We don’t want to start any rumors, but Brooks Wackerman gets around. The 24-year-old Seal Beach native’s résumé boasts stints with the Vandals, Infectious Grooves, teenage metalheads Bad4Good, his own “punk rock with marimba” project Hot Potty, Suicidal Tendencies, Danny Elfman, and a myriad of session work. You’ll note the penchant for heaviness, and therefore it should make sense – why not Bad Religion, too?
“I was like two when these guys started out. I’m definitely excited,” Wackerman says of joining the punk-progenitors in mid-2001 and recording the recently released Process of Belief. “I was very familiar with their catalog before I joined. Being in the Vandals and Suicidal Tendencies, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be exposed to Bad Religion. Suicidal started around the same time that Bad Religion was starting, so it’s kind of in the same circle, musically. When they called me I was right-off-the-bat interested in getting involved.”
Unfortunately the circumstances for joining Bad Religion weren’t something to be excited about, as longtime drummer Bobby Schayer was forced to leave the band. “His resignation was due to an injury in his shoulder, rotary-cuff pain, and it was from playing drums,” Wackerman sighs. “It just got to the point where he wasn’t able to play anymore, he couldn’t even lift his arm up to hit a cymbal. To my knowledge he’d been suffering with it for about a year, maybe longer. It was going on for a while before he admitted to the band that he had this problem. I don’t know if time off is going to heal his injury or not. Hopefully it will.”
Timing was everything for Brooks, as earlier in 2001 he decided to leave Suicidal Tendencies, the band he’d been with for six years. Brooks explains, “Fletcher from Pennywise is a mutual friend of me and [Bad Religion guitarist] Brett Gurewitz. He recommended me for the gig, so I got to audition. I was told that I was the last of five drummers to come down there. During that time, I had recently resigned from Suicidal Tendencies, so I was kind of apprehensive about jumping into another band. But I went down there, and they told me to learn a couple of the older songs, and I did. Our personalities matched. Right when we started playing, it was kind of obvious that we had some chemistry. So they asked me if I was interested in becoming a Bad Religion member. I didn’t know really what I was getting into, but I knew that I was interested.”
So in June of 2001, Brooks joined Bad Religion. Only problem was he had to do his last tour with Suicidal, a two-week European stint in July. No matter, wheels for the Process of Belief sessions were already in motion.
“Actually before I did the Suicidal tour we did two weeks of pre-production at a rehearsal hall,” he says, “and demoed the songs we were going to record in July. Everything was written before I came into the project. Brett and Greg [Graffin, vocals/guitar] both have home studios, so they demoed every single song that we recorded. We did minor changes here and there, but for the most part it was all arranged and written. When I came back from the Suicidal tour, that’s when I really dove into the Process of Belief sessions.”
This doesn’t mean that everything was set in stone. “They had the songs before, but they were definitely open to suggestions. They weren’t looking for a session drummer. Greg emphasized that when I went down there, that whoever they were going to get, they wanted to make sure that they were going to complete the band, rather than just hiring Vinnie [Colaiuta] for the session and getting some other guy for the road.” [laughs]
And while it might seem like Wackerman simply jumped from one legendary punk band to another, Bad Religion offers some interesting harmonic and melodic elements that the genre isn’t known for. “The first time I played Bad Religion for my dad,” he confesses, “the first thing that he said was, ’Out of all the bands that you’ve played in, these guys are the most musical.’ As far as the harmonies, you know, for being a punk band, doing seven-part harmonies is definitely unique and something that they created. Melodic hardcore I guess is the right term. When I joined, that was definitely one of the qualities of the band that stuck out. Greg has an amazing voice. And a lot of the harmony parts are inspired, I think, by the Beatles and Queen.”
Musical intelligence in punk? It probably shouldn’t surprise anybody who really knows them, as Gurewitz also heads up Epitaph Records, and Graffin holds a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from Cornell and a Masters in Geology from UCLA. Dinner-table conversation must be interesting.
“I say few words when I have dinner with these guys,” Wackerman laughs, “because I can’t keep up on the biological evolution discussions. I remember I went out to dinner with Brett and Greg at this Chinese place, and they were talking about some feature they saw on the Discovery Channel. I don’t even know what it was about. It was just way beyond my knowledge. I was sitting there, nodding my head, going, ’Okay. One day when I pick up this education that you guys have, I’ll contribute to the conversation. For now I’ll just eat my noodles.’”