Most bands formed by school friends never make it past the disinfected corridors or talent contest gigs. If they do and manage to play a handful of shows, then someone gets a job, a girlfriend/boyfriend or develops a love of free jazz, flogs all their old records and everyone goes their own way.
Which makes the story of Bad Religion all the more remarkable. They formed when bassist Jay Bentley, singer Greg Graffin and guitarist Brett Gurewitz were just tenth grade classmates in Los Angeles and, 22 years later, they're still around. They survived and outgrew the LA Punk scene, released a series of acclaimed albums (on Gurewitz's label Epitaph) and became one of the most overground underground bands in alternative music. They've also recently released arguably their strongest album yet in 'The Process of Belief', a record which has seen them re-united with Gurewitz after seven years apart and acclaimed in mainstream publications on both sides of the pond.
"It's a little overwhelming but we've been doing this for so long that things happen and you do what you do," says Bentley. "Like this is a great album and I'm having a good time, working with the confines of this album. But it certainly doesn't make our career."
It only takes a minute to realise that no half-hour phone call is even going to scratch the surface of this band's history and their influence on a generation. And if Bentley doesn't sound too excited about the ecstatic reaction to 'Process...', it's probably because he's just so thankful that Bad Religion are still around – 14 months ago it looked the exact opposite. Having released some patchy albums (as lesser talents blossomed), drummer Bobby Schayer then decided that he was leaving the band – a decision which left the remaining BR members wondering if they wanted to go on.
The answer arrived from the most likely/unlikely of people: Gurewitz. While credited (along with Graffin) with writing many of the band's seminal songs, the guitarist had left Bad Religion (not long after they signed to a major label in the early 90s) with a view to concentrating on building up Epitaph. He succeed, steering the Offspring to the aptly titled multi-million selling 'Smash'. But Gurewitz also suffered his own dark days with drug addiction and Bentley thought that the guitarist would never come back to the fold.
"Before our 2000 album 'The New America' came out, Greg and I talked about making a 20th anniversary album. As the discussion grew, I said that we should really call Brett because he's a major part of the band's history. So Greg asked him if he wanted to write some songs and the record turned into 'The New America', not necessarily an anniversary album. When it was done, I called Brett at work and said that it was a pity he couldn't come to the studio. And he said 'maybe next time.' And the next time turned into us leaving our then label and calling him up and saying 'Hey, what are you doing? Do you want to be in Bad Religion?' and him going 'Yeah, do you want to be on Epitaph?' "
Now things have come full circle, with Gurewitz back in the band, the band back on Epitaph and the trademark sound stronger, more focused and timely than ever. It's a sound which Tom Waits described as 'Irish folk music on speed', a collision of people who were into the Ramones, Discharge, Todd Rundgren and The Jam but whose sentiments can be traced all the way back to the protest singers of the 60s. But while 'Process' isn't destined to sell a million copies, it's a comfort to know that the kids who've been weaned on pop punk have an alternative. And after 20 years Bentley knows that while bands go out of fashion, survival never goes out of style.
"We're still here. I don't feel owed and I don't feel slighted and I don't feel that we've done anything other than everything we've ever wanted to accomplish. To look at it any other way would be beyond my scope of comprehension because it would seem too self-absorbed to go 'why aren't we that big?' We're doing fine."
Here's to the next 22.
Bad Religion play The Ambassador Theatre, Dublin on Wednesday 15 May. Tickets €26.20.