Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin wears many hats: punk rock frontman, evolutionary biologist, college professor, noted author and thoughtful interviewee. On a recent weekday, he’s firmly in the latter camp, especially while discussing the genesis of his third solo album, Millport, which was released in March.
“People say, ‘What’s the key to writing good songs?’ And I’m sure every songwriter will give you their own story,” he says, calling from his house in upstate New York. “But for me, you gotta live a little bit. You gotta have life experience. You gotta have a rich life. If you just box yourself in a room, then you can come up with some interesting formulas. But it’s not really going to infuse the song with the richness of life experience.”
Written over six months and recorded in just 10 days, Millport is a moving amalgamation of Americana and roots music. Prominent influences include gospel (the piano-led “Time of Need”); vintage country music (“Backroads of My Mind”); electrified twang (the Drive-By Truckers-esque “Lincoln’s Funeral Train”); and folk (the banjo-buckled title track).
“Music is a broad spectrum, and stuff that’s influenced me over the years comes from my family and handing down traditional songs from their families,” Graffin says. “A lot of the stuff that inspired me to sing was some of the old-time music and roots music that comes from the Eastern United States.”
Three members of Social Distortion (guitarist Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham, bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo Jr.) served as Graffin’s backing band. Together, the collaborators crafted a record that’s reverent and timeless—or, as Graffin put it in a Rolling Stone Country interview, Millport is “the influential combination of rural church music and Linda Ronstadt.”
He elaborates on this characterization. “Even though I’m not a churchgoer, my mom and her family were basically the archetype of the American rural church,” he explains. “They had a grandfather who was a preacher, and they had to learn every word in the Bible. Then they came along with their generation and decided to raise me and my cousins away from the church, and so then you get us heathens in Bad Religion,” Graffin adds with a laugh.
Speaking of Bad Religion, he confirms that the band is “definitely gearing up for a new album,” since it has been more than four years since the release of its last LP, True North. (“Our fans are getting itchy,” he laughs.) Graffin is also working on a novel proposal based around a complex, evolution-based query.
“The most common question people ask me about evolution is, ‘With all the genetic modification going on now in food and in organisms, what’s the future going to look like?’” he says. “I think, based on some of the directions we’re going, I can make some interesting speculation about what our world is going to look like, and so this is going to be a fictional account of one scientist’s quest to save the world in 200 years.”
In the meantime, Bad Religion will headline Punk Rock Bowling Sunday night, which begs the question: Which member of the band is the best bowler? Graffin answers immediately. “If I bragged about it, I’d probably be lying,” he says. “Jay [Bentley] spends the most time in the bowling alley. He takes the most pride in it.”
Bentley is a golfer, Graffin adds, so he’s used to the kind of athletic repetition required for bowling. “I think he’s got the most experience. On a good day, he can do an impressive job. On a bad day, I can probably match him.”
Punk Rock Bowling May 27-29, Saturday & Sunday doors 3 p.m.; Monday doors 2 p.m.; $50/day, $125/fest. Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, punkrockbowling.com.