By Barry A Rolapp
The Vans Warped Tour is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. On July 10, the Warped Tour, which is known for giving a hand up to many local and underground bands, came to the Gorge amphitheatre. This years line up included punk legends like Bad Religion, Flogging Molly, NOFX and The Vandals as well as a multitude of up-and-comers like Coheed and Cambria and Yellowcard. One noticeable difference for me this year was the lack of skating events. The venue featured only one half-pipe that displayed five skaters performing a couple of tricks. In place of the skaters, there were corporate booths and numerous organizations plugging their services. Even the Army and Marines presence were felt as each had a recruiting booth. I doubt either one did much recruiting as most patrons of the tour were walking about sporting "Buck Fush" and numerous other anti-Bush slogans. For those who have never gone to Warped, the best description for the tour is that it is like a compilation CD. The bands only get a half an hour to play, which for bands like Flogging Molly that would only be about six songs. While this is good for bands that are trying to get noticed, it can be frustrating with bands who are already established, as it feels very rushed on stage. About halfway through the day, I managed to get Bad Religions bassist Jay Bentley to sit down with me and answer a few questions.
Me: Since we are short on time, I am just going to dive right in.
Me: A lot of people are calling your new album, "The Empire Strikes First," more political than previous albums. Why do you think that is?
Bentley: I think we are more direct because the times require direct statements. We've been packaged as a political band since the '80s I've always felt we are a social political band. We talk about human issues not about politics. The times request us to be more specific about politics. Writing songs like "Let them eat War" and "Empire Strikes First." Which isn't that far a cry from songs like "Heaven is falling," which was surprisingly the same idea. One guys father 15 years ago.
Me: I think the biggest difference in the songs is that "Heaven is Falling" seems to use more imagery and metaphor and on this album it is extremely obvious what you are talking about.
Bentley: What we try to use is the quotes that the people who we feel are perpetuating the damages or their euphemisms for their campaign on terror. In '91 it was the "Rainbow Coalition," in 2004 it is the "Coalition of the Willing." We try to use those catch phrases that they use so that people know we are being specific. You'd be surprised how many people in America ask me what the empire is.
Me: No way.
Bentley: Yeah, I'm not kidding
Me: That is unbelievable.
Bentley: What's the empire? It's us. Yeah sorry to tell you this, but it's you and me and everyone here.
Me: Band very vocal about music being a way to create social change.
Bentley: I don't know if it affects change but its maybe a way to raise social awareness. That doesn't necessarily mean that people will change. But hopefully they'll question what it is that they think; even it is right or wrong. I mean as a human being I find it very liberating every few months to kind of step back to look at everything I think is right or wrong. I am always constantly checking what I believe to be true or false, because I could be totally wrong. What a horrible way to go through life.
Me: From what I can see, this is a unilateral movement in the band to be so active in trying to motivate people to vote Bush out of office this November. What was the straw that broke the camels back for you guys, the thing that made you as a group say we have to get this guy out of here?
Bentley: When George Bush gave ten million people the middle finger. When he said I don't care what the fuck people say, we are going to war. We are going to preemptively strike this country because they are a threat. That was it. It turns out they weren't a threat.
Me: Have you heard the Senate report on the CIA information yet (the report and comments had just been released July 9)?
Bentley: I've been kind of catching bits and blurbs of it... (Long pause) My sentiment about everything right now is that I don't trust anyone or anything. It's all too confusing, and it's all to cloak and dagger and its every body covering their asses. Pretty much, right? No one wants to expose themselves and say, "You know what, we didn't see this coming." To be honest with you I've been delving more into the fact that so many people seem so much more concerned about 9/11 than they do about the Oklahoma City Bombing. It's the same thing. I mean the flying of planes into buildings, that's fucking gnarly. But putting 30 tons of fertilizer in front of a building and blowing up a rental truck is pretty gnarly too. But people weren't up in arms about that. At first it was a terrorist act, but then it was just a lone kook. What I'm getting at is that you'll never stop terrorism because it is the lone kook or the 11 guys who hijack a plane. It's not an army, its just fanatics. So the government has everybody somehow or another under the false pretension that [the government] is protecting them.Terror Alert Orange! But its ok, were taking care of it.
How? We got it covered. There's Internet chatter. What? Well, we can't be specific about it but it might involve a bridge or it might involve a tunnel, or maybe a boat or maybe a building. OK, and what if nothing happens? They get to say things like, "See, we're saving you." And that fucking infuriates me. So when any administration report is coming out, I won't believe it. I just won't. Because I'm rational enough to see that this is all just a bunch of people trying to figure out how to keep their jobs. Nothing more.
