The really tricky thing with interviews is finding the time for phone and Skype calls. Nowadays, I’m extremely selective with which bands and which people I make that time for. It’s never anything personal, more a matter of my own time and how I use it. The next step down from using conference calls and long-distant phoners is going for the classic email Q&A; where you send off questions to a band and then they, hopefully not too long afterwards, send them back to you. It’s like a last ditch effort for interviews to get done and for content to circulate out. Problem is, when not speaking to the interviewee in real time, you can’t gauge how honest, how deep and how articulate their answers will be with the email process. Sadly, this interview with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett is on the weaker side, with hints of great answers and depth only ever glimpsed at. Sorry about that, nothing I can do as believe it or not, I’m a busy fucker and phone calls and their transcriptions take up real time. As I also like the PR dude handling the Ska legends latest record, ‘While We’re At It’, here’s the unabridged of Dicky’s and I’s interview. Cheers.
So first off, Dicky, how did you get into the role of being the announcer for Jimmy Kimmel Live? I feel like not a lot of people know about that part of your life.
I’ve been the announcer on Jimmy Kimmel Live for more than 15 year now and I’ve loved every second of it. Jimmy is a great guy and a tremendous friend. The people I work with at the show are fantastic and I’m really proud of the program.
I don’t need to tell you it, I know, but Bosstones were such a massive band for third-wave ska and for the genre in general. But nowadays, ska gets a really bad rap. What are your views on this music now in 2018 and on what it was like to be such a huge part of that movement back in the 90s? Obviously, you wouldn’t play it if you didn’t still like it – I just want to know to where your head is at with the style nowadays.
I don’t think Ska gets a bad rap – no one would dare say anything negative about Ska to me. It is and always has been my love. I love the message, the music, and the people who make it.
Here’s a what-if question for ya: do you ever wonder about what would’ve happened to the band if ‘Let’s Face It’ never came out at all? Do you think you would’ve had the same impact on ska and music without it or is it one of those real watershed moments for your band in retrospect?
I can’t think of things that way. That album is something I created. If I am an artist (feel free to debate and dispute that) than that is my artwork. I’m happy for the roll I played in creating it and I’m proud it exists.
‘While We’re At Is’ is album number 10 for you and the band, and the Bosstones have been around for over three-decades now. So, do you ever struggle with finding new ways to talk about issues closer to your heart? Or has it maybe gotten easier in terms of lyricism as time has gone and you’ve gotten older?
Regarding the cover of this new record, the art-style and images of ’60s/’70s culture and history all gives off a free-love, hippie vibe. Which I personally think is well-reflected in the upbeat sound of this album. Is that the actual intent, to just scream out as much positivity as you possibly can during these stranger-than-fiction times?
I appreciate your analogy and the fact that you have an appreciation for the album cover artwork. I spend a lot of time getting the packaging of all our albums to look the way I want them too. I’m really proud of this one wait til you see the whole thing.
I just love how this album starts off with the most ska-punk song ever written – ‘Green Bay, Wisconsin’ – written about a Midwestern ska girl quitting her supermarket job to go find join a scooter rally. Do you think things like that makes this record, or at least parts of it, timeless for the genre in tone and sound? Or do you feel that these kinds of stories offered in light-hearted manners haven’t aged all that well?
I’m very happy to hear that. I think she worked in the front office.
A really personal question for you now, Dicky. With the new single, ‘Wonderful Day For The Race’, and how it was written about something your father would say, do you think he would be touched by the song and on how his outlook affected your own life view?
My father loves my music and has always been supportive. He’s taken some lyrical jabs from me and has been stung by my words in the past. He pretty thick skinned and a good guy.
One song from this new album, ‘Hugo’s Wife’ is about Hugo Butler, the grandfather of your bassist Joe Gittleman, and how he was blacklisted during the communist witch-hunts of the 1950’s. That story of this Hollywood screenwriter being forced to live out in exile in Mexico with his wife and how he made it work for his family is extraordinary! Was that hard at all for Joe and you guys to reveal that on this record and how much has it affected him in his life – good or bad?
I’m sure there were difficult times for Joe’s mother and her siblings growing up but by all accounts Joe’s grandparents did a really good job of giving them a pretty good childhood despite the persecution they were forced to endure for just being an artist during the McCarthy era. I think we know now that that was a grim and ugly part of America’s history. Read Joe’s grandmothers book. REFUGEES IN HOLLYWOOD; A Journal of the Blacklist Years by Jean Rouverol.
On the same track, the way the song ends with you singing, “Political audacity that will go down in history/a lesson that we didn’t really learn” seems to be a dig at how people’s politics can get quite skewed and domineering nowadays. Straight up, do you think it’s bullshit that people wish to forgo a person or a band entirely because of their politics, or do you think that’s a reasonable reaction, towards any ideology?
People forgo many things for a lot of different reasons. We made a really good record that has a great big heart, give it a listen and once again, feel free to disagree.
In a similar matter, what are your thoughts on what NOFX’s Fat Mike said at their recent Las Vegas show about how “at least they were country music fans and not punk rock fans” about the 58 people who were killed there. Tasteless “joke”, of course, but what’s your take on the fallout of it and their apology since?
Mike’s a friend in a band that I’ve always really liked. Although I haven’t asked him directly I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Lastly, what would you hope to be the one takeaway listeners – young or old –pull from the 14 songs on ‘While We’re At It’?
Everything’s not for everyone, somethings are better left alone and nothing seems sacred these day, except for the new BossTones album. Thank you.
‘While We’re At It’ is out now.