Mainstays of ska
American ska pioneers The Toasters return to Hawaii for the first time in nearly a decade, headlining the Ska Brawl Tour Friday at Pipeline Cafe.
2006 Ska Brawl Tour
With The Toasters and Go Jimmy Go
Where: Pipeline Cafe
Time: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Robert "Bucket" Hingley is the only original band member left in the group, which was formed in 1981 and boasts a discography of more than 50 titles. He spoke with the Star-Bulletin via cell phone earlier this week from San Francisco, where the band had just arrived for a string of concerts.
Question: How is the Ska Brawl Tour going?
Answer: Well, we come to Hawaii, and then we've still got almost a week's worth of dates ... before we finish up with this International Ska Circus event in Vegas. It's eight weeks altogether, 51 shows in 52 days.
Q: You were playing ska long before it was "cool." What's the current status of the genre?
A: I have to say we're noticing that things are coming back into fruition in the ska world. Things are definitely improving out here on the road.
It's always been a cyclical thing. I mean, ska music has been here in one shape or form since 1955, so it's a musical form with some validity. I think the fact that people don't notice it's there is simply because they're not tuned into it.
(Ska is) firmly entrenched in the underground ... and that's what's really helped weather the storms. It just seems to have this way of reinventing itself for a new and evolving audience.
Q: Hawaii's own Go Jimmy Go opened for you on this tour. Have they performed according to expectations?
A: They're a great band. Even though they've been around for 10 years, they've still got a freshness to them.
Out in Hawaii, they have the advantage of being a big fish in a small pond. There's such a great musical tradition in Hawaii, and I think people out there can recognize good music when they see it, and a good band like Go Jimmy Go when they see it. I wanted to bring them out on this tour and expose them to the East Coast, where they've never been.
Q: For more than 15 years, Moon Ska Records thrived as an independent label. What brought about its downfall?
A: Three of our major distributors (went) broke, one after another, and deprived us of about $150,000 worth of income. At the same time, we had the bills to pay. Faced with that and the incursion of downloads on the back catalog ... we just decided to call it a day and quit while we were ahead.
It was a hard decision, believe me, but I think it was the best one.
Q: Are you doing things differently now with Megalith?
A: Yeah, I have a label manager. We've basically moved everything to Oklahoma, where everything's cheap and cheerful. We've lowered the overhead ... (and picked up) where Moon left off, which is basically providing a home for ska bands that nobody else wants to release.
Q: You're the only original member left from the Toasters lineup. How has the band changed?
A: Sonically, we've been through a lot of changes. Stylistically, we've gone full-circle and I think we're playing closer now to our original two-tone style that we started out with in the '80s.
The guys in the band now are much better musicians than who I started with in 1981.
Q: What can fans look forward to this weekend at Pipeline?
A: We're going to play kind of like a greatest hits set. People get mad when we don't play the old music, so we pick and choose a lot from the back catalog while mixing in some new tunes that haven't appeared yet on a record. It's a little bit of everything.
Q: What's up with Gwen Stefani turning her back on ska and embracing the pop scene?
A: A lot of people aren't in music to be an evangelist, like I am. They're in the music business to make money.
But I can't knock No Doubt, because they said all along that they weren't (ska), they were ska-influenced. They worked really hard for a good number of years before they got successful. The first two singles were actually off Moon Records. Gwen paid her dues working in an underground band for 10 years. Give credit where credit is due.
Plus, she's kind of fresh.