Blasting away the blues with Bass Drum of Death

Sound the charge
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  September 14, 2011


While working on 50 Bands, 50 States, our annual survey of rad new acts from each of our nation's polity, I wondered how much we could truly learn about the music of somewhere we hadn't been merely by perusing Bandcamp, emailing college radio kids, and spending hours in a conference room scouring the Internet. On the other hand, we did learn about Mississippi.

Bass Drum of Death, the cranium-clobbering garage duo-turned-trio chosen to rep the Hospitality State this year, will join Japandroids tonight (Thursday) to metaphorically Eiffel Tower a sold-out Middle East. As a precursor, Bass Drum's guitarist/singer/songwriter dude happily explains how the seminal American populist music his home state is celebrated for has been defanged by conceited academic aspirations and commercially motivated dilution. Hence, his early musical fascinations gravitated towards modern sounds emanating from the Pacific Northwest of the early '90s. Also, he explains to me how to make a portable gravity bong out of a Gatorade bottle, and says Steven Tyler comes off as a creepy old douche and looks like an "old bag of dicks" on American Idol.

"At Ole Miss [a.k.a the University of Mississippi], there are tons of professors who solely study the blues. They're all 65-year-old white guys with glasses who moved down from the Northeast because they're way into the blues," says John Barrett, blasting through West Texas while drummer Colin Sneed and a new guitar player (whose name is either Print or Trint) snooze in the back of the van.

Originally a utilitarian guitar-and-drums-only affair, Bass Drum added a second guitarist in June to better recreate the layered guitars on their stridently shambolic debut, GB City (Fat Possum), which Barrett recorded in a basement apartment he shared with Sneed. Plus, getting compared all the time to the Black Keys, the White Stripes, and other guitar/drums duos they don't sound like was a major drag.

"These professors study an art form that was, basically, poor black dudes stomping around, singing about their women leaving them or being drunk or whatever," he continues. "If those dudes knew there were battalions of professors dedicated to analyzing them, they would laugh their asses off. There are also tons of bullshit white-boy blues bands around town in lame blues clubs who play Stevie Ray Vaughan 'n shit. I was never interested in that, but I was always around it."

It seems Barrett and co. would also transmit a hearty, immortal cyborg chuckle at over-serious university profs intellectualizing their music in 80 years. By deploying efficient song sensibility, spaced-out but untroubled licks, and a dollop of surf pop "whoooo" and "ooooh," they're not trying to inspire any 22nd century thesis writers. Which doesn't mean they won't, especially if talks of continuing their, as of now, one-off collaboration with MellowHype amounts to anything. Back in April, Bass Drum backed up the doom-rap duo for a rendition of "64" for late-night TV.

"Intellectual rock music, to me, sounds like the most boring fucking thing of all time," says Barrett. "I don't think music is about making you think. If you want to think, read a book or something. Music, I think, is for you to move around to and get into, not analyze and get some deeper understanding of some shit, y'know?"

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Related: SXSW 2010 (Wednesday): Morning Benders and Japandroids, SXSW 2010 (Thursday): Japandroids, Best Coast, and Diamond Rings, SXSW 2010: The band who wasn't there, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Middle East, Music, Mississippi,  More more >
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