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
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]