Punk rock band
Combining the brief, rapid-fire sonic assault of 1980’s Southern California hardcore punk, with highly intelligent lyrics which often addressed issues such as religion, politics, and ecology, Bad Religion forged songs that rang listeners’ ears as well as their heads. The Southern California hardcore punk band, according to Seth Hindin of Rolling Stone, was “one of the most influential and commercially successful American punk groups of all time.” Influenced by The Clash, the Buzzcocks, and Bad Brains, their two-pronged attack of a tight, blistering sound and sharp, compelling lyrics attracted a wide variety of fans. The group even awarded research grants for college students studying cultural and natural sciences in 1998 and 1999. Listeners from the United States and abroad, especially in Europe, helped keep Bad Religion going for more than twenty years. Perhaps the band’s success at making their music exactly the way they wanted through a band member’s label was key in promoting their career. Bad Religion maintained their powerful, raw performance with sophisticated content throughout their 20-year history.
Erupting out of the northern suburbs of Los Angeles, California, in 1979, the members of Bad Religion burned with frustrations similar to their colleagues Black Flag, the Descendants, Fugazi, the Circle Jerks, and Minor Threat. Greg Graffin, imported from Wisconsin, found several El Camino High School classmates that were also aggravated about their teenage culture. “Mr. Brett” Gurewitz, Jay Bentley, and Jay Ziskrout joined Gaffin to spew forth their righteous anger as they learned how to play their instruments. Bentley admitted that Kiss’ Alive! one, and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bullocks, were two of the albums that changed his life and lead him to join the Los Angeles punk rock scene. Bad Religion soon gained a small following and by 1981 put out a self-titled EP. The release was through their own label, Epitaph Records, which would play a vital role in their success. Thus began the story of the longest lasting band from the Southern California hardcore scene of the early 1980s.
Members developed their musical abilities over the year following their EP. Peter Finestone was added as a new drummer, they refined their timing as a group, hammered out melodies, tightened grooves, and even delved into piano. Hard work reaped rewards and the debut fulllength album, How Could Hell Be Any Worse, was released in 1982. Produced by Jim Mankey, who would eventually work with Concrete Blonde, album sales shot to more than 10,000 units within a year. Hugh Hackett of The Rough Guide to Rock, stated, “How Could Hell Be Any Worse, can be considered the genesis of the American punk revival that culminated with the stellar success of the likes of Green Day and Offspring.”
Members include Brian Baker, guitar; Jay Bentley, bass; Peter Finestone, drums; Tim Gallegos, bass; Greg Graffin (Education: UCLA, Cornell University), lead vocals; Brett Gurewitz, guitar, vocals; Greg Hetson, guitar, vocals; Bobby Schayer, drums; Jay Ziskrout, drums.
Formed in Los Angeles, CA, in 1979; Gurewitz started the prominent independent label, Epitaph; released Into the Unknown, 1983; Back to the Known, 1984; Suffer, 1988; No Control, 1989; Against the Grain, 1990; 80-85, 1991; Recipe for Hate, 1993; Stranger than Fiction, 1994; All Ages, 1995; The Gray Race, 1996; Total, 1997; NO Substance, 1998; provided research grants for college students studying the natural sciences; band toured with the 1998 Vans Warped Tour.
Awards: Maximum RockNRoll and Flipside Album of the Year for Suffer, 1988.
Addresses: Record company —Epitaph Records, Epitaph Records, 2798 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026, phone: (323) 413-7353, fax: (323) 413-9678, website: http://www.epitaph.com. Website —Bad Religion homepage: http://www.badreligion.com.
Perhaps inspired by new wave sounds, Bad Religion plugged in synthesizers and ventured into a new area with the release of 1983’s Into The Unknown. The 1970s keyboard-pop collection of ballads turned the punk listeners away. A breakup ensued and the album became the major skeleton of Bad Religion’s closet. Eventually, however, the disowned second album grew into a collector’s item. Meanwhile, Graffin and Finestone used the down time by segueing into higher education. Bentley continued his musical efforts through Wasted Youth and TSOL.
