Music Interviews

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Bad Brains

Interview by Frank Andrick
published in Shark (Germany

Bad Brains

Darryl Jenifer

digital effects © Joy Williams/Artist Publications

The Bad Brains are four dread-heads whose sound and fury have fired up stages throughout the world. Able to shift speed and warp space in a single note, they move flawlessly from speedcore-thrash-punk mode to mind altering, body chilling reggae.

That's real reggae, folks, with real dub effects—not pre-programmed, instant dub space-echo effects by synth/haircut-trendies.

No U-Got-the-Look derivative, Bad Brains let their collective imagination and vision take them to new and fertile places of mind, body and music.

They've been doing their own original mixture of punk-reggae-thrash shredding for over ten years now, amazingly, but there is a reason for their seeming madness. Home originally was Washington, DC—home turf, too, for the Federal government and, these days, the most powerful, murderous crack-dealing gangs in the world.

Politics, a potent force throughout their formative years, rears its Medusa head throughout the Bad Brains' music. Their espoused political stance is politics' universal applications in the world community, as seen/experienced through one's relationship to Jah. But important, too, are the personal interpretation and interpersonal politics of such songs as I Against I. The Bad Brains thus provide the opportunity to simultaneously thrash and meditate on one's inner landscape—a rather unique experience.

Though obviously a predecessor to Washington's hip-hop Trouble Funk scene, the Bad Brains remain as fresh, relevant, wild and entertaining—and unequaled—today as they've ever been. Their past has given them more to work with than the younger bands, while their continual search for new, unexplored territories takes them where no band has ever gone before (or since).

Spiritual godfathers and inspiration to the new breed of metal-funk bands like 24-7 Spyz, the Bad Brains are nevertheless badder than ever. The Big Takeover was the Brains' anthem for two nights at The Stone in San Francisco's X-rated North Beach entertainment area: two nights of sold-out shows and snaking-around-the-corner lines of skinheads, hippies, preppies, heavy metal mamas and their moussed and tattooed love boys, fraternity brats and sorority girls. Deadheads and dreadheads headed for the inner sanctum of the thrash pit down front, while the rest filled up the tiered viewing areas.

When it was all over the current tour's show was best summed up by San Francisco rock critic Matt Chappell, founding member of Big Butt Dolphin Bitch, as he exited through The Stone's plate glass window: "I think the Bad Brains' attitude of playing music that energizes, be it dub or be it rock, is the real essence of what they do! It's great to improve with age and to have fun, rather than playing the same thing and just getting older."

So the Bad Brains are "back." Billed on this tour as a "reunion of the original band," a before-show chat with Daryl left little doubt that a nostalgic reunion tour is not what this band is about.

Q: Bad Brains had been rather inactive for a while. Suddenly, there's a new album out on Caroline Records and a U.S. tour.

DARYL: You're right; it's been a while since we've played out, but suddenly it seemed right for this one to play. We played two nights (in Washington, DC] in the early part of the month. We didn't recognize anybody. That was OK, it was still fun. Things have changed there many times. Things are always changing there, like the wind.... We haven't been centered out of DC in years. A lot of people still think we're there. That's where we're from. Where you live is something else. I haven't been there, other than playing, in a while. I mean, I love DC, DC is where I'm from.... But these days, it's strange, man. DC, the Capitol City, is also the murder capitol of the world. It's not even a state.

Q: The Bad Brains were one of the first to interpolate early punk and reggae styles. Do you see yourselves as progenitors of some of the new musical hybrid bands?

DARYL: No, not really. There were bands before us. The Clash... I guess most people didn't really see them as much of a reggae band. They were sort of reggae rock.

Q: I was going to say bullshit reggae or rip-off reggae.

DARYL: I think they meant what they were sayin'. They had an appreciation, I'm sure they had a connection. Funny, I was just thinking today about the Bob Marley song, "Punky Reggae Party", where he goes (sings a capella] "Punky reggae party/The Damned, The Jam, The Clash." So, funny thing, I was thinkin' about Bob Marley, the whole Bob Marley thing.... Reggae music energizes!! As for what people call hardcore, I don't know, I like to call it rock. I don't call it hardcore, I call it rock.

Q: What about your new album?

DARYL: We recorded with our same producer, Ron St. Germaine, (but] we did it out of a few studios, which is different for us. It took us a long time; well, not really a long time.... We were just faced with a lot of obstacles—working out of different studios, trying to pull it all together. Sometimes we'd do vocals, different tracks in different places, depending on the scheduling of the sessions. Sometimes it would end up different. It depends on how your stuff is set up, if you're going somewhere to stay and record and mix. I live in upstate New York, some of the band lives inner York City. Sometimes it was more advantageous to work at one studio than another.

Q: So how do you put a song together?

DARYL: Basically, what I do is I just start jammin'. I just plug in my bass—actually, a lot of times I start writing on guitar. I usually write in verses; I don't like to write twists and turns too much. At that point, I get together and collaborate with Doc; together, we put in all the little twists and turns. I come up with the meat—the line—and then I just jam on it. Then I double-track it a thousand times back and forth on my 4-track. I try to make it as fat-sounding as I can on my little 4-track. As fat as I can!

Q: You guys do much free jamming?

DARYL: Not too much, really, not too much. We put together songs, but we don't jam. We just come in and do it. The riff comes out and we just play with it. Like ping pong, man; we bounce it, we just bounce the riff. Then everybody comes in and lays their piece into the fire that's smoldering. It's not like we jam all over the place. We used to do that, we used to jam all the time years ago, ten years ago, when we first started. Now, we like putting pieces together. You come in with your idea and just start bouncing it around. It's great when everybody gets it, appreciates it, and then goes off on it!

Q: With the Bad Brains inactive, did you work on individual projects?

DARYL: We took the time to play around with different people. Sometimes you got to take the time to do that. After we got back to doin' it, we just said, "Wow!" Everything fell right into place—the songs, the record, the tour, the whole thing. The changes were good.

Q: What are the biggest changes you've made over the past ten years, then?

DARYL: I don't play like I was a teenager. You don't do that when you're 25, 26, 28 or 30. It becomes important to play better, to retain but go beyond instinct. But if you lose the fun of it, you don't get better, you just grow older!

Q: Is being on the road still fun for you?

DARYL: Yeah, sometimes it's fun; sometimes it's work, and sometimes it's just a pain in the ass. I like writing songs and recording, (but] I can't say I'm a big tour guy. But I love playing out live. I like it at home, though, a lot. I mean, I got a couple of kids. On this tour, I converted everybody to vegetarianism. We don't eat meat, or at least they don't eat meat in front of me! I wonder if they have veggie sausages in Germany?

Q: What about Germany?

DARYL: Germany! Germany! We love Germany, I love Germany. Germany has beautiful women, I mean beautiful, much, much better than here. Some heavier money. Paper money that doesn't look so stupid! Real food with real portions. It's great, man

Q: And playing live every night, is that still fun?

DARYL: All I know is, every night I've got to conjure up what I'm going to do and then go out and do it, you know? It's not routine for me, or any of us, 'cause we got to do that to do what we do.


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