Often cited as one of the most inspiring and influential punk bands, Bad Religion will next year celebrate their 30th anniversary. This month they tour Australia with NOFX – any punk rock fan’s dream of a line-up.
Bad Religion has a long and complicated band member history, an even longer library of prolific songs with unrivalled lyrics and definitely a legendary status. So am I nervous speaking to Brooks Wackerman, their drummer? Hell yes. Along with being a member of Bad Religion for the past eight years, Brooks has drummed with the Vandals, Korn and Tenacious D just to name a few others. He’s really polite, unexpectedly soft spoken and rather witty.
Bad Religion is in Montana with the Warped Tour when I speak to Wackerman. It’s definitely not the first time he’s done the summer punk pilgrimage. Does it still have its charm? “We’ve been doing this for the last couple of months,” he replies. “I think everyone right now is ready to go home, but towards the beginning the excitement is there. It’s different to a headlining tour and it’s cool to be out with this many bands and hear the new breed.”
After a quick glance of the Warped Tour line-up, I can feel my scene points quickly depleting. At best, I’ve probably only heard of a third of the bands. I tell Wackerman that I don’t know any of the bands. “Nor do I! There’s about four or five new bands that I checked out today that I liked. What I’ve learned is that there’s a whole new breed of music out there. It’s just really popular underground young music. They’re kids and they’re out there doing it and trekking along with the bands and getting a really nice sunburn.”
As a musician it probably doesn’t get any better than major tours and massive records, but for Brooks it’s gone that one step further. He has signature drumsticks. I asked him what it’s like backstage at Warped Tour with his own sticks. “I know what you’re saying...and maybe at the beginning I thought, – “Oh this is so gay, I don’t want anyone to see me with my signature stick.’ But then I’m thinking okay, well, Brian Baker, Greg Hetson and Jay Bentley have their names on their picks, so why can’t I have mine on my stick? Enough said – I just joined the club!”
On the BR MySpace, there’s a link to a site called PickRset where you can do just that. Scroll to the Bad Religion gig you’re going to and create your own set-list. Pretty neat, huh? “We love our fans; we love the input they give us. We can’t always please every fan, especially the diehards out there. Just because there are one million songs in the catalogue of BR, it’s given us guidance of what to do with the set list because every night is different. Jay and I will check it out to see what the popular songs are. It’s pretty fascinating to see what songs kids want to hear in Adelaide tonight. We’ll rehearse that in soundcheck. It’s a challenge for us too...it keeps us on our toes.”
We both laugh at his reference to the band trying to remember their own songs. I ask him if they play everything fan’s request. “We don’t want to please too many people! Because it is punk and that kind of goes against the whole punk ethic. It’s a compromise. Usually the songs people want to hear are at least half of the songs we normally play on our set-list. We’ll get the b-cuts here and there for the two people that want to hear the songs.”
And there’s that Brooks wit again. It seems like an impossible question to answer, but I asked it anyway: what are the band’s three favourite songs to play? He pauses to think. “Uhhh...well, off the top of my head, let’s go with Stranger than Fiction, Do What You Want and Los Angeles is Burning.”
I tell Brooks about a gig I went to where Less Than Jake played their entire Losing Streak album from start to finish. He asks me if I’ve heard of NOFX’s – “Slow FX’. “NOFX have a set called Slow FX where they play all their slowest songs. It’s genius. They play all their reggae songs, all their slow-tempo songs. We’ll have to explore some of these options. After 30 years, why not?”
30 years ago, American hardcore punk bands were shaping the genre as we know it now. It was the era of the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, The Misfits, Fugazi and of course Bad Religion. And out of all these greats, Bad Religion is the only band still standing. Even more impressively, they’re not past their heyday and continually excite fans with new music. Meanwhile, another punk rock stalwart Pennywise are known to acknowledge that their new material isn’t as good as their old and even go so far as to play very little of it live.
Rumours are rife that Bad Religion will be releasing a new album next year. Their last release New Maps of Hell in 2007 was well-received and definitely left us asking what’s next. Brooks thankfully gives a very definite answer. “Yes, Brett and Greg have already started work on some new material. I’m yet to hear any of their ideas but when we get back from Australia and New Zealand we’re going to start pre-production on the next record. It’s just a matter of getting the songs together and making the best record we can. But in 2010 we’re definitely releasing a new album.”
I pull Brooks up on something he said earlier – that right now on the Warped Tour everyone’s pretty keen to go home. But at the end of that tour, instead of going home, Bad Religion is coming here. Does that mean we’ll have two bands who don’t really want to be here?
“Any reason to go down to Australia is a good reason just ‘cause it feels like a vacation,” he clarifies. “Even if we play a two-hour show a night, just the fact we’re in Australia it just doesn’t feel like we’re working at all. It’s the most beautiful place in the world and I can speak on behalf of the entire band, we wish we could get down there more often.”
Bad Religion has been the soundtrack for so many of us, and still being able to see them live after all this time is like coming full circle. Brooks is overly humble when he speaks about his current role in punk rock. “It’s always mind-blowing to talk to people after the shows. We get a lot of kids that were exposed to our music from their parents. They’re handing down their music to a younger generation and we kind of get off on that. It’s always amazing to hear that people listen to us for that long. We never take that for granted.”
Bad Religion and NOFX kick off their much-anticipated Australian tour tomorrow.
Thu 24th September – Metro City, Perth
Sat 26th September – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Sun 27th & Mon 28th September – Palace Theatre, Melbourne
Wed 30th September – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Fri 2nd October – Riverstage, Brisbane