Brian Baker – Bad Religion ‘Still Having A Great Time, After All These Years’

When it comes to legacies there are probably few bands around that have had as much of a profound and lasting influence as Bad Religion. For more than 40 years they’ve been delivering the goods and showing the rest how it’s fucking done.

They’ll be gracing Australian shores in February alongside the almighty Social Distortion and we were lucky enough to chat with guitarist Brian Baker – yes that Brian Baker, also of Dag Nasty and a little band you might have heard of called Minor Threat!

Dive in and enjoy…

G’day Brian, how you been?

Really well, everything. So it’s been a really fun year. For the most part, and I’m looking forward to playing in Australia. I mean, that’s just you know, that is really a good time for us. We love it there.

Yeah, that’s awesome. Music has been in a bit of a weird place, touring in particular with the pandemic and everything – it almost all ground to a halt. Is it back on track now or is it still a bit questionable?

It appears to be back on track. But I’m always a little hesitant to say that everything’s back to normal, because it’s really not. I’ve had more shots than an Irish bar, and I’m up there on stage, and there’s not a lot of people around me. So it’s a lot easier for me to be like, ‘Well, this was just how it always was’. But if I were in the audience, I’d probably wear a mask. I am just that kind of guy. I like science. And, you know, I like trying not to get other people sick. I mean, the Japanese have had it right for so long.

I will say there’s a norm here now that masks aren’t strange. And I love that. I mean, there’s people who are, just where I live in New Jersey, you know, it’s probably 20% of the people are still wearing masks to the grocery store and stuff. And I don’t know, it just feels good. It feels like a little more of a community effort. I don’t think it’s like grandstanding by anti-vaxxers I think it’s just people who are considerate. So if anything comes from this, like being a little more concerned about your fellow man, it’s a good outcome for something that was terrible.

For sure. I think, yeah, there’s been some pretty interesting lessons learned. And yeah, I agree. With your international tours, do you change your guitar setup? Like, is there anything that you do differently when you play in the US compared to playing internationally?

No… Thanks to modern technology. I’m travelling with the part I need most – I’m bringing my own guitars and I have my own head. It’s a Kemper head, which is basically a computer and I have a little rack that I built that goes on the plane. So basically, when I show up, like when I go to Australia, I’ll be you using borrowed speaker cabinets. But you know, as long as they’re the right speakers in there, or even close to the right ones, it’s all gonna sound fine. I mean, I’m not really that picky. It just needs to sound good… and not bad! But it doesn’t have to be this sublime experience. I mean, it’s a live show. So, you know, if it doesn’t sound that good, turn it up. It’ll sound great. 

That’s it. You get some guys, even in punk, I guess, who are a bit like, ‘oh, it needs to be, you know, this particular 1972 valve amp otherwise, it’s all crap’ and you can’t use modellers or anything. 

But I think that those people have to understand that the reason people are coming is for the songs, not to see your 1974 Plexi. They don’t care about that. They want to sing the songs. And I think that anyone who’s been doing this for a long time understands that what’s coming out of the front of house speaker really doesn’t even have very much of a relationship to what’s coming off stage. I mean, there’s so many variables in the way. So my model of my best JCM 800 that I bought new in 1988 is what you hear. I think that’s fine. 

Yeah, yeah. I’ve never been to a Bad Religion show where I thought ‘Wait, it’s missing something?’

‘What is that? What is that frequency?’

‘Oh, It’s all too digital. There it is.’ But I mean, since you bring those things? Is there anything else that you must have, music gear or, otherwise, that you bring to every show that you always need to have?

Well, I need to have a tuner. I always have really great people helping me, you know, guitar techs, and we have, we have a kind of a rotating world of them. Because Bad Religion, you know, we only do about 60 shows a year at the most. And the really good guys want to work all the time, because that’s what they do. So I have three or four guys who come in and out. And they’re all great. And I get in-tune guitars. But once I have a guitar that’s working, I don’t want to give it away. I don’t need to put on a guitar show. 

And so I just have a tuner so I can just kind of freshen up a little on my own, like, between stanzas. It’s just a natural thing. And I’ve always done it since I was a kid. So the tuner strangely enough is like a really important component. Because, I don’t know, my OCD needs to have that there! Obviously, I need whatever guitars that I have that are mine, that I’m into at the time, because, you know, I love guitars so much. And I have a bunch of them. And I get to fall in love with one for a year and then something else comes along. And then I go back to one I had 10 years ago, and I’m like ‘why am I not playing this? This is great.’ But having that, you know, having my own guitar, whatever it is, is pretty key too because that’s the tool that you’re using.

