I once told my friend "anyone who's been in 3 or more legendary punk bands is a friend of mine." And then off I went to have my very first meeting with Brian Baker -- current guitarist for Bad Religion and Dag Nasty, but also founding member of a little known band called Minor Threat. Since our first meeting nearly a year ago, Baker and I have formed a unique bond, so when we finally sat down to do this interview, it was more like 2 friends just shootin' the breeze than an interviewer/interviewee situation.
Smash Magazine: You're still doing Dag Nasty right?
Brian Baker: Um yeah, it's sort of on hiatus right now. We're having some political strife within the band.
SM: You had mentioned that to me last time we hung out and I was going to get to that later in the interview if you feel at liberty to talk about it.
BB: Well, right now I think that I just want to be in a good creative space with the seminal members of the band and currently my outrage over the results of this last election are going to prevent me from having a benevolent relationship with a fervent Bush supporter. But Dave (Smalley) and I have been friends for 20 years, and I'm sure we'll get around to being able to do some creative work together. I'm just a little shell shocked, and I also need to have some more songs before we start to really bite. I don't like to walk in there cold; I like to stack up a bunch of stuff.
SM: So it [the new Dag Nasty record] is going to happen with Dave?
BB: You know, I just think it's going to take a while. It just has to be the right time.
SM: Well, I'm going to preface this next question with a little story because I'm sure you get this all the time. I'm going to tell a little story which leads me to this inquiry because otherwise, I would NEVER ask you something like this. OK, So there's this bar in town that a friend of mine used to book at. And supposedly Mr. Ian MacKaye came rollin' in there to check the place out because he's taking Minor Threat on a reunion tour. Which of course I kind of laughed at, but I also thought "why would my friend lie to me about something like this?" So, I'm bringing it to you right now: Minor Threat reunion? No? Yeah?
BB: Of course not, but let's go back to the logic here. So you're telling me that this person believes Ian MacKaye is on a scouting mission -- personally, by himself -- and is looking at bars for a Minor Threat show?
BB: Hmmm..ok. That should have been your first clue. But anyways, as far as I'm concerned, if it [the reunion] did happen, it would probably have to be in a little bit larger venue than the one I'm sitting in now.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview took place at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel].
SM: Well, my buddy told me Ian was kind of sick of the kids and wanted an older crowd.
BB: That's insanity. No, there will never be a Minor Threat reunion for a number of reasons; not the least of which is that it would destroy the myth. People seem to forget that Minor Threat became incredibly popular about 5 years after the band broke up. What was special about it was the time and the place; to go out and try to recreate it would be detrimental to the myth. I think it would be a disgrace to the history of the band. There's no good reason to do it. I certainly don't have any financial motivation to do something like that. And Ian MacKaye certainly doesn't either. He would never consider it, nor would I. There was just something very special about that time, and it'd be ludicrous to try to recreate it. But I don't necessarily feel that way about all types of reunions. I mean, going to see Elvis Costello & the Attractions I think would still be viable. But the Minor Threat thing wouldn't work and there's absolutely -- it's never ever going to happen.
SM: That's kind of the way I felt, but I wanted to get it straight from the horse's mouth. While we're on the subject of bands reuniting, as far as the bands from the heyday of the punk or post-punk movement, as far as bands like Bad Religion, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Husker Du -- any bands like that -- from that era that maybe you had played with when you were in Minor Threat or Dag Nasty -- any of those bands you would like to see reunite -- that you think could still pull it off without seeming like a sick ploy to make more money?
BB: I don't know...it'd be hard. I mean, I'd love to see Husker Du, but it's the same thing (as with Minor Threat) I think the beauty of that band was the moment in time. I don't think that they would do it. I would love to see Black Flag with Dez singing, definitely. But once again, I just don't think it would be the same. I think that was the magic of a lot of these great bands is that it really was a product of it's time. But there are some examples of bands that are so much better now than they were then. Social Distortion is one. I mean I'm a huge Social Distortion fan, and I saw them "back then" and they were just terrible: just all fucked up and couldn't play. But now they're just a formidable adversary. Man, they're fuckin' awesome, and I still think that it works. Mike Ness is still the same Mike Ness that he was then. My perception of what Mike Ness feels is that the music is every bit as urgent and important to him now as it was then. And that works. Of course the caveat is that they never really technically "broke up," they kind of fall under the Bad Religion clause. But off the top of my head, I can't think of any of those seminal bands that I think would still have that same value.
