I can, given the constraints of the genre. If a song comes out sounding alien, then it still has information and integrity that is worth listening to, but often it never gets heard because the song isn?t appropriate for an album project. In Cold as the Clay, I was writing old-time themes and that is something I am very familiar with, so it felt natural and part of my history.
As I'm sure you know, these days there are so punk-rock types recording county/folk/roots albums that it's almost a cliché. Other than your reputation, how do you hope Cold as the Clay will stand out from that crowd?
Well, I can?t really compare, but I can say that I haven?t heard many recordings of old-time that are as authentic as this recording. We strove to capture the acoustic instruments and singing as if it sounded like you were back in the 19th or 18th century listening to a group perform the material. Also, the country rock tunes were equally authentic sounding. The country rock songs sound like a session from Gram Parsons or early Neil Young. I think Brett did a great job faithfully reproducing a vibe from two different eras in American musical history.
With that said, outside of the obvious structural and thematic similarities between traditional American music and punk rock, why do you think there's been an upswing in roots' popularity over the past few years?
When music becomes too formulaic and too based on last year?s template of financial success, the result is a bored listening audience and even more bored musicians. The mundane creates a desire to re-evaluate and rediscover the path that led to the present quagmire. Roots music and old-time are ancestral starting points and the music lover can instantly recognize the enjoyable features that have persisted through the ages.