Interviews | back to NIMBY 6
interview by John Siko
Sometime in early January of 1997, John had the opportunity to sit down and chew the fat with Brian Baker, guitarist of Bad Religion, former bassist of Minor Threat, and just an all-around cool guy.
Joined In Progress (John and Brian have been talking about their sex lives, and whatís been going on with Bad Religion for a little while before the start of the tape as a segue...)
NIMBY: I have a SHITLOAD of questions, this is something I donít
get to do everyday, obviously...
Brian: Oh, go ahead.
NIMBY: So... well, I guess that takes care of that right now with Bad Religion. So, do you feel like part of the band yet?
Brian: Oh yeah. Yeah, I felt like part of the band after about three months ... I would say.
NIMBY: When exactly did you get the call?
Brian: August of í94.
NIMBY: And you had already committed to REM?
Brian: Yeah, I had already committed to REM who werenít gonna leave till October I think at that time ... and Bad Religion was leaving in September, so I had to like quickly get out of the REM deal and do the Bad Religion thing.
NIMBY: Did you know the guys from REM real well?
Brian: Uh, no, not really ... I mean I had met the bass player Mike a couple of times before I went to play with them. But everybody else Iíd never met before, except for that time ... I met them the day I went in to rehearse with them,
NIMBY: How did they get your name?
Brian: Uh ... well two reasons. One, Michael Stipe is a friend of Ian MacKaye, and two, their producer at that time, a guy named Oscar Scott (?) Litt - maybe youíve heard of him. Anyway this guy has done a lot of other records... I met him when I was working in rehearsal studio and he was doing a Juliana Hatfield record, and we got along, so he had me go in the studio with her, and screw around with guitar sounds, and just try to be, you know, some kind of a guitar guy. She just wanted me to go and hang out and be helpful... and thatís how I became friends with him. So when the REM thing, well, when they decided they wanted another guitar player ... he said, ďWait, I know somebody,Ē and thought of me, and thatís how it happened.
NIMBY: Now, was that just gonna be a temporary thing?
Brian: Well, it was not to be a band member no, it was just to go on tour. Umm... the guy who got it was actually one of my best friends. When I found out I gave them this guy, he tried out and they took him. He did 18 months and now heís doing his own band, and when they [REM] go back out again he can do that. But it [the position with REM] was never to be a writer, or to record albums, which is the most fun of all of this for meÖ so thatís part of why I didnít want to do it.
NIMBY: So the whole BR thing, from the beginning was this to be part of the band permanently?
Brian: Yeah. Thatís why I did it. The reason it sounded like it wasnít initially is just because thereís such a lag time in the press, and also at that time there were two distinct hands Ė the Epitaph guys ad the remaining Bad religion guys and a lot of information got screwed up. I never would have blown off REM to be Bad Religionís side band. The whole point was to write music.
NIMBY: To be part of somethingÖ
Brian: Yeah, the whole ball game.
NIMBY: So at the time you got the call, youíre out on the West CoastÖ um, what exactly were you doing?
Brian: I was working in a rehearsal studio, and I was playing in a band with Tommy Stintson called Bash & Pop. Well, actually, I guess we played a couple shows as Bash & Pop, the band is now called Perfect. But I was in it because I wanted to meet Tommy from the Replacements. (Cracker starts playing on the radio in the background.) So that was what I was doing really ... a whole lot of nothing. Now this band with Tommy was cool, but I was just doing it because he needed a guitar player, it wasnít really a serious thing ... It was just, I was playing shows with him, but he was writing all the music.
NIMBY: Before that you were in, umm... Junkyard, was that it?
Brian: Yeah. Well I was in a band before that, but it was another transitional band that nobody heard of so it doesnít matter. Junkyard was the last band that made albums that I was in before Bad Religion.
NIMBY: Now I havenít heard them, but were they more of a metal band?
