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the AU interview: Jay Bentley of Bad Religion (Los Angeles)

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Bad Religion are icons when it comes to punk rock. The epitome of DIY they have a wide and varied influence across the music scene. After 32 years, the band is stronger than it’s ever been. This “hobby” as Jay describes it has spawned fifteen studio albums and seen the band play across the globe. Returning to Australia next week for the Soundwave festival, I caught up with bass player Jay Bentley to chat and joke about the touring, writing and the bands longevity.

Hey Jason how are you this morning?

Hey Jay good man. Where abouts are you?

I’m in Los Angeles.

What are some of your memories of your last tour down here with NOFX?

That was totally insane! Touring with Fat Mike is totally insane. [laughs]

I imagine it would be!

I knew it would be. Mike and I had been talking about for years so we spent a year touring together. I could see it get stranger and stranger by the end of it!

You know people who know Fat Mike and have seen Backstage Passport (NOFX TV series), well thats just the tip of the iceberg [laughs]

What drives Bad Religion to still play shows after 32 years?

The base reason for me is the cathartic release to scream at the top of my lungs that I’m pissed! [laughs] It’s like therapy for me. I just look forward to getting out there, whether it’s a 55 minute set at a festival or whether its an hour and half on a headlining tour. I can’t wait to get out there and really lose my mind.

Do you find that you get that itch to perform when you’ve been off stage for a few months?

Yeah. Back in 84 when I dropped out of the band I found I was really jonzing I enjoy playing so much. I do miss the guys when we’re off tour, we’re such great friends. We always have a laugh and almost each night something unexpected happens and we’re like ‘Man didn’t see that coming!’

What was the circumstances behind you leaving and what brought you back?

At the time the band had gone into the direction of progression rock and I really wasn’t that into. It seemed like I really wasn’t fitting into the band anymore. i was playing with a couple of other bands at the time and I could get my fix playing with these guys.

My first tour wasn’t with Bad Religion it was with the Circle Jerks. I ran into a couple of the guys and they asked if I could play bass. I didn’t know how or have any gear! [laughs]

The one thing I’ve admire about Bad Religion is that you have kept it together for 30 years. What keeps it together for you guys?

There’s the early part of the bands history when we’re just kids and everybody told us we wouldn’t be anything and that just pissed us off completely. We made a demo tape and shopped it around to all the punk rock labels and they told us we sucked, so we said we’ll show you and we started Epitaph. We were playing shows and our parents said you have to get a job and go to school, we’ll show you and kept playing and people began to like us. But that was the beginning of that tenacity. With all the ins and outs and ups and downs, this band is great fun and a great outlet. It’s a way to get creative and get a message across to people and share ideas. Why would you stop doing that? If you’re happy strumming a guitar, why not continue?

The band are that point where you now being asked when will it end for Bad Religion, does that question piss you off?

[laughs] No. We’ve probably been asked that question 10 000 times from 1989 onward! We put out “Suffer” in 1988 and everyone said ‘What a great album, you won’t do any better, you should quit now’. And then we put out “No Control” and people began to ask ‘When will you give up?....I don’t know’ [laughs]

Well hopefully you don’t!

[laughs]

The band have hinted at another record this year - how are the songs shaping up?

About normal. How albums work for us we’ll go ‘Hey you wanna make an album? Yeah. When are we gonna do it? I don’t know. Let’s pencil something in for July. Is that gonna work? I don’t know’ [laugh] I saw Brett a couple of days ago at a party and said ‘Hey I’ve written two songs’ Awesome! Talk to Greg ‘I’ll look for my guitar. I think it’s in the garage.’ Thats how albums get written by us! [laughs]

Good to see there’s a lot of organization going on there!

Thats just how it is. It’s just this enjoyable hobby thats grown. We’re totally appreciative of what we have and that we get to do this thing we love. Then you look at the lyrics and the songs and you know we’re god damn serious.

How is the band dynamic having Brett come in just for the records and not coming out on tour?

When Brett came back he came out on that first tour with us but he said I can’t do this, I can’t leave my company (Epitaph) for so long. We get that. Surprisingly it was one of the things that tore us apart in ’94. The success of The Offspring launched Epitaph into the stratosphere which included Brett. Bad Religion were doing what Bad Religion does and for Brett he couldn’t do both. We had expectations of him. The label had expectations of him and I think the problem was none of us were really mature enough to deal with that so we broke up like boyfriend and girlfriend. Now, when he came back and said he couldn’t do this we were totally cool about it. Brian’s (Baker) in the band, (Greg) Hetson’s in the band we’re fine. We can go on stage without you there with have 2 guitar players. You’re a great songwriter, you’re contribution is more than enough. It’s not like he shows up in the studio plays some lead guitar on a few songs he doesn’t like. He’s in the band.

You’re coming down for the Soundwave festival. Have you had a look at the line up? Is there anyone you’re keen to see?

I’m going to check out everyone because I’m very critical and I really like to talk shit about people after the tour. [laugh] I’m like the Joan Rivers of punk rock now! ‘Did you see what that guy was wearing!’

Do you actually get a chance to see many bands at a festival or is it a case of turn up, play your set and leave?

I try to. I know musicians are....a odd lot! Sometimes there’s people you want to go and talk to and two minutes into the conversation you wish you hadn’t! I look at it like a boxing match. You get there and you jab at each other for a while to see if there are cool and then I’ll talk to you otherwise we’re going to end up throwing punches!

The sideshows have you playing with some great bands, whats your thoughts on Strung Out, Street Dogs and The Menzingers?

I know them all. We’ve played shows together before so when we we’re talking sideshows it was fantastic because they are all friends we’ve toured with before. It just means it makes it more fun for us and that translates on stage. This is the real deal. This what we’ve done since 1980. Sometimes when you get on this carnival of popular bands show, when you don’t know each other and everything seems forced and weird and hey we’re not anything like the band before or after us. These sideshows are more like a puck rock show from 1982.

What did you think of the Bad Religion tribute album ‘Germs Of Perfection’?

You know I’ve only heard bits and pieces of it online. It was cool but I’ve never heard the whole album. I’m going to have to talk to someone about this. Get my people to talk to my people! [laughs] Hey where’s that cover album I need to learn how to play that song again!

Is there a case where you’ve forgotten to play certain Bad Religion songs?

Everyday! Sometimes you’ll see me and Brian on stage right looking at each other trying to remember what we’re playing. ‘Do you know what the chord is? Nope I was thinking about socks!’ [laughs]

SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL VENUES AND DATES
FEBRUARY/MARCH 2012
SATURDAY 25 BRISBANE, RNA SHOWGROUNDS ***SOLD OUT***
SUNDAY 26 SYDNEY, SHOWGROUND ***SOLD OUT***
FRIDAY 2 MELBOURNE, SHOWGROUNDS ***SOLD OUT***
SATURDAY 3 ADELAIDE, BONYTHON PARK
MONDAY 5 PERTH, CLAREMONT SHOWGROUNDS