Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Skankin' In The Tri-State Part 4 - Steve Jackson from The Pietasters

Steve Jackson is one of the nicest people I have gotten to meet in this journey called life, and that is the truth. Not only did he take my months of pestering him for an interview for this series with a smile, he was also the first ever phone interview that I did on my weekly radio show. He took time out of his Super Bowl Sunday to take questions from some DJ he never met about goofy shit like where the name "Pietasters" came from and was a gracious gentleman the whole time.



Enter my friend Rob Alapick again. (keeps nosing his way into my blogs) Since he had been nice enough to set up my interview with Steve, I was excited to finally get to thank Mr. Jackson in person at Rob's house deep in the weirds of Pennsylvania when the Pietasters were playing a show with Hub City Stompers and Rudie Crew. I made my way all the way out to his house, which quickly filled with band members, friends, and the like. Steve Jackson shook my hand and was perfectly ready and willing to embark on an interview with yours truly...but it was sound check time...and away everyone went. I took ill that night and missed the show.

This August however, that won't be happening. The Pietasters will be taking to the high seas (or the East River) on August 10th for the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Aboard the Half Moon. Ska, booze, and boats. What could possibly be better than that? I will be there. You can buy me a cocktail.

You can be there too! Buy tickets here!

Founded in Washington DC in 1990 by Steve Jackson, The Pietasters debuted their first self-titled album on Moon Ska Records in 1993 after opening for British ska legends, Bad Manners. Following that were releases on Hellcat, Fueled By Ramen, and Indication Records. It's wonderful to say that here we are, 20 years after that first release, and the Pietasters are still going. Still bringing people to the dance floor, still bringing their brand of ska around the country and beyond, and still gracious enough to humor this girl's love of ska music, the local scene, and giving me an interview. I love The Pietasters. I listen to Girl Take It Easy whenever I am sad. Night Before reminds me of being 18. The whole Oolooloo album is ingrained in my soul. This was, to say the least, quite an honor for me.

Steve Jackson awesomely took some time out to answer some questions for me about the scene, the band, and where it's all headed:

Where do you think ska music is now as compared to 10, 15 or 20  
years ago?

In my opinion, Ska is alive and well, having survived the late 90s marketing feeding frenzy that introduced the mainstream American to this form of music.

20 years ago ska was a little known sub-genre of reggae music.  The first bands I was familiar with were the Two-Tone bands from the UK such as Bad Manners, The Specials, Madness, etc.  Here on the east coast we were lucky to have The Toasters, The Bosstones, The Scofflaws, NY Citizens perform live.  Otherwise it was just DJs spinning tunes for the 25 people in DC who liked that sort of music. In DC the punk and ska scenes mixed well.  DC is a pretty small town when you get down to the local music scene so even if you didn't like HarDCore or ska you'd still go to bar nights or shows with friends because that was all there was to do.

15 years ago was the high water mark for ska music in the mainstream. Bosstones, No Doubt, Sublime and others were selling a lot of albums to a lot of people who, five years earlier, had no idea about this strange subculture.  It was also a time when anyone with a horn or who was in marching band thought they could start a ska band.  We mix a variety of styles into our interpretation of ska, but we tried(try) to be sensitive to where the music came from and what we listened to while growing up.  While there were some successful marriages of punk and ska, there was a lot of crap music around at the time masquerading as ska.

10 years ago the ska ship had sailed.  The record labels had sucked the life out of the ska genre and their marketers had moved on to other styles of music like garage and the umpteenth coming of punk. The best part was that some good bands, the Slackers for example, had survived the successes and excesses of the late 90s.  The carnival ska bands had graduated from high school and moved on to other interests. 
I'm happy to report that there are some great new bands out there  playing their take on ska. The Snails (Philly), The Shifters (DC), The Pressure (Pitt) are but a few of the young bands playing a good version of this style of music today.

What are the biggest changes you have seen since you started?

See above!  Ha ha.  Also, the changes the music industry has seen are pretty amazing.  When we started playing, people would mail cassette mixes to each other.  I had to wait for a month for some fanzine in CA to send me a hand labelled cassette with Hepcat on it.  That is probably the biggest change. But some things remain the same. We still play with local bands who rock out covers of Little Bitch or Skinhead Girl. Timeless songs!

What has been the highlight of your time with the Pietasters?

Getting to play with so many bands that we grew up with, looked up to would have to be the highlight for me.  From The Bosstones, to Joe Strummer, to James Brown, to Ice T, Reverend Horton Heat, Bouncing Souls, Ramones, Chuck Brown, Dave Grohl, Henry Rollins, Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Symarip, The Business, and on and on.

Where do you think ska music is headed now?

I don't know.  It'll be interesting to see how the next wave of  
musicians interpret this style of music.  From the beginning, ska was about sharing ideas and pieces of songs. It has always been  
evolving. And even though it's got that damn guitar upbeat it's  
amazing how different the various waves and bands sound.

What do the pietasters have going on for the summer?

We just got back from playing a bunch of beach shows.  That's always a nice part of summer touring.  We're looking forward to playing a fest in NC with The CroMags (Age of Quarrel is a perfect album!), then we head to British Columbia for the Victoria Ska Fest.  We do our annual NYC Boat cruise on Aug 10 (see you there).  We've got a pretty busy summer.  Mixed in with all of these fun shows we're working on some recording.  It's fantastic how much the cost of recording has come down.  So, look forward to some pie-songs in the near future.

See me there, you will, Mr. Jackson. I will be on the boat with my dancing shoes on. Wait...can you dance on a boat?

Of course you can.

Tickets for the NYC Cruise HERE

More information on Victoria Ska Fest HERE

More PIETASTERS goodness HERE


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