Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with St. Louis’s Boss Battle ahead of their upcoming EP release “Action Items!” which comes out July 22nd. Together we discussed their favorite boss battles, their influences, routines, and so much more! They also provided Music Shelf a special sneak preview of their song “Bottle It Up” which is on “Action Items!” Check it out below!
1. Hello! Mustard is grateful to have you join them. How are you?
Will – We are, collectively, fantastic but busy blocking out time and knocking items off our high-priority list, which makes in-person group interviews challenging. Thank you for actually following the oft-quoted maxim, “this meeting could have been an email.”
Chris – We’re good! I think I can safely speak for the entire band when I say that we are truly lucky to hang out with our favorite condiment. Horseradish reached out, but we know better than to associate with the likes of them.
Andrew – Peachy keen, jelly bean.
2. Mustard has observed that boss battles are often fun, challenging, and at times frustrating. Is there a boss battle that inspired your name?
Will – I think each of us grew up at slightly different points of the video game generation. For Whatever reason, the boss battle that I most often think of is the giant man-baby that is the first boss in the Simpsons arcade game. Not for its difficulty, but for its sheer weirdness.
Chris – Remember that NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game? That shit was hard. I never even made far enough for a boss to battle!
Andrew – You know what boss battle lives rent free in my head? The final showdown in the movie The Last Dragon. The part where Leroy Green gets the Glow and defeats ShoNuff. That’s an epic boss battle!
3. Who (or what) inspires Boss Battle?
Will – Musically, this is a really tough question. We each bring a ton of influences to the table, and our song-writing process is often just a case of somebody wanting to try something that we haven’t done before and letting that bounce around the room until something happens. For example, the rhythm backbone for “Bad Boss” was originally inspired by the Squeeze song “Cool For Cats”, but then a friend of ours did a dub remix of an early demo recording, which inspired us to strip it down, speed it up, and get real weird with layered sounds.
The thing that constantly draws me to ska music is that it has a built-in tension between the notes and the space between the notes. This is a crucial part of all great music, and I think you can draw a straight line between Thelonius Monk and his idea of “space” and the rhythm bed that Lloyd Brevitt and Lloyd Knibbs of the Skatalites laid down to define what ska is. You can also hear this same tension in the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, the Pixies, or the Promise Ring just to name a few, but with ska you also get the benefit of being able to dance to it.
We aren’t trying to be purists – we want to take these ideas of ska and pop and just make songs that appeal to us and are hopefully fun to listen to.
4. Could you share more about Boss Battle’s creative process?
Will – It can vary wildly from song to song. “Come Out and Dance” started as a guitar line with nothing else. “Bottle This Up” married together some music-less lyrical musing on failed relationships with a chord progression that Chris had recorded a demo of, and then Alex brought big Ronettes wall-of-sound rhythm energy to it. We all bring ingredients, and then we try our best to get weird with them while still following pop structures.
Chris – What Will said here is so damn accurate, but perhaps I can add that one of my favorite parts of this band, and it’s something so different from previous bands I’ve been in, is the collaborative nature of the songwriting. So many bands I’ve been centered around a single songwriter. That person brings a song in, usually completely done, and the rest of the band just learns it. I don’t think that’s been the case for a single Boss Battle tune. Interestingly, this has changed the way I write songs. I’ve found it better to not finish a song–and this is because I know the rest of the band will make it better than I would have imagined.
Andrew – We’ve become very open to each other’s ideas in that we can bring pieces of a melody or a stylistic idea to the band and just build on that. We’ve often taken songs through several changes and re-writes before we all sync on the feel. We all take cues from each other as we write songs. I often tag along with what Alex is doing so as to keep the rhythm of the song solid. Then Will and Chris can shake out all the ideas they have. No song we’ve written yet has finished sounding exactly like it started out.
5. Mustard had the pleasure of recently interviewing Orangetree and The Third-Rates who also reside in St.Louis. Have you met or performed with these two bands? Would you consider creating a group chat of ska bands from STL?
Will – Orangetree are great folks, Jason is a good friend and a spiritual inspiration for me. He’s tirelessly positive and always looking to create something. We look forward to playing with them at the Off Broadway in September! The Third Rates are a handsome and charming bunch who we just had the pleasure of sharing the stage with at the Conservatory in Alton.
We’ve also enjoyed playing with local kings Boomtown United and ska/jazzbos Skamasala. If there was a scene-wide group chat, it would be pretty busy.
