When long-running punk crew Blatant Finger debuted in the mid-’90s, singer/guitarist Tom Barrett envisioned its music as “the soundtrack to a circle pit.” The songs, in turn, tended to be suitably primal, pairing three-chord, pavement-scraping guitar riffs, aggressive tempos and vocals delivered with the gusto of a drill sergeant barking commands.
Considering these origins, it’s all the more surprising to hear instruments as diverse as piano, mandolin and banjo work their way into the band’s latest, Full-On Empty, an album that finds the quartet refining and expanding on its melodic punk sound.
“Not everyone had the same vision, and other guys wanted to keep it raw and guitar-driven,” Barrett said, seated in a downtown coffee shop for a mid-August interview. “We’ll always have our three-chord roots, but … I wanted to change it up a little bit this time.”
The songs, in turn, take inspiration from styles and genres far outside the punk sphere. “All Want Somethin’” is the band’s attempt to craft a Johnny Cash tune, assuming the Man in Black sported a lip ring and a towering mohawk, while “End of a Dream” is rooted in the church, of all places.
“‘End of a Dream’ was supposed to have kind of like a northern England church ambiance to it,” said Barrett, who joins his bandmates for a record release show at Carabar on Saturday, Aug. 23. “It’s something I wouldn’t have taken on before, and I probably still had no business singing it, but I was really going out on a ledge. That’s part of where we are now. It’s like, ‘Let’s just go for it.’”
Though Blatant Finger has broadened its musical scope, the songs on Full-On Empty still flash the same scrappy enthusiasm that first attracted Barrett to punk as a teenager growing up in nearby Newark.
“I still remember the first punk-rock cassette I bought: Black Flag’s Who’s Got the 10 1/2?,” said Barrett, who paid special tribute to Newark’s Threshold Audio for stocking the underground artists whose tapes were purchased by and traded among the city’s skateboard and BMX biker clans. “I put that cassette in and the music was alive and raw and messy and gritty and Greg Ginn’s guitar was all over the place. I was only 13, but that was it for me. It was like, ‘This is it. This is where it begins.’”
Photo by Meghan Ralston