Just about a month or so ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with not only one of hardcore punk's most influential pioneers, but all around badass, H.R. For those who are unfamiliar, he is the frontman of Bad Brains, a 1977 formed D.C.-based band whose name came from The Ramone's song "Bad Brain". We discuss the band's latest album, Into the Future, moral philosophies, and even touch on the motivational strength of the late Adam Yauch (Beastie Boys). You may also notice that H.R. answers questions in a non-standard fashion...
H.R. It's a pleasure to finally talk to you. You're…just a major icon.
Thank you, darling. Thanks for calling me.
So, Bad Brains was revived due to a large demand from fans wanting to see the band regroup. Did you feel great pressure to stay focused on socio-political ideas since your earlier works contained them?
No, none whatsoever. It was totally comfortable. There was complete loyalty from our fans who just encouraged us to do whatever was in our capacity to do. They gave us the thumbs up on it and told us to give it a try, saying: "You boys can do it. What you did in the past was great. Please, do it again."
Back in the 70s and 80s you connected with your audience in a very physically intimate way, from gyrating on stage to doing flips into the crowd. How have you transferred that mode of personability to the band's more soulful, laid-back outfit?
Throwing out the different styles and doing research. Looking. Doing. Seeking out solutions from different library books. I would come up with different meanings and explanations for song titles and the grooves that we were trying to pull off. And then I'd play that to the kids. It was like call-and-response, response-and-call; I'd give them some information, they'd give me some information and we'd just feed off of each other's ideas. That's how we'd come up with different solutions. I found out that the audience has not only been receptive to this, but they also understood what was going on and could relate to it, too. They were able to connect and reach an understanding, and knew that it wasn't something that was made up. It actually had some validity to it and it was authentic. And once they knew that it was authentic, they took it upon themselves to research and came up with some very interesting analyses for us to do what we do. It's for that reason that they received our messages clearly, consciously, and collectively. They understood and agreed with it.
Into the Future, your new album -- congratulations, by the way -- is your first LP in five years. Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys passed away from cancer last year, and he actually produced your last album. Did the choice to make Into the Future relate to his death in any way or was it used to celebrate his life? Were there noticeable differences on this record due to his not being around?
To answer your questions, he was a very creative, effective, and responsible individual who had the intelligence to know that something unique was going on. Out of that uniqueness, he represented to his kids and loved ones that he had an image of versatility. And that's what he would encourage the band to do. He encouraged us to remain self-sufficient and also as positive as humanly possible. So through that emphasis from him, and that priority for him wanting the group to remain true to the word and true to the core as we could, we understood exactly where he was coming from. It just made sense. He talked about how he really enjoyed our reggae songs and hardcore tunes. He thought that they were unique. To him, the image behind them was encouraging. So he'd emphasize that, and would tell us to try to remain as original as possible. That originality became the overwhelming vocal agreement of the masses. Whether we knew it or not, the responses from the kids were positive, they loved the music and were having fun. He wanted to stress that we bring that side out of us, too.
But this time around, the album was produced by your bassist Darryl and the guitarist Gary, correct?
That's exactly right. And our manager Anthony County helped pull it all together.
That's very interesting because the 1986 release, I Against I, is the only other album in the band's entire catalog where Darryl and Gary work on production together. Was there a conscious decision on everyone's part to associate the features of I Against I with the current album?
Oh, certainly. They surveyed it and came up with different styles and techniques that they enjoyed playing. Then through digital laptop exploration, tried out styles that they liked. Then we would follow it up with our kit, and that's how we came up with the grooves.
Given the band's major style shifts over the past couple or so decades, the title Into the Future could be interpreted in a few ways. Does it signify new experimental ventures or is there deeper, philosophical symbolism?
Yes, dear. It signifies a solution to problems and how people shouldn't let their adversities get them down. About staying positive and focusing on the future. Finding an answer to their everyday needs and problems. And that's the overall meaning of it. So we called the album Into the Future to show people, our fans, and our loved ones, that if they just remain positive, and perhaps stay a little futuristic, that they'll come up with a solution to their everyday problems.
Tell us what your thought processes were while trying to make the release satisfyingly Bad Brains.
OK, here's what I was thinking. I wanted to polish off the tunes to help make the songs more professional. Sellsmanship. Musicianship. To go beyond what people were pulling together in the past. Putting in our minds that people would enjoy our music equally as much as we did. It was a comfort to be able to pull it off, and there's absolutely nothing that we would change about the record.
On the front cover, you have your hands clasped together, almost in prayer. What are you trying to imply with that?
What I'm trying to suggest is that people should let love be the solution and to be compassionate. But be as graceful as possible in doing so, and use that to communicate with God on a spiritual level.
In that same vein, is there any sort of intellectual enlightenment that you would like for listeners to reach?
Well, what I would do is stress to them to listen to the vocals and the lyrics. Understand where the bass, guitars, and drums are coming from, and open their minds and hearts. Once they're able to do that, they'll see that the grooves are snappin' and shredding. They mean as much as they're worth. They will see that the work that's been put into it is priceless. And also, that the group is so on it. It's just phenomenal, and at the same time, awesome.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
We will definitely be releasing more music. Also, people should just keep up the good work. I recommend the album, it's A+ production. You'll truly like it, and you shouldn't worry. You'll get your money's worth. Thank you for taking the time out to talk with me and for asking me some really cool questions!
Thank you so much.
You can read my previous interview, with Sick of it All, here.