Old-school punk band stays on political message.
Punk rock was born out of politics but in recent years seems to have lost its conscious edge, an unfortunate side effect of the genre's assimilation into the mainstream and the subsequent birth of the more marketable, and therefore highly more profitable, "pop-punk" hybrid.
But Bad Religion is refusing to water down its message or candy-coat its anger and utter disillusionment with world goings-on just to sell more albums. And, over the years, the outspoken Lefties' blistering criticism of U.S. foreign and domestic policies has earned them the respect of fans and put them at the top of conservative watchdogs' "to keep a close eye on" list.
The band's latest album, "The Empire Strikes First," its title track a hardly veiled criticism of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, is sure to ruffle the feathers of his supporters and Christian fundamentalists with its smoldering attacks on the current administration and what the band perceives as religion's increasing role in politics and policy-making.
"But I've always preferred my punk rock to be punk rock of content," says guitarist Brian Baker, who joined the band in 1994. "There's nothing wrong with the Sum 41s. They're promoting punk rock and that's a good thing. But we prefer to disseminate information rather than singing about how we're gonna get back at that girl who was mean to us in high school."
Nevertheless, Baker believes there's plenty of room within today's punk-rock scene for variety and says he looks at bands like Sum 41 and Good Charlotte as young people's introduction to meatier punk.
"They're like a gateway drug," he jokes. "They get 'em hooked and then we come in and start making them think and questioning the status quo and outdated social mores."
Some might be surprised to hear that Bad Religion's fan base extends in from both coasts and deep into the very heart of Bush country. Baker admits that fans in Republican hubs such as Dallas and Denver, for instance, probably don't agree with Bad Religion's message but thinks they still buy the band's records and turn out for their shows because they respect and support the group's willingness to say what's on its mind.
"That alone could be interesting to someone who doesn't necessarily agree with our politics," he says. "I've found that people appreciate something that's well done -- and our conviction."
With this album, its 13th studio album since the band was founded in Los Angeles in 1980, the members of Bad Religion tinkered with their sound a bit, in some cases even taking a step away from punk rock and throwing strings and even a little hip-hop into the mix, while remaining true to punk's (and their own) fiery spirit.
"That whole 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' thing doesn't apply to bands," explains Baker. "Who wants to keep doing the same thing over and over again? While we want to retain what's important, i.e. the lyrics, we have to keep pushing the envelope musically, if for no other reason, to keep from getting bored."
But never fear, fans, pop, or rather the slick, overly produced sound that pop has come to mean in 2004, isn't on Bad Religion's to-do list, even if it were to get the band's videos played on MTV.
"It's a very nice thing that people like us but I didn't do this to be popular," explains Baker. "I did it because I had something to say. So, it's pretty unlikely you'll see me on MTV Cribs any time soon. Although, I am a big ham so I'd probably do it if they asked me. And I'd love for them to see my little shack."
By Bill Picture