Interview with Coolie Ranx (vocals)
By: Alex Steininger
Alex: First off, describe your sound.
Coolie: I can't. I can't do that. It's a blend of many genres of music. It's heavy.
Alex: So what are your musical influences?
Coolie: Anything that I ever heard. A lot of pop music, Caribbean sounds...I blend British pop, Caribbean sounds, with British reggae.
Alex: What are your band goals for 1998?
Coolie: Oh, to just tour the country and let everyone know the Pilfers exist!
Alex: What do you guys do for fun on the road?
Coolie: (laughter) We've actually been doing lots of sight seeing. We went to Mount Rushmore. We deviate from the tour and go check out different historical sights. So we'll arrive at sound check about two hours late, but we'll be on time for the gig that night.
Alex: What's your favorite venue to play?
Coolie: I really don't have one of those yet. I like playing...nah...I just like playing period!
Alex: So, do you not have a favorite city either?
Coolie: No, my favorite city would be home (New York). I get to get on the train and go sleep in my bed. That's my routine. I don't really deviate from that. I just go do the show, and then I go to bed.
Alex: So what goes into good music making for you?
Coolie: Inspiration...everyday life is good music making. It doesn't really take that much. It's an experience of whatever, whoever, is on my mind at the time.
Alex: So what do you enjoy and hate about the music industry?
Coolie: SHARKS! Fair-weather friends. People who supported you because you were in a famous band, and once they found out you weren't in that band anymore they're no longer your friends. I like true friends within the industry, and people who do things through honesty and integrity.
Alex: Is there anything in your history as a musician that you would like to change, and if so, why?
Coolie: Not a damn thing!
Alex: OK, you're a fairly new band...but what are the highest and lowest points the band has experienced so far?
Coolie: This tour (with RBF) is the highest point. This tour has been taking us across the country, exposing us to large audiences, and now people know we exist. So it's definitely a high. Another high point would be touring with bands I love, like the Pietasters. Right now we're gearing up to go on tour with the Specials. Those are all our highs. Low points, there isn't too many low points. Every day is a learning experience, and everyday we that we get on stage it's a plus for us. So I don't believe in low points.
Alex: How does a "baby" band land two major tours, back to back?
Coolie: Well, I know a lot of people. And it's not even a fact that I know a lot of people. People are just really excited about this new stuff we're doing. That in itself, and my connections...people just liking what they hear and see, that's how we landed them. We have been playing relentlessly since January of last year. So it's not because of the bands we came from we got hook-ups, it's totally not like that. We have been opening up shows, not headlining shows...we've been taking on a lot of opening slots, like what we're doing now, just to prove to people we're a band and we're not a joke, a novelty, or any of that blah blah blah stuff. We're a band, and we're real, that's what we're out here to prove.
Alex: So you didn't cash in on the fact that you were in a huge band before this?
Coolie: No, no! It's all hard work! We get crap money just like any other band. We're not out here making thousands of dollars. We're out here playing to large audiences, so it looks like we're making all this money, but we're really not. The majority of money we're making comes from merchandise, so we're definitely going from the ground up.
Alex: Are you putting yourselves up in hotels?
Coolie: We put each other up in hotels. We share one room. All of us...it's like the bare essentials. There is nothing glamorous about it. We're just roughing it.
Alex: So, if you could tour with anyone, who would you want to tour with?
Coolie: Well...I'm touring with this band right here, which is really cool (RBF). I would like to tour with some other bands though, outside the ska realm. I've toured with most of the bands within the ska realm on my own, so there isn't really any band I want to tour with really, I've done it already. I'd like to experience some new bands, and some new experiences.
Alex: So what made you want to be in a band, and enter into the music business?
Coolie: That's a good question, I don't know though. I just landed here. I like the Jamaican style. My heritage is Jamaican and African. My father is Nigerian and my mother is Jamaican. I just wanted to emulate what I was hearing in the house, so I learned to how to speak Jamaican...I wasn't born in Jamaica, so I learned to speak the language. Then I went from there, I went to the music, and loved it. Combining my English background with my Jamaican heritage, and that got me speaking dual accents.
Alex: So what inspires you lyrically?
Coolie: I write the majority of the lyrics, but Vinnie writes as well. But as far as what inspires me...my every day experiences. I watch a lot of TV, I get tired and frustrated of television, and I get happy with television. I also have a lot of experiences with girls, so there are a lot of girl songs on here. Just looking around, I absorb a lot of the environment.
Alex: So how does the song writing process for the band work?
Coolie: Well, what took place with this album, our first album, I wrote a lot of the songs before I even got with the band. Then I brought them in when I started the bands, so I wrote a lot of the songs and music. But I brought them in to fine tune everything I had. They fine tuned some of my ideas. So, I think we entered a new high when we started practicing a little more. Once we got really familiar with each other, someone was able to start playing a riff, and then I might start singing over the riff. Or if Vinnie has an idea...Vinnie comes up with a lot of the riffs, so he'll bring in a riff and I'll arrange it and put lyrics to it. Or James...James (the drummer) does a lot of the arranging too. So from there, he'll come up with something and we'll from there.
Alex: So musically, does everyone have the same amount of input?
Coolie: At any given time, anyone can. No one is boxed out. But what usually happens is we'll in the rehearsal space just buggin' out, and someone will step forward and say, "that sounds cool." So, it's not like we're going for a certain sound. We do what we want to do, and whatever comes out comes out.
