In the 34 years Bad Religion has been a band, its brand of melodic punk rock has undergone fluctuating levels of popularity. But the band itself has stayed uniquely relevant, in large part because their songs comment on pressing concerns — religious hypocrisy, corporate greed, globalism and technology — that ebb and flow but never go away. Like 60 Minutes, another decades-old go-to source for political commentary, Bad Religion have somehow never lost their sense of outrage.

They released their 16th album True North this past January, adding another great group of songs to their enviable catalogue. On the eve of a North American tour we spoke with bassist and founding member Jay Bentley about his place in the band, political activism, and what Bad Religion song he never wants to play live.  

What’s something you’ve never been asked in an interview?


That’s a very deep question.  

I can tell you the greatest philosophical question I ever heard: a guy in Germany came up and asked Brett, “What is the colour of touring?” Brett thought about it for 20 seconds, said “Couch,” and walked away.

What do you hope never to be asked again?

“How did you come up with the band name?” That is the most asked, most redundant question. I think people wish it had some deeper purpose, but we were teenagers who just threw those two words together.

Two words that form a provocative phrase. Have you ever regretted it?

Not in the sense of “Oh, we could’ve been more successful if we’d picked a name like ... Jelly.”

After your hiatus from the band (1983-86), when did you realize you’d be in Bad Religion for the long haul?

I think in 1993 ... we’d toured a lot, seen growth, everything seemed OK. Something was working and people seemed to like it. Greg, who'd been a student all his life, called Brett and I and said, “I’m not going back to school. I want to tour all year long.” I was working at the time for Epitaph and I had to make my own choice: did I want to stay behind a desk or keep touring? Brett had to make that choice, too — Epitaph was his label. He was already struggling being away for three months of touring. So he left the band (from 1994 - 2001), and that was the point where I thought “This better work out.”

Many Bad Religion songs are about social injustices and I guess as long as those exist, you’ll never run out of source material.

Yeah, there’ll never be a lack of inspiration. All we have to do is wake up. We are always, always, always amazed at the ability of humans to be completely inhumane.

More so groups of people than individuals, maybe.

Well, what you’ll always find is that (inhumanity) is more about being led ... groups of people don’t act autonomously. Groups act on what one person is telling them to do.

Are you politically active outside of the band?

I don’t care for politics. To me politics are about bending other people to your will. I tend to be on the sideline just watching things happen.

We made a conscious decision a long time ago that we aren’t providing any answers; we just have a shit load of questions. If you look at the songs more like questions than statements — that’s really what we’re about.

Do you question (co-lead songwriters) Brett and Greg’s lyrics?

I’ve been fortunate enough to sit with them and ask what is meant by their lyrics. I’ve gone to them on many occasions and said, “I know you don’t mean it to, but what you’re saying here could be misread. I know you wouldn’t want anyone to see what I’m potentially seeing.”

Do you feel like a voice of reason, then?

No ... I just try look at things from the point of view of someone that isn’t so “inside” the band, insulated from what is outside of us.

After so many albums, how does the band go about creating set lists? Are there songs you wish hadn’t gotten buried by time, so to speak?

I would say my biggest regret about our live show is our tendency to quickly bury songs that are difficult to play [laughs]. “Fuck, I can’t play that. That one’s easier, let’s play that.”

What are some examples?

A recent example would be “Submission Complete” (from New Maps of Hell, 2007) because it’s in 5/4 time. For some reason that drove me crazy.

I was a bit disappointed to find out True North wasn’t a concept album about Canada.

You know I lived in Vancouver for 16 years?

I do now! What brought you here?

I was married to a Canadian and I didn’t want to raise our kids in L.A.

So what does the phrase mean?

It’s less about overall meaning and more about us trying to find an album title and picking it from the new songs. It doesn’t represent a theme for all the songs, but it refers to finding your direction. That may be lead to Canada, and I like that (idea) a lot, but it’s really about direction.

Bad Religion will perform at Kool Haus in Toronto March 31.

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