Brian: Yeah. Definitely. Cowboy boots, long hair, Motorhead, Lynrd SkynrdÖ we actually toured with Lynrd Skynrd! It was that kind of thing. It wasnít lipstick, but it was, you know, Iím sure by 1997 standards it was pretty silly to a lot of people. I on the other hand thought it was really fun ... and have no regrets at all, it was great. And all the guys in the band were people who Iíd known mostly from punk rock, guys from Defry, the Big Boys, stuff like that ... it was an accurate reflection of where my musical tastes were at the time, and I had made two records and didnít work for four years, so I consider that a good time.
NIMBY: So, I gather that from all of the bands that youíve been in you must change your musical tastes quite a bit, or are they just rather varied?
Brian: You know I donít think I ever change my musical tastes, however, my ability to play other styles of music changes as I get better. I havenít put too much thought into it actually. I think what I feel like playing changes, but I mean, Iíve been pretty consistent. I mean, when I was in Minor Threat, I was cranking AC/DC. Because AC/DC was an excellent band ... They still are ... well, not the current lineup, but you know what Iím talking about. You still must listen to Back in Black every once in a while.
NIMBY: Oh, definitely.
Brian: So it was kind of that, I mean just maybe opportunities, or what I wanted to do musically changed, not what I listen to.
NIMBY: So what do you listen to right now?
Brian: Umm... right now, my favorite record is, believe it or not, I love that Sublime record, even though youíre supposed to and itís a big hip thing, I like that. New music ... well, I like Cracker actually (as Low begins playing in the background). New stuff isnít that much, I still have my reliable collection of the old standbys, you know, umm ... the three Dís - The Damned, Discharge, Die Krupps. (Lots of laughing ensues) Umm I like the Beatles, punk rock ... but if itís punk rock, itís old punk rock, I donít really have ... I donít listen to lots of new hardcore bands at all, Iím just not into it. And, some wimpy stuff, you knw, I still like The Replacements, Paul Westerberg...
NIMBY: So Iíve been trying to gather this... I mean, Iíve been listening to punk/hardcore for a few years now - Iíve been tryig to figure out where the split came. I mean, it used to be, you know, Minor Threat, Black Flag - itís punk. Now you have... Earth Crisis, and umm... The Vandals. Where did that happen?
Brian: I was not at that meeting, but I think it was like in Ď87 or Ď88, there was some huge straightedge resurgence for some reason, and umm... they decided that everything that had to do with that was hardcore music. Ad I think it had to do with the tempo, too, somewhat, at least initially it did. When we were little we thought hardcore was like super fast, and punk was somewhat slower. But hey, actually, I did miss that meeting, Iím not really sure. The kids do whatever the hell they want now, you know, thereís no... one manís Earth Crisis is another manís Shelter(?) at this point. I missed that part.
NIMBY: So, letís go back ... all the way back to the beginnings of Minor Threat
NIMBY: Tell us about it. Now youíre from D.C. from the start? And Ian and Jeff were from Virginia, correct?
Brian: Nope, D.C. Weíre all from D.C. And they went to Wilson, and Lyle and I went to Georgetown Day School. And the reason I was in Minor Threat is because in 1980, Ian and Jeff were forming their own band with Ian singing, and somehow they met Lyle, who was two grades above me at GDS - he was a senior and I was in tenth grade. And Lyle was going to be their guitar player, and they didnít have the bass player. They were missing the bass player, and the reason why they asked me is because I knew how to play guitar, and I was punk rock, and I wasnít in a band. And at that time in D.C., there were probably only about 50 punk rockers in the entire metropolitan area. So I got picked because I was the only one who wasnít busy. I mean literally, like that, no aspirations for anything, certainly musical skill was not a factor, because Iíd never played a bass before in my life. It just wound up being that way, it was like, ďHey you have funny hair, do you wanna be in this band? Do you know how to play an instrument?Ē I went, ďYes I do.Ē And then the next thing I knew I was in the band.
NIMBY: Were you in any bands before that?
