Not many bands have attained popularity and commercial success outside the mainstream music industry box the way that Mustard Plug has done. While they can't claim to be most famous ska-punk band in existence, the septet have amassed a sizable cult following, as well as radio-friendly songs and music videos, like "You" and "Everything Girl."
After forming in 1991 and, a year later, releasing a full-length tape on Dashiki Clout, Skapocalypse Now!, Mustard Plug released the popular Evildoers Beware! in 1997 via punk label Hopeless Records. This was the beginning of their zenith, coinciding with the mid-'90s ska craze, which would continue for roughly five years until their breakup in 2002.
Fortunately, Mustard Plug got back together five years later and have since dropped two more records, including In Black and White (where they took their music in murkier directions, and the recently released Can't Contain It, which was crowdfunded by their fans via Kickstarter.
Now, 12 years after their breakup, Mustard Plug, who visits Crescent Ballroom on Thursday, is still kicking out ska and have come back around to their older, poppier rhythms while still developing a new sound. We recently conversed with vocalist Dave Kirchgessner about their band's history and other topics, including the current state of ska and why they don't jam their music down people's throats.
Word has it that Mustard Plug started after a couple of you caught a Special Beat [an amalgamation of the Specials and the Beat] show back in 1991. How much would y'all say that 2 Tone ska has impacted you?
For me 2 Tone ska was without a doubt, the biggest influence on what we were doing, and was the main reason I wanted to be in a ska band. The Specials, specifically were my biggest influence. They were pretty much the first band to combine punk and ska; plus, they had a really cool political element, too. They also embraced ska culture and fashion and reinterpreted it to make it contemporary.
Those 2Tone bands were such amazing songwriters and were constantly pushing limits. I'm not going to deny that bands like Op Ivy and Fishbone and Gangster Fun weren't big influences too, because they were, but the 2 Tone stuff is still an inspiration to me.
Apparently, there wasn't much of a ska scene in Grand Rapids back then. I'd imagine that punk has definitely had its impact on Mustard Plug. What kind of a punk were y'all into back then?
Back in '91, we were pretty much just coming out of the '80s American punk scene. That scene had kind of died out by the end of the '80s, but it was still very much alive in spirit. So I'd have to name bands like The Descendents, Naked Raygun, Bad Brains, Dag Nasty. We also were listening to stuff that would more or less become the next wave of punk like Fugazi, Green Day, ALL, et cetera.
You cats released all of your music on independent labels over the years. What's it like being one of the older ska punk bands and to have such a following despite never working with major labels?
It's been great to more or less conduct our career on our own terms. Being on an indie label gives you a lot more freedom to create what you want to create and run your business however you see fit.
I think being on major labels has helped certain bands achieve a level of success that we never got to, but it also was the reason why a lot of bands broke up so it's part of the key to our longevity. It's also very validating that we were able to create a fanbase without having major label machinery cram our music down people's throats.
Back in the '90s, y'all played the Warped Tour a couple times, as well as the Ska Against Racism Tour. What's your take on the direction that ska and punk have gone since then?
Punk seems to have kind of split off into two factions, one that is more commercial Warped Tour style bands. A lot of those bands I find kind of sickening. They just seem like boy pop bands with tattoos and Marshalls.
The other faction has gone deeper underground and occasionally still puts out some interesting stuff. Too much of it though sounds way too similar and derivative. As for Ska, there haven't been a lot of new bands lately. I'm kind of waiting for the next wave of new bands.
How do you feel about the popularity of ska punk today versus back in the '90s?
I'll be honest, I do miss the '90s. But it's cool that things are still rocking and people are still coming to shows. Ska is still kicking; it's just gone back to its underground roots.
What's your favorite band that Mustard Plug has played with?
I can't pick one! Mu330, The Planet Smashers, Hepcat, BTMI . . . We've been lucky to play with a bunch of great bands and have made lots of friends along the way.
Is there any band that y'all are listening to/have seen lately that you'd recommend for our listening/viewing pleasure?
Deal's Gone Bad have a new record out that's really good. We just did a handful of shows with Askultura from Miami and they were really fun, too.
Everyone keeps talking about Bomb the Music Industry. How glad are you guys that Jeff (their singer) helped with the cover art for your latest album?
Jeff is a really good friend of ours, and we were really happy that we could work with friends to put this album together. To be honest, I wasn't even really aware that Jeff is a graphic designer until Rick, our bass player pointed it out. Once I saw his work I was hooked and am really happy about the way it looks.
Was Mustard Plug overjoyed by the response to fund the album with Kickstarter?
Yeah, we were thrilled and amazed! It's really inspiring to get that much support from your fans.
If you cats could play a show with anyone, who would it be? Operation Ivy reunion.
Where does Mustard Plug see themselves over the next 10 years? I think we'll be doing more of the same! I think we'll probably focus more on festival type shows than longer headlining tours, but hopefully, if we can physically do it, and people still want to see us, we'll still be rockin'.
Mustard Plug is scheduled to perform on Thursday, April 3, at Crescent Ballroom.
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