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more... ArtistsVideosGuitaristsPunkMarch 2013Bad Religion

Interview: Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion

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Interview: Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion


Gurewitz works the mixing console while co-producing True North at producer Joe Barresi’s House of Compression. Photo courtesy of Epitaph Records

Besides the subtle phaser on the opening of “The Past Is Dead,” did you use any effects this time around?
No, not really at all—True North was definitely a less-is-more record. The only effects we used besides that small phaser part were delay and reverb on the background vocals.

When you're working in the studio, is there anything you absolutely need to have in terms of microphones, mic preamps, or other gear?
I always use a Shure SM57 for guitars, and I put it right on the speaker, pointed right at the [cone-paper's] crease because I feel it gives a little more woof that way. I always experiment, and if I need something to ring out a little more, I’ll go off axis but still point it at the cone. I’ll also use another large-diaphragm condenser mic, like a Neumann U87, on another speaker of the same cabinet. I’ll take my time to dial-in the exact distances the mics are placed so the phase coherence is as perfect as possible. But the majority of the guitars you hear on Bad Religion records come from the SM57. I just use a tiny bit of the condenser mic to add a little more well-rounded body to the sound. I exclusively use Neve channel strips when tracking guitars, because you can’t find a better or more dynamic preamp or EQ.

My favorite mic preamp on vocals is the Martech MSS-10—it’s an old-school, solid-state, 1-channel pre with a high-quality VU meter. I’ve never found anything to beat it, in terms of realistic vocal reproduction, in recording. I’m not a big fan of the new fad of tube mics that are trying to be retro—they have too much built-in gain for me. I’d rather use a lower-gain mic matched with the Martech to get vocals peaking near distortion—that’s what those old records and real rock ’n’ roll sound like to me. And I always use my original Focusrite Red 3 compressor with the detented pots—nothing beats it.

What's your favorite song off of True North and why?
I’d have to actually say the title track, because it’s classic Bad Religion—straight-ahead punk-rock guitars, beautiful vocal harmonies, and thought-provoking lyrics that offer an uplifting message.

“Hello Cruel World” is almost four minutes long and has a more subdued pace similar to “Sanity” off No Control and “Digital Boy” from Against the Grain. How did that come about, given that you guys were focused on a more up-tempo and retro writing strategy?
Even our fastest, most punk-rock albums have always had a slower, longer song—like “Drastic Actions” off our first EP, Bad Religion. We were influenced by the Germs’ song called “Shut Down (Annihilation Man),” which is super, super slow. But other than that, all their songs were hyper-fast. We always looked up to them, so we took a page out of their book and have been doing it ever since. I don’t think it’d be a true Bad Religion album without a slower song that broke up the pace. So even though we broke our own rule [of having all short songs on the album]… we kind of still followed one of our other ideals.

“Dharma and the Bomb” has some great verse riffage that sounds like a psychobilly song from Deadbolt or the Misfits' “Hollywood Babylon,” while the call-and-response "oh yeah” vocals in the chorus sounds like old SoCal surf rock. What was the inspiration for that song?
That was my attempt at writing a surf-punk song [laughs] … it almost didn’t make the record. Before meeting for pre-production, I double-checked the song files on my home computer. I clicked on the song—which was half finished and didn't have any words because I didn’t think it was going anywhere—but when I heard it playback I thought, “God, that sounds pretty good.” So I decided to bring that one along, just in case. Even though it wasn’t entirely finished, I had the guys track it. I finished the lyrics and the melody in the studio and, for whatever reason, Greg was having a tough time singing it so I did a placeholder vocal to show him how the lyrics should sound over top the music. But he could never get it right.

So that’s you singing lead, not Greg?
Yes, that was actually me singing all the main parts. Greg helped out with the background harmonies. I really like this song, too—not just because I’m singing leads, but because it almost didn’t end up on the album and I don’t hate my voice [laughs]. I normally hate my voice when it’s front and center, but not so much with “Dharma.”


Left to right: Brooks Wackerman (drums), Gurewitz, Graffin, Jay Bentley (bass), and Brian Baker (guitars) at producer Joe Barresi’s House of Compression studio on July 23, 2012. Photo courtesy of Epitaph Records

You're the head of one of the largest independent record labels today. What's your take on how labels and the music industry need to evolve to support artists?
I’d suggest providing state-of-the-art, cutting-edge, music-marketing strategies in digital mp3s, physical music, and direct artist-to-fan connections and relationships. That’s how labels can still be useful and relevant in the current music landscape. There’s no doubt some artists can do it all themselves—Epitaph got started because I was an artist who could do it myself—but not all artists are that into marketing and distribution. They would rather focus on lyrics, music, and performing live. So that’s where they have to make a smart decision and find a label that will work for them instead of them working for the label. I’m a firm believer that anyone who gets to the top has a team behind them.

Brett Gurewitz's Gear

Guitars
Gibson Les Paul Fender Kurt Cobain Signature Jaguar Nash Guitars T-style Late-’80s Charvel with a maple ESP neck, Seymour Duncan JB pickup, and a Badass bridge

Amps
Mid-’80s Marshall JCM800 head ’70s Marshall JMP head Mesa Boogie 4x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s

Effects
None

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Ernie Ball or Jim Dunlop .010–.046 Jim Dunlop Tortex .60 mm picks

Speaking of self-marketing, have you or anyone in the band ever regretted the name "Bad Religion" or the infamous "crossbuster" logo?
No, I don’t think so. When we first started out I might’ve regretted it, because it caused us some hardship with promoters, venues, and people with conflicting points of view. But now I feel it’s been a really powerful force for positive change. What I’ve come to believe is that social norms aren’t generally changed through lecturing and scholarship. Art, literature, comedians, and musicians can have a more profound effect on change than cultural zeitgeists or pontificators like Richard Dawkins. You have 30 years of kids wearing crossbuster shirts to school and then going on to lead successful lives as professionals, parents, and citizens. You get some vindication showing that the band and its fans aren’t as bad, misguided, or damned as they originally believed [laughs].

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