Chords of a different power: Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin takes a side trip down the dusty back roads of American music.
For 25 years, Bad Religion has unapologetically challenged government and religion with its provocative lyrics and raw punk sound.
After a dozen or so albums with the band, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Greg Graffin is turning down the volume with a country/folk rock solo album, “Cold as the Clay,” arriving in stores Tuesday.
“Cold as the Clay” is quite the departure for Graffin, as he slows things down, picks up an acoustic guitar and pays homage to his days living in Wisconsin and singing old-time tunes at family gatherings. The album honors American music and includes original songs as well as traditional tracks from the 18th and 19th centuries.
“My goal was to show the timeless quality and the timeless element of the music,” Graffin said. “There are five originals and six covers. These are traditional songs, meaning they don't have an author. We don't know who recorded them in the first place, and they are passed down through oral tradition.”
Graffin, with producer and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, recorded the album in eight days. Gurewitz recruited three members of the rock act the Weakerthans to back up Graffin. The album also features multiple professional old-time musicians and the vocals of Jolie Holland.
The speedy nature of the recording can be partially attributed to the fact that Gurewitz left most of the recording sessions “as is.”
“It was recorded to tape and mixed to tape,” Gurewitz said. “There were no computers involved anywhere. I absolutely stripped down the technology to the bare minimum that it possibly could be.”
The result of just letting the tape roll is an album that creates the feeling that one is actually in the room with the musicians as they play. Graffin can be heard faintly on the recording guiding the group into some of the tracks.
“One thing you have to rely on is the talent of the musicians, and these guys are so talented that even though they just learned it, their expertise came through and the spontaneity really captures a true moment in time,” Graffin said.
Graffin's vocals have often been called “folksy,” and he uses that to his advantage. He's not straining over a blaring electric guitar and mass percussion, but rather, the emotion he has for these songs can be heard as he sings effortlessly along with an acoustic guitar, banjo and harmonica.
“A lot of those emotional songs from the folk centuries, they prove to be relevant even today because some of the things …the bewilderment and the sadness of living hard times in America as they were back then, could be applied to some of the people who have to live today,” Graffin said.
Hardcore Bad Religion fans, beware; this album may not be for you.
“A lot of times it's not so far-fetched to consider these folksy songs are kind of written in the same vein and process that the Bad Religion songs would be written in, and yet the production is totally different,” Graffin said. “The Bad Religion fans that enjoy the music, the melody and the simple delivery of Bad Religion songs will really gravitate towards this album. The ones who just wanna hear something to go slam to, I don't think they're going to be able to do it.”
Knowing well what Bad Religion fans expect from them, Graffin and Gurewitz were not afraid to create something totally different.
“I think I speak for Greg when I say this, but we really made this record for us, and if fans like it, then that's just a bonus,” Gurewitz said.
Graffin is doing a few performances in support of the album, including a stop at the Troubadour in Los Angeles on July 16. The shows play out more like a jam session than a rock concert. Graffin invites fans to dance along if they feel so inclined, but to refrain from knocking him off of his stool.
In the midst of the new album and the supporting shows, Graffin is attempting to write another Bad Religion record. The band is set to tour this summer and will be playing the San Diego Street Scene on Aug. 4.
Graffin expects the new Bad Religion album to be completed and released early next year.
In the meantime, Graffin is looking forward to sharing his passion for traditional American music with as many people as possible.
“If you love music I hope you walk away with an appreciation of the American song, and definitely something that deserves more attention are songs that are inspired by life in America,” Graffin said.