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Interview: Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains

words by Billy Werner | photo by Alex Countey
03.12.2007

DarrylOriginally published in Verbicide issue #19

Some of the best bass players I’ve seen have been quiet men in the background, crafting a spinal column for the rest of the band and grooving with the drummer. Often expressionless and motionless, they are the mysterious figures that thump out rhythmic notes and push songs along towards their inevitable climax. Darryl Jenifer is one such figure, a shadow in the background but a quiet storm. Jenifer’s playing has helped define the sound of the Bad Brains and as such has also helped define the low-end we hear in hardcore punk today.

Chances are you don’t need a history lesson. If a band could be called genre-defining it’s the Bad Brains; these four African-American men from Washington, DC simply are hardcore. It’s not often that accomplished musicians decide to play lightning-fast punk rock, but when they did at the end of the 1970s, countless listeners were inspired, enthralled, and compelled to make music themselves. This is what the Bad Brains were for their contemporaries, and this is what the band has been to subsequent generations of punks, despite their beginnings as a jazz-fusion group called Mind Power. Jenifer credits the individual members’ eclectic taste in music as the reason they found punk and began playing aggressively.

“We are all blessed with versatile taste in music, so punk rock to us was just another flavor to be tasted in the universe of music,” says Jenifer. “The sound is a product of inventiveness; the need and want to ‘do something different.’”

Jenifer could not have used a more appropriate word than “versatile” to discuss his musical identity. On the band’s 1983 masterpiece Rock For Light, Jenifer moves seamlessly between thrashy punk ragers and deep spiritual dub tracks. No matter what his chosen style is, one thing remains certain: he’s holding the chaos together while pushing it forward. Many would argue that Darryl’s glory days are behind him, but discussing future plans with the man reveals that he still has the same “PMA” he did 25 years ago.

And when you’re a member of the Bad Brains, you have to stay positive, especially with plans to reunite, release a new record, and potentially tour with the ever-volatile and unpredictable HR. Yes, you read correctly — the original lineup of Bad Brains are slated to give it another shot. During the last week of CBGB’s existence, the Brains pounded through two consecutive sets that seemed to reignite the band’s interest in playing together again. When asked to explain the motivation behind the reunion, Jenifer simply states that the band is not only “doing it for the kids,” but also acting out of a perceived spiritual commitment.

“Our duty throughout the years has been to enlighten, empower, and equip the youth of today with the proper armor to resist and withstand Babylon and Babylonian concepts. In short — come when Jah call ya children, come when Jah call ya.”

The Bad Brains’ musical reawakening has led them back to Beastie Boy and moral supporter Adam Yauch. Yauch, who Jenifer refers to as the band’s “brethren, student, and nephew,” began producing new Bad Brains material nearly two years ago. After a long break, Jenifer says the band returned to the studio with Yauch to complete the album, entitled Build A Nation. He suggests Build A Nation will be the record fans have been waiting to hear; a return to the band’s classic ability to mix seemingly disparate genres.

“The record is written conceived and arranged in ‘vintage’ Bad Brains style: raw, progressive punk, with strictly off-brand, inventive dub styles.”

The album is scheduled for an early May release, along with Jenifer’s forthcoming solo album, Soldier Styles ’07, which the bassist describes as consisting of “off-brand rubba-dub styles.”

When asked if Bad Brains will tour, Jenifer confirmed what many already know: it all depends on HR, and until the singer is “ready for the rigors of rock,” Jenifer is content to keep the Brains in the studio.

As a solo artist, the bass player is ready for another spiritual quest: “I will be touring extensively throughout the universe and the world as the self-proclaimed musical spearhead conquering all Babylonian concepts with the positive vibes of Rubba Dub sonics. Ya heard?”

We heard you Darryl and we’re ready to hear more.

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