Intellectual, outspoken and deliberate – but still entirely punk rock – Greg Graffin is one of rock’s overachievers.
Greg Graffin’s career is indeed legendary. For almost three and a half decades he has fronted one of America’s greatest punk rock acts, Bad Religion – a band that have just released musical masterpiece number 16.
“After 16 albums, you might call it a ‘Bad Religion miracle’ that we’re still making what I would consider good records,” says Graffin proudly.
It is pretty amazing stuff, but Graffin’s achievements don’t end there. He has also released two solo albums, has a PhD in zoology and geology, lectures at the University of California and has published four books. You’d have to place him up there with someone like Bruce Dickinson as one of the greatest rock’n’roll overachievers of all time.
When he speaks about the new record, True North, it’s obvious that Graffin, now pushing 50 years old, is still excited to be doing what he’s doing.
“Occasionally during a string of albums you get some that aren’t as strong as others, but this one, I think, is as strong as anything we’ve ever done – and it all just happened so naturally… I think it’s a true testament to the fact that we’ve never really stopped improving over the years.”
Recent times have been important and eye opening for Graffin and the band and have inspired a lot of the new record’s themes.
“We started reaching a milestone in our lives,” Graffin reveals, “We realised our kids are now at the age that we were when we started Bad Religion. Watching them go through life and contend with the things they’re dealing with in modern society – it’s not all that different to what we had to contend with. It made for a kind of personal album, because our songs really express a challenge, an honest challenge that we think every human being has to face as they try to find truth in this world. [True North] is a metaphor that kept coming back to us. It’s not only the title track, but other songs on the album are about finding truth – about a journey we set out on when we were the same age as our kids now.”
The first single lifted from the album is titled simply Fuck You – you can’t get a bolder or more in your face statement than that.
“Isn’t it funny?” Graffin laughs, “When people ask me what’s the song about, I say ‘I really think that it took me over 30 years of songwriting to finally be able to express my feelings,’” he laughs, “You’d think that this should be the title of a song that appeared in our ‘classic’ period. I’d written a tune that was pretty catchy and a lot of fun and I kept humming it. I didn’t have the title or the refrain and ‘fuck you’ just kept coming back to me. So, I said ‘of course that’s what belongs there.’ Everyone’s been expecting a song from Bad Religion called Fuck You and we never delivered it.”
But Graffin is quick to follow up and clarify that the anger in the song, and in himself, isn’t necessarily destructive anger, but more of an observational thing.
“It’s not a nihilistic song,” he explains, “It’s more analytical. It’s more about the emotional inconsistencies of human beings… Anger is not really the right word,” he continues, speaking more personally this time, “I think the more you live in this world and the more you observe, the more you see things that are not right. I guess my level of frustration in mankind has not diminished. I think ‘anger’ itself is too explosive and defused – it’s not pointed enough. I think we’re more analytical in what we do [but] I think the sound of Bad Religion has always been very aggressive.”
Despite his multiple decades in the business, Graffin remains enthusiastic and about his career and the music industry and it sounds like he has plenty of creative juice left in the tank.
“I don’t feel that old. When I play sports and my bones are aching the next day, that’s when I feel old,” he laughs, “but when we’re performing it feels as natural as ever. And the truth is, when a band becomes part of your life, it’s like a family. You don’t say ‘wow can you believe this family’s been getting together at Christmas for fifty years, that’s incredible!’ You say, ‘well this is our family, it’s dysfunctional, and now it’s time to carve the turkey.”