Bad Brains didn't intend for five years to pass before they were ready to release Into the Future, their new album – but the pioneering punk-rockers didn't want to force things, either.
"It just gets in the wind," bassist Darryl Jenifer tells Rolling Stone about the band's process. "We're all out here, we're still on our mission, we're still Bad Brains. It's just that every now and then, we figure, 'Hey, let's make a record.' There's no mystery to it."
Jenifer and guitarist Dr. Know (a.k.a. Gary Miller) don't set out to write songs so much as they look for interesting tempos and build from there. Bad Brains was always among the most virtuosic of punk bands, expanding beyond the churn-and-thrash of their earliest work into reggae and various other experimental punk offshoots, so after establishing a beat, they next seek a balance among those sounds.
"When we start thinking about making a Bad Brains record, me and Doc, we generally just look at a palette of what we want to bring to the fans," Jenifer says. "We know that our fanbase likes our hardcore style, so we want to make sure we have some of that on the plate. And we always love our rub-a-dub style, our reggae style, so that's going to always be in our lives. Now, the inventive area, that's where it gets exciting for us, because that's where we can say, 'OK, let's see what the great spirit has in store for us.'"
On Into the Future, out today, the band leaned toward what Jenifer calls "the CBGB style" of fast, chugging punk rock on "Youth of Today," blistering hardcore on "Suck Sess" and a deep dub groove on "Jah Love." "I think it's exciting to be able to play all styles of music, as long as it's good music," says singer H.R. Although H.R. has tended toward mysticism in his lyrics in recent years, the singer says he tried a more direct approach on Into the Future. "I wanted to be able to relate to the youth and the elders," he says. "I wanted to have a universal sound that would be able to help people overcome their adversities and the obstacles in their way."
In other words, it all cycles back to the band's longtime slogan: Positive Mental Attitude, which was the subject of the song "Attitude" on their self-titled 1982 debut. "Bad Brains is a positive, exhilarating experience, and that's what people love about us," Jenifer says.
Adam Yauch was one of them; the band dedicates Into the Future to the Beastie Boys rapper, who produced their previous album, Build a Nation. Yauch died in May of cancer. "He was a good friend and fan of the band, always was our Number One supporter out of celebrities or whatever," Jenifer says. "We knew each other from way back. We were in bands together. I played in his band Brooklyn. He's still doing his thing, spiritually."
H.R. says he kept Yauch in mind during the making of Into the Future. He says, "I wanted to put something on paper, on track, that he would enjoy."