This interview was originally published in Life In A Bungalo #10
As I go through my interview archive, I’m turning up a ton of great interviews I did with my heroes that are a perfect snapshot of a moment in time. This interview was done with Jay Bentley in the parking lot of the Birch Hill Nightclub on October 22, 2000. The topics of discussion are simply fascinating, particularly his breakdown of the financial figures that bands receive from album sales. This was at the start of the digital music revolution and it’s insane to think how far we’ve come since then. Even better are his comments about how he doesn’t think he’ll still be in the band when he’s 50. “Oh, fuck no. We have a double Menudo clause — you get thrown out at 40.” That’s the best line ever. Jay Bentley turned 52 in June 2016.
Bad Religion have been around forever. Born from the late ’70s California hardcore scene, Bad Religion spent 20 years preaching their own sense of warped politics intertwined with burning punk riffs and harmonic vocals. I got a chance to interview lead singer Greg Graffin at a recent show in Jersey and he blew us off. In his place we got a slightly inebriated Jay Bentley. I think we got the better end of the deal. (ed. note- This interview was conducted prior to the rejoining of guitarist Bret Gurewitz.)
How did you feel when you found out that New America was played on the monumental final episode of Beverly Hills 90210?
Jay Bentley: We were in Europe when it happened. One of Brian [Baker’s] friends called us and said “you’re not going to believe what just happened.” None of us knew anything about it. We laughed about it, but that was about it. I don’t watch the show, so I don’t know anything about it, but I thought it was fitting. On with my day.
Is the song “Get Off” about sex?
It’s not, but we’ve always thought of it as that. I think it’s just about the concept of life as a ride. Hey Greg, is “Get Off” about sex?
Greg Graffin: The song “Get Off” is about a runaway roller coaster that represents the human race.
Jay Bentley: Which is why in the middle of that song we have that part where all the guitars go down, down, down, and I do that high pitched girly scream. That was me. “Get Off” is about life as a ride. Greg just wants to get the fuck off the ride. Which isn’t really a great sentiment either.
Why are you guys the only band that survived on a major label?
Because I think we are a feather in their cap. The magic number is 50,000 and that’s when everybody got dropped. If you don’t sell 50k records you’re gone. These days it’s not that hard to sell 50,000 copies, but it is harder for a major label, because indie labels, like Fat Wreck Chords, have a built-in fan base that likes the label.
When Subpop was hot, when Twintone was hot, when Epitaph was hot, you got this label identity and people bought the records even if they never heard of the band. Because, much like music critics, you find that you have the same tastes as someone else. Atlantic doesn’t have any label support from people. They don’t give a shit. It’s Phil Collins, Kid Rock and us. You can’t buy everything with Atlantic on it, because it doesn’t work that way. (ed. note- since the interview Bad Religion have left Atlantic for Epitaph.)
Five years ago punk rock was huge, but now, unless you sound like Blink 182, the punk stock market has crashed. How has that affected Bad Religion and sales?
I don’t think we see a lot of that hyper activity — that sort of mania. That’s not really part of what we do. I think everybody benefited from Nirvana forward. Then reality set in and it tapered off. Now you can have an unsigned punk band put out a decent record and they can move 40 to 50,000 copies, because there is now a fan base for alternative music, which there wasn’t before. It was just a sparse network of people that just talk now and then, but not like it is now.
Last time I talked to you, you said that your least favorite album was Stranger Than Fiction…
I said Stranger Than Fiction was my least favorite album? That must have been before No Substance came out. I would like to change my sentiment on behalf of the people. I talk about records not as musical entities, but as images I have of doing the records. I don’t sit there and put on a record that we’ve made and enjoy it. I put on a record and I think about what we were doing at the time. I listen to the records critically when we make them to make sure I am happy with what’s on the album, and then I never listen to them again. So when I hear them, I think about whether we were having fun, whether I was throwing up, whether we were eating Chinese food, whatever.