A little time away from Bad Religion provided members a new focus that the band needed to proceed. Upon Graffin’s return to Los Angeles in 1984, the artistic energy began to take the familiar hardcore punk shape again. Because Gurewitz had to recover from debilitating substance abuse, Graffin was the only original member prepared to make music. He quickly gathered a handful of fellow punkers and lead the group into Bad Religion’s next album, an EP entitled Back to the Known. The 1985 release was recorded by Graffin, the former Circle Jerks guitarist Greg Hetson, who had played with Bad Religion in the past, drummer Pete Finestone, and bassist Tim Gallegos. Punk rock was what Bad Religion knew, so that was what they recorded. Many previous Bad Religion fans forgave the band for Into the Unknown and savored the five-song EP of hardcore punk. It would be the last release for three years, while Graffin completed a Master’s degree in geology from UCLA during the hiatus.
Bad Religion reassembled and began their run for lift-off in 1987 by performing reunion concerts throughout California. The crew included Graffin, Gurewitz, Bentley, Finestone, and Hetson. Flight was attained with their 1988 release Suffer. The Maximum Rock N Rolland Flipside album of the year established Bad Religion as a significant member of the American hardcore punk community. Songwriting was shared by Graffin and Gurewitz this time and each wrote according to his own style. Graffin’s style showcased the speed and sonic power of underground punk of the 1980s, the roots of American hardcore punk. Gurewitz wrote songs that were wrapped in a pop sound that glistened with rock overtones. This style laid some of the initial building blocks for the bridge connecting underground hardcore punk to mainstream “modern music” and pop-punk of the 1990s. The Trouser Press guide to ‘90s rock described the album as “ablaze with unusual hooks (sea chanteys seem to be a primary source for song shapes, which give the band an abiding folk-roots undercurrent), pointed riffs and pretentious pseudo-erudition.” Warp speed attacks and alluring melodies tickled the ears of listeners and created a punk rock classic. Bad Religion was back and ready to soar.
According to a writer from The Trouser Press guide to “Os rock, Bad Religion continued quality hardcore with 1989’s No Control, yet another Epitaph release. Dubbing it “perhaps one of the best hardcore albums ever” the offering highlighted vocal harmonies, the usual insightful lyrics, and machine-gun musical delivery. Bad Religion emerged as a leader in hardcore punk and an inspiration for many up-and-coming bands. Those groups inspired by Bad Religion would churn out pop-punk tunes across the world. Bad Religion spread their religion by “evangelizing” an international crowd. European listeners greatly appreciated Bad Religion’s art and welcomed them with high regard during their tour.
Against the Grain was released in 1990. It was hardhitting sonically and lyrically, addressing topics such as the anti-abortion movement with especially aggravated sound. Pete Finestone departed in 1991 to play with Fisherman and was replaced with another drummer, Bobby Schayer. In the meantime Epitaph cranked out a compilation entitled 80-85, pulling together unreleased material and songs from Bad Religion, How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, and Back to the Known. Into the Unknown was completely omitted. Against the Grain, and their following release in 1992, Generator, a darker expression, turned out to be considered disappointing to many. The group’s reputation had been established, however, especially overseas. Two concerts in London, England, were sold out with no advertising. Fans in Germany considered Bad Religion a band of superstars.
Bad Religion continued their flight through turbulence. Graffin was working on his PhD in zoology at Cornell University in New York. Gurewitz was operating Epitaph in Los Angeles, where Bentley also worked. Despite the many extra-curricular commitments of Bad Religion members, another respected album was released in 1993, Recipe for Hate. Alternative rock was accepted by the mainstream by that time, so Bad Religion and Epitaph were in promising positions to ride the alternative rock wave and changes were inevitable. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam even joined the punk veterans for a duet on Recipe for Hate. Bad Religion’s huge following along with the growing popularity of modern rock caught the attention of a major recording company, Atlantic Records. A deal with Atlantic re-issued the previous Epitaph release Recipe for Hate. Thus began the realignment of Bad Religion’s flight.
