Talk Thursday to Me – Big John Bates

Today we talk with Big John Bates about moving from burlesque and rock-a-billy to rustic punk and the Grindshow.

Postcard Editor: Hello sir.

Big John Bates: Good morning!

PE: How is California treating you?

BJB: So far it’s rainy and loud but I’m hoping that will change …maybe I shouldn’t sleep beside the highway.

PE: Well better than IN the highway.

BJB: Yeah I could be like one of those raccoons sleeping on the road, waiting for their chance to get across to the real good stuff …

PE: It is a mystery as to why they all choose to nap there. So how’s the tour going? You boys and girls just started back up again right?

BJB: Yeah, the last tour was four months long and covered 85 shows in 14 countries. We took off 6 weeks, changed the drummer (Orian Case) and Brandy and I finished writing the new album. We also changed the name of the band because the music moved from a variation of rockabilly to more gothic americana – post punk. As we have two writers and two singers we have a lot of ground to cover. Also as we are headlining we invited two performers to come along and share the stage, Calamity Kate and Lincoln Electra

PE: What I think is interesting is that through the band’s time – going all the way back to the first 7″ in 1999 there’s been a sound that has slowly evolved into something more diverse and deeper in its influences, but the general idea has never changed. It may have gotten more defined or explored certain corners of the mash up of rock-a-billy, surf rock, spooky americana – but it’s always been there, it’s just different facets of that. How instrumental was Brandy to taking the band deeper into the current sound?

BJB: She came in with a focus to move directly towards what she calls “Rustic Punk”. It’s a style she has been wanting to develop for a while and as you mentioned I touched on it in the past with BJB. It seemed like a really smart idea to move on as I had said about as much as I could in the ‘billy styles. Brandy is also singing fully half of the songs on the new album and co-writing is something I haven’t done in years – plus I’m finally able to shut up and play my guitar.

PE: There is that the trap of working in such a clearly defined genre – whether it be rockabilly or punk, but the best bands always find a way to incorporate new elements to make it fresh, which it sounds like you guys have done once again.

BJB: Yeah, totally stoked, can’t wait to get back to Vancouver and record.

PE: Well it’s going to be a hot minute, because you have a full tour ahead of you still. And touring is kind of where you’ve made your name, wouldn’t you say? Because in the latest incarnation of the group you’ve added a whole extra theatrical level by incorporating stage performers who mix burlesque and performance art. Where did that idea come from originally?

BJB: We did a lot of stuff with burlesque in the past but the whole glitz and glitter thing worked better with the Voodoo Dollz. When we made the change to the Grindshow we wanted to be able to tour with bands as a musical group but have the option of headlining with a creepy sideshow style – we sat down with Kate and told her what we wanted to do and she was up for it. Now the focus is on being a little disturbing as well as sexy – we’re trying to make people a bit uncomfortable with it.

PE: Right, and I didn’t mean to leave out the musicality aspect of it – the band has always been a kick ass high energy live band, even before bringing the dancers into it – but that addition of the performance art really changes it from a “yeah these guys rock, you should go see the show” to “you HAVE to go see this show.”

Speaking of which, how have the shows been going? The Grindshow is relatively new – how have the audiences been reacting to it?

BJB: Yeah I understand, it was weird before though, bands like the Reverend (Horton Heat) were interested in having us as support but they didn’t want to deal with the show that we were putting on so we decided to focus even more on the music and melodies for the Grindshow. Now hopefully we have it all. The tour is doing well, audience are really digging it. It’s still a little loose but we may keep it that way, at least a until we see what options we have.

We did slow the pace down somewhat which is more fun for us, I remember Ray Condo telling me back in the day to continually develop my dynamic and he was right. I think it draws the audience in closer and it definitely brings the musicians together.

PE: Yeah – when you have something just going 99mph the entire time it can exhaust the audience, and the force of it loses impact after a while. Glad the tour is going well, looking forward to catching this new version of it when it swings through the Midwest.

So your last two releases were under the new name of the Grindshow, but I get a sense from you that the new material waiting to be recorded is where that new vision is going to come fully into its own. What are a few of the new songs that really illustrate the biggest departure from the original sound of the John Bates Band or version 2.0 with the Voodoo Dollz?

BJB: Actually the Grindshow’s only release is the 7″ Bad Pussy / Scarecrow Close – I’d say that the “Bad Pussy” video was our farewell to the Voodoo Dollz and “Scarecrow Close” is the introduction to the Grindshow. But it’s all been under the Big John Bates name so hopefully people will be able to differentiate. I think it will all make sense when the new album Battered Bones comes out in the fall. When the hear “Wide Open Blues”, “Father’s Grave”, “Taste The Barrel” or “Scarecrow Close” they’ll know they’re in for something different.

PE: So really this tour is everyone’s first opportunity to experience the new direction right?

BJB: Yes, we hinted at it on our last tour but this is fully the Grindshow.

PE: So I know you said that in addition to the music taking a darker turn, the dancers/performance artists have too. What are some of the things they’re doing now that helps push the show into the “possibly uncomfortable” realm?

BJB: There are a few older songs being played but there are is a wicked number with electric grinders and a Siamese twin number that is definitely creepy.

PE: Excellent, I know you have to hit the road, so we’ll wrap this up. Now normally we ask everyone to name three things that are rocking their world – but as you got your start as the singer for the metal band Annihilator, I want to go out by asking you to name the three most totally metal moments you’ve had recently.

BJB: Um, the new season of Metalocalypse is righteous, I found the Boneyard station on Sirius which is playing in our bus and dammit I want a white flying V.

PE: All completely acceptable experiences of metallity. Thanks for talking with us. We’ll see you in March when you come through.

Big John Bates is the bandleader and ringleader of The Big John Bates Grindshow, Vancouver’s theatrical rock-a-billy and rustic punk experience. Check out their video for “Bad Pussy” to get a taste.

They are currently on tour in the lower 48, and you’d be a damn fool to miss it.   Remaining dates below, more on the band here.

3.17.11 Sprindfield, MO – Nathan P. Murphy’s
3.18.11 Hot Springs, AR – Maxine’s
3.19.11 Nashville, TN – FooBar w/ Hillbilly Casino
3.22.11 Charleston, SC – Tin Roof
3.24.11 Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Monterey Club w/ Viva Le Vox
3.25.11 Satellite Beach, FL – Sports Page w/ Viva le Vox
3.26.11 St. Petersburg, FL – Local 662 w/ Viva le Vox
3.27.11 Cape Coral, FL – Rack ‘Em Billards w/ Viva le Vox
3.30.11 Asheville, NC – Get Down w/ Viva le Vox
3.31.11 Fort Wayne, IN – The Brass Rail w/ Viva le Vox
4.01.11 Lombard, IL (Chicago) – Brauerhouse w/ Viva le Vox
4.02.11 Erie, PA – Crooked I w/ Viva le Vox

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