Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, March 30, 2001

FILE / 1999
The Vandals are on tour for its new album,
"Look What I Almost Stepped In."

Vandals invade Hawaii

By John Berger
Honolulu Star-Bulletin

THE FIRST TIME the Vandals agreed to do a soundtrack album for an independently produced movie, the veteran punkers helplessly watched the project die after the movie's producers delayed releasing the film for more than a year.

The experience soured the band on soundtrack work for several years, but at least it taught them to take charge of future film-related projects.

"Just because you release a soundtrack doesn't mean that movie's going to come out. Hollywood can sit on a movie for years," Vandals bassist Joe Escalante said in a recent phone interview.

He and the band are coming through Honolulu for a night's stint tomorrow at World Cafe with local bands the Sticklers and the Knumbskulls opening. The Vandals also have two new albums out, and one of them, surprise, is the soundtrack for a new indie movie that the band took charge of making themselves, "That Darn Punk."

Both the album and movie were released on March 6. In not much of a stretch, the film stars Escalante as a punk band bassist named Dirk Castigo. The other Vandals appear as members of Dirk's band, the Big Tippers.

"When (director) Jeff Richardson came to me with the idea, I told him he could slash the budget considerably. Our record label would pay for the production, and we'd release it on videotape straight through to the kids who like this kind of music," Escalante said.

"We had him gear the movie a little more to the punk-rock scene, and I think he came up with something that's pretty effective for establishing a new business where we make movies for kids that like the music, so they don't have to go to an art theater to see it."

"It's a self-contained movie/soundtrack thing, all within the punk-rock world, but you don't have to be a schooled aficionado of hard-core punk to appreciate it," Escalante said. "We didn't make the movie only for punks. If you like the movie, you'll probably like the album."

Escalante admits that there is some confusion "down the distribution chain" about the movie. People expect record labels to release documentaries and "albums" of music videos. "That Darn Punk" is a regular full-length theatrical-type movie that is being sold in record stores and video outlets.

"It was shot on film. It has a plot, it has actors, car chases, things like that," he said.

Now the Vandals have a second film on the way. Guitarist Warren Fitzgerald will have the title role in "Selwyn's Nuts." Escalante said they will do at least three films and take it from there.

The Vandals are touring to support their new Nitro Records album, "Look What I Almost Stepped In," the musical sequel to their 1998 opus, "Hitler Bad Vandals Good."

They are also busy these days developing the Ataris and other newer bands (Antifreeze, MI6) for their record label while continuing to record for Nitro. It's the "trickle down" style of artist development practiced by Brett Gurewitz, who left Bad Religion so he could work full time on developing artists for his own Epitaph label.

"Almost every label has a band on it that also has their own label. Nitro helps us out a lot, and it's a big giant web. What can happen is, you can get more of a kick out of running a label than being in a band. We've looked at what Brett did -- he's a hero in this business -- and we've learned what he did and what happened afterwards. We want to develop our label but keep the band fun, too."

"I get a thrill out of working with a band that's developing and doing well without having the problems of being in the band. In the back of my mind, when I watch (a younger band like) the Ataris, I know I'm getting old, and I thank God I have bands like this that can keep the company going when I get too old to feel comfortable about how I look onstage." (OK, so Escalante's 38 and is not planning to retire anytime soon.)

"Everything gets better and better," he said. "There's no reason to quit now."

The Vandals

In concert: 6:30 p.m. tomorrow
Place: World Cafe, 1130 N. Nimitz Hwy.
Cost: $15, all ages welcome

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