The major label debut, Strangerthan Fiction, from 1994, which included an outside co-producer, Andy Wallace, was the last Bad Religion album on which Gurewitz played. Epitaph was requiring more attention with the success of “Smash” from the Offspring and releases from the band Rancid. It had become one of the largest independent labels in the States. Gurewitz’s full-time attention to Epitaph allowed the label to grow to enormous success. As stated by Rolling Stone’s Seth Hindin, “originally Bad Religion’s vanity imprint, [Epitaph] has grown into perhaps the largest, best-known punk label in the world.” The label included acts such as Offspring, Rancid, NOFX, and Pennywise.
Brian Baker of Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, and Junkyard filled the open rhythm guitar position for the Strangerthan Fiction tour and stayed with the band for their successive releases. One band member claimed the Stranger than Fiction tour was, “the most pleasant experience of the last three years.” Ironically, the album outsold previous releases, perhaps due to the popularity of aggressive rock and the greater marketing capacity of Atlantic Records. Epitaph released All Agesln 1995, which was a compilation of songs from the four albums released between 1988 and 1992. Only two tracks were pre-1985.
The Gray Race appeared in 1996, along with other offerings from Bad Religion relatives. De-popped Gray Race tunes were written by Graffin and co-produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars. Not even Baker’s guitar playing could prevent critics’ comments that the release mainly consisted of filler material. Perhaps major label recording demands stifled creativity. Graffin, meanwhile, found an outlet for his other musical tastes. He offered a solo album, American Lesion, in late 1996. Its sound stepped away from the rapid-fire sonic attacks of Bad Religion and ventured through several slow piano ballads. Gurewitz also did some work in the studio. The Daredevils was a studio group that released a CD single of “Hate You” and “Rules, Hearts”. Critics recognized a familiar sound from the Daredevils even though some ill-feelings toward Bad Religion emerged from the project.
A live album, Total, was released in 1997. It was a collection of live performances and contained many hits from Bad Religion. NO Substance was released in 1998 and accurately portrayed the dynamic intensity and powerful drive of Bad Religion’s live performance. After recording much of the album in Graffin’s house in upstate New York, the group tested it at several small club shows in New York City.
Bad Religion’s powerful sonics and Graffin’s insightful writing on how he sees American society as a community of robots lacking substance proved appealing. Bad Religion later headlined the 1998 Vans Warped Tour. In late 1999, Graffin was a speaker on the politically and socially charged Spitfire Tour. The band continued after No Substanceby signing Todd Rungren as producer for their next album. As for the remaining band members, Brian Baker released a solo album entitled Troublizing. In addition, he joined other punkers in Lickety Split to record and perform. Hetson co-founded an independent label, Porterhouse Records, which released efforts by Speed Buggy and Rosemary’s Billy Goat.
Bad Religion, Epitaph, 1981.
How Could Hell be Any Worse?, Epitaph, 1982.
Into the Unknown, Epitaph, 1983.
Back to the Known, Epitaph, 1984.
Suffer, Epitaph, 1988.
No Control, Epitaph, 1989.
Against the Grain, Epitaph, 1990.
80-85, Epitaph, 1991.
Generator, Epitaph, 1992.
Recipe for Hate, Epitaph, Epitaph/Atlantic, 1993.
Stranger than Fiction, Atlantic, 1994.
All Ages, Epitaph, 1995.
The Gray Race, Atlantic, 1996.
No Substance, Atlantic, 1998.
MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Robbins, Ira A., editor, The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1997.
“BadReligion,” RollingStone.com, http://rollingstone.tunes.com, (December 27, 1999).
“Bad Religion,” The Rough Guide to Rock, http://www2.roughguides.com, (January 4, 2000).
“Bad Religion”Allmusic Zine, http://allmusic.com/zine/, (January 18, 2000).
“Bad Religion,” Atlantic Records, http://www.atlanticrecords.com/, (January 7, 2000).
