Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Brian Baker, Bad Religion guitarist and Minor Threat founder

In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Bad Religion guitarist and Minor Threat founding member Brian Baker.


1: Which British band referenced Minor Threat for a T-shirt design for a recent gig?

“Well I wouldn’t know about that and that’s not ‘cos I’m old! (Laughs) You said ‘recent’. Who was it?”

WRONG. It was The 1975, who imitated the 1984 ‘Minor Threat’ cover for a tee for their Kingston gig in November.

“Well now I know where to send our solicitors! I’ve heard the band name but I’m not familiar with their work or their merchandising plans, but good for them! (Laughs)”

You sued Nike for ripping off your imagery and it’s been referenced countless times. Any that have stood out?

“I’ve seen hundreds of tattoos which are pretty long-term, so I’m grateful that little black sheep is still running. We made a lot of effort to clamp down on Minor Threat imagery for things that aren’t in line with what’s art. Like if someone says ‘We’d like to use ‘Suffer’ because we’re launching a product called ‘Suffer cologne’. You can’t buy credibility – and we have a quality more valuable than brand recognition.”

Does Rock n Roll Kill Braincells?

2: Who is credited as playing guitar on the Dag Nasty album ‘Four on the Floor’?

“That is Dale Nixon.”

CORRECT

“Spoiler alert – it’s actually me! At the time, I was under contract to Geffen Records with my band Junkyard, so contractually I couldn’t be Brian Baker on the record. I chose the name Dale Nixon because that was the name Black Flag used when they’d do recordings without a bass player –  their fictitious bass player is Dale Nixon. So I took the name without even mentioning it to [Black Flag leader] Greg Ginn to make the inside joke go further, so students of American hardcore will recognise the name Dale Nixon pops up in more than one place.”

Did he ever notice?

“No, as a matter of fact, I saw him yesterday and he had no idea who I was! (Laughs) I think I’m safe.”

What are your memories of Dag Nasty?

“It was an interesting time in punk rock because it was getting so much bigger and it seemed like it was nationally available in a way that it wasn’t in Minor Threat. In Minor Threat, there were maybe 20 cities you could play in the entire United States that could sustain a hardcore show. But by Dag Nasty in the late ‘80s, you could do 20 shows in Florida alone, so it was a pretty cool time of expansion but still on an organic level – before the big revolution of Green Day/The Offspring.”

Does Rock n Roll Kill Braincells?

3: Of whom did you say on Instagram in 2016: ‘I’m going to stop these people every time I see them today and tell them how much their band sucks’?

“That was the sadly humourless group Bring Me the Horizon.”

 CORRECT. (It was a joke in response to a sign they posted at a festival warning security and employees that the band is NOT TO BE STOPPED EVER. Their drummer, Matt Nicholls, hit back on Instagram: “I can’t imagine being as old as you are and still acting like a 14 year old girl… You got bigger things to worry about nowadays anyway, like ya pension or cold weather,” before frontman Oli Sykes chimed in ‘Yeah, we are not your enemy, winter is your enemy.’)

“I hope they’re not still mad at me!”

 Have you bumped into them afterwards?

“No, it was just playing, but I think I’m playing a show with them in the states at the end of the year, so maybe I’ll see them then!”

 How will that go down?

“Oh, I don’t care! (Laughs) It’s not a thing. It was a joke on Instragram. People get so upset, it’s funny.”

 What bands are you currently enjoying?

“I am a huge Sleaford Mods fan. Being American, I put it up to my exposure at an early age of dialects available to me in punk rock. If you’ve managed to figure out Sham 69, Cockney Rejects and these oblique British references, then Sleaford Mods are intelligible to someone like me – ‘Chubbed Up’ was their first record I got, and I’ve loved them since. The band Turnstile remind me of everything good about punk rock.”

Does Rock n Roll Kill Braincells?

4: Who opened for you on your first Bad Religion tour?

“In Europe, Green Day.”

CORRECT.

“Those guys are great and good friends. I didn’t realise how popular Bad Religion was in Europe. I was a fan of the band and saw them perform in the states, but they’d tapped into something overseas that was a bigger deal, so it was daunting. But it all worked out and 25 years later I’m still here.”

1994 was the year punk broke. Did  you feel a change?

“I was in the laser focus of work and didn’t notice the explosion until after it had already come. I was trying to learn 70 Bad Religion songs – and how to play them proficiently.”

Does Rock n Roll Kill Braincells?

5: Which US Democratic presidential hopeful was in a teenage band influenced by Minor Threat?

“That would be Beto [O’Rourke]”.

CORRECT. He was in the hardcore band Foss with At The Drive-In’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala. 

“So if we’re going to get our first Fugazi-fan president, that would be an interesting juxtaposition to the living horror we have now, so we’ll see how it all shakes up. I haven’t met Beto – I know Brendan [Canty, drummer] from Fuzagi has, and he seems like a totally cool guy.”

