For certain punks, there was no Bad Religion from 1996 through 2001. During that dark period, co-songwriter Brett Gurewitz split the seminal act he co-created with his pals in high school. He was disenchanted with the band's major-label deal (at Atlantic), overwhelmed by the sudden hugeness of Epitaph -- the label he founded to release Bad Religion records and eventually home to Rancid and the Offspring -- and increasingly strung out on smack. The band would release two albums in his absence, both guided solely by the vision of Gurewitz's estranged collaborator, Greg Graffin. Both records -- 1996's Gray Race and 1998's No Substance -- were lukewarmly received.
"Put it this way, I have not listened to those records in depth," Gurewitz says. "A lot of people think that's shocking, but it's true. It's hard to take my pride out of the equation so for me to say I didn't like those records . . . is that sour grapes? But I will say this, I do think the songwriting team of Greg and myself is greater than the sum of its parts."
Though an initial ice thawing happened when Gurewitz and Graffin re-teamed to pen one tune, "Believe It," for 2000's The New America, Bad Religion's last album for Atlantic, it would be another year before the duo would finalize their reunion. Now the revitalized outfit -- singer Graffin, guitarists Gurewitz, Brian Baker and Greg Hetson, bassist Jay Bentley and new drummer Brooks Wackerman -- are preparing to release The Process of Belief on January 22nd. It's a comeback album of sorts, for which they've come back to the label at which they began, Epitaph.
"Following 'Believe It,' Greg asked me, 'What about sharing the writing on the next record, all of it?'" Gurewitz says. "It just coincided with a time in my life when I was really feeling frustrated creatively. I hadn't really written anything in many years [his lone output in the interim was a two-song single cut with drummer Josh Freese and filmmaker Gore Verbinski as "The Daredevils"]. I said, 'Yeah, I think I'd like to, and, by the way, is there any chance it could be on Epitaph?'"
The twosome immediately got back to writing, and, by summer of this year, had fourteen new tracks, some classically political others more personal, ready for tape commitment. The Process of Belief was recorded in and around Los Angeles at Sound City and Gurewitz's own Westbeach studio, and mixed at Larrabbee East. Fittingly, Graffin and Gurewitz co-produced while Gurewitz alone tackled all mixing, save one track, "Epiphany," mixed by noted punk knobman Jerry Finn (Blink-182, Sum 41).
Though nearly four months from the album's release, radio stations had already begun spinning one tune, "Sorrow," by early October. Written months before the WTC towers fell, the track could be punk's first post-September 11th anthem. Opening in a totally Police-ish, ska-minded groove, the song eventually yields to Bad Religion's instantly discernible, melodic hardcore. Graffin, sounding atypically optimistic, sings, "When all soldiers lay their weapons down, or when kings and queens relinquish their crowns . . . there will be sorrow no more." The band will soon shoot a video for "Sorrow," but have yet to select a director. "
"We don't normally go to radio four months before a record comes out," Gurewitz says. "But it's kind of a poignant song right now and it's really touching a lot of people. I never thought of it as a single, but I think it's my favorite song on the record."
Bad Religion are presently in the process of putting together a North American tour in support of The Process of Belief. For a recovering addict, the road would seem a dangerous place, but any apprehension Gurewitz feels has less to do with drug temptation and more to do with rustiness.
"Well, no one in my band drinks or uses," he says. "It's not like they're 'sober'; they just don't do it. [The road] can be vulnerable just because all the regular things I do to aid my recovery are a little harder to do on the road, but it's not like I'll be hanging out with a bunch of partiers.
"I feel like I have a very firm grounding in recovery right now," he continues. "I'm feeling good about myself. I'm more nervous about just being on stage again. Stagefright. It's been a long time since I've been up there."