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New bosses
Nate Albert with the Kickovers, Joe Gittleman with Avoid One Thing

Itís the Friday before St. Patrickís Day at Avalon in Boston ó the first night of a sold-out, three-night stand by punk heroes Dropkick Murphys ó and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are in the house. Dicky Barrett is holding court by the T-shirt stand, but thatís as close as heíll get to entertaining an audience. The only Bosstone to take the stage tonight will be bassist Joe Gittleman, whoís marking the area debut of his solo band Avoid One Thing, a Boston punk supergroup of sorts featuring former Darkbuster/Mung guitarist Paul Delano and Raging Teens guitarist Amy Griffin. Also in the crowd is Gittlemanís oldest friend, former Bosstones guitarist Nate Albert. A few nights later, Gittleman will be among the Bosstones on hand at Somervilleís 608 when Albert unveils his own solo band, the Kickovers, with former Weezer bassist Mikey Welsh (also a veteran of Bostonís Heretix, Jocobono, and the Juliana Hatfield Three) and former Mike Ness guitarist Johnny Rioux (who helps manage Dropkick Murphys). The groups are releasing their debut albums within weeks of each other: Avoid One Thing (Side One Dummy) hits stores on April 9; the Kickoversí Osaka (Fenway Recordings) arrives on April 23.

Gittleman and Albert seem to have been bound by fate for most of their lives, or at least since they became friends at the age of two, when their divorced parents dated each other. By the time they reached high school, theyíd already bonded over the rock-and-roll dream of someday playing the Worcester Centrum ó and less than a decade later, the dream came true when the Bosstones, riding high on their multi-platinum 1997 album Letís Face It (Mercury), found themselves thrust into the realm of arena rock. Albert left the Bosstones in December 1999 and went back to school, studying political theory and art history at Brown; recently he produced the debut by the Lost City Angels. Gittleman is preparing for the next Bosstones album ó which will also come out on Side One Dummy.

Avoid One Thingís set is full of suprisingly tuneful, fire-in-the-belly punk anthems and Social DistortionĖstyle brawn, with Griffinís vocal harmonies and twangy leads summoning up the kind of interplay that John Doe and Exene Cervenka excelled at. And after watching Albertís Kickovers deliver a highly charged blast of guitar pop in Somerville a few nights later, you realize that for most of the Bosstonesí existence, Barrett was at best only the third-best singer in the band.

"You said it, not me," says Gittleman a week later, over brunch with Griffin and Delano at Thorntonís in the Fenway. But any initial tensions about his striking out on his own have been dispersed. "There mightíve been a moment at the beginning when it was a little uncomfortable for me and Dick, because weíre like partners-in-crime in the Bosstones, and then suddenly your partner-in-crime is starting to talk about doing other things. But heís got other interests as well. And I think the uncomfortable moments went by pretty quickly, and Iíve felt supported by the band ever since. The new Bosstones record is coming out, and I think thatís a great record too, and Iím gonna do that also. And once people realized that, I think everything was okay."

At the same time, Avoid One Thing arenít your typical vanity side project: their album is fully conceived, with at least three drop-dead singles any major-label band would be envious of: the Jawbreakerish "Pulse and Picture"; the rampaging sing-along "Every Second of Every Day"; and the blissful Warped-punk "Rip It Up Itís There." For Griffin, whoís known mainly as a rockabilly guitarist, itís been a chance to let loose on the punk rock she grew up on. "I was always into trashier stuff. I got roped into the wearing-a-dress deal [in the Raging Teens], and I was into a really clean guitar sound for a while, but itís great to play raw."

And though Gittleman has been refining a few of the songs since the mid í90s, Delano has been a key contributor. "The chorus of ĎYakisoba,í the first tune on the album, was something I wrote in Japan the week after I quit drinking in 1995," Joe points out. "Thatís when I got a lot of my creative energy, just because I needed something to do. I really threw myself into it in the last two years; it got to the point where I was spending 10 and 12 hours a day writing songs. Some people have said the songs sound a bit like Mung. Paul added a lot of melodic guitar riffs and harmonies, that kinda stuff."

Thereís a sense of maturity to Gittlemanís lyrics ó it takes at least a little courage for a guy who got his start in the legendary Boston hardcore outfit Gang Green to sing "Understand that Iím a man/Whoíd rather feed the ducks than watch the metal band." "I really donít get out much," Gittleman chuckles. "For that song, I pictured myself sitting at the bar at Fathers [the Fenway watering hole now known as PJ Kilroyís]. In my mind, a lot of that stuff takes place at Fathers, actually. I think Iím a pretty sentimental person. A lot of the songs on the record are about recollections: just because I donít drink doesnít mean that I donít want to, or that I donít remember how to. I really think back on those times fondly. The roughest moments of my life are the ones I like to talk about. But more so, the songs are a place for me to put my energy that doesnít involve destroying myself or my family."

