You can never accuse John Barrett of having his heart in the wrong place when he explains the genesis of what would eventually become Bass Drum of Death: “Basically, the whole purpose of me ever [playing songs] live was because I could get free drinks and make a little money and girls would talk to me. It worked a lot better than if I was just going out normally.” Indeed, while their debut LP GB City is borne of a strange duality — raw garage rock recorded in basements with USB microphones and surf riffs and doo-wop harmonies refracted through the humor of a Twitter addict — it’s an acknowledgement of booze, women and live chaos as rock ‘n’ roll’s timeless and fundamental motivations.
eMusic’s Ian Cohen talked to Barrett back home in Oxford, Mississippi, where he was catching a break before their first nationwide headlining tour, to talk about growing up with an intense love of Three 6 Mafia and Silverchair, tiring of the “one-man-band scene” and the local preponderance of what he calls “underbite rock.”
On the influence of southern hip-hop while growing up:
The first rap I listened to was the really early Cash Money shit and the really early Three 6 shit. It was the first shit I got turned on to by kids in middle school. I still call that number Mike Jones gave out in that song once a week just to see if he changed it back. It’s worth a shot, right? Also, when I was on the high school baseball team, one of the big things you could do is pick out a walk-out song. My big walk-out song that I was real stoked about was “Game Over” by Lil’ Flip. I was playing bullshit J.V. and there’d be 20 people in the stands, including my parents. I would walk out feeling like the biggest fucking badass.
On starting bands during high school in Oxford, Mississippi:
My band in high school just tried to sound as close to Nirvana as possible. We’d play in these Battle of the Bands competitions with blues cover bands. We’d play those just to freak people out and see what the judges would say about our performance. They’d be lame-ass college professors who would say, “The performance was great but the singer turned his back to the crowd too much. They really didn’t show too much stage presence.”
On being the “worst employee in Fat Possum history,” according to the Fat Possum website:
I was a terrible employee! I wasn’t a bad worker. But what I was doing there was basically answering phones and filling out thousands of pre-orders. I put out a 7-inch [with Fat Possum] and I didn’t want to bother with another job so I worked there to have some money. They were putting out Wavves’ record [Wavvves] and I was like, “That should be me!” I was a world champion at taking cigarette breaks. I’ve never been good with a desk job — I can’t even finish an entire movie, just can’t sit in one place. I mean, filling out 25,000 Andrew Bird pre-orders sounds like hell to me. I’d get stoned before I came to work, just find ways to fuck around I guess.
On drummer Colin Sneed:
We went to school together growing up. We were never that great friends, we always played music separately and he was in other bands that were pretty good. He was way into Silverchair and I was way into Silverchair. Once I got to college, we were in this punk band called the Sleepwalkers. He’s an amazing guitar player — he’s a better guitar player than I am — and he would go nuts. Those shows were punk as fuck.
I’ve played with technically solid drummers and nothing ever seemed to get what I was going for. I wanted to do the tour, not one-man-band, and I figured that out of everyone in this whole town, Colin would get what I was doing. And he never played drums before. I took the drums over to his house and we practiced for two weeks and went on tour. And now he’s a fucking badass. I feel like I’ve created a monster and someone’s gonna steal him away from me at any minute.
On backing up Odd Future duo MellowHype on Fuel TV:
We had practiced the song before we went out there. A couple days before, we played the song about eight or nine times and got it pretty OK, and then they were like “Fuck this, we’re done. Let’s jam and see what we can do.” We jammed with them for four times amount of time we spent rehearsing the song. We wrote two hardcore songs without even trying.
On killing time between shows on tour:
We definitely don’t practice when we’re on tour. We kinda know what we’re doing. We play a shitload of pool. Last summer, every place we went we played pool. We play against local people who took it really seriously and that’s really funny to us, people who take bar games seriously. We’re not even really good — we’d just dick around. One time in Baltimore this guy was seeking me out the whole night so I’d play him, and I beat him He seriously stormed off and made a huge scene and then came back and wanted to play again. It’s an endless source of entertainment both playing the game and dealing with people in other parts of the country. Pool gets intense.
On Bass of Drum Death’s reception in the Barnett household:
I was home for Christmas and we have a big family with this big crazy party that’s not actually crazy at all. There’s wine there, which is the real reason I was stoked to go. Mom went around the room to give the rundown of what everyone was up to and she was scared to say the name of the band I was in, in front of my family. She said the name of my brother’s band, but basically said “John’s band’s doing well and he’s got a record coming out!” She wouldn’t say the name in front of my family. I thought that was pretty cool and a sign I was doing something right. My dad gets on me about my Twitter a lot because it’s not locked. He’ll call me out for it and gets pissed at me sometimes. I appreciate it but, y’know, “I can’t do a whole lot for you.” I think it’s really lame when people have Twitter and they just use it for their music stuff and just post stuff having to do with their music.
On local legends 3 Doors Down and “underbite rock”:
I’m definitely well versed in 3 Doors Down. What’s really been funny to watch since they got big is bands from Mississippi that are clearly ripoffs. There’s this band that are huge now from Corinth, which is about an hour from here — Saving Abel — and they have songs on the radio. I’m obsessed with looking up bands like that — 3 Doors Down, Nickelback ripoff bands…underbite rock bands. There’s more than five occasions that I’d spend between one and three hours looking up these dudes and laughing my head off at what was on their Facebook page. I have a weird obsession finding out what drives people to make music that rips off the worst music.