Brian: Uhh... none that really... no. I was fifteen at the time, I mean, I had been in bands, but just one that played Cheap Trick covers in sixth grade, and umm, I was in Hammeron in seventh grade. Hammeron was good, We played ďI Want You To Want Me,Ē ďStairway To Heaven,Ē you know... I did little things like that, but Minor Threat was the first serious band I was in. The first band that wrote their own music.
NIMBY: OK. So, Georgetown Day School, was that more of an upscale sort of school?
NIMBY: What was it like being a punk rocker in a school like that?
Brian: Them was no risk involved because it was a real, real - and still is - liberal, bring your dog to school, you donít have to wear shoes, call your teachers by the first names kind of situation. So, no one really thought it was that weird. And there were probably about 8 or 10 of us by that time, by the time I started... I was a little late, I jumped in right at the cusp of í79/í80. Some of my oldest friends had already begun the transition, so I was like going to their houses to figure out what the hell was going on, and I remember getting my first fumy haircut at my friendís house, heíd already had his. So, there was no real pressure from that suburban nightmare you hear about, you know, like one kid against two thousand guys in Fairfax, that never happened to me, guess I was lucky.
NIMBY: So where is Wilson exactly?
Brian: Wilsonís on Wisconsin towards Nebraska, down by where I live now, Henley Circle.
NIMBY: Oh, OK. Iím from Buffalo, Iím stiff trying to get my geography set.
Brian: Ah! How Ďbout those Goo Goo Dolls?
Brian: Interesting factoid: the drummer in the Goos now, Michael Malinen, was in the band I was in before - Tommy Stinsonís band, the one that I said that nobody knew about. It was me, Mike Malinen, and the singer is the guy that REM took. So basically, it was: I went to Bad Religion, the singer went to REM, and Mike went to the Goo Goo Dolls.
NIMBY: Oh my god!
Brian: So, I pity the A&R guy who didnít sign our band, because obviously we were a hotbed of talent! Do you remember ever getting this much coleslaw? (to his friend at the bar) The fries/coleslaw ration is poor! Iím gonna have to talk with them.
NIMBY: Why did everything start in DC?
Brain: I donít know. Everything really didnít start in DC, it really started in California.
NIMBY: But why did it explode here?
Brian: I donít know. I donít know if it exploded, I just think that you have to remember at the time of all these bands, everybody wishes they could go back see, nobody really gave a shit. I mean, these bands... Minor Threat never sold any records until way after we broke up. I mean, youíd go to see a Faith show and itíd be you and 2-300 people at the most, it wasnít like some huge thing at the time. I donít know why it ďexplodedĒ from D.C., but I think I know the reason why our bands were so good. Because the early D.C. hardcore scene, for the most part, was a very incestuous, close-knit group of people who were all upper-middle class kids from NW Washington, and so the benefits of education or whatever, or advantages were a lot of smart people. A lot of smart, talented people - you know, D.C. is a very transient atmosphere if youíre not a government thing, you know, thereís a lot of writers, media people. My parents are TV, Ianís parents are newspaper, you know, itís that kind of personality, and these are the kind of kids they raise. And thatís kind of why I think the quality of the bandís was so much better across the board, and part of why D.C. has such a big heritage and is such a big deal now. But at the time it wasnít really taken to be as important as people make it out to be. New York thought they were a much bigger deal.
NIMBY: So, what about the straightedge scene, how did everyone get involved with that, why here?
Brian: Oh. We werenít old enough to drink. And I mean, I was straightedge because I had never been drunk. I never thought about it. I mean, because I didnít hate my parents, I didnít steal from the liquor cabinet when they went away cuz my parents were cool to me. A lot of the early, original people, the people I hung out with... it wasnít that we were making some big statement against a horrible lifestyle. Like, ďWeíre tired of getting fucked up, letís be straightedge.Ē No one ever got fucked up, no one ever did any of that shit, and it just sort of happened. It was NOT a militant stance at all.
NIMBY: But itís kind of turned into that nowadays.