"HAVE YOU NOTICED," Nate Albert is saying, "that on every comedy show, or every commercial thatís supposed to be funny, the soudtrack is ska-core? Have you noticed this? I was watching Americaís Funniest Home Videos, and itís like the whole soundtrack is ska-core. And Iím thinking, ĎIs this what we gave to the world?í "

Itís a Wednesday evening a week or so after the Kickoversí debut show, and Albert is reclining in the living room of his cozy Cambridge condo with his old friend and new bassist Mikey Welsh. The gold and platinum albums he earned with the Bosstones are tucked away in the basement. A wall of shelves in an adjacent room, where youíd expect to see his record collection, is instead lined with books. A fireplace crackles. And Nate Albert is talking about the idea of finding balance in his life.

"I miss those guys ó I miss the Bosstones. I donít miss the traveling, but I miss hanging out. I see them when theyíre around, but we were like a family, with all the dysfunction that implies. I donít miss 300 shows a year. Thirty shows a year sounds good to me. Iíd rather just be a little more normal in terms of scheduling things, like your life. My plants are living. I had a cactus that died when I was in the Bosstones."

He has no regrets about leaving the Bosstones, but he has no regrets about his time in the band either. "The whole experience was great, but by the time everything was happening, I was already pretty sure I wanted to do other stuff, too. I didnít want to go on cruise control. Having done the experience, itís like, well, what else do you want?

"I went back to school. I ran a marathon a month ago. I really wanted to do that. I wanted to have a dog. And there she is, Luna" ó this as his pooch moseys in.

Right now Albert is working on integrating his love of rock and roll with his passion for scholarship. "What Iíd like to do ó the goal of my life ó is just to merge the two, where theyíre seamless: where I can do more thoughtful stuff and also do music. The music is incredibly thoughtful, but thereís a point where it kicks in and youíre just presenting every night. Iíd like to have both working at the same time."

Whatís perhaps most remarkable about the Kickovers is that Albert found the perfect compatriots for pursuing the dream of rock and roll on a manageable scale. Welsh was fresh from the Weezer roller-coaster, a rocky ride to the top that landed him briefly "in the nut house." Former Bosstones manager Ami Bennitt was coaxed out of semi-retirement. And former Grand Royal honcho Mark Kates ó who before being involved with Nirvana and the Beastie Boys got his start working with Mission of Burma ó decided to move back to Boston and sign the band to his newly minted Fenway Recordings label. "Itís exciting because his label is new too," says Albert. "So thereís this back-and-forth of ideas. Weíre all trying to build something together."

The Kickoversí Osaka begins at a broil with a 15-second hardcore fit in which Albertís scream ó in total, "Iím plastic/Iím plastic/Iím plastic!" ó conveys the claustrophobia of becoming a musical commodity. But the album quickly segues into a series of smartly executed, power-pop-infused hard-rock songs that range from the full-on thrash of "Heart Attack" to the country-inflected "Crash and Burn." "There are some songs that lyrically I really worked on," says Albert. "Like ĎRegeneration,í where the first line is a reference to the Joe Jackson biography [A Cure for Gravity], then thereís a reference to a Radiohead movie [Meeting People Is Easy], and then thereís a reference to a Paul Westerberg solo record ["World Class Fad"]. Itís all about these people being disenchanted with a certain lifestyle youíre supposed to dig."

For the moment, his own slanted disenchantment has lifted. "What I enjoy is being up there and being so hyper-aware. Itís like when I was younger and playing guitar; you felt like you were so sensitive to everyone around you and whatís going on."

You get a sense of this on Osakaís last song, where the singer finally finds "The Good Life": "How should I begin?/Letís start with the fact that somehow I can feel again." "Mikey and I were talking about Behind the Music, and I was saying how I really like the last 10 minutes of each episode ó that whole Ďpumped upí segment. I want our career to be that: our whole career, just those last 10 minutes."

The Kickovers play the Middle East next Sunday, April 14; call (617) 864-EAST. Avoid One Thing play Axis on Thursday April 18; call (617) 423-NEXT.

Issue Date: April 4 - 11, 2002
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