If you want to know how to protect the American public, stop hitting the wasp's nest with a stick. Get the troops out of Saudi Arabia. That's what they're pissed about. They've said it. We came over in '91 because Iraq invaded Kuwait. We got them out. Whatever, that was cool. You kind of went a little too far, and blasted your way into Baghdad, but the dad pulled out and said, "I have a conscience. I just can't blast this place into glass." But they just left 150,000 troops in Saudi Arabia. And they said now we want you to get the fuck out, and America said no we going to keep them there. That is what it's really broiling down to. That's what it's really all about. They want us the fuck out.
Me: Now Brett Gurewitz has mentioned a belief that the Bush administration is manipulating the media. I have also heard some professors say that it is believed that Bush's inept behavior is an act to draw attention away from the issues. Do you think there is any validity in that?
Bentley: No, I think he is a dufus. But I think he is an evil dufus. He is not an evil genius. He's an evil rich dufus who has money and power to do what he wants. Don't forget he has also surrounded himself with Cheney, Wolfawitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and a line of people who have been around since Nixon. And they've been waiting for this to happen. This is all they've ever wanted to do.
I don't think a guy who is putting on an act of a guy who is kind of slow would have actually pretended to choke on a pretzel.
Do you know what time it is?
Someone in background: 5:20.
Bentley: 5:20, ok I've got a set at 5:30, do you have one more and then I have to go.
Me: Yeah, really quickly, geez so many questions I want to ask... uhh what's your take on conservative punks?
Bentley: No such thing. Doesn't exist.
Me: Well thanks for talking with me today.
Bentley: Yeah sorry about having to cut it short, I got saddled with a bad schedule today. If you want we might be able to pick this up after the set.
Me: Yeah great that would be awesome.
After Bad Religions set-
Me: Hey you guys were great.
Bentley: Thanks, so what were we talking about.
Me: I believe we left off on conservative punks, and how this seems to be some sort of oxymoron.
Bentley: You can't have that ideology.
I don't know. I don't like labels because it puts you in a genre that you might not feel you're a part of. You might have conservative views, but those views might be in the realm of censorship or morality.
I would never argue with someone who believes it wasn't cool to show pornography to three years old kids. I mean you can't be a complete liberal kook and think that every conservative view is wrong. So I don't agree with it just in principal, but it doesn't mean I disagree with the individuals because I don't know them.
Me: Now earlier you talked about music being a tool for social awareness and promote critical thinking, but even your band has acknowledged in Songs like "Punk Rock Song" that in the long run who is really paying any attention to the issues presented.
Bentley: I think that is true for any music. Music is entertainment. I think people have cast a brighter light on punk rock lyrics because they do tend to be more socially relevant and critical on maybe even on a more global scale then most others.
Like bluegrass or folk music you would think that is a socially aware lyrical style of music, but it's usually very small in focus in terms of where its founded. The Smokey Mountains and the coalmines. That doesn't have much to do with the Green Party, or Germany or the Kyoto accord.
Punk rock kind of gets that rap that you're supposed to be socially conscious which is I think you as a fan of music will know that most punk rock bands never even get close to accomplishing that. They talk about their girlfriends and what it is like to be a loser in high school and whatever teen angst problems they might have that mean nothing to most people.
Me: Well did you know Meanstreet has accredited you with creating that. I believe their exact words were that you have "helped define the super poppy, super fast sound that made punk rock safe for suburbia." What is your take on that?
Bentley: Musically, yeah they're right. Because I think that when we were doing that we were calling it... what did we call it? Power punk... something punk. Brett and I were calling it all kinds of different names. It certainly wasn't called Southern California Hardcore. That came later.
Uh...There was no name for it, but it was much more musical than anybody had ever anticipated. Background harmonies really through it over the top. I think if you took one thing we brought to the forefront of this genre it was background harmonies. Us, the Adolescents and the Buzzcocks were the bands that were using that depth of background harmonizing. Now every band does it. Fat mike (of NOFX) does a song "Woe on the Woes." Cause it is just overkill. Its like dude, just fucking stop. Just stop ohhing and ahhing on every single verse. We can do it were allowed, you not so much (laugh).
Me: Bad Religion has been together as a band for about 25 years now. Coming on to this tour is there a lot of idol worship with the younger bands?
Bentley: To be honest with you, it is probably a 50-50 split of people who will come up and say I like your band and people who will say I have no idea who you are.
Were really under the radar. I've been in the band a long time. So I know what our perception is. I know that when you really get up there you see a lot of I've never heard of you guys. We're just that far under the scope of popular music. We've never really been on MTV; we've never really had a hit song. We are not a press popular band. We're not a media darling band. We're a band that quietly sells 350,000 records to people who feel that we have some sort of relevance, but it's not about flashiness or being story of the day.