6: During a Boston show in 2011, frontman Greg Graffin claimed Bad Religion would make one more album then do what?

“Um – did he say quit? He says this all the time! (Laughs).”

WRONG. He said you’d all join the Navy.

“Oh well I would never have remembered that! But yeah, we didn’t join the navy.”

Have you ever had a point where you’ve considered doing something other than music?

“If I weren’t playing music, then I’d concentrate fully on the production side. But you know, I’d also be content to work in a good bookstore. I’m a voracious reader so if I could make an excellent cup of coffee and sell somebody a book that changes the way they think about something, I’d be pretty happy.”

Does Rock n Roll Kill Braincells?

7: What is the phone number on the cover of the ‘No Substance’ album? 

“(Long pause) I don’t know. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember much about that record! (Laughs)”

WRONG. It’s 1-800-281-7696. 

“What happens when you call it?”

Until April 2017, it linked you through to the customer service department of ConAgra Foods.

“Wow! I think it’s odd that I never called it! For that record, we decided we were just going to make it up as we went along.  We went to a studio near where Greg lived in Ithaca, New York with no specific structure and just pieces of songs to see what would happen. In the end, we wound up with a record that has a number of great parts but unfortunately they’re all in different songs. With the benefit of an outside production ear, we may have managed to combine two or three great parts into one song – and that song would have become a popular song that people remember. But as we often say in Bad Religion, they can’t all be winners!”

Because of the straight-edge connection, apparently for years, hammered kids would ring up Dischord House to drunkenly rant…

“Yeah, Ian [MacKaye, singer] lived there and got it all the time. The only thing I would be people saying ‘Hey look at me, I’m wasted!’ at shows in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, which was funny because I was probably drunker than they were and they just didn’t know!”

Does Rock n Roll Kill Braincells?

8: You uploaded a photo on Instagram in November 2018 of the members of Minor Threat recreating the cover from 1985’s ‘Salad Days’. What did you caption it?

“Um, I think I said Senior Threat.”

CORRECT

“It seems like a big deal but it’s not. Whenever we’re in the same town, we get together. We’re friends. We were all at Dischord House because we’re going to try to do a Minor Threat book. Every time we’re there, Jeff [Nelson], the drummer makes us take a picture – we’ve taken that picture many, many different times. This was the first time where I had an Instagram account, so I was like: ‘Hey guys, I’m going to blow up the internet!’. Obviously there’s certainly no reunion because for one thing, we’re not minors anymore, so technically it’s not allowed. The overwhelming response was ‘How great is that? Everybody is still friends’, but there was just a small minority of people who thought we were announcing our Brazilian headlining tour – but sadly that’s not going to happen.”

“It’s like a time-warp when we all get in the room and it’s the exact same energy and the same interpersonal joy and volatility. I think it’s also because we’re in Dischord House which is where we used to practice. The dynamic is exactly the same and I love it.”

Does Rock n Roll Kill Braincells?

9: Which video game do the Bad Religion songs ‘Them and Us’ and ‘Ten in 2010’ appear in?

Crazy Taxi?”

CORRECT.

“Yeah, they sent me a game and controller and I played it a lot back when I played video games.”

Where’s the most unusual place you’ve heard your music?

“Recently, I was in a Five Guys burger chain playing banal classic rock – like George Thorogood – and I was complaining to my wife about how loud it was and this is why we never come here. Then ‘Infected’ came on and it shut me up – I’d become classic rock, right next to Bon Jovi!”

10: Which band once sang ‘She’s got tattoos and piercings/She likes Minor Threat, she likes Social Distortion’?

“It’s gotta be NOFX!”

WRONG. It’s Good Charlotte on ‘Riot Girl’, a track from their 2002 album ‘The Young and the Hopeless’.

“Really?! Well the thing is, I’m not as familiar with Good Charlotte’s catalogue.”

In NOFX’s book ‘The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories’, they detail some of the debauchery that went down when touring with you…

“I wouldn’t remember! (Laughs) I drank a lot at that one point. And I’m sure there were highlights – I’ve seen film. But in general, I’m incredibly grateful that I made it through and am now sober and am able to take a more educated look at how one should behave. (Laughs) I think I had a great time! I believe I did but I’m not sure.”

Anyone you’d still like to work with?

“If Bob Mould would get a second guitar player, I would be in paradise. But he’s so good and doesn’t need one. There’s three or four guitar players in Iron Maiden, so maybe I could sneak in because I have a history of that. I always wanted to see what Eddie looks like in person – just backstage when he’s hanging out. What kind of car does he drive? He’s so silent, so we don’t know!”

The verdict: 6/10

“I’m proud of six. That’s about how I did in school. Not perfect, not embarrassing. Not the best, not the worst. What I aspire for America – just don’t be the worst. You don’t need to be the best – just be a six. Let Norway be a ten.”

Bad Religion’s new album ‘Age of Unreason’ is out now via Epitaph Records.