INTERVIEW: Isaac Green and the Skalars
Moon Ska Records
By: Alex Steininger
Alex: What are some of your musical influences?
Evan (Trombone): Oh...I knew you were going to ask that.
Alex: It's like a standard. It has to be asked.
Evan: Yeah, I know. (Turns to Ethan) What are some of our musical influences?
Ethan (Guitar): James Brown, Charles Mingus, The Heptones...
Evan: Oh...getting better and better!
Ethan: Ah...Toot and the Maytels. Certainly. Punky reggae. What about pop?
Evan: We've pretty much covered all the basics. But for pop bands, they mainly influence our stage show. Musically, most of the bands he said...The Heptones, Jack Lapel, Skatilities, and 60's soul. But on in our stage show we're influenced by the two-tone bands like Madness, we just go nuts on stage. We try to cover all the corners. Musically, I don't know if...but we play kind of like traditional ska, and on the stage we want to have a lot of energy like the two-tone bands.
Alex: Any bands out there that are currently active that you dig?
Evan: No, no...ok we like Skavoovie and the Epitones a lot! I think they are great. The Slackers, some of the best ska writers out there. Easy Big Fella from Seattle, they have a lot of impressive melodies. Personally, I think they're the best third wave ska band out there. And of course, Spring Heeled Jack!
Alex: What are your band goals for 1998?
Evan: Number one, not to crash and role any kind of machinery any time. Number two, not to spend any time whatsoever in any moving trucks as a tour vehicle. Number three, I guess, keep touring the nation. I guess that's pretty much it.
Alex: Are you guys working on a new album or are you still touring to promote your latest album?
Evan: Um...no. We just finished a four week tour of the Midwest and East Coast. We're pretty much finishing up the touring for "Skoolin' With The Skalars." Actually, after this show we're taking a break. We have a bunch of new material that we want to hopefully record. Then tour in January to push that. But our sound has changed a lot since we recorded that album. Playing wise we're pretty proud of it, but besides that we have a lot more influences we want to include.
Alex: Do you have an ETA for that new record?
Evan: It should...we hope by early Spring. I would love for it to come out in January so we could tour on it, but it's hard to get things out that fast.
Ethan (guitar): Expect a big sound change on the new album. We've matured a lot. Yeah, when we put out that album we had just graduated college, and those are the songs we had written during college. We wrote those as struggling musicians playing shopping malls, sleeping on floors, and it's inspired some good music.
Alex: Is it going to be on Moon Ska Records?
Ethan: We are licensed for another record with Moon, but you never know...
Evan: Moon has an option on the new record, so we'll just see what happens.
Alex: On the road, what do you guys do for fun besides crash?
Evan: My favorite thing is to get into the city and walk around. Get the city's flavor. Buy a local candy bar, buy a local soft drink. I also like to...one of my favorite things to do it find the tallest thing in a city and climb it. I have a King Kong fetish. You get to see so much of the country, but it gets frustrating when you have to play and then drive off to the next city. It's fun to poke around and have fun.
Ethan: You don't get much time in each city, so it's nice when you get stuck in a city for two days, like in Portland, and you get to go explore.
Alex: Besides the crash, is there any other road experiences that stand out in your mind?
Ethan: We were in Kansas and we were driving. An Ebu was in the middle of the street...
Evan: Kansas has all these weird, exotic animals to attract tourists. They have a five legged cow, the biggest groundhog in the world. A ten foot tall groundhog that weighs 3,000 pounds. It's just so crazy.
Ethan: On the way to Detroit Isaac Green had to use the restroom. The traffic was slow enough where you could jump out the car, and run to the side of the road, and pee. But traffic started up and we couldn't stop, so the van started going. He chased us for a good ten minutes trying to catch up with the van, and he caught up.
Evan: I think by far the most epic tour story would have to be when we played San Diego, and decided to go down to Tiawana because as a band we had never been to Mexico before. So we get down there and the bar we went to had very cheap beer, but it had this mechanical bull in the back that you could ride for free. A very cheapening experience...
Ethan: All the Skalars rode the mechanical bull and were hurting for the next week.
Evan: If you ever find a mechanical cow or bull, I strongly recommend you ride it. And all your readers too! It's where it's at.
Alex: If you could tour with anyone, who would you tour with?
Evan: Living or dead?
Alex: Pick one of each.
Ethan: James Brown and the Famous Flames, that' obvious, but he's dead. Maybe Hepcat...
Evan: Living, I don't know. I would like to tour with the Slackers. A tour with the Squirrel Nut Zippers would be a lot of fun too! Spring Heeled Jack and Skavoovie and the Epitones are both great friends of ours, so playing with them is always great.