For sure. Oh, and you’ve been doing the One Guitar in One Minute videos on Instagram, which have been really fun. It’s a cool little piece of it is, you know, like a nice little distraction. Not too tech-based, just more of a sentimental ‘oh this guitar is cool and I like it!’ thing.

It’s so completely unplanned. And I’m afraid if I overthink it, I’ll screw it up. I mean, I’m not churning them out. Like, I do it when I feel like – I’ll walk downstairs or go like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll just do that’. I think there’s sometimes there’s a week between them. Sometimes it’s a month. You know, I just don’t overthink it, because then it won’t be cool. 

No, for sure. 

Like most everything in life.

Speaking of plans, is there anything in particular in Australia or New Zealand, that you’re going to do… like any sightseeing? I mean, do you even have time for that?

Well, you don’t really get the time that you want. I mean I can see things that are within a reasonable distance from where we’re performing. But being able to have a road trip and go three or four hours away is just an impossibility for the day of a show. So I’m gonna miss a lot of really cool things.

I know where I’m going but I don’t have the schedule yet. I don’t know where the days off are and when I find that out then I can make a better plan… because a day off, of course, anything’s game. I’m happy to travel to see something interesting and I’ve been to the major cities a number of times, but I really haven’t gotten out of town very much. I don’t think I can go really far away but it would be nice to see some countryside. I have buildings in New Jersey too, so trying to touch base a little bit with what it’s really like over there would be fun. 

For sure… Perth’s good, we’re a coastal city so there’s lots of really nice beaches. So yeah, when you do a show here you can very easily get to the beach and see our coast, it’s like one of our defining features, in my opinion. But it’s hard, I guess, if you’re constantly working.

Yeah, it is. But I mean, how hard is it really? The privilege to be able to go and do this stuff… I’m just so grateful. It’s just miraculous. And, you know, I just take every day as it comes, it’s really not that big a hassle. If you love what you do, it’s not work. 

This is not work.

Yeah, I could see that. That’s good. You know, sometimes people get buckled down into the sort of, ‘rock star’ thing and treat it like, it’s a bit of a chore. But yeah, it’s good to see that you’ve got a real positive energy about it. On that note, I guess, NOFX, after 40 years or so are calling it quits. Is Bad Religion likely to pack it in anytime soon, or can we count on you guys, for another 20 or 30 years?

Bad Religion is I think, part of our charm is that we’ve never had a plan. We sort of loosely have these like five year plans, like what are we going to do for the next five years, but it’s not about like, we only have five years left. I mean, personally, this is my favourite thing to do. And I’m in a band with my best friends. And we all like doing this. And I know that as time passes, we’re not going to do as much of it. And it might take on different forms. You know, I mean, I can’t really see [myself] being,incredibly old and shuffling around the stage, like, I’m in The Darkness. I mean, I get it.

But the point is, we’re doing this because we enjoy doing it. It’s not about the entertainment factor for others, it’s not fulfilling some sort of hole in our souls. This is a great time. And as soon as it’s not a good time, then we won’t do it. That’s the best answer I can give.

It’s just so fun. And it’s been getting better and better. I mean, it’s really cool. The last four or five years, I think we’ve just become a better band. I think we’re playing better and Greg [Graffin] can still fucking sing. I mean, that is such a privilege. For a singer, who’s already in my opinion, the best punk singer ever to still be able to sing. That is the key. It’s hard to work around that… you know? It’s a muscle. It’s a person, it’s not a piece of equipment. So we got lucky, we have somebody who can still sing.

Yeah, for sure. That was actually what blew me away, the first time I ever saw Bad Religion play, it was just how good Greg is, you know? He’s not jumping around on stage. It’s not just a performance. He’s out there kicking ass and hitting every note. It’s really cool. 

Yeah, he’s not really super self-aware. And he doesn’t think of himself as an entertainer. He’s a singer, and he loves singing. And he writes really nice words. And I think that what we sing about is serious, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously as people. It’s really just a whole lot of fun. And we’re proud of what we’ve done. We managed to do something that’s pretty fun that people seem to like, and it’s not stale to us. So onward!

How cool. You’ve been in the band since the mid-90s… But are there any songs from any part of the back catalogue that you really, really love playing or are there songs that you really hate even? Anything that comes up in a setlist that has you like, ‘ah shit’?

Well, I don’t hate anything. But there are songs that have parts that I wrote for myself 25 years ago, or 20 years ago that are really hard to play. And so when something like that comes up, like you know, something with a lot of extra noodling, like something on The Grey Race, it’s just like, ‘Oh, my God’ I have to focus. My outer-body experience closes down into, ‘okay, don’t fuck this up’.

