The Pier sat down with ska legends The Mighty Mighty BossToneS as front-man Dicky Barrett discussed their most recent album, While Were At It. This is their tenth studio record that is said to conclude as a three part trilogy that started with 2009’s Pin Points and Gin Joints and 2011’s The Magic of Youth. The June 15th, 2018 release of While We’re At It completes the trilogy as the record includes 14 total songs produced by their longtime friend and producer, Ted Hutt.
In this interview, we talk about Ted Hutt as Dicky breaks down the meaning of a few songs while detailing the lyrical inspiration. Dicky concludes with a passionate take on ska’s so-called resurgence–Our phone-call lasted about 30minutes and below is a condensed transcription of our discussion. Enjoy!
Interview: Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty BosstoneS
The Pier: Well first off, thanks for taking the time, I have been looking forward to hearing about this album, While We’re At It.
Dicky: I am super proud of this record. It’s one I really enjoy. That’s the way most of them go, really. If all 9 of us decide it’s good, then we’re good with it. Everything else is gravy from there on out.
The Pier: I’ll be talking to your producer, Ted Hutt, and I’m excited to get his input as well. He also does the production for Lucero, which is one of my other favorite bands.
Dicky: Ah! First of all, Ted has insanely good taste. Tell me one record he has produced that is shit and I’ll call you a liar.
The Pier: You’re right. His resume is pretty incredible.
Dicky: And super tasteful! There is nothing embarrassing on it. That’s the great thing about Ted, if it doesn’t meet his standards or if he thinks this is rubbish or something, he won’t do it. And I have heard him turn down stuff on the phone too, saying things like: “No, that’s not really for me.” He’s a Grammy Award winning producer.
The Pier: What really impresses me the most is the genre spanning that he does. He has a lot of different stuff going on.
Dicky: Ted is good. And he’s great to be around. I’ll tell you one thing before you talk to him: he’s a super, super nice guy, extremely talented, and a lot of fun to be around. It’s actually enjoyable. When the session is done and its time to wrap up the record, its actually kind of sad because I look forward to working with him. I would come early and leave late when it came to working with Ted.
The Pier: Wow! I’m sure that’s probably not the relationship between every artist and producer, so that’s pretty cool.
Dicky: Right. I think The Ramones didn’t have the same sort of experience with Phil Spector, just for example!
The Pier: Well it’s funny we brought up Ted, because one of the main things I’m interested in hearing about is what really makes your last three albums a trilogy?
Dicky: That’s a great question, and it starts probably with Ted and the fact that Ted did all three of them, and from there it moves on to the fact that I say they’re a trilogy.
We made the first one, then the second one, then I thought: ‘We’re gonna make a three-part series here.’ There’s nothing tangible, it’s not like the story continued, it’s just that I was writing songs the same way and in the same head. At some point I said: “I want to make a third record with Ted as part of a trilogy.” If you listen to all three, it makes sense. They are companion pieces. They’re a trilogy that is also part of a, so far, ten-part series; which is Mighty Mighty BossToneS full length albums. These last three sort of hold hands. And it has a lot to do with the places I talk about and the people I talk about within it. So that’s what makes it a trilogy.
The Pier: I’ve read all the lyrics on the new album, including one that I guess you didn’t include, called: “He Kept Mum”
Dicky: Yes! That’s on the vinyl and probably on YouTube soon–That’s what our fans do. That’s the bonus track on the vinyl.
The Pier: Was there something about that track that made it the bonus?
Dicky: We needed a bonus track, and I felt like that should be the one. It’s a good song but I don’t know why I shepherded that one away from the herd the way I did, for no real reason other than I wanted something special for the album that wasn’t on the CD.
The Pier: One thing I noticed after reading the lyrics and listening through is that there are a lot of people’s names that come up. Are those people that you know? Or are they characters that are part of something that is kind of fictionalized? Such as Hugo?