Alex: What is your favorite city to play and why?
Evan: Tough...Kansas City...when we played Four Lauderdale I was really impressed. I expected to see a bunch of testosterone laced, bulk creatures, but it wasn't like that at all. It was pretty fun. I was really impressed.
Ethan: We made a list the other day of our top thirty cities and Portland was one of them.
Alex: What goes into good music making for you guys?
Evan: Lack of sleep!
Ethan: It's all about three to ten really good chords that fit together, or a really abstract melody in your head and bring it to practice. Basically, one person brings a basic idea and everyone is inspired by it.
Evan: A lot of bands have one person writing all the material, but it's not like that here. We all contribute. Someone will bring a sketch to practice, and we'll all add to it. As for the lyrics, angst, depression, and girl problems.
Ethan: Basically, inspiration from another band. You see something they do and find it very interesting, but you don't copy it from them. It just opens new doors, and your like "wow!"
Evan: I'm very much a believer that negative experiences bring out the best in song writing.
Ethan: Yeah, for example the box of death tour last time we came to Portland, we rented a Penski moving truck and traveled in it for three and a half weeks with no ventilation or windows. It was a living hell. That inspired one of our newest songs, "Box of Death." True life experiences inspire us to write songs.
Alex: That was my next question. What inspires you guys to write songs?
Evan: Anything from wrecks to summer of no love whatsoever to breakups to those bratty kids at Washington University. What else? One of our songs was inspired by a drug testing program at Washington University. Leave your imagination to that...well no, I got paid by the university to do four doses of Ketame. After the strongest dose everything was floating around and my walls were melting, and I picked up my trombone and this stuff came out and I thought it was so cool. I played it about four hundred times and it became a song.
Alex: What made you want to be in a band?
Ethan: Isaac (who is no longer in the band) and I were freshman, lonely, and bored so I would just sit in my room and play songs on his answering machine. I said, "let's start a band," and he was like, "I have no talent, but O.K., let's start one anyway." So we found members and got a practice going in the dorm basement, and played college parties. We then moved out and here we are.
Alex: Why isn't Isaac in the band anymore?
Ethan: He wants to book us, and be the full time manager. He was not a singer, but he was an MC. He was tired of the performance side, and wants to be a full time manager. So he's moving to New York and getting an office job and everything.
Alex: So are you keeping the Isaac Green and the Skalars name?
Evan: We don't know yet. It's still under discussion.
Alex: What do you enjoy and hate about the music industry?
Ethan: The crap people tend to accept for good pop music. There is just so much crap. And I hate high budgets for bad music. Bands that get a lot of money to make bad videos, and all that. Completely pointless angst that has no meaning, like Marilyn Manson. All about blood and sex, and all that stuff. There is no point why the music is being made.
Evan: It's given the industry is going to be based on money, everyone knows that. But it's frustrating when good music can't be played. Everyone assumes it's all about style, appearance, and MTV. Or a combination of the three.
Ethan: People think, "Oh Moon bands. They make a lot of money!" But none of us are able to pay our rent. It's not because Moon is a bad label, they're great, but it's very small and they can only do so much. So bands consider going to a major so they can pay rent. And if they can be on a major, pay rent, and produce good music simultaneously than it's wonderful. And some bands can do it. But there isn't much of life in pop music these days. There used to be, but not anymore. I wish someone would bring it back.
Alex: On that subject, what's your views of a band that goes to a major to pay the bills and support a family, and then someone cries "sellout."
Ethan: I used to call bands sellouts until I joined one, and now I've experienced everything. We've been touring for a year and six months straight, and we can never pay rent. All it pays for is living while we're touring. As long as a band can produce great music, I have no problem with it.
Evan: If you change your style of music to make money, it's your own business. It's personal. If you can make money and sell music, do it. I don't have anything against any band that does it.
Alex: Is there anything in your history as a band you would change?
Ethan: I wish Isaac was still here. I'm probably one of the only ones that wishes that, but he's my best friend. He is important. He's less important on stage than he is just with his presence. I love the music we're producing, so I don't think I would take back or change anything.
Evan: I would have taken the offers from MCA, I fucked up. (laughs) I'm just kidding.
Ethan: I wish we could re-record the first record. It was just low budget, $2000, and we didn't know what we were doing. If we had the knowledge we have now about how to record, I wish we could go back and do it over again. More time would have been nice too.
Evan: To be precise, I wish we could have had a better producer.
Ethan: We hate that record.
