Bad Brains and Their On-Again, Off-Again Relationship

The band that play together stay together

Darryl Jenifer has no beef with anyone. The bass player for punk/reggae/freak-out institution Bad Brains has seen his band break up and get back together more times than Brett Favre has threatened to retire—and he’s cool with that. He’s cool with his eccentric lead singer, H.R. (Human Rights), whose quest for creativity and altogether odd behavior have usually been at the core of those breakups. He’s cool with being in a band that has been around for more than 33 years without any real mainstream success, and he’s cool with the fact that, at 49, he’s still doing what he loves to do.

“It’s all about being positive and getting into the flow of the joy of playing music,” Jenifer says. “All those ‘breakups’ we had weren’t really breakups. We all knew that. . . . It was just the band taking time to do what it had to do in order to keep pushing forward. The Bad Brains is an entity unto itself, and sometimes we just have to let it breathe.”

If that sounds rather esoteric and New Age-ish to you, then you’re not quite getting where Jenifer is coming from. This dude is in it strictly for the music. After all, from their inception, Bad Brains were on the fringe of things.

Four black kids in the middle of Washington, D.C., forming a hard-rock band wasn’t necessarily the most mainstream route to grabbing fame and fortune on the airwaves. Bad Brains built their reputation on sheer power and doing whatever they wanted to do. Jenifer and band mates H.R., Dr. Know and Earl Hudson didn’t make a blueprint for their musical style as much as they let the genres come to them. They played whatever they played—reggae, punk, jazz, hard rock—as a response to what they were feeling inside. There was no plan to carve out any sort of scene.

“Really, we did what we thought sounded cool at the moment,” Jenifer says. “One of us would have some kind of idea, and we’d jam it out and just add layers to it. . . . We didn’t necessarily seek to make a certain type of song.”

The glue that held—and still holds—the multi-genre-tempo-rhythm approach together is the group’s musicianship. Bad Brains are more than just a group of friends who decided to pick up instruments one day to impress girls—though Jenifer stresses that did play a role in the equation. These guys can really play; the rhythm section of Hudson and Jenifer is renowned as one of the tightest groove purveyors in music.

Jenifer has used his expertise to produce multiple albums for a slew of acts, including Bedouin Soundclash and White Mandingo. He has even taught a few classes on playing bass, yet he refuses to call himself a musician.

“In Bad Brains, we play because there’s a feel that comes natural to us . . . kind of a thing that you can’t really describe—and I try to impart it when I’m producing,” he says. “But I can’t read music like some of those cats who really know about theory and all that goes behind it. Those cats are musicians. I’m someone that plays music.”

Whatever he likes to call himself, Jenifer and company have been at it long enough to garner a worldwide following. What makes the band’s legacy all the more amazing is they hardly ever tour and seldom release records. The group’s last full-length set, Build a Nation, came out in 2007. While Jenifer would like to get back into the studio and has plenty of new material, he can’t say exactly when the next Bad Brains effort will hit the streets.

“Like I said, you can’t rush the Bad Brains. You just have to let things happen and see how it all shakes out,” he says. “I think there will be a new record sometime in the not-too-distant future, but I can’t say for sure.”

For now, the band will just play sporadically when they feel like keeping fans on the edge of their seats, waiting for what comes next.

“Our future is not really in any of our hands,” Jenifer says. “It just happens when it’s ready to happen.”

Bad Brainsperform with Sunken City at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.houseofblues.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $30. All ages.

 

This article appeared in print as "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Bad Brains have a funny way of keeping it together, but somehow, they do."

 
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