THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES The Boston Phoenix - October 14, 1994 By Brett Milano Link
THE BOSSTONES PROPOUND A MORE SERIOUS WORLDVIEW
It's Friday morning in New York City, and Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dickey Barrett is feeling proud of himself. The Bosstones have made their big time TV debut on The Jon Stewart Show the night before, hauling out an anti-TV song for the occasion. The tune, "We Should Talk," appears on the new Bosstones album Question the Answers (Mercury); it takes some good jabs at talk shows, with this chorus: "We're not so bad I guess after all/Their problems make ours seem so small/We'd be much better off, I bet/If we turned off the TV set!" The perfect song to perform on TV, right?
"A lot of jaws dropped when we did it in soundcheck," Barrett reports by phone from NYC. "They said, 'Wait a minute, don't you guys understand that you're on a talk show?' And I said, 'No, hold on, this'll be good.' There were eight of us in the band, so I guess we outnumbered the staff. I think we looked pretty punk; we just went on there and played a couple of Bosstones songs. Speaking for myself I was nervous; when we play live I draw energy from energy and we get the luxury of having kids losing their minds upfront. The TV show was kind of self-indulgent if you examine it -- like, why the hell should anybody want to look at us?"
Maybe because it's before noon, but Barrett, who's normally a first-class wiseacre, is in a reflective mood. He's well aware that the Bosstones have had a hell of a year -- beginning with a New Year's Eve gig opening for Aerosmith at the Garden and continuing with one of the year's prime local-rock events, their recent six-night stand at the Middle East. Now they've made it to the second major-label album -- traditionally the crisis point for Boston bands, if they even get that far -- and the future still looks bright.
"You know, it's still a blast," Barrett says. "I give credit to the personalities in the band, because I'm probably the toughest one to get along with and they all tell me they love me. I'm knocking on wood about that right now. It feels real safe to have the bond we do; if you've got to get away from one guy there's always another one to turn to. Hopefully that doesn't sound too corny, because a lot of bands say the same thing and then they break up. They always say, 'Yeah, we're like a family,' then you find out that one dude's suing the other dude."
The slightly-more-serious approach carries over to the lyrics of Question the Answers, which includes a few more topical songs and a few less outright yuks than usual but otherwise is real loud and real Bosstones. Aside from a different-sounding mix (less horns, more guitars), it's not too far from the early albums on Taang! Last year's Don't Know How To Party made a more obvious play for songwriting and production and still has the edge songwise, but Question is closer to what the band sound like live, despite the presence of three different production teams (including the Butcher Brothers of Urge Overkill fame and Fort Apache honcho Paul Kolderie). There's an obvious single ("Kinder Words," a catchier follow-up to "Someday I Suppose"), a few tunes that shift from reggae to punk and back again ("the oldest trick we got," Barrett admits), and a bunch of slice-of-life lyrics -- plus the latest version of a song that's appeared on three different Bosstones releases, under the titles "Drums and Chickens," "Drunks and Children," and, currently, "Dogs and Chaplains." "It seems to turn up on every other album," Barrett says. "We'll keep going with it until someone finally says, 'Enough's enough, guys.'"
"With eight guys in the band, there's always someone being a pain in the ass to the professional in the control room," he continues. "The Bosstones always have a lot of input as to how they want the record to sound -- even me, as musically retarded as I am. We wanted to have a lot of different textures on this record, and 'texture' was a real buzzword while we were making it. So if I throw it around too much, you can limit me to one texture per interview." As for the jumping around within songs, "Well that's us, we'll be jamming along and we never let things run smoothly. We can be playing a reggae thing and we'll think, 'At what point do we thrash this?'"
The Bosstones did some love songs a couple of albums ago, so the presence of some here is no shocker. More surprising is the way they've worked in some heavier lyrics without losing the upbeat feel of the album. "Stand Off" is a cousin to the Clash's "Stay Free" but without the happy ending; "A Sad Silence," about a teen gang member who gets in over his head and ODs, may be the most serious Bosstones song ever -- so serious that Barrett gets nervous when asked about it. "That was a tough song to write, because I didn't want to write 'Jeremy.' It is based on fact, but I'd rather leave it at that. A lot of people talk about child abuse within the family, but there's other abuse that goes on. You have your friends in the neighborhood and kids can be pretty mean to each other, worse than what goes on inside the house. Beyond that I hope the song speaks for itself, because I'd sound too corny if I talked about it."
As for the cover, which shows a Boston police car, "It was just a piece of art that I did that I thought would look good on the cover. It'll be on there until the Boston police say, 'Hey, we've got this trademarked.'" So the cover wasn't meant as a jab at the cops? "Um, no comment."
More Boston bands who get signed might want to emulate the Bosstones' way of dealing with their label, to which Barrett attributes part of their success. "We set the guidelines with them from the beginning: you guys don't understand what we're doing now and you're not gonna understand what we're doing in five years, so shut up and let us get to work." Suggest that the Bosstones have been one of the few real success stories to come from this town in the past few years -- even getting Deadhead-like fans who follow their tours around the region -- and Barrett's back in reflective mode. "It blows my mind. I think we're worthwhile, but there's gotta be more important things in the world, and I don't think you'll find any of those things in rock and roll. It feels great and I'm proud of us, but it's amazing that we're still this tight. That's the great thing -- if the whole world turns against us, we'll still have us."