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Bad Religion’s Evolution

Summer Nationals Tour Hits Stir Concert Cove

By Kyle Eustice

Aside from Bad Brains, not too many punk bands can claim the kind of longevity Bad Religion can, but alas, the six-piece powerhouse is still at it. Since its 1979 inception, vocalist Greg Graffin and guitarist Brett Gurewitz have been pushing the boundaries of punk rock, molding it into a modern, more melodic version of the genre. Sixteen studio albums later (and with a seventeenth in the works), Bad Religion is joining former label mates The Offspring on an extensive nationwide tour. (The Vandals, Naked Raygun and Stiff Little Fingers join the bill on selected dates.)
It’s impossible to understand the importance of Bad Religion without diving into Graffin’s history. First of all, he’s a doctor; not like a physician, but a Ph.D. in zoology/geology, which he obtained at Cornell University. He’s a college professor, author and punk rock legend. Born in Racine, Wisconsin, Graffin relocated to Southern California and at the age of 15, started his first band, which just happened to be Bad Religion. It’s not clear how he formed his penchant for anti-authoritarian lyrics or why he decided on a logo comprised of a cross with a red line through it, but nonetheless, it’s his legacy.
“I’ve been perplexed by the origin of my worldview for a long time,” Graffin says. “That’s why I recently wrote “Anarchy Evolution,“ my book. It’s really difficult to figure out how your unique perspective on things developed. Let’s just say I wasn’t biased by religion so I had to put together an ideology piecemeal from fragments of science and entertainment.”
While 1988’s Suffer, 1989’s No Control, 1990’s Against the Grain, and 1992’s Generator yielded some of the group’s best material, it wasn’t until 1993’s Recipe for Hate that Bad Religion began to see mainstream success. They had signed with Atlantic Records and for some reason, this move catapulted them to the forefront of “alternative” punk. Consequently, 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction became their best selling album.
“Mostly it was the fact that we refined our melodic sense of punk music,” he says. “There were very few bands doing that at the time those albums came out.”
There’s no doubt Bad Religion paved the way for future pop-punk groups Blink-182, The Offspring and Green Day. Although you wouldn’t expect Graffin to approve of the more watered-down version of punk, Bad Religion has toured with Blink-182 and he has nothing but respect for artists they’ve influenced.
“Blink-182 always cited us a big influences on their music as does Rise Against nowadays,” he says. “We don’t spend a lot of time nit picking and figuring out what exact elements of Bad Religion can be found in bands we’ve influenced. We are always grateful that we inspire musicians to make their won way in the new fields of modern music.”
Perhaps Graffin can credit his long-term success to always having a clear head. Core member and Epitaph Records owner/founder Gurewitz struggled immensely with drug addiction, but Graffin managed to stay away from that whole scene.
“I’m straight edge so I’ve never understood how people can function with drugs and alcohol,” he says. “But I also know that the drugs today are so potent that they are infinitely more dangerous.”
Stranger Than Fiction really established a new sound and direction for the group. It was more accessible and earned Bad Religion a gold record, partly thanks to producer/engineer Andy Wallace. Wallace has worked with everyone from Run-DMC and Prince to Nirvana and Linkin Park.
“We’ve always benefited from producers that we hired,” Graffin says. “I learned a great deal from Andy Wallace. But I also think we continued to get better at song writing and if a writer takes his job seriously, then a producer will bring out the luster of the project.”
The philosophical Graffin is constantly searching for answers to some of life’s biggest questions. He spend so much time on tour and somehow has to justify that in his intellectual life because he never feels right leaving his family behind to tour, or leaving his students behind to learn on their own. However, he feels he can reach more people through live shows and as his music career clearly shows, he’s doing something right.
“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in my life to be able to be a performer,” he says. “The way I justify it is that it is a higher calling. Part of that higher calling is that I believe that playing music can really engage larger audiences rather than lectures. I’m always striving to do better and always learning something new. What else is there to life?”
The Epitaph-sponsored Summer Nationals Tour will undoubtedly be packed with a legion of loyal fans. The icing on the cake is The Offspring’s performance. Vocalist Dexter Holland, guitarist Noodles, bassist Greg K, and drummer Pete Parada make up one of rock’s most exciting and enduring bands. The band is on tour in support of their latest album, Days Go By. The Offspring has performed over 1100 shows across the globe and sold more than 40 million albums
worldwide. Their 1994 release Smash remains the highest-selling album of all-time on an independent label. Among the band’s best-known hits are the rock anthems “Self Esteem,” “Come Out And Play (Keep ‘Em Separated),” “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” and “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid.” It’s going to be one hell of a night.

Bad Religion with The Offspring, Naked Raygun and special guests, September 11, at Stir’s Concert Cove, Council Bluffs, 6 p.m. Tickets are $59.50. Visit www.harrahscouncilbluffs.com for more information.

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