While recording True North, Bad
Religion not only went back to its roots
with faster, shorter songs, but you went
back to recording on actual tape. Tell us
about the process of straddling the analog
and digital worlds this time around.
We tracked everything to tape and then
dumped it all into Pro Tools and mixed
the album digitally. We used the tape
machine as a bridge, but the interesting
thing about that is, unlike other things
you can put between yourself and the
ultimate recording medium, tape isn’t
a plug-in—it’s really a process. It’s a
way of working, because it’s very linear
as opposed to being random access.
Recording to tape is a more musical way
of thinking and communicating, and it's
also a more efficient way of working.
How did that affect the process of
recording the guitar parts?
Our goal for every song—which we
accomplished—was to record all the
instrumentation in one continuous
take before dumping it into Pro Tools.
We wouldn’t just cut a solid verse, fly
it into the computer, and then duplicate
it throughout the rest of the song
with crossfades. The songs on True
North don’t have any crossfades or edits
points. To me, that approach of splicing
and duplicating music—for our band
and any type of guitar-driven music
in general—sterilizes the art form.
Another positive that we really enjoy
with recording to tape is getting the
best noise-to-signal ratio, so it gives the
recording just a little bit of that old-school
You’ve produced a lot of Bad Religion’s
catalog, as well as other Epitaph bands
over the last 30 years. How does your
approach change with your own band?
Well, producing Bad Religion is definitely
my favorite thing to produce, because it
was the first thing I started working on way
back in ’81. Joe Barresi is part of the family
now, too—he’s worked on the last three
albums now—so it’s just become friends
hanging out, doing what we love. The new
ingredient or wrinkle this time was that I sat
in with him when he mixed True North. On
the two previous albums, I left the mixing to
Joe, but for this one I went in there and said
to him, "We’re looking for a particular old-school
sound. I mixed all those old records,
how about I take a shot at mixing this album
with you?" Joe typically works in the heavier
areas of rock, like Tool and the Jesus Lizard,
so with mixing True North we focused on not
overemphasizing or pushing anything too
much. When I work on Bad Religion, or anything
for that matter, my goal is to make seem
as realistic and true-to-form as possible. I want
you to feel like you're in the studio when you
hear it back through your iPod [laughs].
What are the main guitars you used on
All three of us tend to favor Gibson Les Pauls
because they fill the mix a lot better and typically
sound aggressive while still being articulate,
at least for what we do in Bad Religion.
I prefer guitars with shorter scale lengths
because they’re easier for me to play.
Another guitar we used quite a bit was
a Nash Guitars Telecaster[-style]. I found it
to be really punchy, and it lacked a lot of
the shrill or brittleness that some Teles can
have. We were happily surprised at how
well it added to the Les Paul sounds.
Bad Religion cofounders Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz at the 2007 Warped Tour Pre-Party.
Photo courtesy of Epitaph Records
In the past, you've often bought a new guitar
leading into a new album cycle because
you view the instrument as a writing partner
and motivational tool. What new gear
purchases did you make this time?
My new toy this year was a tobacco-burst
Fender Kurt Cobain Signature Jaguar. It
has a very full, complete sound like a Les
Paul, but it also has these crazy, ringing
overtones that are caused by the bridge
being much more springy than a standard
bridge that’s entirely anchored to the body.
Those type of overtones are richly harmonic
and complemented the tones
from the Les Pauls.
One of the guitars you’ve had for a
long time is the red, sticker-covered
super-strat. What’s the story about
that guitar and did it see some time on
Oh yeah, I call that one "the Red
Rocker.” That’s a single-pickup Charvel
I bought in ’89 while on tour in Boston
because mine had gotten stolen the
night before. I went into the nearest
music store and bought it. Over the
years, I’ve just swapped things off it
out of necessity. The neck now is an
unfinished ESP maple neck with a
maple fretboard that has jumbo frets
because the old neck played like crap.
It went out of tune a lot, so I replaced
the stock tuners with some high-quality
Schaller tuning machines. I had the
tone knob circuitry disconnected, so the
signal path is even more direct from the
pickup to the amp—I normally leave
tone knobs wide open, so it just made
sense on this one-pickup monster. And,
I also put in a Seymour Duncan JB in
the bridge position, which all my Les
Pauls have, too. Everything I’ve done
to it ended up making it sound like a
brighter Les Paul.
The Red Rocker gets on every
album. It wasn’t featured that much this
time around, but it’s been with me for
over 20 years, so it’s paid its dues and
deserves some studio time [laughs].
What do you like so much about the
Duncan JB versus other humbuckers?
I prefer the JB because of the smooth
midrange within the overdriven Marshall
sound I like, particularly in the low
mids around the 500–600 Hz range.
Sometimes other humbuckers—especially
newer ones—have such high outputs that
you can’t hear the gain stages of the amp
What amplifiers did you record with?
We pretty much exclusively used the
Marshall JCM800. Aside from the new
guitars, we deliberately tried to keep
most of the gear simplistic and reminiscent
to our early days, so we just stuck
with what we know when it came to
amps. We also worked with an older
’70s Marshall JMP, and both heads ran
through a Mesa/Boogie 4x12 that has
Celestion Vintage 30s.
Why do you prefer Mesa cabs with the
They have a bigger box that creates a lot
more low-end presence and oomph.
In recent shows from the 30th-anniversary
tour, you used a Diezel VH4
head. Did that or any other amps make
appearances on True North?
I still have the VH4, but I just don’t
really like it that much. I know Adam
Jones from Tool gets some really
dynamic and thick sounds for what
they do, but every time I’ve tried it,
it just sounds fizzy. It does give you
infinite sustain, but I just can’t get the
Marshall’s warm, creamy punch out of
it. The EVH 5150 III is an amp that I
really like and have been using live—as
well as on most of the tracks for The
Dissent of Man—but I didn’t really use
it much on True North.