In the Green Room
with Brian Baker
By: Ryan Kinder
I once told my friend “anyone
who’s been in 3 or more legendary punk bands
is a friend of mine.” And then off I went to
have my very first meeting with Brian Baker –
current guitarist for Bad Religion and Dag Nasty,
but also founding member of a little known band called
Minor Threat. Since our first meeting nearly a year
ago, Baker and I have formed a unique bond, so when
we finally sat down to do this interview, it was more
like 2 friends just shootin’ the breeze than
an interviewer/interviewee situation.
Smash Magazine: You’re still
doing Dag Nasty right?
Brian Baker: Um yeah, it’s sort of on hiatus
right now. We’re having some political strife
within the band.
SM: You had mentioned that to me last time we hung
out and I was going to get to that later in the interview
if you feel at liberty to talk about it.
BB: Well, right now I think that I just want to be
in a good creative space with the seminal members
of the band and currently my outrage over the results
of this last election are going to prevent me from
having a benevolent relationship with a fervent Bush
supporter. But Dave (Smalley) and I have been friends
for 20 years, and I’m sure we’ll get around
to being able to do some creative work together. I’m
just a little shell shocked, and I also need to have
some more songs before we start to really bite. I
don’t like to walk in there cold; I like to
stack up a bunch of stuff.
SM: So it [the new Dag Nasty record] is going to happen
BB: You know, I just think it’s going to take
a while. It just has to be the right time.
SM: Well, I’m going to preface this next question
with a little story because I’m sure you get
this all the time. I’m going to tell a little
story which leads me to this inquiry because otherwise,
I would NEVER ask you something like this. OK, So
there’s this bar in town that a friend of mine
used to book at. And supposedly Mr. Ian MacKaye came
rollin’ in there to check the place out because
he’s taking Minor Threat on a reunion tour.
Which of course I kind of laughed at, but I also thought
“why would my friend lie to me about something
like this?” So, I’m bringing it to you
right now: Minor Threat reunion? No? Yeah?
BB: Of course not, but let’s go back to the
logic here. So you’re telling me that this person
believes Ian MacKaye is on a scouting mission –
personally, by himself – and is looking at bars
for a Minor Threat show?
BB: Hmmm..ok. That should have been your first clue.
But anyways, as far as I’m concerned, if it
[the reunion] did happen, it would probably have to
be in a little bit larger venue than the one I’m
sitting in now.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview took place at
the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel].
SM: Well, my buddy told me Ian
was kind of sick of the kids and wanted an older crowd.
BB: That’s insanity. No, there will never be
a Minor Threat reunion for a number of reasons; not
the least of which is that it would destroy the myth.
People seem to forget that Minor Threat became incredibly
popular about 5 years after the band broke up. What
was special about it was the time and the place; to
go out and try to recreate it would be detrimental
to the myth. I think it would be a disgrace to the
history of the band. There’s no good reason
to do it. I certainly don’t have any financial
motivation to do something like that. And Ian MacKaye
certainly doesn’t either. He would never consider
it, nor would I. There was just something very special
about that time, and it’d be ludicrous to try
to recreate it. But I don’t necessarily feel
that way about all types of reunions. I mean, going
to see Elvis Costello & the Attractions I think
would still be viable. But the Minor Threat thing
wouldn’t work and there’s absolutely –
it’s never ever going to happen.
SM: That’s kind of the way I felt, but I wanted
to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. While
we’re on the subject of bands reuniting, as
far as the bands from the heyday of the punk or post-punk
movement, as far as bands like Bad Religion, Minor
Threat, Black Flag, Husker Du – any bands like
that – from that era that maybe you had played
with when you were in Minor Threat or Dag Nasty –
any of those bands you would like to see reunite –
that you think could still pull it off without seeming
like a sick ploy to make more money?
BB: I don’t know…it’d be hard. I
mean, I’d love to see Husker Du, but it’s
the same thing (as with Minor Threat) I think the
beauty of that band was the moment in time. I don’t
think that they would do it. I would love to see Black
Flag with Dez singing, definitely. But once again,
I just don’t think it would be the same. I think
that was the magic of a lot of these great bands is
that it really was a product of it’s time. But
there are some examples of bands that are so much
better now than they were then. Social Distortion
is one. I mean I’m a huge Social Distortion
fan, and I saw them “back then” and they
were just terrible: just all fucked up and couldn’t
play. But now they’re just a formidable adversary.
