Some preamble... A few weeks before '77 Montréal, media outlets will be told that they are either approved or not for festival coverage. If approved, one’s name will go out to the publicists and labels for all of the bands on the bill, and these folks can then reach out to book onsite interviews. Shortly after being approved, I got a note saying members of Bad Religion might do some press, and if I would be interested. I replied with a yes, and was told I’d hear back a few days before the weekend. I didn’t get anything after that one message and figured it wasn’t going to happen for whatever reason. So the day of ‘77 Montréal, I’m in the press tent interviewing two bands back to back, and when I finish the last one, one of the festival’s employees grabs me by the arm and introduces me to Jay.
Her: Mike, this is Jay.
Me: Hey Jay, nice to meet you.
Her: You can do your interview now.
Me: With who?
Her: With Jay. From Bad Religion.
Me: Alrighty then...
So here’s my utterly unprepared interview with Jay Bentley, über-bassist of Bad Religion. I was allotted ten minutes, and this transcription below is how it went down. It actually ended up turning out alright.
The audio for this interview is included here via SoundCloud. There is a bit of background noise; this interview was indeed recorded at the '77 Montréal Festival amidst a melee of music, scurrying festival workers, and press types. It’s decent enough audio that we deemed worthy of a listen and included it for listeners who’d like to hear Jay Bentley answering questions in the real.
The latest and fourth single to come from Age of Unreason is “Do The Paranoid Style.” Check out the song and music video:
The reason you’re touring right now, is it around a new release? Jay Bentley: Yeah. We started on May 3rd in Europe on the release date of Age of Unreason. And so we had made a conscious decision this year to focus on North America. Which we have. Our touring schedule, it’s odd. We jump around, and kind of do stuff that we want, as we can. And we just decided to spend a lot more time here. We hadn’t really toured the States since 2016. So this was a good way for us to sort of get back into fighting shape, I guess. We’re cutting weight.
You’ve been on these festival grounds before. Bentley: Many many times. Yeah. This is a Warped Tour site. And any number of banners that have flown here at the park. It’s always a great time. Yeah, it really is. We look forward to it.
Is there something about being in Montréal that you personally enjoy when you’re here? Bentley: Well this was one of the first places that I can remember when we were on tour outside of Europe where people came to shows that had that “fire.” They sang all the songs. They were louder than everybody else. They just really embraced what we were doing, and were passionate about it. And then you go out into the streets. And you know my first take was like, “Look at all of these punk people.” That was Montreal to me in a nutshell, and that was 20 to 30 years ago. So it’s always been this ideological musical mecca where we’ve just GOT to go to play in in Quebec. And Montreal as a place. But Quebec City and all the other places that we’ve been to have always been great. I don’t know what it is. It’s one of those things where it’s like, “I don’t know what’s in the water up there, but fuck yeah, let’s go there.”
Mike Bax’s photos of Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley at 77 Montreal (Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, Quebec) on July 26, 2019:
Can you talk about your gateway band or gateway concert that really made you want to get into playing punk rock? Bentley: It was sort of twofold. I don’t know why, but I got a guitar when I was eight. And I’d always envisioned myself being in a band. I don’t know why, there’s no real reason. There’s no one in my family that plays. But Randy Rhoads came to my high school and played with Quiet Riot back in the late ‘70s. And watching him play guitar sort of put an end to my guitar dreams because he was that good. I just went, “I don’t; This is insane; I can’t.” And in October of ‘79, my neighbour, who was 17 drove me (and I was 15), he drove me to see The Clash. And I remember that it was crazy, and there were 5,000 people there, and I was just mesmerized and just said, “I can do this.” That feeling was just a sort of chaos, and I just fucking fell in love with it.
What do you feel is the most important aspect of your genre of music and playing aggressive punk rock? Bentley: The sharing of ideas. I think that that’s really what I got out of it and what my closest contemporaries got out of it. It was never about popularity because that was just nonexistent. The idea of getting popular was having 200 people come to your show. Because that’s the most popular bands that I knew which were Black Flag and Fear and the Circle Jerks would get 250-300 people at a show, and that was as big as you could get.
The idea of being The Clash? No, that was never going to happen. But of those bands, like The Germs, the lyrical importance of sharing what it was like to be human. That was really what I got out of punk rock was; whether you were in Britain or New York or Los Angeles, the bands that I listened to the most were the ones that had the ability to sort of describe their feelings from the moment they woke up and that really rung a bell in me.
