Bad Religion lost one disciple but gained a quick learner.
The venerable punk-rock group’s second Atlantic album, “The Gray Race” (due Feb. 27), marks a few changes: Longtime guitarist Brett Gurewitz left two years ago to devote all his time to overseeing his multimillion-dollar record company, Epitaph (home of Offspring and Rancid); he was replaced by Brian Baker, a veteran of the Los Angeles punk scene who makes his recording debut.
Guitarist Greg Hetson says Baker fit in perfectly.
“Brian’s great, he has a lot of enthusiasm,” Hetson said recently. “He wants to be there, you know. He’s not dreading it. With Brett, it had gotten to the point where he didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to tour.
“Me, personally, I’ve known Brian since 1980 from being in different bands over the years on the punk-rock scene. He also happened to work at the rehearsal studio where we rehearsed, so it was kind of easy. ‘Hey, do you want to come in and try out?’ He said, ‘Okay.’ It was that simple.”
Of course, they interviewed other candidates, but once Baker played, Hetson and the other band members – singer-songwriter Greg Graffin, bassist Jay Bentley and drummer Bobby Schayer – knew they had found their man.
“We gave him like two days notice and he learned almost 15 songs,” Hetson said. “So it was like, ‘Okay, you’re in. You know the songs.’ ”
It also didn’t take Hetson and Baker long to get their rhythm down together.
“He’s from Washington, D.C., so he plays a little bit different style than the West Coast punk-rock style,” Hetson said. “It’s a different strumming movement – West Coast is more all down strokes, and the East Coast uses more of a wrist action. He had to watch me a little bit to get it down. He has a hybrid now between the two, and it’s working out pretty well.”
“The Gray Race” finds Bad Religion continuing the full-frontal assault of 1994’s breakthough “Stranger Than Fiction.” There’s more of Graffin’s literate wordiness and the band’s sublime melodies, highlighted by the track “Ten in 2010,” about the impending “mortal combat” when the world is overwhelmed by 10 billion people 10 years into the next century.
Bad Religion’s manifesto for “The Gray Race” is the same as any album, “to write a better one than the one before,” Hetson said, “and I think we’ve succeeded, then again what band wouldn’t tell you it was their best, but we really believe it.”
With Gurewitz’s departure, Graffin was left to write the majority of the material. Hetson said Graffin rose to the occasion.
For Hetson, it has been a long punk career. He was an original member of the Circle Jerks, and from about 1984 to 1990, he juggled time playing in both the Circle Jerks and Bad Religion.
“All I know is, I wasn’t home a lot,” Hetson said, laughing about the experience.
Looking back on his role in the ’80s punk wave, Hetson said fans today falsely glorify and romantize about that period.
“It wasn’t all that as great as people would probably imagine it to be,” he said. “A different club every week, always getting kicked out by the cops, walking down the street and having people throw things at you and calling you Devo and stuff.”
“Devo, man … that really hurt.”