The year is 1979 and around the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles, three high school friends, Greg Gaffin, Brett Gurewitz and Jay Bentley decide to form a punk band. Developing their own musical style while playing warehouses in Santa Ana and opening for bands like Social Distortion, the self-described, ‘insurgent teenage punks,’ would come to be known as Bad Religion.
Brian Baker of hardcore pioneers, Minor Threat and supremely talented drummer, Brooks Wackerman soon joined the trio. In the following years, Bad Religion would become a driving force and breathe new life into the modern punk movement, releasing international hits, including “Infected,” “21st Century (Digital Boy)” and “Sorrow.”
During the 35 years since those early days in Los Angeles, Bad Religion has grown a dedicated worldwide following – fans who find solace in music that not only emulates dissent, but celebrates it.
Although the band’s lineup has changed several times over the years – lead vocalist Greg Graffin is the only original member to have stayed in the band the entire time – the lineup on this tour, which brings Bad Religion to the Catalyst on April 15, features three of the band’s four original members (Graffin, Gurewitz and Bentley).
Over the course of their career, Bad Religion has released 16 studio albums, two live albums, three compilation albums, three EPs (a personal favorite that is comprised entirely of Christmas song covers), and two DVDs (both recorded live). Although they gained a cult following early on, Bad Religion did not experience major commercial success until the 1994 release of their eighth studio album, Stranger Than Fiction, which spawned their biggest hits, “Infected” and a re-recorded version of “21st Century Digital Boy,” and was certified gold in both the United States and Canada. Their latest album, True North, was released in January, 2013. Bad Religion is expected to release their 17th studio album in 2016, which will be their first with Mike Dimkich, who replaced longtime guitarist Greg Hetson in 2013.
It is safe to say that 35 years and five-million-albums-sold-worldwide later, Bad Religion is one of the most famous and storied punk rock acts of all time, which made talking to Brian Baker for a few minutes a humbling experience.
Bad Religion is about to embark on a 36-show tour. Do you find yourself looking forward to different aspects of touring, now that you have been a touring musician for decades?
BRIAN BAKER: Honestly, it’s way better now. A few years ago we realized we have a million songs, which gives us the option to play different songs every night of the tour. This has kept it fun and interesting for us and made every night a challenge. It has made each day a quest to re-familiarize yourself with things you haven’t played in 20 years, which really keeps us on our game.
You have a few European dates on this calendar as well. Recently a lot of touring bands (punk rock in particular) have been finding better response in Europe for touring, not only monetarily but with organic crowd reception and fans as well. Have you noticed this shift?
BRIAN BAKER: Having been going to Europe since 1988, we’ve had a pretty consistent experience. What I’ve learned after traveling through every country, is each population center has a crowd interested in music. There are interesting people and crowds everywhere you go, for us Santa Cruz is just as cool as Berlin.
Bad Religion received an insane amount of Buzz with the release of your album “Christmas Songs.” Was there one song in particular you chose to do or had some extra fun with?
BRIAN BAKER: Well this project was brought to us by Brett and Greg. They came to the group saying that both of them grew up on Christmas music and it held a special place in their hearts. They wanted to find a way to make the songs enjoyable for everyone, and not just from a religious standpoint. Before the project, I hadn’t heard of most of the Christmas carols, so it was almost like Greg and Brett were bringing me new songs they had written. The funny thing is that everyone’s parents like that record. My dentist likes that record. It’s become a somewhat ironic Christmas present.
As a founding member of Minor Threat, The Meatmen, and a longtime member of Bad Religion, you have had an insane career. Any chance you can come up with a favorite moment?
BRIAN BAKER: Truthfully, I never thought about what was going on. I just did what I did. Lately, there’s been this kind of resurgence and lots of chatter about D.C., which has made it start to sink in now. I was just in an after-school band, practicing in a guitar player’s mom’s house. It was all un-contrived. I’m just really glad that people are still this into it after all this time.
It’s been a little while since you have played in Santa Cruz and I know the whole town as well as the Bay Area is looking forward to your show. Is there anything about this area you are looking forward to?
BRIAN BAKER: Santa Cruz is a place where we have old friends so it’s always nice to reconnect. We’re looking forward to playing the Catalyst again. It’s an Old Guard venue and we’re an Old Guard band, which makes for some good nostalgia.
Info: Wednesday, April 15, 8 p.m., Catalyst, Santa Cruz, $27.50/$30. Tickets available here.