Big John Bates to cure Madison music fans with hellfire remedies

by Emily Genco
November 2011

Big John Bates

Big John Bates

The doctor is in. Big John Bates will share his hellfire remedies for ho-hum music with audiences at The Frequency Nov. 10. When Big John Bates plays in Madison, audiences can expect to hear new material featured on the band’s upcoming release Battered Bones.

“This album will probably be termed gothic Americana. Rustic punk is what we call it. It’s definitely different. Our old albums have a flavor of rockabilly in them. Rockabilly came out of the south, Memphis, Tennessee and that area. The stuff we’re doing now is predominantly from that geographical area, that culture, but it’s quite different,” guitarist and vocalist John Bates said.

Rustic punk marries roots elements with rock. Battered Bones forwards a more mature and three-dimensional sound, according to Bates.

“We’re not writing songs about boys and girls. They’re bigger they’re dark. They’re a little bit more mysterious and thoughtful,” Bates said. “We’re trying to paint a real picture.

The new album prominently features the vocals and songwriting of Brandy Anderson Bates. One song “Taste the Barrel” examines her experiences growing up in Florence, Montana.

“It’s a pretty harsh song. It’s a beautiful song, but it’s definitely got an edge to it,” Bates said.

Though the album differs from past work and explores themes from a more rural perspective, fans of Big John Bates will recognize the band’s characteristic style.

The band works to create a musical world, or niche, by combining upright bass with guitar lines bursting to capacity and unconventional percussion instruments including car parts, bells, whistles and kegs, Bates said. The band blends the energy of Gogol Bordello with techniques used by PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Hank3 and the Legendary Shack Shakers.

“The upright’s a different instrument because it incorporates percussion and produces sounds that are not [created by] a normal drum set. We never use a normal drum set,” Bates said. “We’re still discovering. We’re still finding our way.”

To continually cultivate his lifelong passion for music, frontman John Bates garners inspiration from the people he has met and worked with playing over 1,000 shows in 17 different countries through his career.

“I really think the most interesting music is local music,” Bates said. “I hear things that I would not normally hear just by sitting at home.”

On the upcoming album, Big John Bates explores the experiences and challenges of living on the road.

“I’ve been on the road for ten years doing all sorts of different things, interacting with all sorts of different cultures and doing all that while trying to achieve a decent existence in a big city pulls you in a lot of different directions,” Bates said.

The band’s experience playing in a German prison has prepared them for most of the shenanigans Madison fans can offer up.

“The guy doing sound was in for murder. All the prisoners made our food. We were taken on a tour of everything. They had to put the women prisoners at the back of the theater, because they were more apt to riot than the males. It was so eye-opening. It just blew my mind,” Bates said.

Above all members of Big John Bates strive to main their artistic integrity even when faced with the economic realities of careers as musicians, Bates said.

“I could figure out what sells and throw it out their to be bland, but the challenge of continuing to work as an artist around the world and trying to get better as a player and better as a writer, trying to get in touch with more people without selling out what we do, that’s a huge part of what we’re about,” Bates said.

Big John Bates will appear with The Voodoo Dollz, The Blowtorches and Bananarchy!. The show begins at 9 p.m.

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