Brian: Yeah, thatís because of people like Earth Crisis, it had nothing to do with us. You know, the ďstraightedge doctrineĒ has been re-interpreted more times than the Bible in the last 10 years ... I donít remember the part about not eating meat. I distinctly remember being in Minor Threat when the song Straight Edge was written and I donít remember the line about, ďOh yes, and please DONíT EAT MEAT!Ē You know, ďNO DAIRY!Ē People are just amending this constitution, which is not only wrong, but the whole concept is that it was never to be a constitution. The straightedge ďmovementĒ of today is just as dogmatic as organized religion or anything else that weíre supposed to hate and raise up against, so I donít really think itís valid. I donít think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out itís probably more productive to live your life without being drunk and on drugs all the time. And for so many different reasons, I think turning it into some militant thing is unnecessary, and it tends to spoil the whole concept for me. I kind of like the idea of being an individual ... making my own choices.
NIMBY: So I can see with the Budweiser and Marlboros that youíre not straightedge anymore.
Brian: Iím 33 years old.
NIMBY: When did you come to the point where you said the hell with this?
Brian: I never came to the point where I said the hell with this because it wasnít a militant thing. I was like 20 or 21, I was living in a house with a bunch of guys and I started drinking beer once in a while. And it didnít kill me, so I got drunk a couple of times... and I realized that it was just a beverage, itís just what you do with it. It wasnít like a transition, it was just like ďOh yeah, let me have a beer.Ē It wasnít a big deal.
Brian: They didnít have the Internet back then, but you know I didnít call out ďAttention! I am no longer straightedge!Ē
NIMBY: Are any of the old D.C. people still straightedge, do you know?
Brian: I donít think thereís a single, old, D.C. person that would call themselves straightedge. I know people who Iíve known for fifteen years who still donít drink or do any drugs. Ian is a good example, Ian because he would never do that. Yeah, thereís tons of them, but you know, we donít use the word straightedge, itís way beyond that, itís not about that. That term is ruined for us.
NIMBY: So, letís go to 1983 now. What were the ends of Minor Threat?
Brian: We all hated each other. We took turns being who hated who. Sometimes it was me and Ian against Jeff and Lyle and then it was Lyle and I against Jeff and Ian... that kind of has a lot to do with why we broke up. We didnít get along very well. Once again, we didnít think we were doing anything, I mean, well, we thought we were obviously very good, but at that point, I mean weíd been able to put out records and go on tours and stuff, but we didnít think we were killing the sacred cow... Ian wanted to do something else with some other guys, and Lyle and I were going to do this band with Glenn Danzig and Chuck Biscuits, and Jeff wanted to go to art school. We just sort of went ďEhhhhĒ just like that, and thatís why it happened. It was not a big ďFuck you, Iím outta here!Ē It just sort of fell apart.
NIMBY: Did that end up happening with a lot of the other bands?
Brim: Yeah. Yeah, every band from D.C. breaks up, right?
NIMBY: And they seem to keep reforming, though in different incarnations.
Brian: Yeah. Exactly. Thatís what you do, you get just popular enough to make a record and go on tour, and then you break up and then the other band you went on tour with breaks up and then you switch members around and you start all over again! Which to me is sort of counterproductive if your GOAL is to put out music and go out and tour behind it. Thatís part of why I moved away.
NIMBY: Do you keep in touch with a lot of the old crew?
Brian: Yeah, this is not a very big town, I see everybody. I mean, everybody works at the Black Cat - you could go over there right now and see everybody youíd want to talk to.
NIMBY: Oh, like who?
Brian: Letís see, who do we have at the Black Cat? We have half of Iron Cross, we have Faith members, we have Soulside, we have Circus Lucas members... Thereís a lot of people...
NIMBY: And Alec in The Warmers, right?
NIMBY: What do you think of Fugazi and The Warmers and the kind of ďemoĒ that seems to be coming out nowadays?