I mean, I don’t really hate anything but those are the difficult ones. The ones I love to play are really the ones that people like the best. I love playing ‘American Jesus’ and Digital Boy’ and ‘Sorrow’ and I think it’s because I just never get tired of it. I seem to learn that there’s always some new little thing in those songs that I find especially with singing too, because I’ve only recently started.

You know, I lied and said I could sing when I joined the band, which I clearly couldn’t, and YouTube will back me up on this. But later, you know, in recent years, I’ve really started to take to it and I really enjoy doing it. And now I’m just like, you know, 50% instead of zero, I mean, it’s never gonna be great. But finding new ways to sing on the songs is fun, too. I like hitting harmonies that I couldn’t have hit before. I messed around with the solos, too. They’re not the same ones that are on the records, but it’s just that energy you get from how important they are to the people you’re playing for that I love so much. So I never get tired of playing quote, ‘the big songs’, unquote. It’s just great.

That’s great… Because some people, some bands, they do get bored of playing the same songs over and over. But the people, myself included, never get bored of hearing them.

Yeah, imagine being in a band where you’re bored of playing a song that everybody loves. Like, you know what, I just can’t I can’t get my head around that or you know, you know, complaining about travel and stuff. It’s like, dude, this is rarefied air. It’s just boggling to me. I’ve seen that too. And just people I play with, you know, doing festivals and someone’s being shitty. It’s like, Dude, come on. You know, there’s plenty of digit ditches to be dug and nobody’s going to be wondering about your shovel technique. Just be grateful. 

For sure man. Is there any music you’re vibing on right now? Like, is there anything at the moment that’s in your playlists or whatever?

Well, coincidentally, you know, I get everything late. So my discovery last year of Amyl and the Sniffers was like ‘Look, I found this amazing band’. Of course, they’ve already been around and amazing and everybody knew about them, but for me, in New Jersey… it was before they’d come to the US and it was kind of and I just was so blown away by that. That woman Amy is just such a punk singer just so ‘do not give a shit’ and so talented. It’s just raw and it just reminds me of stuff I loved when I was a kid, but it doesn’t sound dated. It’s new.

It’s coincidental, of course, that they’re Australian and I’m talking to you in Australia, but that’s one that was big for me. Also, my Sleaford Mods obsession, I caught on to them, you know, later than some, but I think I was on the early rise with that a little bit. I mean, I’ve been into them for about six or seven years. And Sleaford Mods to me. It’s like The Exploited but with a drum machine. It’s incredibly powerful. These guys are so good. But there’s stuff locally, in New Jersey… little bands that I go see, but in general, I listen, when I still listen to music, it’s stuff that I grew up with, because that’s the comfort zone and I don’t ever get tired of The Damned or, The Birthday Party, or, The Clash, any of these seminal acts are time travel, it takes you back to that time.

Yeah, I mean, there’s a reason those songs were successful and reached people in the first place. You know, much the same I swear my Spotify top songs are probably the same as what I was listening to 10 or 15-20 years ago, but it’s fine, haha. But a lot of new stuff as well. But yeah, it’s great to see Amyl and the Sniffers getting a lot of coverage out there, because they’re really good. 

Yeah, it’s great. Well, they’re great. That’s why

It’s true. Getting close to end time, so I have to ask the one annoying question that you probably get asked 1000 times – are there any chances of a Minor Threat reunion ever, at all, sometime before the death of the universe?

Well, see, the thing is, we’re not minors anymore. So it’s impossible. That’s the answer. But no, of course not. I mean, that was a moment in time and part of why it’s so cool is that you can’t see it anymore. And none of us have any interest in trying to, you know, recapture our teenage years. And I think it’s just, you know, what I would, I would never go back and try to reenact that because that’s what it would be, it would be a reenactment. It wouldn’t be a genuine expression. And, also Minor Threat was such a happy accident. I mean, you can’t. How do you recreate that?

You know, it’s just you there’s no way to do it. And we’re all totally cool with that, you know, I think the music that we managed to record speaks for itself. And we did break up before we made any really bad records. I mean, we got out before it sucked. So all everyone knows is these great records. And I’m like, you know, I’ll take that, thank you. I don’t want to ruin it. Imagine like, Minor Threat live in fucking Vegas? A legacy killer.

Interview by Dave Mullins

Bad Religion and Social Distortion hit Australia in February 2023

Social Distortion & Bad Religion Australian Tour

WEDNESDAY 15 FEBRUARY @ TRUSTS ARENA, AUCKLAND

FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY @ RIVERSTAGE, BRISBANE

SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY @ HORDERN PAVILION, SYDNEY

SUNDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2023 @ MARGARET COURT ARENA, MELBOURNE

WEDNESDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2023 @ RED HILL AUDITORIUM, PERTH

Tickets Here

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