Interview: Music writer Barry Thompson on Kickstarter, Soviet sweaters, and his own band, Death Waltz ’76

That’s Barry Thompson far left, doing his best police line-up impersonation

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ometime over the past few years, Barry Thompson has interviewed your band. Or perhaps he drunkenly reviewed your band while partaking in the Dig’s annual Five Drink Minimum series. Either way, the man has given both props (and shade) to a host of Boston bands over the years, so when he relayed word to us here at Vanyaland, a website that happily publishes his work, that his punk band Death Waltz ’76 has a new record and freshly-launched Kickstarter campaign, we decided to turn the tables and interview the guy who normally does the interviewing.

I first met Thompson as I was kicking him out of Bill’s Bar on Lansdowne Street sometime around 2006. I was the GM, he was doing one of those Five Drink Minimum. He was openly drunk, I was secretly buzzed. From there we’ve done music journalism business at the Boston Herald, Boston Phoenix, and here at the V, so naturally, we’ve seen some things.

Death Waltz launched their Kickstarter yesterday, in hopes of getting the Stolen EP mastered and produced into actual, legitimate compact discs. So fire up that video, get to know the band, and read up on our Q&A down below in advance of their May 17 gig at the Cantab in Cambridge. Shove your perceived “conflict of interest” up your ass.

Michael Marotta: Ok, the tables have turned, so we’ll start with the worst music journalism question of all time: who are Death Waltz’ influences?

Barry Thompson: Well, Justin had his big “creative” epiphany for starting this band at a Peter Hook show a few years ago, and it’s fair to say he’s the primary songwriter, so Joy Division inevitably became a major jumping off point. The fucked up thing is I’m not sure if Joy Division is all that major for anyone else in the band. To me they’re one of those “I recognize their indispensable contribution to pop music without feeling obligated to become a superfan” bands. Steph doesn’t know what to make of them. I don’t recall Hutch expressing a strong opinion on Joy Division one way or another.

Individually, I feel like we all listen to and get excited about too many different bands to list, like, three or four that speak for all of us without it ending up being bullshit. In terms of lyrics, I’m pretty sure the lyrics on the Stolen EP mostly pertain to romantic and sexual misjudgments from years gone by — except “Texas” which is about the comic book Preacher. But the new songs we’re working on are about zombies and LSD, so there’s no set theme or anything.

More seriously, why should people pitch in for this record?

Hm, well, I’ve even said our first EP — The Unmade — is well and good and I’m not disowning it or anything, but it’s also our version of the EP every band does when they first start out and two weeks later say “Let’s buy studio time immediately because we’re getting way ahead of ourselves!” Stolen’s definitely an EP by a more actualized version of Death Waltz, meaning people should find it more enjoyable than our first one. I’d definitely like to think I’d be stoked on it if I wasn’t in the band. It sounds unusual without sounding experimental, I think. Everything we play is fairly simple for the most part, but with enough kinda, I dunno, aesthetic mutations to not be boring.

As far as pitching in, I personally feel like our Kickstarter is a little less of a charity thing, and a little more of a “pay for something in advance that hopefully you would’ve bought anyway” sort of deal. Like, we paid for the recording out of our band fund which was just payouts from shows. So we could just do a digital release right now and that’d be that. I don’t think pressing physical CDs is terribly practical — and the other three Death Waltz kids disagree with me pretty adamantly about that — but I do think I’m getting kinda “blah” on everything being streaming and digital and ultimately feeling a lot more disposable and less personal and all that even if it’s free.

So, from us, you get options. You can buy a physical Stolen EP CD with artwork we’ll devote some time to making cool, you can buy a demos CD that one of us will spend some time drawing individualized art work for to make it one of a kind and it’s completely your own, you can just buy a digital download if you want, you can buy all kindsa shit. You can also buy an “I Hate Death Waltz 76” t-shirt. Those are alarmingly popular.

What’s the backstory of Death Waltz ’76? I’ve known you for years, and we’ve worked together just as long, but only now am I getting familiar with your band.

Actually, working with you at the Herald predates this band by maybe two or three years, I’m pretty sure. Me and Justin (and Hutch, for that matter) have known each other since the old late-’90s South Shore punk scene when we were in high school ‘n all that. Me and Justin were in another band from something like 2008 to 2011, and that fell to shit for disappointing reasons that neither of us had control over. So he was like “Let’s do another one! I just saw Peter Hook and it was really inspiring!” I was like “Fuck off, I’m busy.” Then I ended up joining anyway out of guilt maybe four months later when his originally-intended lead singer (my roommate at the time) spotted me when I was short on rent.

Then Hutch joined once we realized we were going to be a guitar band instead of a keyboard band and, therefore, needed a bass player we got along with. Then the originally-intended lead singer decided she hated singing and that we were losers, so we needed a new singer. Our buddy Kosta — who’s in a kickass second-wave ska band called The New Limits, by the way — was like “Hey, my girlfriend’s a really good singer! You should give her a tryout!” And we were like “You’re probably lying!” but it turned out he wasn’t ’cause that was Steph. The we played a bunch of shows. Some of them were pretty good!

Vanyaland contributor Hilary Hughes says that a person needs at least some musical talent to be a music critic. How good are you at drumming?

I’m okay for what I’m doing, I think. Better than average? Competent but nuanced? I’m usually really sweaty and tired after we play a show, so at least I’m giving it 110 percent! Or I’m ruining all the songs by overreaching and making the drums parts needlessly busy out of showy self-indulgence. Or I’m the best drummer of all time. I’d be as good as Neil Peart, if I could afford a million dollar drum set and play what everyone assumed was a monumentally complicated solo except only it’s really just paradiddles for 15 minutes. Then again, almost anyone can say that.

Where did you get that hammer and sickle shirt you’re wearing in the Kickstarter video? Did you put that on intentionally for May Day?

Actually — like most of my favorite articles of clothing — I found it somewhere random. Someone left it on a bench… I think by Jamaica Pond or somewhere in the Arboretum in JP? Anyway I found it one night while wondering around with some people. That must’ve been somewhere around 2006, so it’s been with me for a while. The May Day connection didn’t even occur to me. Holy Fucking Serendipity!

If you were doing a Five Drink Minimum somewhere and stumbled into a Death Waltz show, what would you think?

“I swear, if they’re even a day late reimbursing me for these beers, I’m gonna march down to the Dig office and throw the biggest tantrum… Hey, look, a band! And I think they’re covering MSI! Hurrah!”

Which do you prefer: asking question or answering them?

TBH I actually kinda hate talking about myself. Also, thinking of interesting-sounding shit to say is harder than it looks, so I’m definitely gonna say asking questions.

Do you think it’s more likely that a) Boston bands will see this and go “Hey, Barry wrote about my band, lemme donate to his band!” or b) “Hey, Barry shit on my band, screw this guy and screw his band”?

Probably a little from column A, a little from column B. Although I can think of bands I’ve given rave reviews to who probably wouldn’t be into Death Waltz, and bands I’ve panned who might actually dig us. So eh. Obviously they’re all listening to Vanya Radio, which means they’ve heard a couple tunes, which means they’ve made up their minds by now.
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