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Bass Drum Of Death: Gravity Bongs

Slotting into that neat slew of drum and guitar duos cropping up all over the place, John Barrett and Colin Sneed of Bass Drum Of Death are one to watch, or so says NME’s 50 Best New Bands of 2011 list. Channelling ’90s garage grunge with a smack of indie rock à la Death From Above 1979, we’d have to agree. Their debut album GB City was released in Australia in May and is definitely one that will be taking up long-term residency in your player. BLUNT spent a few minutes with one half of the duo, founding member John Barrett, to chat about how he went from being Fat Possum Records’ worst employee to being in a band on the label.
You and Colin form Bass Drum Of Death. How did you guys meet?
Well, we’d played in bands together since high school and then also in college, so we knew each other from that and then I actually started Bass Drum as a one-man band sort of project. After doing that for a while, I decided that it would be better with a drummer. Colin had never really played drums before he played with me, I just knew that he’d be down for touring and that he’d get it, and I asked him if he wanted to do it and he said he’d give it a shot. He practiced drums for a week and then we practiced together for about two weeks and then we went on tour and we’ve been going like that ever since.

Was there any one moment that made you decide that you really wanted to be a musician?
Basically, it was the first time I ever heard Nirvana. My mum had one of those Columbia Record subscriptions where you’d get something like 11 CDs for a penny, and then they’d send you one every month that you’d have to pay for, and she let me get a couple of records and one of the records I got was Nirvana ‘Live From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah’. After hearing that, I was like “Holy shit. This is what I wanna do.” I’d just sit in my room and go “Holy fuck! This is so bad ass”.

Did you have any reservations about getting into the music industry?
Not really, I kinda took the first couple of years that I was pursuing this project slow and stayed under the radar for the most part. I got to see other people I knew that were doing similar things to me and got to see how they did it. Once I got a record together, I kinda had a better idea of how to do things for myself. I’ve never really had any reservations, I’ve just taken my time with it and tried to make the most of it, just trying to get into a situation where I can do music and not have to come home and work another job. It’s easier said than done, but you know, I’m closer now than I was a year ago.

I actually read somewhere that at one point, you were probably the worst employee at Fat Possum Records and now you’re in a band on the label. How did that happen?
Well they put out a seven inch of recordings that I’d done – I’ll call it one-man band recordings – they put out the seven inch and were like “Hey, we’ll put this 7 inch out if you go play a bunch of shows cos nobody knows who you are”. So I did that, and in between the tours I was doing, I’d go in and help them out, filling pre-orders and doing general office work, and that’s kinda the reason why I was the worst employee ever, just because it was office work and I hate that shit. I was trying to fill like 25,000 Andrew Bird pre-orders and all this stuff, so I was taking a cigarette break every ten minutes just to keep myself sane. It’s not like I am a bad worker per se, it’s just that an office job is an office job, even if the product is cool.

GB City was released here in May and I read that you actually wrote and recorded the whole album yourself. How come you didn’t seek any otutside help?
One point was money, I didn’t really have that much money together to go and record it and second of all, some of these songs have been recorded seven times, so over the whole process I got a lot better at recording and figuring out where things needed to be. Basically, the third point is that I’m a perfectionist, so I like to have my hands on everything and if there’s somebody else involved, there can always be a communication breakdown where it’s hard to get your point across sometimes. I felt for what I was doing, it was just easier for me to knock it out all by myself and try to get it sounding as best as I could. People have labelled it lo-fi, but that’s not what I was going for. I was just trying to use very minimal tools and create something that sounded bigger than the tools that I used to make it with. Obviously I wasn’t going for something superslick or anything, but one of the things that I wanted to do with the record was just make sure that you could hear everything. I like most of the music that I listen to to be a tad bit dirty anyway, so that’s kinda how I wanted to do it.

Is there an overall theme running through the songs on the album?
Not really, when I was making it, I mean, I don’t really smoke that much anymore, but when I was making the record, I was going through one of my huge ‘pothead phases’. Even the record title, ‘GB City’, GB stands for ‘Gravity Bong’, so that’s kind of a theme, but all of the songs just sort of deal with different shit. I’m not at the point in my career where I can write a concept album. None of the songs come from smoking weed as a trippy standpoint at all though, it’s more that one song is basically about how smoking weed was way more fun in high school ‘cos it was kind of taboo and cooler than it actually is, and now it’s just one of those things you do to medicate, it’s not that much fun anymore, it’s more just necessary.

You guys teamed up with Odd Future members MellowHype for the song “64”. Who approached who to do that collaboration?
It was kind of mutual. We met and hung out with them at SXSW and we have the same publicist, it also turned out that we were booked on the same late night show on Fuel TV, and the idea was thrown out at me if we wanted to try and do that, and I said of course, I thought it’d be really badass. We hung out with them and we seemed to mesh well together, so it kinda worked out well. It was really, really fun rehearsing with them, that was the best part. Colin and I had practiced the song for a couple of days before we left to go out and do that, and then we get there and we play the song with them, maybe eight or nine times, didn’t really have it that well, and after the tenth time it was pretty decent, and they were like, “Fuck this, we’re done with this. We’re good. We’re ready to go” and then we spent the next two and a half hours jamming with them. That was way cooler than doing the actual TV show, to me, because it was all over the place. Hodgy [Beats] would get on the drums, I would play keyboard, and Left Brain would rap, and then Colin would get on drums and I would play guitar and we’d start playing some hardcore stuff and then Hodgy would be screaming, like real-deal hardcore shit, and basically, by the end of the rehearsal, he was covered in sweat and didn’t have a shirt on and was out of breath. The whole time we just kept passing around this handle of Sailor Jerry… It was definitely one of the funnest rehearsal periods I’ve ever had.

Is there anyone else that you really want to work with?
It’d be cool to work with Rick Ruben, but I really haven’t put too much thought into it. There’s nobody off the top of my head that I can think of right now. It would be cool to do something with Jamie Hince from The Kills though, because he has, in my opinion, one of the gnarliest and most original styles of guitar playing today.

At the moment you guys are playing shows for GB City, have you come across a favourite venue yet?
We’ve only played there once, but I think my venue is gonna have to be The Bottletree in Birmingham, Alabama. The hospitality there was off the charts. They hooked us up with food and the backstage area is super nice and has video games and old picture books and all sorts of stuff everywhere. And then in the back, in the back porch area, there’s two air stream trailers for the band and they’re tricked out with flat screens. When we played there and it was us and another band and we basically slept in there, so we didn’t even have to leave the venue at all and we just stayed in these awesome tricked out air stream trailers. Then when we got up the next day, the girl from the venue showed up and took us to lunch. It’s definitely the best I’ve ever been treated at a venue.

Since it’s just the two of you in the band, what’s the best and worst thing about being in a duo?
The best thing is that you can’t take sides. Nobody can gang up on anybody because it’s just two people. The worst thing is, it’s just two pople. You’re with the same person all the time. For us, it works well because we’re good friends and we can do the whole thing where, when we do have to go on six or seven hour car rides in a row, we can have two consecutive days where we won’t talk to each other, but then on the third, we’ll talk the whole time. We’re both pretty chilled about it and we’ve never really had any disagreements or reason for it to go bad, so it’s been pretty chill the whole time which is good when you’re with the same person every day for 24 hours a day.

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