Bad Religion Puts Faith In No Substance

SoCal punk band draws on turbulent times to come up with latest album.

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

need it."

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

boys."