After climbing up the four flights of stairs to the green room, John Barrett took a few paces around the space before noticing the fridge and remembering that there should be some tequila waiting for him in the freezer. He opened the door and procured a bottle, gave himself a healthy pour in a plastic cup, and took a seat on the sagging leather couch.
Barrett has always done things the way he envisions them, playing every part of his records himself. If he’s going to do something, he’s going to get it done with no nonsense. He doesn’t fuck around with the weird abstract questions I feel obligated to ask and to be honest, I respect that.
You can hear it in his music – it just comes naturally to him, and in the big picture, there’s not much more to it than that. The songs he writes as Bass Drum of Death are effortlessly packed with energy, whether they’re about love or being homesick or whatever else.
Before playing a packed show at Bowery Ballroom, Barrett tried to wake himself up with sips of tequila and some ~abstract~ questions, which he brushed off with the casual grace of what I imagine to be true rockstar style.
Do you live in Brooklyn now right?
John Barrett: Yea in Bushwick.
What do you think of nature versus nurture when it comes to making music and having grown up in Mississippi? Do you think that you would have made the same stuff anywhere?
John: Yea maybe. Maybe. I think that time when I started too there was a little more of a blues influence. Some things I probably picked up living in Mississippi. I feel like I probably would make generally the same stuff.
Did you go see a lot of local bands?
John: Yea there wasn’t a whole lot going on. There definitely was 2 or 3 other bands that were pretty cool. We would play shows and shit with them. We used to do these things and we did fundraisers in our skatepark in town. We would be sneaking in and drinking beer.
So you played every instrument on the record right? Do you think it’s because you want to have control over it?
John: Yea I think it’s a little bit of both for me. Definitely, I’m a stickler, that’s why I want it a certain way and I can be here and just do it. There’s my friend who jumps on one of the songs, so I didn’t do everything, but yea most of it I did. That’s just how it’s gone this far.
Did you grow up playing a different kind of instrument? Like in school or anything?
John: No, I was never in band. I pretty much just played guitar and my mom made me take piano lessons for a while, but I didn’t think of it that way or plan on doing anything with it. And I really really regret that. I wish I would have stuck with a little bit, but I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking at the time.
If you ever wrote a rock opera what would it be about and what would it be called?
John: Shit, that’s a tough one. I’m not a very theatre guy. I did have a friend who wrote a biker musical.
Or just like a weird concept album or something. You ever think about doing that?
John: Not really, no. Yea I mean, I don’t know.
“Union Pool is a meat market.” Is that Union Pool in Brooklyn? Is there a specific story behind that?
John: No, it’s just like when you’re in New York, you’ll go to Union Pool on a Friday night. That’s where all the single Williamsburg people would go. Yea I love Union Pool.
Do you still know that girl that you’re referencing?
John: Mhmm, she’s dating my good friend.
“The odds are good but the good ones are rather odd.” What kinds of people do you find yourself choosing to spend time with? Total oddballs?
John: I think it’s a mix between ya know not really being responsible but just being good at whatever they do. That usually kind of describes my friends. Somehow they get shit done.
Do you believe in astrology? Or anything at all like that?
Alright so my question was gonna be if you could assign a zodiac sign to this album, what would it be? I guess we can change it to any animal.
John: Shit, I don’t know, what’s the animal that’s like vicious and wild? I don’t know. I’m so bad at these. Maybe an eagle.
Do you find yourself drawn to any other forms of art?
John: Yea photography mainly. Nothing really I can think of off the top of my head. I try to get around to some galleries here, every once in a while. Check out what’s going on. I try to go to this one place on Thursdays. It’s never anything that’s that great, but you never know.
Would you say you like more abstract art or what?
John: It doesn’t matter to me. Actually, when I was with my parents recently we got to go on a guided tour at the MET, for modern art stuff. And that was pretty crazy, just to hear all the background to all of that. Cause some of that stuff is a little bit over my head. It was nice to get an explanation, just so I could kind of understand what was going on, rather than just standing there and looking at it, and going like “hmm.”
There’s a lot of people who just do that.
John: That was what was funny. I came with my dad, it was funny to see him understanding Rothko and shit. Ya know? Cause he’s not that kind of guy.
What does your dad do?
John: He’s a banker. He really loves the title of this album [laughs].
What kind of art do you surround yourself with? If you were to describe your apartment to somebody, how would you do it?
John: It’s just all stuff that I’ve been meaning to put into frames. Probably 7 or 8 things I’ve been meaning to get framed. It’s a lot of unframed shit.
A lot of bands go to like a very specific place or space to isolate themselves and write. Do you think that’s helpful? Or do you think it’s more like a state of mind?
John: Yea I think you just got to be ready at all times and always keep a guitar somewhere handy. It’s great to use a little voice memo app, all the time to record. Like little snippets of something. Yea you know, just being able to go with it whenever. I just try to catch on at different times and then try to get to an area where you can start to work it out.
Would you say that for you the mentality of isolation can be kind of transferred to making everything by yourself?
John: Yeah for sure. And that’s why it does have its limits. If I need to be by myself on certain things, but at a certain time, it feels kind of overwhelming having to do everything by myself. So the last two, we worked with a producer and stuff like that. It feels nice to have other people involved and cooperating. And it kind of keeps me on my shit as well. And keeps me working and shit.
Have you done anything for Halloween this year?
John: Yeah, I was a king. I thought I was pretty royal with the crown and scepter, which I lost. I woke up to a picture from my friends wearing my costume.
Have you ever dressed up as anything really crazy?
John: Not really, I guess two years ago, me and my friend weren’t even gonna do anything for Halloween and then we just got drunk and decided to dress like 30 minutes before. I was some sort of hybrid Kid Rock something and she was in a catsuit. Yeah, I’m not a huge Halloween guy, it just stresses me out.
Do you like to watch scary movies or anything?
John: Nah, real life is scary enough!
Can you begin to understand why people like to scare the shit out of themselves?
John: Yeah, I mean I guess it’s feeling alive. This summer I went on the roller coaster at Coney Island, the Thunderbolt. That was the first time in a long time, my friends convinced me to go on it with them. I was so fucking terrified. I hate heights and I hate being enclosed. Yea it takes everything I hate, but it was so fucking fun. The good thing is that it only lasts for a little bit. I was fucking terrified because I wasn’t gonna go on, but everybody there was peer pressuring me.
That’s a different kind of fear though. You’re not gonna be thinking about that when it’s dark and you’re trying to go to sleep.
John: Oh yeah, that’s totally different. Different type of fear.
Do you believe in ghosts at all?
John: Um, sure. Why not?
Another thing to be scared about – do you feel your age?
John: I’m thirty-one. Yeah, I’m getting old. My hangovers last a lot longer than they used to. So I gotta be careful on tour.
It is the worst though, they can last two days sometimes.
John: Yea, I gotta be careful. But the good thing is at least playing shows creates a vicious cycle. Because you get energized and then fucking drunk and you wake up the next day. You look at the area, have a shot and you play another show, then go to a hotel or wherever. You know, you gotta look after yourself.