Man, they’re fuckin’ awesome, and I still
think that it works. Mike Ness is still the same Mike
Ness that he was then. My perception of what Mike
Ness feels is that the music is every bit as urgent
and important to him now as it was then. And that
works. Of course the caveat is that they never really
technically “broke up,” they kind of fall
under the Bad Religion clause. But off the top of
my head, I can’t think of any of those seminal
bands that I think would still have that same value.
SM: How does playing in Bad Religion compare to playing
in Minor Threat and Dag Nasty? As far as the dynamics
with the band, and the shows, and the fans.
BB: You can’t really compare the 2. First of
all, Minor Threat specifically was an after school
hobby. I mean, I was 15 to 18 years old when I was
in Minor Threat. And both Minor Threat and Dag Nasty
were so much smaller at their zenith – the biggest
places Minor Threat or Dag Nasty could play are places
Bad Religion can’t play because the venues are
too small. I’ve also been in Bad Religion for
10 years. And that’s 10 years post-MTV. I mean,
I never had a guitar tech in Dag Nasty...I drove the
van. Now someone else drives the van, and it’s
much bigger. The only thing I think might be a parallel
is the energy that comes off the crowd to the stage.
There’s a repoire that Bad Religion has, which
is primarily a Greg Graffin thing because he’s
the lead singer, that reminds me very much of the
type of energy that was there with a Dag Nasty show.
Where there are people who Bad Religion is their favorite
band, it’s not just one of the bands they like.
It inspires a hard core following much like we had
in Dag Nasty. Minor Threat was so long ago, I can’t
really compare them because it was so long ago. I
mean, I was 15 years old and straight edge. We’re
playing to 50 people in a VFW hall in North Carolina.
There’s incredible value in this (playing in
Bad Religion) for me. The emotional response to the
fans, and the fact that it’s managed to remain
relevant. It’s not running around doing the
state fair circuit. I mean, the last 2 records we’ve
released have been our most successful records in
the band’s entire 24 year history. And it just
keeps getting better. And I just chalk that up to
really great songwriting, which is of course Bret
and Greg, and the fact that they’ve been out
there doing it for so long. You spend 24 years building
up a following; it’s nice to see the results.
SM: Bad Religion has always been political band music
wise, but do you think next record will be more politically
charged due to the outcome of the Presidential election?
BB: The topics of Bad Religion records really come
up during the writing process, and it’s if you
look at the records they’re usually about current
events. The Empire Strikes First is the most directly
politically United States policy, politically charged
record of Bad Religion’s history because it
was written at the time of when that was on the tip
of everybody’s tongue, and that’s what
got Bret and Greg’s interest. And also we thought
it’d be nice to use the platform that we have
to try to espouse what we believe. I don’t know
what the next record’s going to be because these
things aren’t really mapped out. I mean, I would
certainly hope we can continue to touch on these themes,
but I have to say that some of the urgency has passed
because we’ve got another 4 years of this, to
the best of my knowledge, and you never know what’s
going to come up in the international spectrum that’s
going to keep these people’s interest. I really
can’t predict it but I really hope that what
they come up with will have the same conviction that
The Empire Strikes First has, and even to a certain
degree The Process of Belief. Both of those records
really are a turning point in Bad Religion’s
history and it’s kind of nice for me because
I’m part observer and part member. I was a fan
for so many years before I joined the band, and I
think our internal quality control will insure that
whatever it is, it’s going to have that urgency
that is part of why we make such good music.
SM: What are your thoughts on punk rock these days?
BB: Well there are a couple of angles here. One is
I don’t consider myself to be a card carrying
participant of the punk rock scene as I once was.
Basically this new generation of musicians who have
enjoyed enormous radio success is the same as when
I was talking about the 1994 Green Day and Offspring.
Anything that popularizes this type of music in that
way is beneficial. I think that it is wonderful that
a kid who buys a Simple Plan record has the gateway
to discover Black Flag. This is no longer a secret
underground club. Punk rock is a viable entity, it
has it has it’s own bin at the record store
right next to R&B and Gospel. And I don’t
have any problem with any of these lighter weight
punk bands - I think it’s better for punk rock
as a whole. And whatever promotes this is great.
SM: Thanks for chatting with us Brian…it’s
BB: Thank you.