The members of Bad Religion might wince a bit at being called the elder statesmen of this year’s Vans Warped Tour. But bassist Jay Bentley says they recognize a responsibility that comes with that.
“We gotta spank the kids’ bottoms,” he says with a laugh. “Someone’s gotta have a little bit of responsibility out there.”
But Bentley — who co-founded the politically minded Southern California punk band in 1980 with frontman Greg Graffin and guitarist Brett Gurewitz — says his band only lowers the boom when asked.
“I think we’re all pretty low-key,” says Bentley, 43. “My impression of an elder statesman would be someone who gets out and puts themselves out in a political manner, saying ‘This is the way things should be.’
“That’s not really how we are, at least with other bands. We meet them and they come up to us. Everybody knows the story of our band — how long we’ve been around and how many records we’ve done. They’ll be like, ‘We’re at this stage of our career, what should we do?,’ and we’ll answer.
“But other than that, you don’t see us going out and specifically expounding on our career. After 27 years, man, we still don’t really have any idea what we’re doing.”
That could be debated, of course — especially since “New Maps of Hell,” Bad Religion’s recently released 14th studio album, notched the group’s highest chart debut ever, bowing at No. 35 on the Billboard 200 chart.
That’s a testament to the tenacity of Bentley and Graffin, who have kept Bad Religion alive and going through record company changes and shifting membership — including a sevenyear period when Gurewitz,
who doesn’t tour with the band,
left completely to concentrate on running the Epitaph Records label he started in the early ’80s.
Bentley says Bad Religion came close to breaking up twice — during a two-year hiatus in 1984, when Gurewitz left to go into rehab for drug addiction, and in 2000, when drummer Bobby Schayer had to leave the group after suffering a shoulder injury and Bad Religion lost its major label deal with Atlantic Records.
“We had put out a couple of fairly questionable records,” Bentley says of the latter period, “and my general feeling was I didn’t want to go through the hassle of finding another label and training another drummer if we were just gonna go out and do the same (bad) stuff we’d been doing.
“Out of that, Brett called. He said, ‘You guys need to make a really good record.’ I said, ‘That’s really easy to say but not so easy to do,’ and before you know it, he’s in the band, we’re back on Epitaph and everybody’s happy.”
Bentley adds that Bad Religion is simply at its best when both Graffin and Gurewitz are part of the group, spurring each other with their songwriting.
“From the very beginning of time, Brett and Greg competitively write against each other — in a friendly manner,” he explains. “They have this great, healthy competition — ‘Check out my song.’ ‘No, you check out my song...’
“So when Brett left, it was like Graffin was playing pingpong with himself. It wasn’t the same band. I think you have to have both sides of the coin to make things complete, and if we hadn’t gotten that back, I’m not sure what would’ve happened.”
But even with the Graffin-Gurewitz tandem in place and the success of the new album, Bentley equivocates about Bad Religion’s future.
“Every day,” he notes, “we might play the show, or we might break up.”
But with touring plans set into 2008 — including breaks to allow Graffin, who holds a doctorate in zoology from Cornell University, to teach at UCLA — one suspects that won’t be happening soon.
“We all love doing this,” Bentley acknowledges, “but I think there’s always a finite amount of input that you can give. Right now, in a very strange way after 27 years, the future looks bright for Bad Religion. Nobody’s angry, everybody’s happy, we all feel like this is the greatest thing we could possibly do and don’t see any end in sight.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I’m excited about it. And that’s how it is with us — we roll and roll and roll till maybe one day we go, ‘OK, this is all there is.’ But right now I don’t see any end in sight.”
The Vans Warped Tour 2007 takes place 11 a.m. Friday (July 27th) at Comerica Park, 2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $26.50. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.warpedtour.com.
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