Dicky: That’s worth looking up. There’s a picture of Hugo’s wife actually on the inside cover, but her name is Jean Rouverol, and she wrote a book called ‘Refugees From Hollywood.’ Hugo’s last name is Butler, Hugo Butler. So Butler and Jean had children, and one of the children was our bass player’s mother. So look up Hugo Butler and go down that wormhole and you’ll go “Holy shit!” I’ll leave it at that.
Ask me some other names…
The Pier: You have three girls’ names for the chorus of “Walked Like A Ghost.”
Dicky: Ah! It’s gonna break your heart, but I’m gonna ask you to do the same thing. Look up Matthew Badger, and then Sarah Lilly Grace Foundation. The song is about a friend of the BossToneS. It’s a guy [Badger] that our keyboard player has played in bands with. Badger’s a keyboard player as well as a piano player, a really brilliant piano player. Just a talented, smart, warm and wonderful guy. He’s no longer with us, and he suffered some of the most horrible tragedies that anyone could ever have to suffer. I’m not going to get into it because I don’t want to get choked up and emotional right now, but Matthew was a great friend of mine. As a matter of fact, he was referenced on Pin Points and Gin Joints, the first of the trilogy with the song “The Route That I Took.” Anyway, “Walked Like A Ghost” is about Matthew and his life; how he lived and how he passed away. And without getting overly heavy or sentimental, yes that’s that song there and those are his children. It’s an easy look up. I think that you would actually enjoy the research.
The Pier: Oh yeah, for sure! One more song, the last one “After the Music is Over,” there are a couple of names in there.
Dicky: One of them is our dancer’s brother and the other is a guy named Jake who was in a band called Sun Cooked. He was a student of our bass player Joe Gittleman, who is a music professor in Vermont. The other one I mentioned is Greg Carr, who is the brother of Ben Carr, our dancer. There’s another name on the record, Buddy Clark. He was a singer who died in a helicopter or plane accident going to a Stanford football game. He was from Boston. He was a singer and actor. Years ago, he was famous for a song called “Linda.” I like to write about real things, things that interest me.
The Pier: Awesome, man. I’m really interested to look into some of these stories.
Dicky: Yes, text me back when you’re finished, please? I’m telling you, you’ll go: “Oh shit, holy shit!”
Listen: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “The Constant”
The Pier: I definitely will. I’m a songwriter myself, so hearing all of this from you is really great, considering I’ve been listening to your music since junior high.
Dicky: Oh cool! Do you write lyrics or music?
The Pier: Both
Dicky: Cool. I’m a complete lyrics guy. I’ve been hammering words together since I was in junior high, between poetry and writing. I put a ton of thought into it. Some people call it crap, which I disagree with, but a lot of other people seem to enjoy it. And I love doing it.
The Pier: This goes right with the lyrics questions: In previous interviews, you guys have said that this album was “angrier” and “political,” but the lyrics—
Dicky: Yeah, everyone disagrees, right?
The Pier: Yeah, actually.
Dicky: I don’t think I ever used the word political, but I think everything is political. It’s difficult not to say what’s on your mind or not to say what you’re feeling at any time and not have it be political. When it’s good, it’s political and has something to say. From the punk rock movement of the 1970s and the original ska movement of the 1950s, I think people talking about what they’re experiencing and what they’re going through and how they feel about that, ultimately ends up political. It’s not a bad word or a bad thing. Some people go: “Oh no, oh shit, here come the politics.” But it’s really that I live in this world and I live in this country and I have my eyes open and my ears open, and I have feelings, and thoughts, and a heart, and I care about what we’re leaving to our children. I also have this forum, and I have things to say. If you have a problem with it, then I guess just cut off the music. But here is where I get you: the music is always so damn good that it’s difficult to do that. So you could say: “I really don’t agree with Dicky here, but man that music is catchy.”
The Pier: If you had to take one song on the album that embodies most of what you were trying to say on this album, which song do you think it would be?
