Hometown Boys: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
by Chris Nickson
It took a long time, but ska finally made the leap above ground. No Doubt, Goldfinger, Sublime, Rancid -- they've all made it big news, even if they're not exactly out-and-out Third-Wavers themselves. "Time" has even written about it. But the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were blending ska, pop, punk, and metal long before anyone thought to call it skacore.
Now it's 1997, and Boston's favorite sons are back with a new album, "Let's Face It" (Mercury), and a single that's just waiting to get its hooks into you, "The Impression That I Get." Maybe time is finally on their side.
"After doing four full-length records in five years, we've got to know what kind of a beast we're trying to kill," explains vocalist Dicky Barrett. "It's nice to be a band that's on its fifth record. We've gradually built up. We've got better and we've made a better record, which isn't to say we've made the best Bosstones record. That may never come.!
It's been a year and a half since our last album, and we try to make every record different so we don't repeat ourselves. For this, we wrote 25 songs, recorded them once and listened to them, asking ourselves if that was the best way to do them, or just the easiest way. We thought about them, which is scary. I thought we might run the risk of getting too cerebral about it. But in the end, it came out really good. Together more than a decade, the band -- Barrett, Nate Albert (guitar), Dennis Brockenborough (trombone), Ben Carr ("Bosstone"), Kevin Lenear (saw), Tim Burton (sax), Joe Gittleman (bass) and Joe Sirois (drums) -- has toured constantly, averaging 300 dates a year, "because what we do best is play live. I firmly believe that anyone who can really capture their live show on an album is a shitty live band. We try to be completely different in the studio. There's no way you can capture a 16-year-old kid losing his mind, running across the stage, taking out a horn player! and diving into the audience; it just doesn't record well. We're two separate bands -- the kids who go in the studio, and the guys who kick it live." Ska has always been a huge part of the Bosstones' sound. "We were eight guys with similar interests," Barrett says, "namely going to punk rock shows in Boston, seeing our favorite bands. And one day one of us came up with the idea that if we were a band we'd be in there for free, we'd get beer, we'd be able to play with our favorite bands, and that small brainstorm escalated into a hurricane. Ska was the common passion we had. We're influenced, and we love ska, but we're not a ska band."
While they started out playing music to have a good time and get free beer, dressing in horrendous plaid ("I'm really glad we didn't break when I was wearing a pair of knickers and seven or eight different types of plaid"), these days the Bosstones have grown up a little. They established their own label, Big Rig, which recently issued "Safe and Sound," a New England all-star compilation whose proceeds will benefit the National Clinic Access Project, and the work with ARA, the Anti-Racist Action Group. "I don't think we're huge socially conscious flagwavers," Barrett offers, "but with the things we care about, we're not idiots. [ARA] set up boots at our shows, and maybe it helps some guy who's sitting on the fence. And them being there keeps me from getting on a soapbox."
In December, for the third year in a row, the Bosstones hosted the "Hometown Throwdown," playing five Boston clubs and giving plenty of local bands the chance of exposure. "Hometown roots are important. Boston's done so much for us, we can't forget about. it. I'm a big Boston booster. I used to be a roofer here -- maybe that's what I'll end up being again. We got lucky is all it isÉ I think we've gotten a little more focused," Barrett laughs, "but there's still the ass-backwards quality of being tightrope walkers, keeping all the plates spinning! , taming the skacore beast."