How Mighty Mighty Bosstones Created Ska-Core

Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Drea Catalano

Determining which came first -- ska or punk -- is irrelevant. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones offer up a duel personality that's simultaneously abrasive and chill. First (or maybe second), the driving energy and angst of punk rock pushes the pace, while the cool riddims, staccato guitar and punctuating horn blasts of ska strive for equal rights. Put it together and you have the Boston band's contribution to musical history: Ska-core.

"The same person who played the punk rock records for me, played some English ska records. I fell in love with the punk and the ska," says MMB founder Dickey Barrett.

Barrett deftly merged the two styles together, creating a sound ideal for pulling on a blunt, then working it off in the mosh pit. The band's latest album, Magic of Youth, features a decidedly harder edge, though Barrett insists the ska influence remains.

"We never claimed to be writing ska songs, we just claimed to be writing Bosstones songs. What those are, whatever that is, whatever that means, it's our right and prerogative to write our way," he says. "We've already Frankensteined something together, now we're trying to keep it alive."

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Up on the Sun caught up with the MMB founder in Los Angeles to discuss the formation of Skacore, his work on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and copycat acts such as fellow Bostonians Dropkick Murphys.

Up on the Sun: Which came first for you, ska or punk?

Dickey Barrett: Probably punk, but roughly both around the same time. We're talking '77 or '78. I was fairly young. The same person who played the punk rock records for me played some English ska records. I fell in love with the punk and the ska. It's too close to call.

Makes sense to be into both. It's well known that punks in the 1970s routinely played reggae between acts at concerts. So, it seems a natural fit to mix ska and punk.

Don Letts, he was a DJ in England and went to Jamaica and collected all these reggae and ska records, then played it to people who like The Clash and the Sex Pistols. The Specials fell in love with it, and Letts helped inform ska bands and ska-influcenced bands. He's a terrific guy. I meet him when I was DJing. I had a radio show here in L.A. for about two years.

You mentioned the English ska, which would have been the Two-Tone movement, or second-wave ska as it's often called. MMB is sometimes considered third-wave ska. In any case, are you trying to educate your fans about ska and it's history and how it fits in with your music?

I think if you're the type of person who likes this sort of music, you do the research on your own. The majority of Bosstones fans know what our influences are and where we came from. I'm not trying to spread any big word, but I've loved this music for as long as I can remember. But, we do our thing. To call what we do the same as what the Skatalites did, there's a pretty big gap there. I love them with all my heart, but there's some real estate there.

That said, how much ska remains in the sound? Magic of Youth, your last album in 2011, seems more aggressive than ever. It's a harder rock sound with horns and less openly ska.

I think if you listen closer, I think that point can be argued. "Sunday Afternoons on Wisdom Ave.," that's a very ska song. Although Magic of Youth may have been a harder rock 'n' roll sounding record, the record before that (Pin Points and Gin Joints) we deliberately put as many ska tracks on it as we could. When you have the Mighty Might Bosstones, we never claimed to be writing ska songs, we just claimed to be writing Bosstones songs. What those are, whatever that is, whatever that means, it's our right and prerogative to write our way. It's been our policy. We've already Frankensteined something together, now we're trying to keep it alive.

The Magic of Youth is your most recent album, which was in 2011. Is there something new on the way?

We've been writing and are always trying to creative as possible. The nice thing about being in this band nowadays is that we don't have anybody telling us when or what or how, so when we have a record we'll release it to the people that give a shit. And hopefully in the process other people will also give a shit.

So, you've been living in L.A. for awhile...

I have. I work for Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Are you the music director or part of the band?

Actually, I'm the announcer.

No shit?

Yeah, it's kind of cool gig. Every night I announce Jimmy on the show. The last time the Bosstones were on the show Jimmy played with us, the clarinet. He's a super nice guy. So, give it a good plug for me. I've been on the show for 10 years, but it's not like I fly high on that. But I do love doing it, and I still get to do the Bosstones.

When I spoke with the Dropkick Murphys, they were all about their roots and being from Boston influencing what they do. Bostonians are typically proud. So, how does being from Boston influence your sound?

I love it. When I go to Boston that's when I'm happiest. It's my absolute heart. And the thing with all this Boston stuff, the Dropkick Murphys got it from us. Most of what they do and say, they got from us. And I'm not afraid to say that.

Do you resent that at all? Consider them copycats?

I don't resent them; they're my brothers. I love them dearly. We're the creative originals, but I love them with all my heart.

This band is the first to develop this sound -- and many copycats have followed. Being the original, what's the biggest challenge the Mighty Mighty Bosstones face these days?

I think it's staying true to what you believe in -- playing and creating something original and doing things the way you want to do them. I don't think anything is really challenging. There are a lot of challenging things going on in the world and I don't think any of it is in the world of punk rock or rock 'n' roll. We're all pretty damn lucky that we get to create and go to places like Arizona and play a concert, and people are happy we've come to Arizona. It's a pretty good thing. To describe anything as challenging, and I know how you're using the word, it's not really fair to anyone whose lives are really challenging. I know I'm being over particular, but really we're lucky. It's a charmed life and we go to go place and play for people who actually give a shit about us.

You have that song "Don't Worry Desmond Dekker." It makes we wonder if was he worried about you tarnishing his ska legacy or if you were telling him there's nothing to fear from the Bosstones.

That's interesting. It's all how you break up the sentence. Desmond Dekker died a year or two before we wrote that song. The line is actually, it talks about the record albums, "And I can hear the laughter ... And I, I still got your records/Clash and The Selector/And don't worry, Desmond Dekker's doin' fine." It was referring to the Desmond Dekker record I had borrowed. That's doing fine. It's got similar meanings. Like, don't worry Desmond Dekker, we're being respectful of the sacred ground you once walked on. Or, he's no longer with us but he's in a better place. There's those kind of connotations as well.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones perform Friday, December 19 at the Marquee Theater, Tempe.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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