Eight years since the release of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ debut LP, Devil’s Night Out, and you’re either fully aware or subconsciously manipulated by mainstream attempts to cash in on…Aah, let’s just cut to the fucking chase: This band has been doing what they do — playing original ska-core — forever, and it’s just now becoming popular.
The Bosstones’ new album, and fifth overall (how many bands stay together long enough to record five albums?), is a high watermark in the evolution of ska-rock fusion, and an instant classic by any musical standard. Recorded by Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade (Hole, Radiohead, Tracy Bonham, Rick Okasek) at Woodstock’s Bearsville Sound Studios and Cambridge’s Fort Apache, Let’s Face It is the next important step in a journey that the hardest working octet in the biz started years ago.
“We wrote about 30 songs this time and forced the cream to rise to the top,” recalls guitarist, Nate Albert. “In the past we would write however many songs we needed to fill an album and get right back to nonstop touring. With this album we took our time. We ignored any pressure to release this before its completion.”
Let’s Face It is certainly an accomplishment of which The Mighty Mighty Bosstones can truly be proud. The album showcases the musical depth and range the band has always possessed. These qualities, never lost on the band’s core fans, are apparent and nearly impossible for the world to ignore. The Bosstones have never sounded tighter. Segueing from purist ska (“Noise Brigade,” “Rascal King,” “Royal Oil”) to melodic punk pop with irresistible choruses (“That Bug Bit Me,” “Nevermind Me”), to the hyperactive all-of-the- above hybrid that hundreds of thousands of loyal fans have come to cherish (“The Impression That I Get,” “Numbered Days,” “1-2-8”).
On the lyrical front, Let’s Face It introduces a slew of colorful characters: There’s the swaggering rudie headed for a fall in “The Rascal King,” the introspective victim in “Nevermind Me,” downsizing his hardships against those of the junkie who just mugged him, finding compassion in the balance, and the lifelong bully who’s about to pay the piper in “Numbered Days.” As always, the major theme is tolerance: racial, sexual and otherwise. As plainly stated in the album’s title track, it’s a message aimed at anyone who partakes in racism, homophobia or bigotry of any kind.
“When the New York Times called the Bosstones ‘ska punk with a social conscience,’ that was a very important moment for me. Take some of our biggest influences: the Specials and the Clash. Their politics and activism were as influential on us as their music,” says Nate.
Last year the Bosstones galvanized the Boston musical community with the release of Safe and Sound: A Benefit In Response To The Brookline Clinic Violence(released on Big Rig Records, an independent label founded by the Bosstones in 1993). Safe and Sound features, among others, Morphine, Lou Barlow and Tracy Bonham, as well as an earlier version of Let’s Face It’s “The Impression That I Get.” Safe and Sound was prompted by the brutal December 1994 attack on two Boston-area family planning clinics that left two young women dead. The album, along with an ongoing series of benefit shows, continues to raise both money and awareness for women’s healthcare, nationally through the National Clinic Access Project, and locally through the funding of six Massachusetts’ shelters for battered women.
“They’re doing great things,” says Barrett of ARA.
Earlier in their careers, the band began a relationship with Anti Racist Action Group. This began when the ARA set up an information booth at a Mighty Mighty Bosstones show in the organization’s hometown of Columbus, OH. This relationship has since blossomed into a full time endeavor, with an ARA presence at Bosstones’ shows, and increasing membership of local chapters across the U.S.
“We won’t stand for your hate.”
–“Let’s Face It”
The racially-mixed, musically diverse Mighty Mighty Bosstones first formed in 1985 as the Bosstones (the “Mighty Mighty” appeared several gig fliers later) around a nucleus of friends with two things in common: roots in the Boston hardcore scene and an appreciation for a much wider range of music, ska in particular. Dicky Barrett’s resume had by then included stints with local hardcore favorites Impact Unit and a pre- Bosstones ska outfit called the Cheapskates; while bassist Joe Gittleman had logged time in the seminal hardcore band Gang Green. The original Bosstones lineup was rounded out by then-13-year-old guitarist Nate Albert, saxman Tim “Johnny Vegas” Burton and “Bosstone” Ben Carr. This incarnation was documented, along with original drummer Josh Dulcimer, on the first ever Bosstones LP, Devil’s Night Out (Taang! Records 1989).
“We were so young when we started out,” Nate recalls. “We were just naively putting every style of music we liked into every single song, which at the time was totally fucked.”
In 1990, the Bosstones made a Mighty Mighty return with More Noise and Other Disturbances (which features “Where’d You Go?” as well as several roof-raising favorites), and the since-unchanged lineup of drummer Joe Sirois and the beefed-up “Hurtin’ For Certain” horns, comprised of Vegas, trombonist and barrel-chested baritone Dennis Brockenborough and co-saxman Kevin Lenear. By 1992, with minimal label support and a series of handshake deals with distributors and bookers, the Bosstones were headlining 30-city national tours. Think: 12 guys in a decrepit blue van with no A/C, building blood loyalty among growing legions of fans across the country.
“Personally, that’s where my gratification has always come from,” says Joe Gittleman. “It was always the enthusiasm of our fans that kept me interested from the very beginning. The first time we sold out the Paradise in Boston was the happiest night of my life up to that point. Maybe that’s why we’ve always been more popular with our fans than critics and radio programmers, because the people who come to our shows are the people we’re playing for.”
In 1992 the Bosstones signed to Mercury Records, releasing Ska Core, The Devil and More, a ground-breaking EP, including the fan fave “Someday I Suppose” and the first major label recordings of songs by D.I.Y. hardcore pioneers Minor Threat, SS Decontrol and Angry Samoans. The band’s ceaseless touring schedule was punctuated by two albums: 1993’s Don’t Know How To Party and 1994’s Question The Answers.
As both attendance and fanatical response to the notorious Bosstones’ live show grew, so proportionately did the barrier between fan and Bosstone recede. “Something I’ve noticed,” says Nate, “is that our fans have started to follow us from show to show, never getting enough. Some start out in Providence, RI and get as far as Chicago or Minneapolis.”
In 1995, these fans witnessed the Bosstones’ stadium debut on the fifth Lollapalooza tour (joining Hole, Cypress Hill, Beck, Pavement, The Jesus Lizard and Sonic Youth), as well as their silver screen debut, performing “Someday I Suppose” and “Where’d You Go” in that summer’s blockbuster, Clueless.
In between writing, demoing, recording and touring the Bosstones headlined the northeastern leg of the 1996 Warped Tour, sharing the stage with indy punk icons NOFX and Pennywise. Immediately following that tour the Bosstones entered the studio once again, this time joined by the powerhouse production team of Slade and Kolderie.
“They really did their homework,” says Kolderie. “We’ve known one another a very long time. Honestly, I can say they’d never done so much preparation, never taken so much time to write, never put so much time into perfecting what they’d written….I’d say I worked as hard on this album as any record I’d ever worked on in my entire career.”
Says Joe Gittleman, “Let’s Face It comes closer to capturing our live vibe than any other Bosstones album. It’s the most natural sounding of the five. Paul and Sean did a great job. It was basically a live performance environment, keeping what we could from each song. There’s a lot of energy exchanged in a situation like that. Paul had previously worked on Devil and More Noise, and a good share of Question The Answers. You could say he’s been tinkering with and attempting to perfect our thing for the last eight years.”
With the release of Let’s Face It, the Bosstones stand poised to deliver to the world at large. In March they begin an 8-week headline, U.S. tour, with Europe, Japan and Australia on the itinerary before the year’s end. Accept no (l)imitations.