Andrew – Speaking of STL Ska scene folks, shoutout to DJ Knucksie for spinning records at Pop’s Blue Moon, Chelsea from Ska’s the Limit on KDHX, and JJ from Horn Pod. They should all be on the group chat too!
6. Some humans, like my human intern, need to have a routine. Boss Battle has a routine of nothing. Would you agree or disagree that having no routine is still a routine? What inspired this song?
Chris – That song is 100% my sad sap attempt at making depressed art during a pandemic. It was written during that time when just about everyone was stuck at home with little to do. In those moments, you really get left alone with your thoughts and those thoughts get wildly existential. It’s always a little dangerous to be so idle that your brain can go to those places–questioning all the little stuff that, in all reality, gives our days momentum and meaning.
Will – To answer your other question, a routine of nothing is definitely a routine. Kind of like if you ordered a sandwich without condiments of any kind, that would still be a “sandwich”. Just not a very good one.
Andrew – When Chris showed us an early version of the song, I related to it right away. Midway through 2020 I felt a need to get back to “normal” but knew that wouldn’t happen for a long time. (Has it even yet?!) But that song pulled me aside and got me thinking that my old normal kinda sucked sometimes. Moving on to a new routine (even one of nothing) is way better than grinding away on the same old same old.
7. Bad Boss feels like a song a lot of humans can relate to. Was this song written from your own experiences? what does Boss Battle consider a good boss?
Will – I should say that the origin of the song was hearing Andrew mess around with the guitar lick and me immediately thinking that this was a “story” song, like something Johnny Cash or the Highwaymen would sing, where each verse is a chapter in what could be a long, long book. Chris had recently been talking about his terrible work experience as a teenager in a local pizza joint, so that seemed like a natural jumping off point for writing lyrics.
Each of the verses does pull from our experiences, with just enough artful changes and inventions to avoid being a personal, petty “Fuck you, Jeff!” kind of message. It is worth pointing out that the first words of the song, “Scorpion tat in a snow-cone shack”, are 100% based in reality.
8. “Come Out and Dance” is the first single off your upcoming EP “Action Items!.” How does this single set up the rest of Action Items? Does Boss Battle have a favorite dance move?
Chris – We have a cool range of styles on Action Items! A kind of power pop-inspired ska tune (Midwest Feels), some straight ska punk vibes (Come Out and Dance and Bad Boss), indie rock (Time’s Up), and a bit of Phil Spector and The Crystals, too (Bottle It Up). Dance moves? I’ve always wanted to learn the Thriller dance. I know I would be just terrible at it, but at least people would get a laugh. And while I’m almost positive Will is the best dancer in the band, I’m betting that Alex has moves he’s been hiding from us all.
Will – This is my favorite dance move: https://www.instagram.com/tv/Cc7jdKdvD4x/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
Andrew – Come Out and Dance is the first (or maybe the second) song we wrote together. For me, it stands as an invitation to get up and get moving. Don’t let your worries hold you back. I’ve never been much of a dancer myself, but I feel like dancing when we play music together.
Will is the best dancer in the band. Hands down. The guy can cut all the rugs.
9. Action items are a task that are usually completed by an individual or group. What is the task that Boss Battle is completing with this EP?
Chris – Synergy! Or, rather, we’re hoping to finally show folks who don’t have an option to see us live what we sound like and, I guess, our general vibe as a band. This ep is the first time I feel like we’ve captured the energy and identity of the band. People who have seen us live know how we sound, but I feel like this is the first time that folks outside of St. Louis will get a sense of who we are. I’m pretty excited about that.
10. Do you have any upcoming shows?
We do, all of them in the St Louis area.
July 24th at The Sinkhole – we’re playing with a touring “hyper-ska” superstart, Eichlers, with Dynastic and Darling Skye. Eichlers is the shit.
August 18th at Ritz Park (outside Steve’s Hot Dogs) – we’re opening for the Scotch Bonnets (badasses from Baltimore), along with local trad ska outfit Skamasala
September 24th at Off Broadway – we’re putting on a ska double-bill with Orangetree and the amazing Candylion.
11. Where can readers listen to your music? Do you have a preferred platform?
You can find us on the major streamers – Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, lots of others, too – and on Bandcamp at https://bossbattlestl.bandcamp.com. We also have some fun cassettes and other merch for sale at our online store. But our preferred platform is live on stage. Come on out and dance!