Interview by Philip Lucas-Smith of Ska Punk Daily
In 1989, two of ska punk’s seminal albums were released that continue to have a strong influence on the genre to this very day: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Devil’s Night Out and Operation Ivy’s Energy. Fast forward to 2021 and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have just released their 11th album (When God Was Great), co-produced by none other than Operation Ivy/Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.
Bosstones vocalist, Dicky Barrett reflects on coming full circle on the recent partnering, “Tim told me both album dates, he is like the Rain Man of punk rock. He gave me the exact date Devil’s Night Out was released off the top of his head. He has this huge memory for all things punk and ska. It is refreshing, but then you start looking at him as this punk rock robot.”
Born out of Berkeley California, Operation Ivy had an explosive, but short-lived career. While out of Boston, the Bosstones built a career that was at the very forefront of the “third wave of ska.” However, back in ‘89, both bands were pretty much unaware of each other.
Barrett muses, “It was unbeknownst to us what they were doing. It’s not as if we were talking to each other on Facebook, “Hey how are things in Berkeley, California? We are going to take some punk rock, heavy metal, and ska and make a record. Oh, you guys are going to do the same thing?”
So what was going through the heads of these Boston lads to fuse punk and ska into this frenetic hybrid in the first place?
“We were thinking the ska had to be ska as you ever heard it. It couldn’t subtly blend into it, we wanted it to sound like you flipped a switch and now it’s hardcore. It was as thought-out as much as it could be by guys that age. It was fun to get everyone dancing and then make the music as heavy as possible. We had no idea Tim and his crew were doing the same thing. They were just as surprised to know we existed.”
Influencing the new by reflecting on the past was an ongoing source of inspiration for the new Bosstones album, including coming up with the album title: When God Was Great.
“It’s no coincidence our first album title had the word “devil” in it and this record has the word “god” in it. Everyone calls our first album “Devil,” so I want everyone to call this record “God”, or at least call me that.” Barrett laughs, “Does that make me sound too much like a narcissist?”
As heard on the band’s first two singles “The Final Parade” and “I Don’t Believe in Anything”, the Bosstones have never sounded bigger. This production punch, combined with lyrical inspiration driven by the current pandemic, has created a confronting but supportive listening experience.
“There is much confusion in the world and what we were all living through in this lockdown world.” Barrett says, “What we eventually figured it out is that we had each other. That’s the whole heart and soul of the record, which is recognizing who are your people and who will be there when things get tough. Who are your family, and that’s who we relied on and gathered to make this album and it ends with Jamaican artist Stranger Cole singing, ‘Family and friends get together again and good times we have’.”
Barrett perks up even more, “Hope and optimism, that is what we deliver, and this is a Bosstones look at what is going on now. Whatever it is we create and we are thought of in the future, I don’t want to be thought of as the guys who fucked up ska. So everything we do is respectful, and what the spirit of it is and where it came from. That’s very important to us.”
So how does Barrett assess his own vocal contribution to the new record?
“I’ve spent most of my career telling people not to call me a singer. Don’t call me an artist. Frank Sinatra is a singer, he is an artist. There are so many great ones and I am the furthest thing from that. The pace we were recording this album was mind-numbing, the lyrics and words were just coming out. Joe Gittleman (bassist) was sending me three songs a day. I’m telling John (Goetchius – band keyboardist) I can’t stop writing and working on all these ideas and he stopped me and said, “Hey idiot, that’s because you are an artist and that’s what artists do.” For the first time, it felt right. When things are tough, this is how artists express themselves. It’s how we heal and how we deal.”
Quickly moving the spotlight away from himself Barrett follows up, “If someone asked me how would I describe the new Bosstones record? I would say it’s a masterpiece… with all seriousness. That person would then say I am a narcissist and an asshole, but I would stick to it and give credit to my fellow Bosstones.”
Listen to When God Was Great below. Add the album to your favorite streaming services and pick up a physical copy here.
Images courtesy of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.