September 27, 2010  Via

Metromix: Q&A with Greg Graffin of Bad Religion

The punk rock singer discusses the intersection of evolution and anarchy in both his new book and his band’s new album

By Kirk Miller

September 27, 2010

“I have to take my daughter to swim practice.”

It’s not quite the sentence you’d expect out of Greg Graffin, one of the godfathers of punk rock. But Graffin, the lead singer of Bad Religion, defies any notion of what one would consider “punk.” Besides a rather straight-forward domestic life (split between Los Angeles and Ithaca, NY),  he’s also incredibly highbrow — his non-punk credits include earning a PhD at Cornell, teaching at UCLA and, most recently, authoring a book on the intersection of punk and evolution, appropriately entitled “Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God.”

As for his music: Bad Religion recently released “The Dissent of Man,” its fifteenth album and its strongest since 1994’s “Stranger than Fiction.” As per usual with BR, the record is chock full of “multisyllabic, difficult-to-understand lyrics about God, evolution and life’s big questions” (Graffin’s words)…all conveyed at warp speed, naturally.

We recently spoke with Graffin about his new book, his band’s 30th anniversary, and why Bruce Springsteen is a fan. (You can catch Graffin this Tuesday in New York at a book signing for “Anarchy Evolution” at Powerhouse Arena, and Bad Religion will back in town in October).

What was the impetus to write a book now?

Bad Religion is celebrating 30 years… I could get all maudlin, but I don’t feel that maudlin. I’m in disbelief. It got me thinking about how I could make sense of the last three decades. I’ve spent as much time in Bad Religion as I have in academics. It’s worth celebrating – and we’ve always had an academic slant to our songs. I thought it was the appropriate time to synthesize the two seemingly disparate things in my life.

Are the book and the new Bad Religion album supposed to be connected?

I’ve never successfully been able to separate music from academics. I mean, I never wrote love songs. The book is more of a world view…you can’t really do that in a concise way in a song. But I will say that the same things that attracted me to science attracted me to punk rock – there’s an idea of challenging authority.

Despite your philosophical difference, I get the impression that you have a lot of friends with religious beliefs.

I would say that’s true, though religion doesn’t come in my day to day dealings. I think if we spend too much time discussing, as people, whether or not we believe in God, we get away from discussing the important things or having a social dialogue about overpopulation, distribution of resources and wealth, and all that. With that, it doesn’t matter if you believe in God.

Why, given that we have more knowledge at any time in human history, does a fairly large percentage of the population abhor science?

I think religion is easy. Science is hard. With Bad Religion, I’m trying to make people excited about issues that are traditionally erudite and arcane, and put them in a pop culture context. I guess you could say the same about religion – we all think the best time of year is Christmas, right? (laughs) Religion is easy to digest, but it doesn’t get to any of the serious problems in life. We rely on higher powers when times are time, instead of trying to make sense of them. And besides, religion is a powerful part of society – it’s a mythology told from the time we were born.

I think I was reading in Wired where science is losing because it needs better PR. Is that your thought?

Maybe. That’s a bit cynical. We need better communicators, not PR, because that’s spin and hype. We need heroes, people who can relate concepts in everyday fashion. (Laughs) It needs punk rock leaders.

Given your philosophy, I was surprised to see that you weren’t a fan of the atheist movement and people like Richard Dawkins.

Don’t get me wrong: Richard Dawkins has been a gentleman to me, he invited me to his house, and I’d like to be better friends with him. But I don’t really get a social movement around atheism. We don’t need another religion. I spent 30 years in a band called BAD RELIGION for a reason.

In your book, you say the Socratic method of questioning always delivers better results. I’d argue that a lot of what’s working today, at least in some context, is people speaking in absolutes, whether they’re right or wrong.

Well, I meant that it works best in a forum of learned people. It’s the opposite of a Fox News type. Or someone like Rush Limbaugh – he doesn’t welcome a challenge to his viewpoint. He belittles you. That’s not Socratic.

I was listening to your new record “The Dissent of Man” and at one point I was like “this sounds like  sped-up Tom Petty.”

Yeah, we got Mike Campbell from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to play on a track. He’s a friend of [Bad Religion guitarist] Brett Gurewitz. He’s our go-to guy for that kind of solo. I think he knows us because of his teenage sons. It’s funny, we have some interesting fans because of that. Bruce Springsteen is another one. He’s a fan, and he and I have talked about songwriting before, as well as things other than the fact that his son likes slam dancing to our songs.

You’re a teacher at UCLA. Are many students in your classes Bad Religion fans?

I doubt it. They’re full of pre-med students -it’s a tough class to get into and they don’t care who’s teaching. They’re really motivated to be doctors.

In the book, you mention a few names you guys thought of before deciding on “Bad Religion.” How much different would your career have been if you guys kept the name “Smegma”?

(Laughs) I probably would have gone into gynecology.

Greg Graffin discusses his new book, “Anarchy Evolution,” at Powerhouse Arena (37 Main St., Brooklyn) on Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m.

For a full schedule of Greg’s book signings head to!

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