Jamaican Whoopie

Arizona's ska kings trace roots of reggae

JR: (Laughing) Well, you just have that ska look, Dave.
NT: What about the reputation for fighting at ska shows?
DS: You see an occasional fight. But nine times out of ten, the people who are fighting are the 21-and-ups who have had a few to drink. I never see the kids start brawls. And I hate to stereotype that reputation as a skinhead thing, but back in the late '80s, you could get the shit kicked out of you just for looking at their girl. There doesn't seem to be any of that anymore.

BA: I saw a couple kids fighting at one show; it was a pretty respectable fight. They had their fists in the air and they were dancing around, actually boxing.

NT: Do the younger kids today get it, the whole scene?
DS: The first time we ever played was in Tucson. Everyone was in a full-on mosh pit. But they didn't know any better.

JR: A lot more people know how to skank now, as opposed to two years ago. Whatever skankin' is now--it's so different these days. But it's definitely not a mosh-pit atmosphere.

NT: Describe skankin'.
JR: It's a lot of different things really. It's evolved, everybody has their own style. How would you guys describe skankin'?

DS: Knees in the air.
BA: It's a twist but with the jumpin' and runnin'.
BA: It's just like the Macarena.
JR: No. Please, no.

NT: Why are a lot of people turning off to local alternative and on to ska?
JR: If you look at it from the standpoint of a musician, it's just better music. The songwriting is of better quality and it's got a lot more diversity to it.

DS: You could do a ska song that's intro, verse, chorus, solo, verse, chorus, outro . . .

BA: Hey, that's one of our songs!
DS: . . . and that's a pretty damned boring tune if you're playing two guitars, a bass and drums. If you have a two- or three-piece horn section you can totally diversify the sound and do so much more with it.

NT: But wouldn't you enjoy acting miserable, playing typical alternative music?

DS: No way. You just hit the nail on the head. We write some songs about being a total drunken fool, down and out lying in the gutter and nobody wants to hear about that. But when you put a horn line to it and a beat, it's just fucking fun. It turns into a funny tune instead of something depressing.

NT: Do you see ska as being more culturally rich than mainstream music?
DS: Definitely. There's so much more roots to it. Ska has been all over and it's evolved each step of the way.

BA: It started in Jamaica, then went to Europe and now it's in the United States, and Jamaican ska started from American R&B in the first place.

JR: It's picked something up each time it's gone from one country to another, and you can always recognize something from the previous wave. Currently, it's taking on a punk-rock influence.

NT: Is there anything unique about Arizona ska bands?
DS: It seems like you have a huge pocket of ska in the Midwest that has a metal sound to it. The East Coast is a lot more traditional. The West Coast is a mix of traditional and punk influences. And I don't know--what the hell is the difference here?

Dave Neil: We don't want to be either one, but we're closer to the West Coast. So, I guess the scales are tipping in that direction.

DS: Ska was such a wasteland in this state that we got to each develop our own styles. A lot of ska bands around the country really pocket themselves into one genre.

BA: None of us followed another band. We each started a ska band and came up with our own sound.

NT: Are there any problems trying to play out in Arizona?
DN: Do you have another tape?
JR: Yeah, we've gotten shot down in the past and we haven't gotten nearly the attention that we should--especially for the draw that we get.

DS: You can do what you can do locally. Your goal is to get out and be heard . . . Unlike the West Coast, in Arizona you can say "ska show," and people will come because they want to know more about it. In California, they want to know what kind of ska it is first.

DN: If you put a ska band in Arizona with no horns, you're gonna have a lot of pissed-off people. Where in L.A., you could probably pass off Rancid as a ska band.

JR: But I don't mind saying that half the reason there is a scene around here is because it was built around these three local bands. If it wasn't for us, the public wouldn't know who the national acts were.

BA: It seems like people still don't know. We're on tour and people ask, "What kind of music do you play?"

"Ska."
"No, no. What kind of music do you play?"
"Ska."
"Oh, Scotch? Okay, Scottish music!

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