When Bad Religion released The Gray Race three years ago, the story of
the band was all about loss.
Founding guitarist Brett Gurewitz had left the veteran Southern California punk-
rock quintet, opting to concentrate on his corporate role as president of the
band's Epitaph label. Greg Graffin, 15 years into his career as the vocalist and
creative mind behind Bad Religion, was forced to start all over again.
Although Gurewitz was ably replaced by former Minor Threat guitarist Brian
Baker, Graffin's troubles weren't over. The singer's personal life took an
unhappy turn when his wife left him.
Nowadays, the 35-year-old Graffin is trying to reassemble his life. And with Bad
Religion on the verge of a new album release with a slot on this summer's
version of the Warped tour, the pieces are starting to come together.
"I went through a lot of hardship in the last couple of years with the dissolution of
my marriage," Graffin said Wednesday from Los Angeles. He had spent much of
the morning talking about No Substance -- Bad Religion's 13th album,
which hits stores May 5 -- and trying to make sense of recent history.
"[The breakup happened] in a way I never imagined," Graffin recalled, "just
essentially my partner leaving me, almost in an analogous way to what
happened with Brett when he left the band. I was starting to wonder if there was
something wrong with me."
For the immediate future, Graffin will be too busy to worry about interpersonal
relations, however. A month after No Substance goes public, Bad
Religion will join Rancid, NOFX and numerous other rock bands on the annual
Warped summer festival tour. In the meantime, though, there's a European jaunt
in the mix, along with press meetings and interviews to support the band's new
single, "Shades Of Truth," which hits radio next week.
"It's classic Bad Religion," said Rebecca Carter, 21, of Baltimore, who
saw Graffin and company perform the song at a one-off show in New York
last month. "The new stuff could erase the idea that they're just a cult
punk band. If the album is as good as the show was, we're talking
mainstream acceptance. And they deserve that."
A lot is riding on the new album, and Graffin is aware of the implicit irony: With
so much to gain from the CD's success, Graffin said, it's interesting to note that
much of No Substance was influenced by the changes in the band and
how that reflected on society.
"People today are increasingly disillusioned by the life that they lead,
and I think we've become a society of dreamers, a society of hopers,"
Graffin said. "And I think we always assume that there's a better life
out there for us. Some people find it through religion, and other people
find it through religious devotion to pop culture."
The title No Substance grew out of this feeling that people aren't looking
in the right places for the answers, Graffin said.
"If you think about the advances over the last 20 years, by and large, they've
been of a technical nature," Graffin said. "Technology has increased by leaps
and bounds. Yet, we have more people who are hungry, more people who are
unhappy with themselves. So, we've actually become a society that can provide
every citizen with access to the Internet, but we can't take care of those who
Graffin and Bad Religion have attempted to address their social concerns
through action, not just through their lyrics. Earlier this year, the band organized
a charity hockey game in Canada with an admission price of canned goods or
money for a local food bank. Though his summer itinerary might not provide
much ice time, Graffin said he's looking forward to the Warped trek to evoke
some of the community spirit he said punk rock has lost over the years.
"To me, punk rock was a place for a little society of nerds who weren't
concerned with what was cool," he said. "So there are those who get
disillusioned with the fact that it's become much more popular. And for some of
them, there's some good reason for it -- nobody's real excited about frat boys
who don't care about some of the issues we're talking about.
"I'm hoping that it'll be a tour to unify an entire lifestyle -- finally, something
positive on a festival tour. But I'm sure there will be plenty of room for the frat