Evan: We hate the production and the way it sounds. We hate the fact it sounds so dead. It doesn't come close to represent what we sound like now. And it also doesn't capture our live energy. But I don't think there is a ska record out there that captures the bands live energy. Hepcat comes close, but the energy of a Spring Heeled Jack or a Skavoovie isn't captured on the album, and that's what we want to shoot for.
Alex: What are your high and low points so far?
Ethan: The low point was definitely the box of death! Or maybe the car crash?
Evan: No the low point wasn't the car crash, because I had so much adrenaline. The low point would be the third week in the box of death. I was ready to throw myself off a cliff in Oregon or strangle everyone in the band. I was preying I would not find a gun with six bullets in it, because I knew I would use all of them.
Ethan: It was a moving truck in the middle of the Arizona dessert with no windows.
Evan: It had a tiny window, but you sat shotgun so what are you talking about? The high point was the Alligator Lounge in Los Angeles 1996.
Alex: What do you want the listener to get out of your music?
Evan: I want them to get up and dance while they listen to it. I want them to throw out all their aerosol cans and ask out the really cute girl in the cafeteria, and then drive to the make out point and put on track eleven and hear it. I want people to go to our show and then want the record!
Alex: What made you guys want to play North by Northwest?
Evan: South by Southwest. Also, we love playing Portland and the Roseland is nice. We thought, "we're playing with Spring Heeled Jack and Easy Big Fella, let's do it!"
Alex: Even though you don't like "Skoolin' With The Skalars," how has it done attention wise?
Evan: It's done great. It just surprised me that people have gotten the record and liked it. It feels good in a way because I know the songs are strong, but it also feels weird because it's not the way it is, you need to see us live.
Will (bass): I kind of compare it to the Pietasters first CD. The production on that is horrible, but I love it. It's my favorite one they have put out.
Evan: There's only so far you can hold down good songs. If the song is good, it doesn't matter if it was recorded on a walk man, it's still a good song.
Will: The problem with our CD is that it's low budget, but it's way over-produced for it's low budget. There is not a single raw sound in there. There isn't anything with a presence. I'm very disappointed in that.
Alex: So how has your video for "High School" helped sales of the CD?
Ethan: It's only been on...I was asleep and everyone kept calling saying, "your video is on TV!" and they were so pumped. But I was like, "OK. I'm going back to bed." It didn't hit me until later that millions of people watch that.
Evan: I guess a lot of us feel the same way about the video as we do the CD. We wish we could go back and do it again, but at the same time it has a great quality that if someone likes the video it's because they like the song. And that means a lot to me. I would almost like to have a raw video than a 20,000 explosion and everyone likes the video for the video and not the song.
Will: Have you seen the Skavoovie video? They had the same budget as us, and I prefer theirs over ours. They went with a friend. And the Squirrel Nut Zippers video was recorded on a low budget, but it was great because it was so creative.
Alex: No, I haven't seen it. Ethan: We had someone who kind of ripped us off. He said he was going to put all our ideas into the video. He was all talk and no show basically.
Alex: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Ethan: High School is great.
Evan: Special K!
Will: Yeah, Special K is my favorite. The best recording quality on the album. And since I'm the bass player I recorded my tracks and went to work. I had no idea of what to expect.
Alex: What is your thoughts on the current attention ska is receiving from the media?
Ethan: I think it would be fine if all the sub-genre's of ska would be represented. But only Southern California's ska stuff is being represented, and I think it's so unfair. It's going to kill the genre.
Will: I don't know...that's not true. Punk broke, so the next logical step for the radio to take would be pop-punk or ska-punk. I view ska-punk as less of a radio movement or the only chance for ska to break in the pop culture than as a way to introduce the idea of upbeats to the average American. Our parents and random people we know who only listen to our music because we're in the band don't have a grasp on what an upbeat is. Or how it fuses into the music, or what ska is. They vaguely know what reggae is. It's slow, but I've noticed the ska singles are getting a bit more these days. Like Sublime's new single or the Bosstones new single which are like straight up ska, and it's opening the doors for others. I really enjoy hearing it on the radio, even if it's ska-punk or Reel Big Fish, it's better than what was played a year ago.
Ethan: I'll agree with that, but still I think it's frustration that a lot of Moon bands are not being heard.
Alex: Where do you think ska will be in a year? The next big thing or will it die down to where it was a few years ago?
Will: I think a year from now it will be pretty big. The big question is five or ten years from now will it be established by the majors as a genre? It has a potential to be as revolutionary as rock 'n roll was a year ago. 05Either it will or it won't. But I don't think it will.
Ethan: I think, like in the 80's, ska will become another genre. Like how ska became new wave.
Alex: Anything I left out that you would like to cover?
Will: Not really, we covered it all.