Life during Warped time
Punk vets Bad Religion hit the campaign trail
If this world were utopian, artists wouldn't feel the need to speak out against its negative aspects. But since we've all been forced to witness the atrocities of the Bush administration unfold before us, artists from all ends of the spectrum have made it their duty to stand up for voting Bush out of office in this November's election, and politico-punk veterans Bad Religion are marching in this outspoken army's front line.
At an impressive 24 years running, Bad Religion is doing what any politically minded band should be: creating anti-Bush awareness and taking positive action. Which is why the insightfully titled The Empire Strikes First -- the band's latest dose of urgent truth and their 13th studio album -- couldn't have hit stores at a more suitable time when it dropped two months ago into a hotbed of nearly unanimous critical praise, practically laying down a bright red carpet for Michael Moore's Bush-roasting documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.
To many, it seemed like vitriolic lyricist Greg Graffin and the boys (co-founding bassist Jay Bentley, drummer Brooks Wackerman and the triple guitar onslaught of Greg Hetson, Brian Baker and co-founder Brett Gurewitz, who triumphantly rejoined the band in 2002) specifically set out to burn Bush down, but Bentley insists it was a theme that came about naturally during the album's conception.
"Graffin had started writing some of the more religious-based stuff because his Ph.D. thesis was actually on religion and its effects on the evolution of mankind," says Bentley from a Warped Tour bus in New Jersey. "Then, as Brett finished up producing Rancid [on last year's Indestructible] and started delving more and more into what the hell is happening in the world, he was getting more pissed off.
"Next thing you know, we're in the studio working on this stuff, Graffin's still writing lyrics and we're starting to record music and things are just happening. Graffin writes 'The Empire Strikes First' and we all think that that's a great album title because it's meaningful and direct and poignant for the times, the artwork comes in and we're looking at it, saying 'This is great,' and all of a sudden the record's out and people are saying, 'Ah, it's a great political statement.' Well it wasn't like a long, drawn-out and thought-out process, it just happened."
Packed with some of the strongest songs the band has ever recorded, The Empire Strikes First is fuelled by anger.
"We wanted to be as direct as possible and not leave things to be debated," says Bentley. "It's like, 'Well, how do you feel about [what Bush has done]?' 'Well, we feel pretty pissed off.'"
Thanks to proactive organizations like punkvoter.com and Bands Against Bush, young voters now have easily accessible resources that can turn them onto the real facts, show them how to get involved and help make sure Americans don't get fooled again. Punkvoter.com and NOFX founder Fat Mike is also taking a stand and reaching the youthful masses with his Fat Wreck Chords label's two budget-priced, non-profit volumes of Rock Against Bush compilations, the latest of which lists Sleater-Kinney, Foo Fighters, The (International) Noise Conspiracy and, of course, Bad Religion among the album's 28 outspoken contributors.
With the resistance to Bush so apparent and widespread, one might think Kerry is geared for a landslide victory but it will take a nation of voters to hold Bush back.
"Many people have the ideology of being political, but then there's the apathy of thinking that everyone else will fix the problem," says Bentley. "Sure, there's plenty of like-minded individuals who all feel that a change in the White House is necessary, but it's the actual getting out of the house on the first Tuesday of November and going and punching a ballot that seems to be the difficult part."
So when it comes right down to it, the physical action of casting one vote is much stronger than a thousand punk songs or websites. "When people say, 'What can I do, what can I do?', you know, go rent a van and drive around and pick people up and take them to the polls," says Bentley.
"That's way better than handing out flyers to people who are already pissed off. Preaching to the converted and going on websites and reading pamphlets that just enforce your original feelings about this administration aren't nearly as important as making sure you go out and do something about it.
"Everything that we've been working towards as a global community seems to be getting wiped away by leaders who just say, 'No, you're either American or you're out,'" says Bentley. "America's a great place, it obviously has tonnes of potential, and it's made great strides in helping humanity, but right now it seems to be in an odd position where it's kind of had its ego bruised by 9/11. My feeling is that Bush's administration is using that tragedy as a crutch and as an excuse for acting all pissed off and puffing the military machine up and saying, 'Oh, we have to protect ourselves.' Well, sadly, we actually need to protect ourselves from ourselves."
By Kevin Hainey