That being said, I don't have a problem with anything because I am always willing to put my best effort out there on the stage.
I just find that, especially on the Warped Tour a lot of people are trying to find out where they fit in. I think a lot of younger bands that are struggling to make an identity of themselves have a better understanding than the bands that are more popular that come here with a management and label agenda. Like you need to be on this tour because its good for your career. Which it is, but there is almost a dividing line.
You can see it in the bands where it is split right down the middle of bands that are out here like just eating dirt and living dirty and bands that are out here because it is good for their next record or their career or don't want to say anything... I don't know how many bands you've seen today, but almost every band up there is saying something about the current political climate. It's bands that don't say anything that you got to worry about.
Why are you here? How could you possibly not be affected by what's going on in the world? Does it matter? Do you just want to play in front of 15,000 people and say buy our new record? That's pretty harsh.
Me: Many people are quick to point out an apathy that seems to rule over my generation as far as politics and social issues are concerned. What do you think causes this?
Bentley: Well, you're ignored, right? I mean the 18-to-25-year-olds voters are just ignored by the Republicans and the Democrats. They are ignored by the whole political process. The largest voting populace is the Baby-boomers, That's why they're scaring the shit out of these people who are 60+. These people aren't leaving their houses. All they got to do is put stuff on the television that will scare the crap out of them and they'll get their vote.
I mean I have direct family relatives who believe that. And I laugh and go, "No it's not really like that." I am like in the middle. I am 40, and I'm in an odd generation of people who aren't going to be a large population but who are going to just inherit a big bucket of shit. And I know that, and I have a 10 and a 13-year-old-son and I want to make that better for them.
Me: You mention have a 10 and 13-year-old sons, and I know you are not big on the mainstream radar but how are they dealing with it when their friends find out that their Dad is in Bad Religion?
Bentley: They're starting to get that now. But it is usually one of their friend's older brothers. Their friends 15-year-old brother who has a skateboard goes, "Your Dad's in Bad Religion?"
They come back and are like Dad, that guy wants your autograph, or wants your shirt or free CDs. It is always free CDs and stickers!
They do know. Their Mom, my wife, used to be in a band. They grew up thinking all their friend's parents were in a band. They would ask, "What band is your Mom in?" But they are starting to get it now. They know we're weird.
Me: I don't know about weird but certainly lucky. So are they into Bad Religion at all?
Bentley: They do listen to Bad Religion and they have their favorite song, but we are not their favorite band. My oldest favorite band right now is System of a Down.
My youngest son just thinks Fat Mike (NOFX) is the shit, but he is a lot like me. He likes the poppy stuff so he likes Sum 41 and Blink. Recently he came to me and said "Dad what should I listen to?" and I gave him "Qaudrophenia," and I didn't see it for a month. When I got it back he said, "That was weird," and I asked if he liked it and he said, Yeah." I always try to do that. Like my older son who likes System of a Down and I give him Motorhead and say here go listen to this. I am always trying to get them being open to not just what is new. It is weird; I am just kind of like a conduit for them. It's cool to me.
Me: I have noticed they talk a lot about Brett and Greg and what they do and what influences them. What influences you?
Bentley: I don't know, I think what influences me the most is just the desire to do this. I don't personally get along very well with people who are "musicians." I don't like people who focus entirely on playing music, because to me music is a hobby. It is just something to do, except for me I happen to do it for a living, which is stupid but very fortunate and I am very aware of that.
I think when I was young I had aspirations of being the bass player... no the guitar player of Elton John's band. Then I was going to be Ace Frehley * laughs *. Then that was around the time the Pistols came out and I met Greg, and then it was Sid Vicious and that was it. It certainly wasn't his playing that was enthralling to me; it was just his whole demeanor. Throwing up on people and cutting himself and just being this fucking out of control human being. I really, really liked that. So it had less to do with anything musical and more to do with this living right on the cusp of what is acceptable and crossing it many times. But I never wanted to be this dirt bag anarchist. I always thought that was dumb. Never really understood that, like we're living under a trailer in the back of an alley.
Why? When you can just get your shit together and get a job at 7/11 and get an apartment for $200 a month. It is totally possible. I know I've done it.
We're weird. We were talking about Brett and Greg, and how everybody knows everything about everybody. People think we are highly educated. Brett and I laugh and go well Greg's got a PHD and but Brett and I are high school dropouts. But we never stopped reading and we never stopped sitting around in people's houses and garages just talking and learning. Like Greg would come back and go, "I've just learned the most fascinating thing today," because he'd be in school and wed be talking and sometimes Brett and I would agree and sometimes we would disagree. And it went all the way from geology to quantum physics and religion. We still have discussions about religion, because as we've matured we've all found our own way in that weird nebulous gelatin that is religion.
