Greg Graffin Takes a Break Bad Religion to Make Good 'Ol Roots Music
Anthony St. James
At first listen, Greg Graffin’s solo work doesn’t sound anything like his work with Bad Religion. Considering that he’s known as the voice of the intellectual punk icons, albums like this week’s Millport are a little more folky and stripped-down than Graffin’s fans would normally expect.
But while “old-time music” (as Graffin calls it) may not sonically be the same as Bad Religion’s punk rock, the veteran vocalist believes there are more similarities between the two than many people notice. For one thing, unlike the many artists who take to a solo career to get away from their bandmates, Graffin calls in some help from the guys in Bad Religion and some of his other punk rock friends on the latest record, as the songwriter doesn’t see any reason why an established punk rock cast can’t put together a solid roots album.
“Music is music, and if it’s good music it can be applied to any particular genre,” Graffin says. “You think about our favorites from all different types of music, and one thing they all have in common is that you can hum those songs. They’re very musical in their approach. When you find musicians who are versatile and can work in every genre, it’s a privilege to be able to work together. I consider music a privilege, not a right, so I’m always very grateful both to the guys in Bad Religion and other bands as well who are willing to share that musical experience.”
For the Bad Religion fans heading to the Constellation Room inside of the Observatory on Friday night to celebrate the release of the record with one of Graffin’s most intimate shows, everyone can probably leave their moshing shoes at home. Sure, Millport contains the same levels of brilliant songwriting and lyrical mastery found on even the finest of Bad Religion records, but it probably won’t induce the same circle pits as Recipe for Hate or Stranger Than Fiction.
“It’s going to be full of harmony and melody — just like a Bad Religion album — but you probably won’t be slam-dancing,” Graffin says. “If you’re attracted to the melodies and lyrics and singing of Bad Religion, then there’s something for you. But if all you hear when you listen to Bad Religion is aggressiveness and slam-dancing music, then you probably won’t appreciate this as much.”
In some ways, the calmer music is almost more appropriate for Graffin’s deep and meaningful lyrics. While punk rockers and bros alike have been moshing and slam-dancing to Bad Religion tracks for decades, some of them may hardly take the time to appreciate the words actually being sung while they shove each other. There aren’t a whole lot of Ivy League professors with PhDs writing lyrics in any genre, but Graffin — with help from Bad Religion co-pilot, Brett Gurewitz — believes the thought-provoking nature of the band’s songs are just a part of what’s kept tracks like “American Jesus” and “Infected” as relevant today as they were over 20 years ago.
“I think because we chose topics that were philosophical — some say political, but we’ve never been a hateful band — [older Bad Religion songs] have remained relevant,” Graffin says. “We’ve always talked about theology, and theology is philosophy. From time to time, the political climate makes those songs more relevant, and I think that’s what we’re seeing now.”
While many bands and punk rockers begin to fade with the passing of time, Graffin and Bad Religion have pretty much never slowed off the gas since dropping How Could Hell Be Any Worse? 35 years ago. To many outside of the group, Bad Religion’s expansive lifespan and relevance is a feat in its own right, but if you ask the frontman, it’s just a normal part of their daily life.
“It’s kind of like if you ask old people ‘Did you ever think you’d be alive at such an advanced age?’” Graffin jokes. “I never really thought about it. We do this because it’s part of our life. It’s a lifestyle, and it’s a genetic program we have to subscribe to. Music and performing is just something that’s in our blood. It’s astonishing that we’re still able to carry on this privilege and that people keep giving us this privilege. The fact that the punk scene has only grown in size and morphed into so many different varieties is part of the testament to why we’re still relevant.”
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