The afternoon we chat with Dicky Barrett by phone, he offers sports condolences.
“You’re calling me from Houston? Another deflated basketball city?” he asks.
Barrett is the animated and busy front man for ska punk giants, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. He’s on a break at his day job as announcer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! It’s just a day or two since he and his band mates crushed Punk Rock Bowling, the annual Las Vegas music fest, with a live set many considered the best of the weekend. And, it’s only been hours since the Houston Rockets were ingloriously bounced from the NBA playoffs, a fate suffered by Barrett’s own hometown team, the Boston Celtics, just a few days earlier.
We have a lot to discuss with Barrett. While We’re At It, the Bosstones’ tenth studio album, is releasing this Friday. They’re headed to Houston’s House of Blues for a July 6 date. But, just for a moment, we talk basketball and allow ourselves to “what if” over a modern day Celtics-Rockets championship series.
“It would have been great but Houston would have annihilated the Celtics,” he says with finality.
The salve for our b-ball ailments is music, we both know. We tell Barrett we’ve followed the Punk Rock Bowling chatter on social media and note the accolades.
“We’re still pretty damn good. We slayed. When it comes to what we do live on stage, I make no apologies. I’m bragging. I think that we’re a good live band. We pride ourselves on it, we try to be, and if we left the stage and the consensus was ‘That sucked,’ I think we’d probably not do it,” Barrett said pointedly. “And the same could be said for the album we have coming out on June 15. I’m very proud of that, as well.”
We’ve heard the album and it’s vintage Bosstones. It’s brushed with the energy you’d expect from a ska punk act yet bears the wisdom only a group with 35 years in the industry can provide. It takes a hard look at the world around us, but its lead single, “Wonderful Day For The Race,” is an optimistic reminder what a privilege it is for us to be here and be anything at all.
“I want the album to speak for itself. That probably sounds corny, it probably sounds cliché, but we put a lot of time into saying what we wanted to say on that record and I think things need to be said in the modern day. Certainly, with the state of affairs in this country, and the world as well. There’s no confusion where our hearts and heads are and how we feel about certain things,” Barrett explained.
“First and foremost, I want people to listen to the songs and go, ‘Oh, I like that song.’ As the guy who spends a lot of time writing the lyrics I want people to relate to them and attach whatever emotions, feelings and meaning they want to those lyrics. And that’s the way I’ve always written and that’s the way the Bosstones have always delivered their songs.”
It’s a good chance for us to delve into that process for a moment, mentioning our favorites from a deep discography, tracks like “You Gotta Go!”, “Someday I Suppose,” and the band’s breakthrough hit, “The Impression That I Get.” With the turmoil in today’s world, we ask Barrett, who writes most of the band’s lyrics, if his writing is directly influenced by current events.
“People probably all do it differently, there’s a million ways to skin a cat, but I don’t sit down and go, ‘Okay, I want to write a song about this.’ You write about what you’re feeling and what’s inside you – that. And then, often times, walk away from it and come back and look at it again and go, ‘Oh – that.’ And then re-enter that sort of world," he said.
“If I’m tackling some issue or talking about something I’m opposed to, then that’s where my head’s at,” he continued. “It’s not, ‘Oh, I’ve got to write a bunch of songs about what’s going on in the world today,” it’s like, I wanna write a song about what’s going on in me, right now. If I’m looking at my daily news feed and I go, ‘Well, that’s fucking horrible,’ then maybe that’ll consume me to the point where I start hammering words together.”
We ask Barrett about what could be yet another wave for ska, with fresh acts like The Interrupters and Buster Shuffle, which will also be on the House of Blues bill here, making waves.
“If you play the type of music that we play, the type of music Buster Shuffle plays, ska with other influences, I think that you kind of do it because you love it. You’re not trying to figure out what’s popular or what people are gonna latch onto. I love this music, I want to play it,” he said. “Then, if people like what you’re doing, that’s icing on the cake. But for the most part you do it because you love to do it. That’s how we started and I think that’s what Buster Shuffle does. I think that they like going around, touring around, playing, showing up and entertaining people. I think that they’re the same sort of animal.”
Maybe their tour mates will find something special in Houston, we note. I tell Barrett that my brother, who has seen hundreds of live shows, still swears a Bosstones show he saw at Fitzgerald’s is the best he’s ever attended.
“The Fitzgerald’s shows I remember. I think we did a week of shows at Fitzgerald’s. We kind of did a little residency there and had a great time,” he said. "I mean, from your brother seeing us at Fitzgerald’s to last weekend, I think it’s resounding. The Bosstones know what to do live.
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“I credit the other guys, of course. I’m the horrible voice and the guy who walks around the stage and barks into the microphone. I credit the talent of like eight other members and close friends that are on stage with me,” Barrett said. “I think that they’re superb musicians and excellent, high-quality people. And, I think they want to (perform). One thing that we don’t take lightly is the fact that we’re allowed to do it, and we didn’t take it lightly years ago. Now, at this stage of our lives and at this point in our career, to have the longevity and people are still showing up to see us, you gotta go, okay, they’re not coming here to watch old guys on stage, they’re coming here to watch the Bosstones and it’s our obligation to deliver that.”
Somehow, we dribble back to basketball.
“Who do we want to win this now? I mean, we know who’s going to. It’s going to be Golden State,” he correctly predicts. “Let’s agree not to watch.”
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones return to Houston Friday, July 6 in support of their new album While We’re At It, which bows this week. With Buster Shuffle, at Houston House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. $25.