“Bad Religion Sponsors Scholarship, Demo Competition,” Billboard, http://billboard.com/, (January 4, 2000).
“Todd Rungren to Produce Next Big Bad Religion Record,”MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/, (January 4, 2000).
Members: Jay Bentley, bass; Brett Gurewitz, guitar; Brian Baker, guitar; Pete Finestone, drums; Greg Graffin, vocals; Greg Hetson, guitar; Brooks Wackerman, drums.
Best-selling album since 1990: Stranger Than Fiction
Hit songs since 1990: "Stranger Than Fiction," "Infected," "Sorrow"
Forming at the tail end of punk's first explosion, Bad Religion spent years honing its sound and flying under mass-audience radar—until the early 1990s, when the alternative-rock juggernaut finally struck middle America.
Bad Religion has always maintained punk's ethic of simplicity, speed, and protest, but the group's principal songwriters, Gurewitz and Graffin, create hummable melodies and dramatic harmonies. Their aggressive but catchy sound has influenced recent alt-rockers such as Cake and System of a Down.
Gurewitz founded Epitaph Records to release the band's material, starting with 1982 debut album How Could Hell Be Any Worse? The album featured the raw "F---Armageddon, This Is Hell," with the sixteen-year-old Graffin singing raspy, Sex Pistols-influenced vocals. Little did he know that Epitaph was a name that would figure prominently into alt-rock's 1990s ascendance. In their first few years the group underwent frequent lineup changes and finally took a hiatus during the mid-1980s but returned triumphantly in 1987 with the catchy but angry-as-ever album Suffer. Though punk music was far from most music fans' minds during that era, Bad Religion was sowing the seeds of its latter-day commercial renaissance by sticking it out through punk's wilderness years.
Bad Religion kicked off the 1990s with Against the Grain, whose sarcastic "21st Century Digital Boy," penned by Gurewitz, skewered middle-class apathy. Graffin's voice had matured into a passionate but lucid shout, and he enunciated his lyrics with a precision uncharacteristic of punk. The members also tweaked the punk rule-book by incorporating some spirited vocal harmonies. During the early 1990s Graffin also did graduate work in paleontology at Cornell University in New York.
With Stranger than Fiction (1994), Bad Religion confronted the punk rocker's dilemma: The group was finally big enough for a major label, but would such a move represent a sellout? The CD was the group's first on Atlantic Records, but Gurewitz was uncomfortable losing business control. Meanwhile, his label's young prospect Offspring was breaking out of nowhere to define punk's next generation. Gurewitz decided to leave the band and was replaced by Brian Baker. With his departure the band lost not only its guitarist but also the songwriter of half its material. But no one could deny Atlantic's distribution muscle—Stranger than Fiction was the group's first album to make the Billboard charts, peaking at number 87. The album contained a new version of Gurewitz's "21st Century Digital Boy" and also featured the title track, a pessimistic song proclaiming that "life is the crummiest book I ever read, there isn't a hook, just a lot of cheap shots, pictures to shock and characters an amateur would never dream up." Graffin picked up the slack for the rest of the decade, taking over nearly all the songwriting chores for the subsequent The Gray Race (1996), No Substance (1998), and Todd Rundgren-produced New America (2000).
The group figuratively hit a "reset" button in 2002 with the return of Gurewitz. Back on Epitaph Records, Bad Religion finally enjoyed both commercial success and full control. The Process of Belief made number forty-nine on the Billboard 200, and the idealistic, harmony-filled "Sorrow" peaked at number thirty-five on Billboard 's Modern Rock Tracks.
Bad Religion has always been a group with plenty on its mind, but its longevity comes from its ability to express itself concisely and melodically.
Suffer (Epitaph, 1988); Against the Grain (Epitaph, 1990); Generator (Epitaph, 1992); Recipe for Hate (Epitaph, 1993); Stranger than Fiction (Atlantic, 1994); The Gray Race (Atlantic, 1996); The Process of Belief (Epitaph, 2002).