Thirty-four years on the punk rock frontline hasn’t blunted Bad Religion’s edge. The hugely influential Southern California band’s 16th studio album, True North, recently gave them their highest- charting record to date in the US, while their socially conscious, highly literate approach has rarely been more relevant. For founding guitarist Brett Gurewitz, it’s testimony to both their staying power and their legacy.
Welcome Back: Bad Religion
Bad Religion's Bret Gurewitz is 52 on May 12. We celebrate with this feature, first published in Classic Rock issue 182
How different are Bad Religion today compared to the band of 1979?
I’d say we’re extremely different. It’s like looking back at yourself as a child and seeing the difference – none of the cells in my body are the same. The one thing that connects the two is the continuity, our body of work, which few groups these days can claim over such a long course of time. I’m very proud of the dots that connect and show how we’ve evolved.
The current line-up has three guitarists, like Skynyrd and Maiden. That’s rare for a punk band.
It’s totally unneeded, and happened purely as an accident. We make the most of it, but I’d say one or two guitars are optimal for a rock’n’roll band. When I left the band I was replaced by the great Brian Baker of Minor Threat, whose punk pedigree remains unsurpassed. So when I returned it didn’t make sense for anybody to leave just for my sake.
What is the most political song on True North?
That would probably be Robin Hood In Reverse. It was inspired by the recent Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court, where they declared corporations have the same rights as people. I think it’s a highly detrimental decision because it undermines democracy.
What else is rattling your cage?
Creationism drives me crazy. The US Tea Party movement believes in the devil, and doesn’t accept evolution as the truth, which goes against rational thought and the universality of human reason.
You quit the band back in the 90s, when you were strung out on drugs. How much apologising did you have to do to get back in?
I wouldn’t say it was apologising, more like grovelling, ha ha. Me and Greg [Graffin, singer] hadn’t hooked up for five years. We got talking, and the timing was perfect, so it was very natural. It was what they call ‘ex-sex’ – when you go back for more.
What’s been the toughest moment of your career so far?
The absolute bottom was winding up in Lynwood County Jail on the outskirts of Compton, with a cellmate called PeeWee. That’s when I realised I had to get clean. I made a lot of friends there – testament to the fact I can get on with anybody.
Have you ever wanted to cut loose and write songs about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll?
There was a time in my life when I did wish I could do that – I felt a little stifled by the Bad Religion name and reputation back in the 80s – but over the years we’ve come to realise that we have something really interesting and exciting to write about. Plus it’s so difficult to age gracefully in a band. Nobody wants a 50-year-old dude singing about beers, bongs and boobies.
BRET GUREWITZ - SOME FACTS FOR YA!
- He founded Epitaph Records in 1980.
*He's used the pseudonym The legendary Starbolt on occasion when working with other bands.
Among those bands he's produced are L7, NOFX, Rancid and Pennywise.
He's got three kids from two marriages.
Gurewitz has twice left Bad Religion. This is his third stint in the band.