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Bass Drum of Death delivers potent blast of garage rock with ‘Say I Won’t’

Steve Gullick

“Say I Won’t” is the new release from garage punk purveyors Bass Drum of Death.

“Say I Won’t,” the Bass Drum of Death album being released on the venerable Fat Possum label and produced by Patrick Carney (The Black Keys), is a 12-song, 34-minute opus that delivers a concentrated blast of roots-inspired but forward-thinking songs that fully embodies the group’s spirited, life-affirming modus operandi.

Speaking from the road as the band was leaving Detroit for the fertile rock pastures of Indiana, founding member John Barrett is confident about the album’s place in the group’s already storied discography. He was eager to field questions ranging from the writing process, his return to his hometown (Oxford, Mississippi), and his longstanding love of golf.

Interview Highlights

This album marked a return home for you -- relocating from New York City to Oxford, Mississippi. 

When COVID happened, I was living in New York City. Basically, I wanted to get out of there during that, so I went back home to Mississippi and was able to flesh out the record with all of the downtime that everybody had. I moved back to Mississippi, and that’s where we finished up the writing and recording process.

Oxford moves at probably a slightly slower pace than New York City. What was it like to find yourself back there after some time away? 

It was interesting but with COVID happening and slowing everything down, everybody everywhere slowed down a bit. But it was nice to get home and to have some time to really focus and get everything right with the record.

Tell me about how this downtime influenced the record because I’m guessing that prior to 2020, you were in the typical album-tour-album cycle that a lot of bands find themselves in. 

We were able to demo things a few times and we did a bunch of different writing sessions. “Find It” was something where we tried for a year-and-a-half to finally get that right, and we got it all to fit together the way that we wanted. Having that time allowed us to think about what we wanted and how we wanted to do it. I think that time ended up benefiting us a lot.

At what point did you know you were going to work with Patrick Carney of The Black Keys as a producer for this album? 

We were in Nashville. Me and my brother had met there to do a writing session. Pat and I have known each other for a while, and we both like to play a lot of golf. I was going to try to play some golf with him and then try to convince him to do the record. [That] ended up falling through, so I told him that, “I was going to try and convince you to do our record over a round of golf.” He said, “Dude, we didn’t have to play a round of golf. Of course, I’ll do the record.”

My understanding is that he has a light touch as a producer but that he made some contributions that wound up being important to this record. 

He’s got good taste and knows when to stop or when to let things breathe, when enough is enough. He just had us down in the main room of the studio playing through the songs live and we would a few takes, and he would come down and give some suggestions. It was a pretty simple process honestly. It was super helpful and a lot of the suggestions that he had ended up making a huge difference in my opinion.

Tell me more about your interest in golf. 

I played a lot when I was a kid and then probably didn’t play for about 15 years. I had friends in New York who had gotten into, so I kind of snuck back playing a lot there. Obviously, when COVID happened, that was about the only thing that you could do. [Laughs.] In a lot of places. Being back in Oxford, it was a lot easier to play than in New York City. I’ve gotten way back into it in the last few years. It’s pretty fun. It’s super frustrating but it’s a lot of fun.

Are there good courses around Oxford? 

There’s a couple. There’s two in Oxford that are really good and, basically, within an hour/hour-and-a-half drive; there’s some really amazing courses that I’ve gotten to play. I don’t really have a whole lot of time to play on tour but we always try to see, if we have a day off or something, if we can fit something in. At least a par three course or something like that.

How much focus is there on the new record in the current live set? 

We try to strike a good balance and include stuff from every record. We have either five or six from the new record that we play. We are focusing on that. But we do try to mix it up. All the new songs were recorded live, so it’s really fun to work them into the set. What we’re doing with them live is exactly what we did in the studio.

You’re probably still breaking into some new territories this time out as well. 

It’s fun. We’ve just played a couple of places that I’d never been before, like Buffalo. It’s kind of awesome to go somewhere you’ve never been and there’s people there. [Laughs.] It is nerve-wracking at times, but we have a really good time playing the shows. We just want to make sure that everybody there has as much fun as we do.

One of my favorite tracks on this record is “Head Change.” 

We really wanted to have a bluesy, mid-tempo stomper with that. I’d had that one for a while. It really came together once we were all in the room. We ended up putting that dueling guitar solo at the end in there at the last minute. We were just messing around, trying to find a tone and accidentally did that. It sounded cool so we kept it in.

Was “Find It” always the first track on the album? 

No, in fact we’d recorded that a couple of times. That was one of the first things we worked on. We’d [recorded it] at a friend’s house. We couldn’t wrap our heads around it; we liked some of it but it didn’t work all the way through, so we kept trying it and kept trying it and finally got to a point with the arrangement where we enjoyed it. So for a long time it probably wasn’t going to be on the record. Once we had the whole record, that one did pop out at us as one that would be a good intro and starter to the record.

“Keys To The City” is one that’s a lot of fun to turn up and play loud. There’s a lot of attitude to it. 

I was trying to do my best Replacements impression. It’s kind of a backwards riff. I’d had it floating around for a while, the other guys came in and finished it kind of quickly. When stuff like that comes together quick and sounds good you try not to think too much about it.

It strikes me that you probably pull from a wide audience -- there are the garage rock fans but probably also the young punks and even people who like classic rock. 

Last night [in Detroit] there was 16-year-old kids in the mosh pit and then a guy who was older, probably in his 40s, in a full business suit.


[Laughs.] I was looking down and really confused for a second and [thought], “Man, this is really cool that completely opposite types of people are all into it, having a good time.” I really enjoy it and that makes me super proud and happy to see stuff like that going on.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.