Destroying Crowds One Bass Drum at a Time: An Interview with Bass Drum of Death

Photo: Jim Barrett

Bass Drum of Death’s debut LP, GB City, released April 12 on Fat Possum Records, buzzes with lo-fi guitars, heavy drumbeats and a loose garage rock style.  The album has such a cohesive sound that it’s hard to believe a relatively new band released it and that it was recorded in such a DIY fashion. The mastermind behind the project, John Barrett, played every instrument, wrote every song and recorded the entire thing solo.  What started as a one-man project has since transformed into a three-piece band, featuring Barrett’s friends Colin on drums and Print on second guitar. The Mississippi-based band spent their summer zig-zagging around the country, and when I spoke with Barrett, Bass Drum of Death was headed to San Francisco. Five days earlier they had played Brooklyn.  The band plays Salt Lake City’s Urban Lounge on August 25 with openers Spell Talk and Max Pain & The Groovies. By the time these road warriors land here, I’m sure they’ll be playing like the well-oiled machine that they are.

SLUG: How did Bass Drum of Death get its start?
Barrett: It has probably been three years. I just started writing songs. I was living with a roommate who just had a drum kit set up in her room. When I was there by myself, I’d just play guitar and stomp on the bass drum to keep a beat. I ended up writing some songs and then after a while I had enough songs and decided I was going to play in some bars and get some free drinks, maybe talk to some girls. It started pretty organically and from the ground up. I never had a master plan when I was kicking it off. I just kind of rolled with it.

SLUG: You recorded GB City all by yourself using a laptop, a drum kit, USB mics and a guitar—why did you choose to work this way?
Barrett: It’s just easier that way. I didn’t have to explain what I wanted it to sound like to anybody. I could just mess around until I got it right. I’ve kind of been doing it myself like that for years—off and on. It was the one thing I knew how to do, plugging in the USB mic—and I’m pretty familiar with GarageBand.

SLUG: How long did it take you to record the album?
Barrett: About a year. It took a long time, but I wasn’t actually working on it the whole time. I wrote songs as they came to me and I would record them. Some songs I would record six or seven times, other ones I got them right the first time. It was just a trial-and-error process.

SLUG: Why did you decide to add Colin on drums to Bass Drum of Death?
Barrett: It was one of those things that it seemed like it was time to do it. I did some touring by myself and I got looped into all this one-man band kind of stuff. Some people do it and it’s really cool, but I never meant for the project to be a “look what I can do, see how many things I can do at once.” I wanted to add a drummer and make it just a little bit bigger. There’s a lot more energy. It lets me move around and do my thing. I’m not chained to a bass drum. It makes it more like a real show. Now we have three members, I just added a second guitar player, too. His name is Print and he is from Mississippi. I’ve known him for a couple of years and we play in another band together, too, called Flight.

SLUG: The inside of GB City says it is dedicated to Peyton “Larry” Houchins who passed away on Dec. 29, 2010. What was your relationship with Houchins?
Barrett: He did a couple of tours with me when I was just by myself. He did some alternate percussion and just jumped around like a crazy ass and helped sell merch and drive and stuff. We did a few tours a couple of years ago like that. We were talking about him coming out once the record came out, just helping drive and being the tour manager. He was really involved. He was one of my best friends. It was really tough thing to go through.  He and I were the first people that listened to GB City when it got mastered.

SLUG: How has the new album been received live?
Barrett: It has been really good. Some places are a lot crazier than others, but that’s to be expected. It’s awesome to go out on tour and have a record that’s actually in stores everywhere you go. You caught me at a rough point. Over the past five days we’ve had five, 10-plus hour drives. I’ve been in the car the whole time, I’m not really thinking straight, but it’s good to be traveling and seeing different places.

According to Barrett, larger cities like New York, Toronto and Chicago have been some of the most fun to play. Come out to The Urban Lounge on August 25 to show these Mississippi boys what Salt Lake City is all about.

Photo: Jim Barrett