A DOSE OF THAT OLD TIME RELIGION
By MAXINE SHEN
July 10, 2007 -- IF Bad Religion only surfaced on your radar when it broke onto the charts in the early '90s with the hit song "21st Century (Digital Boy)," you might be surprised to know that the punk band was formed in 1980 and continues to record songs today - with a lineup that includes three of the four original band members.
Not that you'll see them all onstage. In an odd (and perhaps unique) move, guitarist and songwriter Brett Gurewitz stopped being a touring member of the band after rejoining it in 2001 (he'd quit in 1995), primarily because he stays in Los Angeles to run his Epitaph Records label, but also because he felt like he was "too rusty onstage, like I've never played enough shows since then to get the rust off."
Beyond that though, there's only one thing that's really changed about the band in all these years.
"I hate to say this because it's not really what you go for in punk rock," Gurewitz says, "but I think as we've gotten older, we've gotten a little more wisdom, and so we've matured and gotten better at what we were trying to do as teenagers, which was to have a political viewpoint.
"Now, we're trying to express our world view in a more lucid way. We're still idealistic and we still pride ourselves on being somewhat intellectual, but it's not in the same way as when we were pissed-off 16-year-olds."
On the Southern California band's 14th studio album in 25 years, New Maps of Hell (out today), Gurewitz is particularly proud of the fact that "we were able to encapsulate [our ideas] in a really straightforward, clear and interesting way."
The band incorporates all of its hallmarks - socially conscious lyrics, a heavy reliance on metaphor and "oozin aahs" vocal harmonies - for the song "Heroes and Martyrs" (download it at nypost.com), which highlights "the cultural relativism of war and what its about."
Gurewitz was inspired by Clint Eastwood's pair of World War II movies, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima," during which you sympathize with either the Americans or the Japanese, depending on which movie you're watching.
"Any time there's a war, both sides absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, know that they're right," he says. "We're in a war right now, and when our young men die over there, they're our heroes. When their young men die, they're called martyrs."
Somehow, Bad Religion manages to take potentially unpopular ideas like that and turn them into catchy two-minute punk songs, all without alienating fans.
"We're not trying to preach and we try not to be elitist, ever. If you're interested in our point of view or where we're coming from, you have to read the lyrics. We're not going to talk about the songs onstage, much less current events.
"With us, the powerful drumbeat and the singalong tune is the story. The message and the lyrics, that's the allegory. If you're interested in investing a little bit more, you can dig in and find out what we're singing about," Gurewitz says.