Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Duff Interview: Barney Boom of Sonic Boom Six!

Barney Boom, bassist, vocalist, and lyricist for the Sonic Boom Six was kind enough to take the time to answer some of our questions below about the band's extraordinary new album, "The F-Bomb" (Phoenix City Records/Cherry Red). We think it's probably the best ska release of the year (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of "The F-Bomb" here to see how we back up our bold claim)!  

The Duff Guide to Ska: What range of reactions has "The F-Bomb's" cover photograph elicited so far (and are they what you expected)?

Barney Boom: I think at the moment it's largely been only in and around our own fan base, so people have generally got it and loved it. With the video for 'From The Fire To The Frying Pan', I think we've given people another lens to look at the cover through, to flesh out the point we are trying to make. Observing the reaction when the cover has been posted on sites like Rock Sound and seeing the comments, it's obvious that the world at large will react differently to it than our fans, but that's the point. Like our videos and our music it's meant to provoke discussion, it's meant to prod a finger on convention and the status quo and say, 'is this OK?' The only reaction that surprised me was a few that thought that the 'Bomb' in 'F-Bomb' was purely a Muslim fundamentalist/terrorist pun and it was a shock jock thing to provoke, with no actual substance beyond that. I think that without the 'F', on a purely visual level, I can get that, but when you throw in the 'F' there and consider that these ideas and associations are overlapping with another concept, the whole thing is a lot more interesting than us going 'this album will go with a BOOM!' or anything like that.

DGTS: In my review, I've guessed at what the F in "F-Bomb" signifies, but what does it mean to you?

BB: It's only when we finished the album that we noticed the streak that ran through it that prompted that title. I think Dan Weller actually came up with it. The whole thing happened this way because I'd made a conscious decision to write songs from Laila's perspective, and that entailed a female perspective. So, a lot of the social issues we'd been exploring from a third person point of view on previous records, we were now drilling down on a bit more personally. Something like 'All The Same To Me' might have previously been a song like 'F.U.C.K' off our first album; a sideswipe at the sickly, aspirational side of social media and TV. Whereas on this record it's a girl watching it and feeling the pressure it puts out there for her. So, I think that's where it came from. Certainly, to me, the 'F' in the 'F-Bomb' stands for female. There was something in the air last year and feminism was a hugely hot topic. It just permeated the whole record without us being aware of it when writing the lyrics.

DGTS: I recently about one of the 2 Tone-era musicians, how they were approached years later by fans who told them that their music and message made them think about and then alter their racist behavior--the music kept them from becoming life-long racists! Do you feel that the Sonic Boom Six's politically progressive songs are having this kind of impact? Are you reaching the people who might change their attitudes and behavior for the better?

BB: Yeah, I've had anecdotal evidence of exactly the same thing. We've had kids come up and tell them we've been a conduit to change their attitude to racism. We've had kids come up and tell them we've been a conduit to change their attitude towards rap and grime music, or dance music, and that could well be the first step to opening their minds up to everything else. I mean, changing attitudes 'for the better' is subjective. Certainly, if you read YouTube comments on our videos, a lot of people think we're changing attitudes for the worst! But our form of activism has always been velvet glove. Our gigs are a party and there is stuff in the lyrics we're happy for people to take or leave or disagree with. That being said, unlike some bands in the 2 Tone era--who were probably too young to understand the implications of what they were saying--we don't leave politics at the door. Racism or sexism or anything that flies in the face of what we're about is not welcome at our shows. We'd definitely take a stand for that.
Barney Boom in action!

DGTS: Several of the songs on "The F-Bomb" seem like they're based on real people/experiences. For instance, is there an actual Joanna?

BB: 'Joanna' is about Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! I consider myself a progressive person, but apart from a transsexual woman at work years ago, I hadn't had any direct experience with transsexual people. One of the women at work didn't want her using the same toilets and I didn't have much of an opinion on it. After Laura Jane Grace, I would have a strong opinion on it. Her publicly transitioning in the way she did put that whole issue in front of me and lit the way for both Laila and I to consider the implications of that, so it's life-changing and we wanted to capture that. But elsewhere on the album there are certainly a lot of parts that relate real experiences. 'From The Fire To The Frying Pan' is about a fan of ours that went from innocent kid to mouth-foaming immigrant-hater in the space of months on social media; 'Worship Yourself' is about a friend of ours who was in an emotionally abusive relationship for years on end; 'Do What You Wanna Do' is about moving to London from Manchester and the negativity that caused among certain friends and family... It's all mired in real life.

DGTS: The harrowing, but inspiring "Echoes in the Dark" appears to be about a woman who had been sexually assaulted as a teen finally finding the strength to reclaim her life. What compelled you to write this song?

BB: I think at the point that I'd written a few songs on the album, a theme was emerging, so I wanted to explore it in a way that was consistent with the idea of 'The F-Bomb', but ended the album on a note of hope. Obviously, this is a hugely sensitive subject but the title came to me and the music sounded so dark and open that it lead me to explore these issues. No matter what shit people go through, human beings have an incredible ability to move past trauma. 'Sexually assaulted' might be a bit strong, but it's up to the listener to decide that. Certainly I was thinking about an older lad using and preying upon a girl that's under 16, so legally I guess that's accurate, but in my head the girl was in love with him and he had his way with her in a way she only just understood, then he rejected her, and it's years later she's considering the hugely problematic implications of it, and how much it affected her, and how she's ultimately moved past it. I grew up with girls that when we were 14 running round in parks were sleeping with men, and for some that's fine, but for others it has lasting negative effects. I've known Laila since we were kids and certainly this song is -- if not about a specific person -- a definite exploration of what could have happened. I think 'Echoes In The Dark' is ending the album on a note that says that no matter what is going on in the world, especially as it pertains to females and the pressure that society puts on them, that we're headed in the right direction as human beings and we're going to get through it.

DGTS: The Specials and Dexys Midnight Runners clearly influenced the sound and message of this album. What else were you listening to/reading/watching that helped shape the writing and recording of these tracks?

Sonic Boom Six
BB: Oh wow, I mean, bands like The Specials and Dexys and The Clash were always there, but this album we were really thinking of ways of how we could do the ska thing without sounding like a 'ska band' per se with bass, drums and choppy guitars. So, definitely dance and pop and reggae productions we enjoyed had a huge influence. We had a Spotify Playlist when we recorded the album that we referenced for mixes and tone and vibes, which included stuff like Dub Pistols, modern-era No Doubt, Skool Of Thought, The B-52s, Lily Allen, Santigold, Major Lazer, Rodney P, Mungo's Hifi, Hollie Cook, Kelis, Bruno Mars, Jamie T... those acts are a good indicator of the mix of sounds we were really referencing.

In terms of watching and reading, unlike previous albums, where I'm quoting swathes of books and putting literary puns in there, there wasn't a huge amount of influence from fiction and films this time. Really it was our real life observations and experiences that were driving what we were talking about. 'L.O.V.E' was about what we were seeing on the news on planet earth rather than what we were watching on Game Of Thrones to be honest. It's a very grounded album in that sense.

DGTS: Are there any plans to tour parts of the US for "The F-Bomb"?

BB: We'd love to, and we're going to release the album on vinyl over there at least, so that would be great. Maybe a festival or two--the difficult thing is getting booked, to be honest. Keep spreading the word and keep on to promoters to book us and perhaps we'll get a chance to come back. We'd absolutely love to but it's really just a financial thing; if we can make it without losing dollar, we'll be over!

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Sonic Boom Six's summer 2016 UK dates in support of The F-Bomb can be found here.

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