Brian: Well, of course itís ďemo.Ē I donít know, Iím not familiar enough with all those bands that would fall into that gem ... I like Fugazi and I like The Warmers very much. But just because of their individual merit I mean Fugazi for me, itís not unequivocal, thereís amazing Fugazi songs but thereís also songs I donít like at all. If Iím gonna pull out a Fugazi record itís always ďRepeater,Ē but I really respect Fugazi - doesnít mean I like all the songs. And I like The Warmers, I was actually very surprised, I thought I wouldnít like them and I think theyíre great
NIMBY: So, after Minor Threat breaks up, what then? How long before you started doing Dag Nasty?
Brian: After MT broke up we did this thing with Glenn which turned into Samhain. And just before we were going to make a record I got fired, and Iím not really sure why, nor was I really aware I was getting fired. Once again, it was very laid back around here, and I was just like playing with Lyle, weíd go up to New York, hang out at Glennís and write some songs, come down here. And then one day Lyle went to NY without me and I was like, OK I guess Iím not in the band, you know, whatever. Didnít really care. I was playing with The Meatmen at the same time for awhile, but that was never really as a full band member, it was just something to do. Thatís basically what I was doing umm, thatís when I was at GW (George Washington University), I was in college, or, well, my version of going to college, whatever that is - I showed up sometimes. I just was kind of cruising around with The Meatmen, and then one day I was at a Soulside show - no, a Lunchmeat show... and decided I wanted to form a band. And Colin Sears happened to be standing with me at the time, and I was like, ďCan you play drums?Ē So we just made Dag Nasty and wrote a bunch of songs.
NIMBY: About how long did Dag Nasty last?
Brian: Three years. Two or three years. God, it might have been even longer than that. Well, a little over three years, letís just say that.
NIMBY: Tell me about your college experience a little bit, just out of curiosity.
Brian: My parents forced me to go to college because they said if I didnít ... if I wasnít in college by September of 1984, theyíd never pay for it, ever. At that time in my life I thought that A) you were supposed to go to college for some reason, and B) I knew that college was very expensive, and there was no way I wanted to pay for it myself. My parents were upper middle class, not rich, like, they could pay for my college, but I knew this was it. And I said, well, OK, Iíve got to take this opportunity and GW was the only school that I could get into with my shitty grades in one month, and I didnít want to go out of town. So I went to GW, and most of my time was spent in the consortium classes at Georgetown. And then I just lost interest. I had maybe 2 professors that were any good, it was just a nightmare. I donít respond well to the masses, and I would definitely say it was pretty weird for me to go a year ahead of everybody, a year older, to be a freshman at GW, was just contradictory to my idea of the way life should be lived by humans. It was a much different world then too, you have to understand, you know, there was no alternative college radio station. This would have been my version of ďthe kid getting beat up at Fairfax High School.Ē You know, the one kid against two thousand, because I in my dealings with normal society and the real world, Iíd always been pretty, you know, just stuck to my own, I went to this nifty little store, they didnít give me any shit ... And here I am at this big college going ... you know people are like laughing at me cuz Iím punk rock. I was like, ďDude... I just got off tour, fuck you!Ē You know, it was just bizarre, you have different mindsets where people are in life... I just didnít respond well to it.
NIMBY: So, Iíve seen on the Internet quite a few Minor Threat reunion rumors...
Brian: None. Never. No. But we are thinking of putting together a tribute band - weíll get Jeff to play drums, Iíll play bass - we canít decide whether to call it I DONíT WANT TO HEAR IT, or WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE? As soon as we choose the name... I just wanna go, ďItís What the Fuck Have You Done?, a tribute to Minor Threat!Ē No. We will never do that because I just think it would ruin everything. I think at least half of the reason why Minor Threat is such a big deal to this day is because it doesnít exist. Because of the mythology around it, and the only way to destroy that for sure is to reform. Itís also kind of stupid because Bad Religion and Fugazi are both bigger than Minor Threat ever was and are bigger than Minor Threat is now. Thereís no viable reason to do it. I think itís special because it stopped.
NIMBY: So did you have any connections to the founding of Dischord?
