David Bason has spent decades working behind the scenes in the music industry for the likes of RCA, Decca, Roadrunner and Red Bull Records. As an A&R guru, he has carefully cultivated the careers of the Dresden Dolls, the Strokes, Andrew WK, Jesse Malin and the Cult, and worked closely with the New York Dolls during their comeback years. The guy has seen it all, from the sidelines.
Now though, he’s stepping out to the front with incendiary punk rock troupe Barfbag. Mind you, it’s not his first time in a band; he’s low-key dabbled before.
“I played in a band from Vancouver called Hard Drugs,” he says. “I’ve always made my own music, putting out solo records. I came up very firmly in the punk rock and hardcore world, and I just noticed a lack of protest records. It’s really encouraging and heartwarming to see the wave of protest records that are starting to come now. But we made this record last year and it just felt like we’re all so angry and consumed with the news day in and day out — why are people not shouting?”
That’s the seed of an idea that led to Barfbag being spewed into the world — the simple thought that the world is going to shit and there aren’t enough musicians, particularly punks, protesting the awfulness.
“Genre aside — I don’t care if it’s punk rock, hip-hop, folk music, reggae, whatever — every genre has delivered amazing protest records but there seemed to be a lack of protest music coming,” Bason says. “So I got Brian [Viglione] from the Dresden Dolls and my buddy Kenny [Carkeet] from AWOLNATION and said, ‘We have to make this record.’ It’s been really fun because they’re my friends, but it’s also been really cathartic. Just getting it out there and saying things.”
That desire to say things led to the release of The Plastic Age EP in July, and a string of singles building up to the debut Let’s Stop a War album on election day — November 3. The most recent song to drop is “Street Crime,” which contains the no-nonsense lyrics:
“I cross borders at will; I’ll show up at your marches; I’ll put out your torches; I’ll pull off your masks; You take our kids at the border; We’ll take your kids at the tower; You attack the press again; We’ll release the fucking piss tapes!”
“It felt to me like there’s an entire generation of kids who felt empowered by going the other way and dropping out,” Bason says. “Not standing up and shouting but popping pills and dropping out. Not voting, and saying ‘Both sides are corrupt — I’m not getting involved.’ That’s how we end up where we are.”
The song ‘Some of it Was True’ has a title taken from the Clash’s ‘London Calling’ — ‘And you know what they said, well some of it was true.’ It’s also inspired by the Tom Waits song ‘What’s He Building,” albeit with a Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling vibe.
“I wake up sometimes and think ‘We’re in the fucking Twilight Zone. How did we get here? What is that guy building in there?’,” Bason says. “That got me thinking. There’s a grain of truth in what Trump says, but he uses misquoted information to suit his purposes. He’s got no references, everything is easily debunked by minor fact-checking except no one does it, and then he peppers a grain of truth in there, mixes it with a bunch of lies, he sits back and watches the chaos. He sees what sticks, and that’s the Trump brand. That’s not saying anything new — we all know that. In our song, the new part is we have our own call to action now.”
Based on the many protests we’ve seen in the streets this year, it’s clear that calls to action work when the cause is just. Barfbag are offering a soundtrack while amplifying the rallying cry.
“That’s us saying, ‘Oh yeah, well you know what? We’ll be there in the street and it’ll get gnarly but that’s ok too. We’ll be outside the White House and we’ll be the ones calling you on your bullshit enough to make you run scared to the bunker’,” says Bason. “We don’t want to be whiny punk rockers — we’ll go out and protest and call you out every step of the way. Trump knows that, as soon as he loses this election, he is instantaneously irrelevant. That, I feel, is his biggest fear, so he will fight with everything he has to hang on to the spotlight which is feeding his narcissistic ego.”
One does have to wonder though — when the messages are so serious, why opt for such a goofy band name?
“I have an aversion to preachy punk rock, which might not make sense given what you’ve heard from this band but it’s meant to really show we’re all down here in the muck together and no one’s on a high horse talking down at you,” Bason says. “Is the name regrettable now that we’ve got a little traction? Probably. But it won’t be the first time. You know how sometimes you have a band name that you just repeat so much that it just becomes part of your vernacular? I’m hoping for that. It started with three knuckleheads in the studio trying to make a punk rock record. I guess it stuck. It’s not rocket science — that’s for sure.”
The lockdown has resulted in a burst of creativity from Bason; as well as a ton of Barfbag recordings, he’s also in a hardcore band with Rich Cipriano (formerly of Sick of it All) called War Orphan, and he has a doom metal project too. That’s how he’s staying sane.
“We’re all sitting around making records in COVID times because it makes us happy,” he says.
With the Barfbag album dropping in November, there’s plenty to keep Bason busy. He’s putting the right messages out there — we just need to make sure we’re listening.
Barfbag’s Let’s Stop a War album is out on November 3.