Bad Brains: Power Of The Spirit

Listen to Bad Brains on Rhapsody...

By Martin Halo

Bad Brains by Frank Ockenfels
Under the guidance of a higher power and exalting the swagger of genre forging tunesmiths, the legacy and influential power of Bad Brains is undeniable. They were the apex, the standard of punk mixed with dub resulting in a following that reflected their scene domination and huge influence on their peers.

Formed in Washington DC in 1979, the Brains' original core lineup, consisting of Doctor Know (guitar), H.R. (vox), Darryl Aaron Jenifer (bass) and Earl Hudson (drums), released a string of mystic recordings littered with white punk, funk, soul, metal and reggae – all accented with Ethiopian religious overtones.

Constant internal creative struggles within the band forced the original members to split and pursue different musical directions in 1989. But, their legend endured. Reuniting for a brief time in 1995 with H.R. and Earl Hudson, Bad Brains recorded the reggae infused God of Love. The reunion didn't last and they soon disbanded again. A decade later, following the power of "The Spirit," the core fellowship is back together for Build A Nation (out June 26 on Megaforce Records). The album is a return to the bombastic rawness of Bad Brains' revered '80s recordings Attitude: The ROIR Sessions and Rock For Light.

Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys oversaw the sessions as acting producer. Within the confines of his home studio, Yauch harvested the Brains' creative energies in an act of artistic transcendence through the limbs of physical essence.

Founder Dr. Know provides commentary from his home in Woodstock, New York, and Adam Yauch took a few minutes to discuss the clandestine narrative of the new record's fabrication.

They were the first band to really push the tempo that far... The chord progressions they put together came a lot from jazz-fusion and from hearing funk records.

-Adam Yauch on the Bad Brains' ground-breaking sound



JamBase: Bad Brains is back together. How the hell did this happen?

Adam Yauch
Adam Yauch: You know over the years, they keep splitting up and reuniting. It is really par for the course. There is a lot of tension in that band and I guess that is what adds to it.

JamBase: What was going on for you personally and creatively leading up to the time that Bad Brains approached you about the sessions?

Adam Yauch: Well it wasn't too long after 9/11, and I had just kind of finished building a studio with Adam [Horovitz] and Mike D. I had started working a little bit on the To the 5 Boroughs album. We then decided to take a long break. I guess Mike wanted to go to the West Coast. So, I talked to Darryl [Aaron Jenifer] and he was saying that Bad Brains were thinking about recording. I had some free time, so I just said, "Hey, you guys should just come record in my studio and we can work on it together."

What were the sessions like as far as the atmosphere and the connectivity between you guys?

It was pretty intense. Those guys definitely have a specific energy when they play together that you can feel in the room right away. There is something about the way those guys play music together that is amazing. Words don't really do it justice. There is something unique being made outside of the realm of words.

Was there anything specific that you tried to bring to the sessions?

I think a big part of what I was trying to do was to get the sounds the way I remember them sounding when I was a kid. I felt like a lot of the later recordings seemed too clean, like there used to be certain rawness. Maybe it was because they had crappy amplifiers and the amps were distorting. I remember the bass being particularly distorted and there was a certain type of compression because they were using cheaper PAs. I can remember the whole band blaring out of the PA at CBGB's. Sometimes through the recording process you can end up getting the sound almost too clean. Getting a direct bass recording or how the drums were mic'd was a big part of what I was trying to get at, back to that sound that I remember.

You guys played out at the Gorge Festival a couple weeks ago. From your perspective how was the Bad Brains project received?

People seemed really into it. It was a good crowd. It was actually pretty funny though to see a bunch of hippies dancing around and stuff, which is really not the way I remember Bad Brains. It wasn't seeing them at CBGB's in 1980 [laughs].

What effect has Bad Brains had on American music?

Adam Yauch by Christina Radish
I may be wrong on this, but from my perspective, I think they were really the first band to really push the tempo that far. I think there was punk music and hardcore was born out of the firing Phoenix kind of burning up. Hardcore emerged from that. I think that Bad Brains were very influential in pushing the tempo up as far as they did. They were much more intense musicians with the level of their musicianship, and their influences were much more diverse. So, what they brought to it in terms of their chord progressions was very different. The chord progressions they put together came a lot from jazz-fusion and from hearing funk records - forms of music that a lot of other kids were not growing up on.

A lot of the other people that were playing punk probably just listened to punk before, or they were listening to the Beatles, the Stones and Jimi Hendrix when they were younger. The influences the Brains were bringing were crazy, just the syncopation of the changes and the technical aspect of what they were doing. Even lyrically, they were on a whole different level. On a lot of levels they are a completely unique and innovative band. On top of that, they got so into their Rasta religion and the way that affects the music. The fact that they went back and forth from playing straight dub to hardcore shows a certain pacing that other bands didn't have.

Continue reading for our conversation with Dr. Know...

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