When Bad Religion first started crafting their thought-inducing punk rock anthems, Jimmy Carter was president of the United States, Dallas was the most popular show on television, and The Doobie Brothers nearly swept the Grammys. A full 40 years later, no one cares about who shot J.R. anymore, yet Bad Religion — complete with three of the four original members — remains one of the biggest punk bands in the world.
Of course, any time vocalist Greg Graffin, bassist Jay Bentley, and guitarist Brett Gurewitz have gotten together since 1980 (except for the brief breaks the latter two have occasionally taken from the band), it’s more of a familial feeling than anything else. Despite being legends in the punk rock community, the group still feels like, more or less, the same teenagers who got together in L.A. garages and backyards as teens.
“It’s kind of weird to think of us as having known each other for that long, because men grow older together and tend to forget that we’ve matured, so we kind of lapse back into our old high school selves when we’re together,” Graffin said. “I think it’s something extremely special because most people can’t claim to have friendships for that long. We’re lucky that everyone [in the band] has become better people and better musicians, so that’s something we can be proud of together because we’ve had a positive influence on one another.”
“The other day I saw a picture of us from 1982 that I’d never seen before, and that was like ‘Wow, we really have been doing this for a long time!’” Bentley added. “I generally don’t get too nostalgic about it because we’re constantly making new music, so it never feels like it’s been that long.”
But even after four decades, Bad Religion still finds ways to mix up their sets for sold-out crowds. Whether that means playing different versions of songs or touring with a band they’ve never hit the road with before, fans know that they never have to worry about getting the same Bad Religion show twice. This spring, that means digging up some rarities from across their expansive discography and bringing along Alkaline Trio for a co-headlining tour full of mutual respect and throwbacks to their days in punk rock summer camp.
“We’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with [Alkaline Trio] on the Warped Tour, so it’ll be the same party atmosphere 20 years down the line as it was on the first Warped Tour we did together,” Bentley said. “It’s always good to catch up, and I’ve always been a big fan of Alkaline Trio because while they’re in our genre, they’re also on the outside of our genre, which is the kind of tour package I like, because not all of the bands will sound the same.”
“I think [Alkaline Trio] is one of the great bands that I would consider worthy of sharing the stage with Bad Religion because of their great songwriting,” Graffin added. “People who haven’t had the chance to see them will recognize why they’ve been around for so long and why they remain relevant today. Obviously, Bad Religion fans will take to them immediately because of their songwriting and catchiness if they haven’t already seen them. Alkaline Trio is one of the bands that I’ve always mentioned as a relevant and important band that I would love to tour with.”
Beyond their significance in the global punk scene, the 40th anniversary of Bad Religion is a testament to the staying power of the Southern California punk scene that’s evolved and stayed current. From the skatepunk ‘90s to the pop-punk 2000s and wide variety of the genre today, the bands that have stayed true to their roots have continually found success in and around Los Angeles and Orange County — even if possibly the smartest guy in the entire genre doesn’t notice his influence until it smacks him across the face while watching his alma mater on TV.
“Recently, UCLA — which is the school I graduated from — ran one of those commercials you see when you’re watching college basketball on Saturday afternoon and they show a promotional commercial for the school that you’re watching, and it blew me away,” Graffin said. “It had images of all the groundbreaking people who have become famous and went to UCLA, and they had a picture of me with Bad Religion when I was only 16 or 17 years old. It hailed us as legendary in Los Angeles right next to the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, John Wooden, and some scientists who’ve made a name for themselves. I saw that, and it really started to sink in that through no self-promoting of my own, Bad Religion had become part of the lore of Los Angeles. I think that’s a testimony to the fact that we didn’t go seeking approval from anyone, but we remained committed to writing provocative music and trying to create better awareness among citizens of the world. That’s something we can be proud of.”