Music: That's Dr. Punk to you
Bad Religion singer balances grad school, rock band
By Ched Whitney
It is, of course, an obvious understatement to say that Greg Graffin is not your average rock star. Graffin, 37, lead singer and songwriter of the punk band Bad Religion for a couple of decades now, is a doctoral candidate at an Ivy League college. It's a busy time for him on both fronts. While he prepares to give his Ph.D. dissertation (on evolution and religion) this summer at Cornell University, Bad Religion has begun the final leg of its U.S. tour, which makes a stop Saturday at The Joint. In a recent phone interview before the tour's restart in Southern California, Graffin says Bad Religion has been sparked by the return to the fold of guitarist and fellow founding member Brett Gurewitz.
Gurewitz left the band in the mid-'90s, battling a recurring drug problem and managing his own record label, the wildly successful indie Epitaph (responsible for Offspring and Rancid, among others). A collaboration with Graffin on a song for 2000's The New America paved the way for Gurewitz's return to the band the following year.
With a record label to run, "Brett doesn't come on tour very much," Graffin says. But he was a key element on the band's 2002 album, The Process of Belief, which also marked Bad Religion's return to the Epitaph label.
"From a creative songwriting process, it helped me," Graffin says of having his collaborator back after three albums of writing the material himself. "Brett tends to be more linear, while I tend to be all over the place. We have a good effect on each other."
Lyrically speaking, Bad Religion songs have always been heady stuff--words like "moiety," "trammeled" and "suffrage" don't find their way into many rock songs. But Graffin, himself a pragmatist and rarely preachy, believes the messages are not lost on his fans: "All I can do as a songwriter is focus on the truth of the message, try to communicate it in a way that our audience can get behind it. That's what art is. I think punk audiences are more intelligent than the average music audience."
And "punkers now come from all walks of life," he says, thanks to the punk revival of the past decade, led by labels such as Epitaph. And many younger fans--often a couple of decades his junior--have discovered Bad Religion as a "new" band thanks to increased airplay of the band's latest album and Bad Religion's headlining slot on the Warped Tour.
It's not the only connection the thirtysomething punker makes. Graffin also sees parallels between his academic and musical careers--ones that might be lost on some. "For me it's all part of creative output. I look at giving a concert like giving a lecture: If it's relevant," it will capture the audience and move them.
On the current tour, he says, the band has culled its catalog for songs relevant to the war with Iraq. Not surprisingly, he takes a dim view of it: "It's unnecessary pandering to the oil industry."