In Conversation: Boss Hog

Cristina Martinez on the righteous fury of rock 'n' roll...

For a while there, it looked as though we’d lost Boss Hog.

A band formed by accident, prone to prolonged bouts of inactivity, it’s actually 17 years since ‘Whiteout’ rang in the Millennium. The Spice Girls were in their pomp, Metallica detested the internet, and the corporate rock environment that dominated the late 90s just coughed out a fresh hock of phlegm to welcome the new century: the plastic, scratch ‘n’ sniff futurism of nu-metal.

Fast forward almost two decades and a lot has changed. Curiously, though, a lot hasn’t. Music still feels sedate, even polite, while Boss Hog’s new album ‘Brood X’ is packed with shit-kickin, knuckle-draggin, dirt-flingin, blood-spittin rock ‘n’ roll fit to squeeze the last drop of soda out of the bottle.

So, speaking to singer Cristina Martinez, one question immediately pops into our head: where the hell have Boss Hog been?

“We just take breaks when we want to, when we need then,” she says. “We don’t really ever officially break up. There’s no point in releasing any kind of statement, as such. Every once in a while we have things that take precedence. We’ve always had the privilege of working at our own pace, so it’s just whenever we all have time to get together and think there’s a reason to do something. Which is the best possible way of working.”

“We just kind of take it as it comes, and do stuff that feels good, and right, and is fun. And that’s the way we approach Boss Hog.”

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We just take breaks when we want to, when we need then…

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After taking a back-seat for so long, it was perhaps inevitable that Boss Hog would leap into the driver’s position, hurl down the clutch and see off for the open road. “We enjoy each other’s company, and we like playing music together,” she says. “I mean, I’ve seen bands who drive their careers to the ground because they’re working so hard and then they get to the point where they can’t stand each other. And then they keep going anyway! That seems antithetical to me about what a band should be about, which is about camaraderie and the joy of music.”

The addition of Mickey Finn helped propel a short burst of live dates two years ago, sending fresh blood coursing through the band’s veins. The screams came deeper, the riffs were gouged out with renewed alacrity and the sheer chemistry brewed on a level not seen since Breaking Bad shunted off our screens.

“The live experience… I think that’s the end game,” she says. “We could just play these songs and make records, and just stay in New York, but the live experience is essential because I feel that the performance of these songs with a live audience takes us to a whole different level.”

“The energy that is going around the room – from the band to the audience and then back to the band – that’s, for me, like a drug. It feels really super-powerful, and you feel invincible and great. And there’s this real solid moment of commune… which is just fantastic.”

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In Conversation: Boss Hog

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Duly inspired, Boss Hog spent time in New York thrashing out new material. Gradually a vast bank, a heaving repository took shape, with Cristina working alongside partner and bandmate Jon Spencer. “I mean, we have such a vast treasure of songs that we had written to choose from for the record. We’d really edited it down.”

“We were conscious of the fact that there were some things we had written which were very stereotypically Boss Hog, and some things that were not,” she adds. “When we’re writing we have a tendency to write some very straight ahead punk rock stuff . So we’ll have fun, and write a bunch of stuff like that. The writing process is whatever comes up, and whatever we’re doing in the moment.”

The band’s palette is both enormously broad and remarkably distilled – ‘Brood X’ feels like the work of people who know what they like, and like to dig a little deeper than most. At times it recalls The Cramps’ re-animated take on Americana, shoved through a modem until the digital shrieks wring out fresh ghosts from gutted myths.

“It’s interesting,” she muses. “We have – not exactly – but kind of the same taste in music. There’s a pretty large spectrum of influences for all of us, and it’s an interesting combination. We really bring different things to the table. So it ends up being this really weird fusion of whatever blues and punk and new wave and funk… it’s a really odd mixture of stuff that we like. I’ve always been proud of how it’s hard to classify, because of that reason. So… enjoy!”

You must make life especially difficult for record shop workers, Clash offers.

Cristina starts to laugh: “I’m sorry to make somebody’s life miserable!”

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I think that rock ‘n’ roll has always been an instigator…

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The band still feel – even after all these years – like a definitively New York experience. It’s there in the attitude, in the sheer chutzpah and unavoidable charisma that Boss Hog carry themselves. “Well, we are a product of our environment for sure,” she admits. “New York has this weird power to draw people because it is so high energy and so fast and so many things come to you here. We are a port city that really does get everything from around the world.”

“But having said that, we make music in a basement by just playing what we can play. And because we’ve grown we can pay more. (Laughs) Hopefully getting better at what we can do!”

Each moment crackles with electricity, a feeling of urgency that shifts from crashing drums to seismic guitars and those crunching vocals. “The basic tracks were done almost two years ago at the Key Club Recording Studio in Michigan,” she recalls. “We tracked together and I would do a rough vocal live with the band as they were recording. And then I went back and re-did almost everything.”

“I had a skeletal framework of ideas for these songs, and then I had to retrofit lyrics into that structure. Which is not how we usually work – usually we play stuff out before recording. So this was weird, but fun!”

New album ‘Brood X’ lives hopelessly for the moment. It reeks of bourbon, of days and nights spent on the wrong side of the tracks, with the wrong kind of people – but loving every second. It’s blessed with a righteous sense of anger, one that has only become more prescient as the weeks and months of the Trump administration crawl by.

“Those songs were written over two years ago,” she says, “when we were gearing up for the primaries. No one could have known. So the context changed.”

“Oddly, they become super relevant with this administration right now. But that not pre-meditated by any means. Odd. Crazy. Unfortunate. But I’m glad that they worked, and our mission now is really to keep people activated and inspired to fight and resist. We lucked out on having songs that we can sing in that manner, that we can perform in that manner.”

It’s this context that renders ‘Brood X’ in a beatific light, that adds renewed inspiration to its punk slime, to its quest to finally, truthfully break on through to the other side. “I think that rock ‘n’ roll has always been an instigator and always been great for motivating people, and rallying people. So I hope that we can.”

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‘Brood X’ is out now.

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