Dicky: I couldn’t separate them or pull them apart like that, but I think maybe “Green Bay, Wisconsin.” We wanted to make a sort of non-apologetic, ‘this is who we are’ song there, and we wanted to make a non-apologetic, ‘this is who we are’ album so the spirit of the album lives in that song. And I think “Absolutely Wrong” too. If I asked you that question, which song would you say?
Listen: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “Wonderful Day For The Race”
The Pier: Hm. Lyrically, I think the most confusing but the most intriguing song to me has been “The Divide.” Because I don’t really, totally know what’s going on, and I like how simple the song is, and I feel like there is a lot being said, but I’m just not understanding it.
Dicky: (laughs) I like that. But, I think you probably do more than you think you do. I think the song conveys a message that anyone could bring ownership to. Ya know, like “this stands for us” and “this is how I feel.” I think if you pick it apart and dismantle it, as a songwriter yourself, and you go word for word, or sentence by sentence, you’ll see how I wrote that song. Phrase by phrase. Each portion kind of stands on its own. It’s many different thoughts linked together that kind of all say the same thing and get to the same point that: “it’s only a song.” And the importance of it is not as great as the importance of a human being or an individual. Maybe it’s just that. You can try to say it’s bigger than that, but it’s not.
The Pier: It’s funny because that’s sort of the direction I thought you were going. The first time I listened to it, and the end where you say “it’s only a song” I was like “Wait, what? What did I miss? What is only a song?” So I went back and listened to it 2 or 3 more times looking for what inside the music was ‘bigger than the song,’ so I am glad you cleared that up for me.
Dicky: I love that, because the music just kind of hangs on there. So you’re like: “Okay, is there a bridge? Is it going to change here? Is it going to turn a corner?” And I’ll tell you something dude: I have done a lot of interviews, nobody has got that song more than you. You completely understand it, and part of understanding it is knowing that you don’t completely understand it. So no one gets it more. It’s nice how and where it drifts in when in drifts in though, right? Then when it goes away you’re waiting there like “Wait, what the fuck? Come back!” Ah, I love it. You got it, man, you nailed it.
The Pier: Alright, final question: ska is kind of seeing a resurgence, it feels like it’s really coming back. What do you—
Dicky: So here’s the problem with that whole theory: it never went away for me. There have always been ska bands making ska records. I don’t give a shit about any of the musings saying: “Oh wow, ska is very popular” or “Ska isn’t very popular right now.” Whatever is very popular, right now, I don’t care about. Whether it’s the Kardashian’s or the new iPhone or whatever else is very popular. But as far as ska music goes, I love it. It’s my passion. It’s something that means a great deal to me. I don’t care if it’s on the rise or on the decline, or if a lot of new people are going to listen to it all of a sudden. To me, it’s music. It’s a good genre. There’s no other genre that people are more threatened by and just want to diminish. It’s damn good, and the people that make it are damn good at it. Whether it’s The Specials or Madness, or the most modern of ska bands like The Interrupters, they’re excellent. They’re entertaining and they’re great.
I sort of get tired hearing about it’s coming and going. If it’s a trend right now, I don’t care. I’m going to still do what I do. I guess thank you everybody for listening right now, and we’ll be around again tomorrow, too. We were also here yesterday, too. And that goes for ska. When someone said “ska isn’t popular anymore” I didn’t pack up my Skatalites records and my 2-tone records and go “alright, I guess I’ll wait until someone deems it cool again.” It’s in my heart, and it’s with me everyday and its what I love. I fell in love with Ska music when I was 17 years old and I haven’t looked back.
Listen: The Mighty Mighty BosstoneS – “Green Bay, Wisconsin”
Mighty Mighty Bosstones Website
Mighty Mighty Bosstones Facebook
Interview By: Aidan Leddy
Photos By: Lisa Johnson
Listen: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “Hugo’s Wife”
Listen: The Mighty Mighty BosstoneS – “Divide”