Bosstones Singer Sweetens Pietasters Future

Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett has long admired the Pietasters. He just never knew how much that would mean to the ska and soul group.

And to his own band.

When your band is in the musical equivalent of the minor leagues such as the Pietasters, it helps to have someone in the majors such as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' singer take a shine to you. It could just save your career.

Such was the fortunate case of the Pietasters, a struggling Washington, D.C.-based band that caught the attention of Barrett. After years of admiring them from a distance, Barrett met the Pietasters two years ago at a concert in Providence, R.I., just as the band was on the verge of calling it quits.

"They were kind of bummed out," Barrett said, "and they were talking about,

'We're thinking of breaking up.' And we're like, 'No way, no way.' So we

started to take them on the road, and they just turned around. They're a

whole new band with a different attitude."

Well, sort of. Pietasters vocalist Steve Jackson joked by phone from a

tour stop in Pittsburgh that his band had created its fair measure of

success by following a three-ingredient recipe: "A little bit dumb luck, a

little bit hard work -- and a little bit being too stupid to realize that

it's a dumb idea to be in a band."

Now ska vets of seven years, the Pietasters have issued several albums on

New York's Moon Records (Ooloolool, Strapped), and logged

miles with Bad Manners and the Toasters, in addition to the Bosstones. Next

month the seven-piece group will release Willis, its most anticipated album to date, on Rancid guitarist Tim Armstrong's new Hellcat label.

Right out of the gate, Willis pounds listeners with the Pietasters'

trademark girth. On the opening track "Crazy Monkey Woman," the horns are

big, and Jackson's voice is even bigger. That should not suggest,

however, that the band is strictly a barrelhouse outfit. Ska fans will

appreciate the Pietasters' dexterous rhythm section on "Out All Night,"

while soul stirrers will dig the thick, velvety texture of "New Breed"

(which is plusher still on the Hellcat sampler Give 'Em the Boot).

On top of it all is Jackson's rugged rasp; if it's not yet marked by subtle

inflections, it is nonetheless full of soulful muscle.

Some of the credit for the band's beefy sound, Jackson acknowledged, goes to

Hellcat co-owner and former Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz (also

president of Hellcat's parent label Epitaph). "He's fantastic in the

studio," Jackson said. "He's really patient, but he knows how to work

people on a schedule. And how to get good sounds and get good songs out of

people, without being overbearing and making us change things."

Along with Gurewitz's studio smarts, the Pietasters relied on their own

appreciation of classic R&B to see Willis to fruition. According to

Barrett, the Pietasters' soul leanings distinguish them from their ska

peers. "I think that the Pietasters represent D.C. the way we represent

Boston," Barrett said. "They have a real D.C. sort of soul feel to them,

and they bring that to their ska music. They're really, really talented;

they have a feel for soul-style music. They can write it; they can

reproduce it."

The Bosstones have a particularly keen feel for the Pietasters talents -- an

amalgam of both bands entered a Cleveland studio several months back to

record the Pietasters' "Ocean" for the recently released Music For Our

Mother Ocean II benefit album. Barrett said that when the Bosstones

were approached to take part in the project, they knew immediately that they

wanted to record "Ocean," but he had to convince the organizers of the

album to include the Pietasters.

"I think it's going to get a lot of attention, this record," said Barrett, "so I was interested in making sure the Pietasters were involved."

"We were just happy they wanted to do the song," Jackson said. "We said

we'll write the words down and chart it out, and they said, 'No, we want

you to come in the studio and help us out with it.'"

Having toured the nation with the famously crowd-pleasing Bosstones,

Jackson said the Pietasters know full well the importance of not only

making good records, but of also staging a rousing live performance.

"That's your bread and butter," Jackson said. "You're always out on the

road, playing shows and trying to entertain people. If you don't leave

them with something to talk about until the next time you come back, then

why the fuck are they going to come back and see you the next time?" [Sat., Sept. 6, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]