Photo Credit: Svenski – St. James
“When I write a song, I want to identify something that is puzzling or interesting and try to relate it to a feeling”
Punk rock legend, country music lover, author and college professor, Greg Graffin has many strings to his bow. The latest venture for the Bad Religion frontman has been to once again explore his solo endeavours, and with the release of new record ‘Millport’, Graffin has taken his musical outlet in a different direction once again. Known as the recognisable voice of Bad Religion, ‘Millport’ offers up something more calming and soothing compared to the songwriter’s politically driven punk band.
But Graffin explains this change in tone isn’t something new to him, this is something which has been with him for a long time.
“I’ve been singing this kind of music since I was a kid,” Graffin explains. “Many of the old-time songs were handed down from my parents and their siblings. When I was just a kid, my uncle played Doc Watson songs and we sang along whenever the family got together. Doc Watson had a major impact on me.”
And it was this musical grounding which made the writing process for this new record very organic for the Cornell professor. “When I write a song, I want to identify something that is puzzling or interesting and try to relate it to a feeling,” added the Bad Religion frontman. “Maybe for Bad Religion it’s a louder feeling, but with my solo work, it’s no less profound. Hopefully, music lovers are attracted to the melody and harmony in either format.”
Having formed Bad Religion at the age of 15, with his friends from High School, it is no surprise that when you hear Graffin’s name you are going to associate it with songs like ‘21st Century Digital Boy’, ‘Los Angeles is Burning’ and ‘You’ rather than a folk rock classic. And being so ingrained in the punk scene, the 52-year-old doesn’t expect all Bad Religion fans to love what he has done with this album. He adds: “I can’t really expect people who only like to slam dance to embrace an album more akin to square dancing. But I like both.
“All I know is that I would never have learned about the rich variety of roots music had not my uncle turned me on to Doc Watson or my dad turned me on to Johnny Cash. In another word, you have to learn about it from somewhere. So maybe some punkers who love Bad Religion will learn about it from me.”
With ‘Millport’ being Graffin’s first solo outing for the best part of 11 years, it was down to his busy schedule as a writer and professor of Evolution, as well as touring with Bad Brains has meant it has taken awhile to surface. However, it is the vocalist’s academic background which has, in part, influenced the new record.
“’Millport’ was a project where I put into music a philosophical puzzle – the struggle to remain relevant while the world is speeding toward a newer modernistic future,” explains the songwriter.
“This idea of permanence in the face of change is something we try to grasp in the scientific study of evolution too. Therefore, my latest book ‘Population Wars’ could be seen as an academic approach to the same puzzle I sing about on ‘Millport’.”
For the die hard Bad Religion fans thinking that this new material released by the band’s frontman could be the beginning of the end of the punk rock heavyweights, they need not fear, as Graffin says music in any form holds a special place in his heart, and as long as people still want to hear it, he will continue to share his musical outlets.
He continues: “I will always appreciate the great privilege of being able to share music. That means I take the opportunities that come my way and at the moment I can do both.
"Bad Religion is deeply meaningful to me, so is my solo work. That’s why I’m so thankful to people who enjoy both sides of my musical output.”
For ‘Millport’, Graffin once again teamed up with long-time Bad Religion collaborator, Brett Gurewitz to create an authentic country rock album. And if this is what Graffin’s musical background is, then there is no better homage than creating an album in a similar ilk, and doing an incredible job of it.
‘Millport’ by Greg Graffin is out now on ANTI-.
Words by Tim Birkbeck (@tim_birkbeck)