So, Stranger Than Fiction was a really difficult album to make, so it might have been my least favorite album to make. I liked making No Substance. It’s an album full of bizarre sentiment that doesn’t really patch together in any way, shape or form, because that was the way that it was written.
There are a lot of new political bands these days ranging from Rage Against the Machine to Boy Sets Fire. Do you think that Bad Religion is still as political driven as you were when you were young?
I’ll tell you this much; a lot of the bands that have gotten on that particular treadmill seem to have an agenda and we never did. We got slapped on the back with the political motif and that was fine, but it was never our plan to set about having an answer for everyone. I appreciate those bands more then any of the hair metal acts that play redundant ridiculous music, and I wish more bands were like that.
I don’t know if that’s something that you can maintain at that level, because you have to stand up to a lot of criticism. We do, but I think it’s because we don’t tell anyone this is how you are supposed to live and think — I can do whatever I want. We never got heat for the crossbuster; we never got heat for anything.
The band spent a lot of show time making fun of Princess Diana. What was your reaction when she died?
She died while we were making New America. I remember Brian and I were in a rental house in Ithaca — Newfield to be exact. I think the anti-Princess Di sentiments that were coming from Greg were more anti-royalty. This was a person who noone ever paid much attention to until she died, then all of a sudden she was a martyr. That’s why he was poking fun of her.
Obviously that was in pretty bad taste, but we’re tasteless. We’re pretty hard on people that gain that kind of status for no apparent reason. It was tragic, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that she was any more important then Sister Theresa. She passed away a week later and I don’t remember her getting near as much coverage. This is the mentality of people. Mourn the beautiful, rich people when they pass and find out something good about them.
Are there any plans to play England since you have boycotted the country for numerous years?
No, never, but I wouldn’t mind playing Scotland.
What was it like playing with Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) on Recipe for Hate?
We’ve been friends with Ed for a long time. He would come down and see us play in San Diego when he was in his first band and even before that. When he was in LA, he just stopped by the studios and we told him that he had to sing. Nobody can just stop by the studio and just say “hi.” Anybody that walks in we put them to work immediately. The only person we’ve ever hired was the slide guitar guy on “Man on a Mission.”
There is a rumor that you won’t play “Whisper in Time” live…
That’s not true. There are very few songs that we won’t play, but there’s a shit load of songs that we can’t play. I’m trying to think of a song that we won’t play. There might be some songs that Greg can’t sing anymore. There’s a shit load of songs that Brian doesn’t even know. He’s probably got about 85 down pat, and that’s not that bad. On any given day we can bust out about 45 or 50 songs, and on some songs we may only know the chorus. So it starts to break down until we get to the point where we don’t even know how the song goes.
Are you anti, pro or oblivious to file sharing?
I think Napster has a great purpose in helping unknown, unsigned bands get their material out there for everybody. In terms of record swapping, which has been going on forever. It eliminates that “I’m going to make you a mix tape of all these great hardcore bands from Connecticut” that no one has ever heard of, and mail them to my buddy in California.” That’s fine. My only problem with it has been that everybody has been bagging on the bands and the record labels as the reason for Napster’s existence. I’m asking you. Is that true?
I think it’s the fact that we are paying $19.99 for a CD that hurts the most.
Who do you think is responsible for that?
I would blame the overpriced record stores.
Record labels sell their records for $7.25. That’s a running price. Bands make $1.18 to $1.20. So when you break it down, Sam Goody is making $12. So, it’s the record stores. So in a sense, if Napster were an alternative to paying $18.99 at Sam Goody, and if they were to pay the $6 licensing fee, then everybody would be happy. I would buy a record for $6.
Yeah, but I would rather not pay $6 for a crappy download that takes eight hours to get.
I’ve never been on Napster so I don’t know what the quality is. Can you download a whole album on Napster?
One song at a time.
It’s important that everybody has that ability, but they need to make it right for everybody. Us aside, there are bands on indie labels that are just struggling to get by. They are selling 1,500 to 2,000 copies and that’s what they need to float their next project. If they’re losing those sales, it’s going to be hard to meet their quota. Eventually, no one will be able to make music anymore, because no one will be able to afford it, which is bazaar.
