Headed back to town for an afternoon set Sunday at Riot Fest, I spoke with Mighty Mighty Bosstones vocalist Dicky Barrett about the renewed relevance of the 1997 album Let's Face It as his band gets ready to perform it in full...
Over the years, one of the most anticipated Riot Fest features has become the full performance of iconic albums.
In past years, artists like Weezer, Jane's Addiction and Rob Zombie have all participated, giving fans an opportunity to catch the live performance of rare deep cuts, never before performed tracks and more.
This year, that tradition continues with full album performances by a diverse roster of artists like Danzig (Danzig III: How the Gods Kill), Wu-Tang Clan (Enter the Wu-Tang - 36 Chambers) and Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Let's Face It).
Let's Face It went platinum in 1997, powered by the massive success of the #1 hit "The Impression That I Get." It was a nearly unthinkable moment in the history of ska music that signaled a shift away from the anger and frustration that had largely defined the grunge and alternative music which began the decade.
Anti-bigotry themes run throughout an album which also features songs about drug abuse - both subjects that remain reality in America.
But Let's Face It has taken on a particularly renewed relevance in the U.S. over the course of the last month following the ugly events that transpired across the country in the wake of a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The album's title track features lyrics that directly address racism, sexism, homophobia and the general hatred of all things different, closing with an eloquent call for tolerance and acceptance. A new generation of young fans discovered the song and began sharing its still relevant message via social media.
Well, it's so hard to face that in this day and age
Somebody's race could trigger somebody's rage.
And somebody's preference can drive some total stranger
To make somebody, somehow feel the wrath of their anger.
Why were we put here?
What for? We're unsure.
We sure weren't put here to hate
Be racist, be sexist, be bigots
Be sure we won't stand for your hate.
The group began trending in 2017 thanks to the message of a song written in 1997. It's an irony not lost on Bosstones vocalist Dicky Barrett.
"I didn’t imagine that they would be just as pertinent and just as important and just as necessary to say in the modern day as they were twenty years ago," said Barrett of the songs that makeup Let's Face It. "This isn’t Einstein’s theory of relativity or Shakespeare from the balcony. It’s the simplest of concepts... But, as I continue on, it still needs to be said for some reason."
Full performances of Let's Face It were already scheduled to celebrate the album's 20th anniversary prior to Charlottesville. But as the album's message resonates, and continues to reach new fans, Sunday's performance of it at Riot Fest has taken on new significance.
"It kind of gave a greater meaning to what we were doing. We’re not just going back and celebrating the record we made and dusting it off twenty years later," Barrett said.
The band recently released their latest single, a cover of Hal David and Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now is Love," an equally apropos message in America more than fifty years after it was initially written.
I spoke over the phone with Dicky Barrett about looking back at Let's Face It, his day job as announcer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the possibility of more new Mighty Mighty Bosstones material and much more. A lightly edited transcript of that conversation follows below...
Q. Let’s start with Riot Fest itself. I caught you guys there in 2014 and you’ll be back Sunday to do the Let’s Face It album in full. What’s it like coming back to Riot Fest?
Dicky Barrett: Riot Fest is a really good festival. It’s really well done, really well put together and well organized. We had a great time when we played it in the past so we’re excited.
Q. I read the interview that you and [Bosstones bassist] Joe [Gittleman] did about the Let's Face It album on the Riot Fest website. It was posted one day before Charlottesville. Has that album taken on any new meaning for you in the last month and have the events taking place in America lent a new sort of urgency to the full album performance of it you have coming up at Riot Fest on Sunday?
Barrett: It was strange what happened.
It’s twenty years since the record came out and we planned on coming out and celebrating the record. And not having played all of the songs in a long time, there were some songs we were re-investigating. You get to a place where you do songs for twenty years and you sort of lose the message or the meaning yourself until you actually submerse yourself in it.
As that was going on, it was pointed out that these lyrics still pertain and this message is still important. I was both stunned and somewhat flattered, but moreso stunned, that something I said twenty years ago - and assumed that in the not so distant future that things would change... I didn’t imagine that they would be just as pertinent and just as important and just as necessary to say in the modern day as they were twenty years ago.
It kind of gave a greater meaning to what we were doing. We’re not just going back and celebrating the record we made and dusting it off twenty years later.
There’s songs on there about drug abuse and the opioid addiction and that’s a message that still needs to be delivered - as well as the racism. The fact that there’s still way too many people – and by that I mean, if there’s one [person] that’s way too many for me – that still judge other human beings by their skin color or their religious beliefs or their sexual preferences or their ethnic backgrounds or those kinds of things...
In modern day civilization, it’s just like f---ing people are people are people are people. You’re not gonna identify an a--hole by where he’s from or what he looks like. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. If you eliminate large groups of people, then you’re f---ing yourself really.
This isn’t Einstein’s theory of relativity or Shakespeare from the balcony. It’s the simplest of concepts. I’m not a visionary. But, as I continue on, it still needs to be said for some reason.
