The point of an odyssey is to return home changed — still the same person, but deepened somehow, wiser and better, wearing your traveling scars proudly.
Bass Drum of Death’s new album, “Say I Won’t” is the end result of a journey that took singer and bandleader John Barrett from Oxford, sent him across the world and back home again.
The music still rips, with blown-out guitars and drums, and the melodies are catchier than ever, hollered in Barrett’s trademark yelp.
But the music hits differently now, more at peace with itself, propelled by a new swagger.
“Say I Won’t,” the band’s fifth record, comes at a time of massive change for Barrett, having relocated from New York to his hometown of Oxford during the pandemic. The record is also a homecoming of a different sort, with the band rejoining the ranks of Fat Possum, also in Oxford, the label that released their first record GB City in 2011.
“Moving back to Oxford was a much-needed reset,” Barrett said. “When I started, I just wanted to play in a punk band and drink beers and travel around. I didn’t really think much past that. And I got really burned out. When I moved back home, I started writing songs again, just for fun. I realized I wanted this record to have more of a hometown feel. The switch back to Fat Possum was easy. It’s much better working with people I know and love and love everything they do.”
“Say I Won’t” is the first Bass Drum of Death album written, demoed and recorded with the touring band instead of Barrett doing everything on his own. He found freedom in working with collaborators that wasn’t available to him before, opening different aspects of songwriting. It was a process of live recording, layering on different parts and overdubs, and then stripping it all back to the bones of the song, keeping the raw wild heart of the music intact.
“My first two records were made entirely by me alone with my gear, my laptop, and a Snowball USB mic,” Barrett said. “They were just made quickly, cheaply, as an excuse to tour. I wanted to take my time with this record. Make something good that I was proud of in itself.”
The band recorded the new record with Patrick Carney of the Black Keys at Audio Eagle Studios in Nashville and the result is a groove-oriented, 1970’s-indebted collection of rock songs, with tempos set for cruising and scuzzy guitars galore. There’s an energy and vitality to the music that feels in line with the best of the Bass Drum songs, but with an added boost that comes from new bandmates and a new perspective.
Album opener “Find It” is a perfect embodiment of the band’s new era, an urgent blast of Britpop-tinged punk, all riffs and hooks over drummer Ian Kirkpatrick’s steady thundering beat.
The song finds Barrett in a reflective mood. It’s a new, more sober perspective for the lifelong rocker, with the added potency that comes from taking responsibility for one’s own life and problems.
“It’s a reference to my own personal issues, chemical or otherwise,” Barrett said. “The song is about how the place you live, be it small town Mississippi or New York, is irrelevant. Nothing really matters unless you change yourself. That’s on you.”
Bass Drum Of Death are playing select headline and support dates with The Lemonheads this fall/winter – tickets can be found on the band’s website.
Special to Hotty Toddy News