I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Brett was on the last album, and you no longer make fun of him on stage. Did you guys kiss and make up?
I suppose so. When I say we’re fucked-up people I mean that. We’re mean and we’ve been making fun of each other way before Stranger Than Fiction came out. Greg use to change the words in “World War III” or “Politics” — two of our oldest fucking songs, from “We’re all being oppressed by the upper middle class” to “We’re all being oppressed by Brett Gurewitz.” Brett never thought it was funny.
Did he just show up in the studio to record that track?
He wrote the song and we all learned the song independently, but he never showed up. We just recorded the song and Greg sang it. I remember sitting there saying “Why don’t we just send this back to Brett to do the guitar parts on it?” It worked that way.
Is there any animosity between Bad Religion and Brett over Tested?
Brett was pretty mad about Tested, because it only has two or three songs of his on it. We all kind of laughed and said, “I don’t know if you know this, but you’re not in the band anymore.” Maybe he wasn’t around for that memo. But there is no animosity there any more. At least not as far as I can tell.
Is there any relation between Billy Gnosis from Into The Unknown and Billy from No Control?
Brett kinda had a pseudonym for himself, which was not Billy Gnosis, but Billy Pilgrim. On the band he did after Into The Unknown, the Seeing Eye Gods, he recorded a song called “Billy Pilgrim.” That was more self-penned then “Billy Gnosis.” “Billy Gnosis” was a combination of a book character and just some ideas about drug addiction. “Billy” on the other hand, was probably more about himself. We use to play the song live a lot, but it’s a fairly difficult song to play.
What was it like opening up for Blink 182 on these outdoor arena festivals?
It was fun in the sense that they were the first band that we opened for since Pearl Jam. We opened for a lot of bands in the earlier stages of our career, but we got to a point where we stopped opening for people. We opened for the Ramones in ’89 in San Pedro. We thought that was great and we were basically treated like shit and we said we were never going to do that again.
Fucked by the label or the Ramones?
Fucked by everybody. We just went there and everyone was barking orders at us. We stole all their pizza. If they are still wondering where all there pizza went. I stole them. I did it. I stole every fucking pizza. I like the fact that of all of the three big “punk rock bands” — Green Day, Offspring and Blink — Blink 182 was the only one that asked us to go on tour. Neither or those two have ever asked us to play with them. I even called Billy Joe and asked him when they are going to go on tour and I was like “Let’s go” and he was all “Oh, I don’t know.” “Well, thanks.”
Speaking of the Ramones. Johnny Ramone publicly stated that people over the age of 50 shouldn’t be playing rock and roll? Do you see yourself playing punk rock when you turn 50?
Oh, fuck no. We have a double Menudo clause — you get thrown out at 40. I think the thing is, when Brett left that was a giant hit to the band. When that happened, I called Greg (Graffin) at home and I asked him what he wanted to do. We both agreed that we still wanted to play, and that there was still more that we could do and be viable. We didn’t want to put another guitar player in there and be Fog Hat and play at the fucking Stone Pony. We both felt that there was more material that we could put out that wasn’t going to be uneventful. I think that’s kind of what we are looking at.
Hypothetically, if I get sick of this and just stop, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just replace me with someone else. Obviously, if Greg (Graffin) left it would be over. In a sense that’s a positive thing. We always said that the members of Bad Religion are nowhere near as important as the band. People can come and go, but it doesn’t take away from the reality of this band. That being said, I don’t really see another ten years of this. Of course you’ll probably come back here and see us when I’m 50 and I’ll be telling you that it’s quits when I’m 60. It’s bizarre.
I went and saw those new Sex Pistol shows and those guys were just horrible. To be honest with you, when I saw the Ramones that night in San Pedro, Johnny played no down strokes. I was sitting at the side of the stage waiting to see Johnny Ramone’s hand go 150 miles per hour, and it was just strumming up and down. I’m like, “You’re cheating.” In a sense, when you get to that point — stop.