A Bad Brains reunion produced by Adam Yauch sounds a tad too convenient for comfort, doesn’t it? While the Beastie Boys blurred the racial lines of hip hop, Washington, D.C.’s Bad Brains have been changing the complexion of mosh pits for almost two decades. Build A Nation (Megaforce)—the band’s first LP since 1995 with the classic lineup of singer H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer and drummer Earl Hudson—sounds like a lost dub-reggae/hardcore-punk recording from back when CBGB was a club on the Bowery, not a retail store on St. Mark’s Place.
Dr. Know (real name: Gary Miller) claims Bad Brains never broke up in the first place. The way he sees it, the band’s many splits were all temporary. With a name like Dr. Know, we decided to press further.
Punk rock’s attitude, more than its actual sound, inspired the band to form.
“Growing up in D.C., there was a lot of hypocritical, political bullshit. We really wanted to speak on that. At the time, the kind of people saying that sort of thing were punk kids from England.”
Bad Brains’ original vocalist was a punk rocker named Sid McCray.
“Sid was very influential in us adopting a rock ’n’ roll sound. He exposed us to the Clash, the Damned, everybody. He had a huge record collection.”
A bingo game is responsible for giving Bad Brains its rehearsal space.
“We all had apartments, but a good friend named Alvarez had a house and drums, so we would go in his basement and turn up the amps when his mother went to bingo on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We’d be like, ‘All right, we’ve got two hours. Let’s hit it!’”
A Bob Marley concert inspired Bad Brains to adopt a Rastafarian lifestyle.
“Bob Marley was opening for Stanley Clarke. We had heard of Bob, but we didn’t know what we were in for. It was a spiritual experience. I remember walking in and feeling the bass in this 2,000-person arena. It was rattling everything, like, ‘Oh my God, what is this? This is some spiritual stuff. This is moving.’”
1983’s “Banned In D.C.” is autobiographical.
“Back in the day, there was nowhere to play. People just saw these rebel kids dressed as anti-society—wearing suits, but our suits were all ripped up. We were playing above this nice restaurant—one with white tablecloths, crystal and all that—and everyone was pogo-ing so much that the chandeliers were shaking downstairs. News of that show spread around, and we couldn’t play anywhere anymore.”
Rapper Lil Jon asked the band to back him on the song “Real Nigga Roll Call.”
“There’s a whole record in the can of us [as Black Jack Johnson]. I hope he releases it, because I love it.”
Henry Rollins was a Bad Brains roadie.
“We knew him from way back in the day. He was one of our first helpers, lugging shit around and being a form of crowd control, helping us point out the assholes in the crowd and making their balls shrink right up.”
H.R. did the vocals for 1986’s “Sacred Love” from jail.
“H.R. and Earl got in trouble for having a little bag of weed. That’s D.C., man: profiling and being Nazis. We had all of the tracks done except for H.R.’s vocals because he was still writing the lyrics. So our producer, Ron St. Germain, said, ‘Johnny Cash did a record in prison; why can’t you?’ We got him on the phone and said, ‘Roll it!’ They gave us a half-hour once we had permission. That’s how we do, you know?”