BAD TO THE BRAIN THEY'RE ON A MISSION FROM JAH
God is in everything, as the good book says, and He's especially in the conversation of Bad Brains' bassist, Darryl Jenifer. Strange as it may seem, the group that essentially created the punk/funk/ethno-metal/reggae sound 16 years ago has something in common with gleaming-white vocalist Pat Boone: an unfailing belief in the Man Upstairs, specifically, Jah.
"Like God says, everything gets better in time, cause you get older and wiser," says Jenifer of the band's tenure. "It's funner now than it was."
But there is a serious agenda lurking beneath the fun fun fun.
"This is our life," he intones. "It's not a job. We're on a mission."
The crusade: "Dispensing positive vibes. To sum it up in one four-letter word, love. For real."
The dispensation began in Washington, D.C., where guitarist Jenifer, bassist Dr. Know (the two would ultimately switch instruments), drummer Earl Hudson and vocalist H.R. (arguably, the third-most-famous "H.R." ever, after Haldeman and Pufnstuf) were "trying to play funk." They called themselves Mind Power. Then they heard the Sex Pistols, and things began to change.
"When we started playing what we do now, the rock side of it, we thought, 'How can we keep that same name and make it different?'" Jenifer explains by telephone from a hotel room on his current tour stop, Missoula, Montana. "To us, 'bad'--the way black people say it--it's a positive thing. So Mind Power; Bad Brains."
Bad Brains began slamming out some of the most ferocious shit in the newly punk-infected country, yet its message was not one of snot-nosed nihilism--thanks to Jah, the band's icon of choice.
"Our vision hasn't changed," says Jenifer. "When we first started, we just wanted to have some PMA. That's 'positive mental attitude.' Jah takes care of us. He gives you what you need when you need it, not when you want it." And when you want Bad Brains--on CD, that is--you won't find it filed under religious music at your local record store.
"I don't have a definition of 'religious music,'" offers the bass player. "Religion is a term that, to me, means organized faith based on money. Your relationship with God is your way of life, and God is in all of us."
Rise is the group's first album in four years, and the first recorded effort since Brains underwent personnel changes in 89. Hudson was replaced by mononamed Mackie, and in place of H.R. is Israel Joseph-I. Fans will not be disappointed; the release is a full-Brains-jacket of speed-metal, funk and island-flavored music. Know's guitar playing is particularly boggling, and remember: These guys were doing this stuff before there was a Living Colour or a Fishbone or a Red Hot Chili Peppers. Bad Brains is a living chunk of rock history.
Though the group has taken a hiatus or two over the years, it's consistently been a well-traveled outfit for its fans worldwide. Which is a passable segue into the vital question of what the band eats on the road.
"In Europe, they have bean burgers at Burger King, which is very cool," gushes the vegetarian Jenifer. "I want to write Burger King a letter here in the States and say, hey, there is a market for this. Obviously, they know of this, but they don't do it. They feel we're just a beef country. Gotta get them hamburgers!"
Jenifer may be outspoken about the state of American fast food, but he's quite humble when his band's rep as a genre-buster is brought up.
"Well, all music is based on the blues, or, to break it all the way down, it's based on rhythm," he says. "The hard-core beat that we play--we kind of invented that--if you slow it down a little bit, it's a gospel beat. Everything has its roots, and there's nothing new under the sun.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.