“My Sanity” was the first single from Age of Unreason, released last November. View the official music video:
Now when you play music, and you’re in a band that has done as well as your band has, do you still get excited when you go to see live music? Do you still get that feeling? Bentley: I do. It’s funny, I had a 12-year stretch where (and I didn’t mean for this to happen) but I sort of ruined music for myself. You know, I couldn’t listen to an album without being critical of it; “the high hat is too loud,” or just producer nonsense. And if I went to see a show I couldn’t help putting myself on the stage, or wanting to tweak things; “that light should be different.” Or “why is he playing that guitar?” And that was all me, and I couldn’t stop. Once I realized I was doing it, it took me a while to work that out of myself and just get back to enjoying music. So now when I do go and see something, it’s usually something that I really want. And I set myself up to just let myself go to that world that I used to go to when I was 15.
A lot of those old albums you listened to when you were 15, they didn’t have a lot of production and polish on them. Do you ever feel like some of your material is getting too shiny and you’ve got to dial it back? Bentley: No because I think that you have to roll with the times. You know, I still laugh when I see a relic’d guitar. I go, “fuck, dude, just play it! Don’t buy it broken. Play it ‘till it’s broken.” So you know I’m not a romantic about that time. That time happened because there was no choice. People make it seem like, “man, that’s cool that you guys were flying that DIY flag.” And I look at them when I go, “there wasn’t another choice. You make it seem like we chose to be quote-unquote cool. But we weren’t cool we were just assholes doing the only thing we could.” So, you know, now we’re in this stage where you can choose to do that. And you can ‘relic’ your band; “we look old and beat up.” Dude, I’m forty years into this; I AM old and beat up. (laughs)
Bad Religion’s seventeenth studio record Age of Unreason was released on May 3rd, 2019 via Epitaph Records. View the artwork:
But you ARE 40 years into it. I mean let’s celebrate that for what it is! Bentley: Yeah. And I’m continually blown away by that, and infinitely grateful.
You didn’t use that FaceApp thing when it came out, did you? Bentley: I don’t need to! Look at me! (laughs) You know, I do social media, but I don’t really partake in most of the buffoonery.
How important is physical product to you as a musician. Do you still believe in the album and the CD and the cassette? And the 8-track? Bentley: No. And that’s not because I don’t believe in it, it’s just because it’s nonexistent. So you know, to fight that you become Lars Ulrich and you just look like, “everybody owes me money!” It’s like, “look, old man, stop yelling at The Cloud, and get with 2020.” This is how things are. I personally can tell you the thing that I loved the most about a 12-inch vinyl was the artwork. The music is the music is the music. But enjoying the artwork, and reading the cover, and opening lyric sheets and all that stuff, that’s what I liked, that physical product. But that’s just not something that’s happening today. So you probably know someone who pined for the olden days would say, “I miss black and white television.” It’s like, “yeah, well too bad!”
“American Jesus” is one of the songs that started it all, the first single from Bad Religion’s 1993 album Recipe For Hate. Take yourself back to those days with the music video:
With the recent demise of PledgeMusic and the crowdfunding, have you ever looked at that as a means to garner funds from your fans and involve them in getting limited items? Bentley: No, no. I mean that’s Epitaph’s job. That’s Brett’s job; marketing and selling product. Obviously, we sell t-shirts out on the road. You know, if someone were to ask me in today’s frame of mind, “what do you do for a living?” I’d say I sell tickets and cotton. That’s what I do. I happen to play music as a byproduct of my job. And the artistic endeavor is really the part of it where we sit and write these songs, and we record them and once that’s done everything else is just us going out there to play them for other people.
That’s one of those moments where you get to say, “I’m extremely lucky that I get to do something that I love for my living.” I think that there was a time earlier on when the demise of the recording industry was obvious and we were never going to sell another record that I thought, “what if we just put a little thing on all of our social media pages that said if you like us give us a dollar.” And then I thought, “Why? Who cares? Just figure it out. And if you can’t figure it out, get out of the way.” That was my whole take on it. “Everything that keeps changing is; Figure it out or get out of the way.”
And lastly can you maybe pick a favorite live concert, a personal live concert that you have ever performed? And what made it so great for you? Bentley: Wow. Well, playing here, I think right here at the park, with the first or second Warped Tour. It may have been the first Warped Tour. There’s videos of it, and I think there’s even a live recording of it where Greg started singing a song called “Generator.” Because I think, Brian was tuning his guitar. Something was going on on stage where we weren’t playing the music and Greg started singing, just acapella. And, before you know it, 18,000 people are singing “Generator” acapella. And I remember turning around and having every fucking hair on my body standing straight up going, “this is one of those moments.” And that happened right here (at Parc Jean-Drapeau).