Bosstones Look Back For Their Future On Jackknife

Ska-rockers' latest harks back to their early '90s vintage sound.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are veteran artists in every sense of the word.

From the Boston underground of the late '80s, they built a following on

their perky rock-meets-ska rave-ups and were able to parlay the attention

into a major-label deal that yielded a million-seller, 1997's Let's Face

It. In addition to releasing three other modestly successful LPs, they

played an integral role in the third-wave ska movement that spawned the

careers of No Doubt, Sublime and Smash Mouth.

On July 9 the eight-man collective follow up 2000's Pay Attention

— their most commercially disappointing major-label LP — with A

Jackknife to a Swan, their first LP for an indie (SideOneDummy) since

1992's More Noise and Other Disturbances (Taang!). Having been around

the proverbial block a few times, singer Dickey Barrett takes this latest lap

in stride.

"We're an independent band at heart despite what the labels on our records

say," he said. "We're not looking to be a success by someone else's

yardstick. We measure ourselves."

That Pay Attention sold less than one-tenth of what Let's Face

It sold doesn't taint Barrett's view of the group's discography.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's been all ups," he explained. "That one record

(Let's Face It) was more successful at that time because it was that

time. ... To me it was like one album of quote-unquote success, but all of

them were worthwhile, and all of it was fun, and I enjoyed every minute of

it."

Releasing A Jackknife to a Swan on an indie isn't the only return to

the good old days. Musically it's Bosstones circa early '90s: blaring horns

that forgo melody in favor of might; jarring, chunky riffs; and an energetic

bounce that makes it all uniquely danceable, without any contrived attempts

to fit into the current climate (as were made in '92 on Barrett's least

favorite Bosstones song, "Bad in Plaid," on which he raps).

"It's a return to the roots of the Bosstones," said Barrett. "It's like the

old-school aggression. The horns are thick and fat and sound really, really

good. I think it's doing what we do best: new-school songwriting with the

old-school aggression."

Nostalgic evidence is found on tracks such as "I Want My City Back," a

longing for Boston's Rathskeller, an early home for the band in its club

days, and "The Old School Off the Bright," in which Barrett namechecks

stereotypes of the Bosstones' diverse fanbase, from "skins with the pins,"

punks, drunks and layabouts to "steady-working Joes" and "blue-blooded

bros."

Unlike some artists, Barrett didn't mind that some fans got an early taste

of Jackknife when tracks were leaked online. His credo is that he

makes music for his fans, and their opinion — not a record label's

profit potential — is his main concern. So far the early line on

Jackknife isn't at odds with the band's view of their latest opus.

"I made the album for people to hear. The version that's out, there's some

incomplete songs on it, which is a little bit annoying, but that's fine. If

they're enjoying it and the songs are incomplete, they're really going to

like the album. I'm not Eminem. The whole world isn't waiting for my next

album. So the people who are truly interested in hearing the thing before

it's released are hardcore Bosstones fans. And they'll show up at the record

store on July 9, too. I don't care. I want people to hear the music. I

didn't start making music or choose to do what I do because I thought I was

going to get rich from it."

Barrett and his bandmates are showcasing their artistry as one of the

co-headliners on this summer's Vans Warped Tour, which kicked off Friday.

The band shares top billing with fellow Warped vets Bad Religion.

Considering that both bands released their debuts when many concertgoers

were still in diapers, and that other long-in-the-tooth artists on the trek

include Lagwagon, MxPx, No Use For a Name and Reel Big Fish, the Bosstones'

old-school vibe should fit in well.

"That's the way the Warped Tour works," Barrett said. "You know what you're

getting. It's a reunion for us for sure. [Most bands] are friends of ours.

That's why it's good. It's not like you're going out with bands that you

don't know. We're anti-social. You get to be my age, you don't want to take

the time to make any new friends."

He's not a total curmudgeon, however. Barrett said he's interested in

watching some of the tour's younger guns take their best shot. That is, so

long as it doesn't interfere with the daily pinochle or cribbage game.

"Get away from my bus, you kids, you," he said in a mocking old-man voice.

"Don't wreck my shuffleboard court. I spent all morning making that."

Judging by the quickness with which he spat the example, and the fact that

he's well aware shuffleboard requires a court that one could craft alongside

a tour bus, there's a chance he wasn't being completely facetious.

So a word to the wise: While sopping up the sounds of Warped Tour

up-and-comers like Something Corporate, Alkaline Trio and Ozma, be sure to

catch the Bosstones' set for proof that a band can make music for music's

sake and still have loads of fun doing it. Just don't bother Dickey before

he's had his nap — he tends to get cranky.