Q. Usually, there’s a certain amount of nostalgia that fuels these full album performances – but, again, given what’s gone on in America over the course of the last month, a new, younger generation seems to be discovering Let’s Face It anew, especially the title track, sharing it on social media and holding it up as a relevant message that continues to resonate. I checked this morning and "Let's Face It" is now one of your ten most streamed tracks on Spotfiy. I can’t imagine you expected that reaction, so what’s it been like to experience that in 2017?
Barrett: Weird. I mean, it’s not like, “Oh, I hope there’s still racism so the song can take off again!” It’s a f---ing damn good message but one that I thought would be antiquated at this point.
It’s strange... but it gave the shows that we’re playing more heart and more meaning than just, “Hey, here’s a blast from the past!” I have to stand in front of an audience and say, “Look, this is f---ing nuts. If I have to come back here in twenty more years as a very old man and I f---ing still have to say this, I don’t know what I’ll do. So this time I mean it!"
Q. One of the things that’s striking about that album in retrospect is the fact that you guys had been around for almost fifteen years paying your dues and amassing a following on your own terms before it was released. For most bands, releasing an album like that would be a make or break moment but having already accomplished the hard part on your own, were you guys able to approach that moment differently?
Barrett: You can say it that way and it’s a great story and it’s fun to say it that way… But we were friends and were guys that were gonna f—k around together and do s—t together no matter what it was. We absolutely decided that was gonna be our thing.
So it wasn’t like, “Jeez, we’re out here breaking our back and paying our dues." We were out there enjoying each other and going to places where people were excited to see us and making music that we wanted to make without anybody telling us how to make it or what we should do.
I prefer your version but if I’m being honest, that is what happened.
Having said that, yes, then Let’s Face It happened and “The Impression That I Get” was everywhere you turned. And we were proud of it. It was good. It wasn’t like, “Oh god, I wrote ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’” and now everybody wants to hear it (or whatever corny song you want to put there).
Q. The success of a giant hit like “The Impression That I Get” sinks a lot of bands. Especially the pressure to do it again. But you guys kept going. As that success hit, was it overwhelming or was it like, “Finally!”
Barrett: It was more overwhelming to everything that was around us. To us, we didn’t really expect lightning to strike the first time. I didn’t ask for it to strike. I wasn’t going to try to repeat that or rewrite “The Impression That I Get 2.”
We made a follow up album called Pay Attention that is one of my favorite records that we’ve made. You can’t really think that way.
Maybe we’ll go down in history as a one-hit-wonder… but try telling that to the people that are gonna stand close to the rail at Riot Fest and they’ll lose their minds. As far as they’re concerned, “The Impression That I Get” might be their least favorite song.
But, having said that, I’m very proud of “The Impression That I Get.”
Well, you guys have a new single out – “What the World Needs Now is Love.” There’s obviously a very positive message in that cover…
Barrett: That was just a song that was a reaction to everything that was going on in modern day.
Once again, I don’t think Burt Bacharach wrote that two or three hundred years ago and said, “The world will always be the same.” I think it’s a message that really needs to be said. And it’s said in many shapes and forms.
Being rock and roll historians and music aficionados, we wanted to dust that one off and deliver it.
Q. Are these world events inspiring more new Bosstones music?
Barrett: We hope to have something out in the first half of next year but I wouldn’t say it’s inspired from that. I think that we had just been lazy long enough.
And by lazy, I mean we’ve just kind of been going out on the road more than going into the studio. I don’t think that’s going to change our road plans but I think for sure... I promise you we are writing and we’ll be in the studio soon.
Q. You guys performed the new single on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where you work as announcer. Jimmy had what kind of now has turned out to be one of the more lauded reactions to Charlottesville and our President. Obviously he’s working with writers and staff there but do you guys talk about what’s going on in the world?
Barrett: I think he does it really, really smart and really, really right. He’s right on the money and extremely funny.
So, as I’m coming up with my lyrics and songs, I want to say the same sort of things that he’s saying and be clever without ripping him off.
Because I 100% agree with everything he’s saying.
Q. Well, having performed here at festivals, at the outdoor amphitheatres, at radio festivals, at clubs big and small, is there a moment in Chicago that stands out as a particularly fond one for you over the last twenty years?
Barrett: I think that what I would like to say in regards to a Chicago show… This Saturday night in Chicago, see Toxic Toast – Chicago’s premiere Bosstones cover band. They’re gonna do our album Question the Answers in its entirety Saturday. Which I wouldn’t even attempt to do.
The guy’s name is Marc Katz and his band is called Toxic Toast. So do me a favor and print that.
*** Editor's Note: Toxic Toast performs Question the Answers Saturday, September 16, 2017 at the Baderbräu Brewery (2515 S. Wabash). Doors open at 10PM and a $5 cover benefits Lurie Children's Hospital ***
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Sunday's Mighty Mighty Bosstones performance at Riot Fest below)
Mighty Mighty Bosstones
(Featuring a full performance of Let's Face It)
Sunday, September 17, 2017
3:20PM on the Roots Stage
Also performing: Jawbreaker, Andrew W.K., Paramore, Prophets of Rage, M.I.A., GWAR, Dinosaur Jr. and many more
Click HERE to purchase single day, two day or weekend general admission and VIP passes