SM: How does playing in Bad Religion compare to playing in Minor Threat and Dag Nasty? As far as the dynamics with the band, and the shows, and the fans.
BB: You can't really compare the 2. First of all, Minor Threat specifically was an after school hobby. I mean, I was 15 to 18 years old when I was in Minor Threat. And both Minor Threat and Dag Nasty were so much smaller at their zenith -- the biggest places Minor Threat or Dag Nasty could play are places Bad Religion can't play because the venues are too small. I've also been in Bad Religion for 10 years. And that's 10 years post-MTV. I mean, I never had a guitar tech in Dag Nasty...I drove the van. Now someone else drives the van, and it's much bigger. The only thing I think might be a parallel is the energy that comes off the crowd to the stage. There's a repoire that Bad Religion has, which is primarily a Greg Graffin thing because he's the lead singer, that reminds me very much of the type of energy that was there with a Dag Nasty show. Where there are people who Bad Religion is their favorite band, it's not just one of the bands they like. It inspires a hard core following much like we had in Dag Nasty. Minor Threat was so long ago, I can't really compare them because it was so long ago. I mean, I was 15 years old and straight edge. We're playing to 50 people in a VFW hall in North Carolina. There's incredible value in this (playing in Bad Religion) for me. The emotional response to the fans, and the fact that it's managed to remain relevant. It's not running around doing the state fair circuit. I mean, the last 2 records we've released have been our most successful records in the band's entire 24 year history. And it just keeps getting better. And I just chalk that up to really great songwriting, which is of course Bret and Greg, and the fact that they've been out there doing it for so long. You spend 24 years building up a following; it's nice to see the results.
SM: Bad Religion has always been political band music wise, but do you think next record will be more politically charged due to the outcome of the Presidential election?
BB: The topics of Bad Religion records really come up during the writing process, and it's if you look at the records they're usually about current events. The Empire Strikes First is the most directly politically United States policy, politically charged record of Bad Religion's history because it was written at the time of when that was on the tip of everybody's tongue, and that's what got Bret and Greg's interest. And also we thought it'd be nice to use the platform that we have to try to espouse what we believe. I don't know what the next record's going to be because these things aren't really mapped out. I mean, I would certainly hope we can continue to touch on these themes, but I have to say that some of the urgency has passed because we've got another 4 years of this, to the best of my knowledge, and you never know what's going to come up in the international spectrum that's going to keep these people's interest. I really can't predict it but I really hope that what they come up with will have the same conviction that The Empire Strikes First has, and even to a certain degree The Process of Belief. Both of those records really are a turning point in Bad Religion's history and it's kind of nice for me because I'm part observer and part member. I was a fan for so many years before I joined the band, and I think our internal quality control will insure that whatever it is, it's going to have that urgency that is part of why we make such good music.
SM: What are your thoughts on punk rock these days?
BB: Well there are a couple of angles here. One is I don't consider myself to be a card carrying participant of the punk rock scene as I once was. Basically this new generation of musicians who have enjoyed enormous radio success is the same as when I was talking about the 1994 Green Day and Offspring. Anything that popularizes this type of music in that way is beneficial. I think that it is wonderful that a kid who buys a Simple Plan record has the gateway to discover Black Flag. This is no longer a secret underground club. Punk rock is a viable entity, it has it has it's own bin at the record store right next to R&B and Gospel. And I don't have any problem with any of these lighter weight punk bands - I think it's better for punk rock as a whole. And whatever promotes this is great.
SM: Thanks for chatting with us Brian...it's been great.
BB: Thank you.
By Ryan Kinder