Alex: So what do you want the listener to get out of the music?
Coolie: This is my plan for my music. I feel...I want the youth of America to infiltrate positions of power and just totally change the way mankind thinks of one another. I would like them to take something out of the music, something like them not to be racist, because this country we live in breeds racism. I would like them to take some of my experiences, and my philosophy with them throughout their daily lives. Whether they're a garbage worker, or the President of the United States, I want them to just deal with one another on a cool basis and shit.
Alex: So does the song writing and lyrical process, or the message of the music differ from your previous musical ventures?
Coolie: I don't think the song writing differs, but some of their songs are more party songs or drink beer and bug out songs. I don't drink, I don't smoke, and I don't advocate this kind of stuff...I may sing about smoking, but I don't drink or smoke. But yeah, it does change a bit I guess, but that's just from the individual.
Alex: So is it a leap from your previous bands to this one?
Coolie: In the other band, I didn't actually write the music with them. I wrote one song, which I can actually say I wrote, and that was "Legal Shot." The others they wrote, and I put my vocals on it. There was nothing I could say, "I wrote this music from start to finish." But yes, this band gives me a lot more freedom. It imports a lot of my influences, and they put a lot of their influences in. They contribute a lot, so it is definitely more of a partnership, more of a band! Instead of me being in a band, and them fronting the band.
Alex: Why did you decide to self-release the CD? There had to be many indies and a few majors interested?
Coolie: We got a lot of offers from minors, but not majors. The minors, they weren't ready to handle us. I didn't want to just give it to someone and then have them screw up our CD. I could do that myself, so that's why I did it myself. I said, "hey, if we're going to fuck it up, lets fuck it up ourselves." Lets sell it off the stage, sell it off the web site (http://www.pilfers.com) and make money for ourselves. I got a lot of fight from them, because they truly didn't understand the vision that I had, but I only want the best for us. I don't want anyone to come along and rob us, even if a major comes along. Not ever major is going to get us. Just because they're a major, it doesn't mean they'll understand us. It doesn't work that way. It's who has the best vision. If they come up with a vision, the same vision that I have, then we'll work with it. But not just because they have money, they have to have the vision. And I want to spread this message. If I thought it was going to be a little job, I would have went on an independent label and stayed on the underground level. But I want more. I want the world to know.
Alex: Do you see yourself releasing the next album independently?
Coolie: I don't have a problem with releasing independently at all. If I don't hear the right offer within the right time limit...if I don't hear the right offer by August, because in August we should get back into the studio and write a new CD. If I don't hear by August then we'll do it again.
Alex: Do you ever wonder, or think, that this is going to be your start to your own label. Kinda like what Bucket did with Moon Ska?
Coolie: I kinda did think of that. But at this point, now, I don't want to be a record label. I think later on in the game I could definitely do that. Maybe I'll be a producer or a record label chairperson, but I don't know how that is going to work. So...no, I'm not trying to go the record label way.
Alex: So if a major did offer you a record deal at this point, you wouldn't go for it?
Coolie: No, it's not that I would go for it. It just has to come correct. I'm not selling this thing short.
Alex: That's a good stand point for you. So many bands out there have no clue about the business and then they get swallowed whole.
Coolie: See, I have to know the business. I've came to realize you just can't be a musician. You have to be business. The reason we're at this point right now is because I've taken it from the whole business aspect of this band. And I'm running this band from what I've seen, and from what Bucket has taught me. I learned a lot from Bucket. Just by sitting in the van and seeing how he does it. So I have to take the strong hand and handle all the business.
Alex: Any thoughts on the current reaction the media is currently giving ska?
Coolie: I really don't care what the media says. The media is whatever at this point. They don't make or break ska. I've been doing this shit for many years, before they were even giving it attention, so I really don't care what they say. It's good to know there are a lot of kids coming out. But a lot of the kids coming out today don't have a clue where this music came from. And they don't have a clue what to do when the music comes to them. They just want to slap each other around, because that is what they have been used to from other genres of music. So for everyone that is reading this, I think they should research the music. I totally think they should research the music, and the history of the music. And just don't go out there and slap your friend around, and think that's cool. It's not cool, it just plain sucks. And for all these people that will jump on to the next big think, that's cool. Let them do their thing. The people that really like and understand the music, the people who research it, are the ones that will stick around. The other ones, all those fad followers, let them do that. It's cool. But the ones that know what's up, they're the ones that will stay with ska forever.
Alex: Is there anything I left out that you would like to cover?
Coolie: Just that we don't sell our discs in the stores, and the reason for that is a lot of the distributors are on a feeding frenzy. They weren't there when we just started recording the album. They try and collect money off you, when they shouldn't be. A lot of these guys just come around because we're hot, and I don't want those people. I would like people to come to us from before and say, "hey, you're selling your tape. You're doing good, but let me help you guys out." Not because there is a little buzz, or there is a little hype about us. I don't like people who jump on bandwagons. I'm not down with that. If you're not my friend from the being, don't try and be my friend when I'm hot. They're are just too many people that will smile at you when you're hot, and when your not they just turn around and leave you. But don't get me wrong, I'm not sour about the music business. I love the music business, in all shapes and forms of it. But I am totally aware of what is going on. So when you step to me, you have to step to me correctly.