That is kind of what I am. In the band I am just this guy who is fascinated by the process and the challenges and I don't give a shit about the results * laughs *.
Outside the band, which is the real me... (pause) I am someone who takes an unbelievable amount of pride in the work that I do, whether it's painting a fence or whatever.
I am probably the most normal guy but I live on an island and I don't think my neighbors have a clue what I do. I am just this guy who drives his kids to school in the morning and picks them up in the afternoon and takes them to the swimming pool.
Me: So everyone is the band has echoed your comment on how this is a hobby and that is why the band has persevered. And we all know Brett has the label to run and Greg has academia, but what do you do when you aren't recording or touring besides the family?
Bentley: That's it. I have no outside projects. I made a commitment to my wife and kids that I spend 7-to-8 months out of the year touring or recording or whatever; so when I am not doing that I am just there. I am not going to get another job, I'm not going to play with another band, I'm not going to get another project or hobby, I am just going to go home and wake up in the morning and make breakfast, drive them to school, be there with my wife to garden and to just hang out with her and talk about things, go pick up the kids and bring them back and take them to their friends house. Just be there. That is something that I miss, and they miss me.
If I started to do something because what am I doing in my spare time? How demeaning is that to my wife and kids?
With this "career," the only wish that I have is that I could go home every night. It is the greatest job in the world. You couldn't beat this job if you tried, but the downside is, for a guy like me, is that I don't get to go home when I am done.
"Hi," and have dinner and see the kids and talk about school, I 'm out here. So it's like some five-minute cell phone call or some frantic where the * mumbles *? I don't know.
That's just me. I know that I am abnormal.
Me: If that's abnormal, I think more people need to be abnormal.
Bentley: When we all started having kids, we all quickly realized that is the most important job you could possibly have raising kids. Because if you weren't there for them who would be there for them? Then they would grow up confused and angry, and I know it's cliché, but they are going to grow up and be part of the problem. Just another problem for everyone to deal with because no one explained to them what's really happening. We were all pretty upset when we started thinking about all the single mom's out there, and all the kids that are getting into so much fucking trouble out there. WE were just like, "Where the fuck are all the dads?"
That is what we constantly do; try to find out what the most important use of our time is. Before I had kids it was whatever cause seemed to be the most urgent. Then when I had kids it was no that's the most urgent by far. Now I am pissed because my kids are in a position where their scared and going dad what's going on in the world and I am afraid I don't want you flying on planes. They should never have to think like that.
Me: So how big of an issue is it traveling over seas now?
Bentley: It is not a hassle, but I am always quick to tell everyone, "Oh yeah everybody over there hates us." Just flat out. But I'm ok because I have been going over there for 15 years so their like "I hate you," and I go "I know you do. I am sad that you do and I hate us to."
Surprisingly the people who you would think would be the most offended which are the French, have come out in the open and started saying we know there are honest hard working Americans who don't agree with George Bush and his policies. And we can't condemn every person in America for being American. And I thought that was the ballsiest thing I had ever seen.
Me: Wow, I haven't heard that. I would think that would be something that would be a pretty big deal in the news.
Bentley: Yeah you don't hear anything like that over here. All you hear is that we are changing the name of this potato food to freedom fries. That's just how retard things are. When that is the best thing you can come up with.
When you tell the world to fuck off and then you call Germany and France "old Europe" and they just shrug and go whatever we're not with you. Then to boycott them you start calling French Fries Freedom Fries, that's how ludicrous and stupid it had gotten. Great we're like... we are the fourth-grade bully. You can't possibly think we are intelligent, you can't possibly think we are brave. From an outside viewpoint I would think we were completely insane.
Me: Well what would you recommend to people who are interested in unbiased news, a way to find out what is really going on?
Bentley: It is all biased. To get real information you have to read everything and then you have top pull out the parts that seem to be confusing. If you read two stories, one from USA Today and one from the New York Times and they are both about the same thing but they're slanted different ways, well everything has a slant but there's a middle ground and that's the truth. You can't get the truth from one place. The truth has to come from maybe five places, that's what I've found.
That's why people don't want to know, because it's too much fucking work. It takes too long. It's way easier to turn on Fox News and go, "Oh, I better tape my windows and doors!"
Me: I can hear that your voice is getting a little froggy, and I know you have another show tomorrow so I don't want to use up your voice and leave the fans with nothing tomorrow.
Bentley: Yeah (chuckle) some people might get upset.
Me: It's been great talking to you. Thank you very much.
Bad Religion will continue to tour promoting their newest album after the Warped Tours final date and promised the hundreds of fans who had gathered to hear them play that they will be back to the greater northwest area sometime in the fall. For more tour or Bad Religion news check out www.badreligion.com, or their label website at www.epitaph.com.