Brian: Kind of. I wish I had a bigger connection. Well, the founding of Dischord was Ian and Jeff had a shoebox full of money they saved from playing Teen Idles shows and they used that shoebox of money to put out a Teen Idles single... and when the Teen Idles single sold 1000 copies, which is about what it did at the time, rather than keep the money theyíd just put it back in the shoebox. That was really the extent of it. I remember using gluesticks and hand-folding all the single covers for the first Minor Threat release, like in the Dischord House, sitting on the floor. The definition of DIY. Thatís why they call it hardcore!
NIMBY: Now Jeff and Ian are still the owners, but does Jeff do all the work, is he the manager?
Brian: Jeff doesnít do anything! No, Jeff does artwork, heís the graphic guy and Ian is the studio guy, the ďdo I like this band?Ē guy. And then thereís Alec, his brother, and Amanda, his sister, and two or three other people work at Dischord, and they do the real day to day stuff. There is a staff which is all family members and friends, but theyíre a salary staff. Because itís gotten big enough now, You got whatever, 100 some catalogue items.
NIMBY: 108 or something like that, I think...
Brian: Yeah, itís a little big for just two guys to handle.
NIMBY: What is the Dischord house? I know Iíve been by it but, umm... who lives there?
Brian: Itís umm ... Ian and Joe from Fugazi, and Ianís girlfriend Cynthia. And across the great from the house you went by is like where the warehouse with all the computers and phones are.
NIMBY: What kind of strain is touring on having a personal life?
Brian: Oh, itís terrible! I mean, I would assume. It would be a lot harder for me if I had a wife or a girlfriend or somebody, but I donít, so itís not that big a strain... I mean, itís kind of hard to complain about, the opportunity to do something for people... but, yeah itís an incredible strain 8 months out of the year, what kind of life is that? Itís balanced by the fact, at least in my case, and hopefully [other] people who do it, that playing is really the best thing that I do. I mean itís one of the most fun things I do, itís one of the few things Iíve managed to do well and enjoy, and Iíd rather spend 8 months on the road and then have not much of a home life than spend 8 months at home and not have a road to go on. Itís really just a give and take, I donít buy any of that, ďOh touring is so hard!Ē No itís not, you know, you go out and do it, itís your job - and itís very lucky to have, in my case my job is also the thing that I would do for free.
NIMBY: And I take it with Bad Religion itís not the back of a van anymore?
Brian: No. We each get our own private jet. I keep my golf clubs in the front. No, itís not, we tour in a bus. Itís good because you can sleep and you donít have to stay at a hotel every night. Itís a lot cheaper to just sleep while youíre going. Yeah, I donít think thereís any way we could tour, with the amount of touring we do, in a van. Weíd kill ourselves, weíd kill everybody. I canít handle more than six weeks in a van. When I joined the band in August of í94, weíd probably been home four months...
NIMBY: But itís never gotten to the point where its a job for you though...?
Brian: Playing the music, the show, has never been a job. Bit if Iím gonna go to soundcheck for an hour and a half, and spend three hours in the back of a car going to radio stations in Frankfurt, Germany and making it back to the show ten minutes before youíre gonna play, that part feels like a job to me, and I try to not do that as much as humanly possible. When I first started, I was very enthusiastic about trying to participate and do as many interviews and anything I could do to help, because I was the new guy... with Bad Religion, especially in Europe, itís so demanding. Itís just like, Iím not here to sell our music, Iím here to play our music. I donít get a kick out of selling it, thereís no visceral pearl to that.
NIMBY: So do you see BR becoming, or having become, a global band?
Brian: Absolutely. Oh yeah. Weíre not shit in the U.S., we are smaller in the United States than we are in Norway. England and the U.S. are I think the two worst countries for Bad Religion.
NIMBY: I heard the German version of ďPunk Rock SongĒ...
Brian: Yeah its umm... totally a global band, I mean, not only do we spend a lot of time everywhere in the world, but I think especially with the last few records, even the lyrical content has had a much more global perspective than more of a personal ďI against you,Ē at least in my understanding and my watching, the songs that I watched being written and the ones I like the sound of.