LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE
“It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.”
O. Henry (1862 - 1910) US "short-story writer, journalist"
worldbeatcanada radio: The Slackers most definitely aren’t. For 19 years they’ve been working smart on their craft, reading the odds and beating the game their way instead of by following the corporate playbook. Today they’re at the top of their game in a music style that has it’s roots firmly in yesterday, a mash up of ska, rock-steady, dub, R&B, reggae, soul, garage rock and 60’s pop that band leader, Vic Ruggiero likes to call “Jamaican Rock ‘n Roll” … an unusual line of work for 6 whiteish guys from the lower east side of New York. Trombonist, vocalist Glen Pine joins us to talk about their 12th studio album, The Great Rock-Steady Swindle. How’s it going, Glen? Congratulations by the way.
Glen Pine: Oh, thank you very much. It's great to have another album out on Hellcat once again and to be touring behind it.
WBC: The title sounds like it belongs on a best-selling work of non-fiction. Can you give us the Coles Notes summation of the concept behind the Great Rock-Steady Swindle?
GP: Well, of course we were playing off of the Sex Pistols' 'The Great Rock 'n Roll Swindle. We've been playing rock-steady for some time and we've been noticing that bands are claiming to be playing rock-steady and are not, and having hits. And, people were using 'rock-steady' in their titles of their albums and what they play has nothing to do with rock-steady. So, we thought, "You know, we've been playing this music for a long time, we may as well be overt about and say we play rock-steady music people. This is what rock-steady music is."
WBC: Maybe a decade ago there seemed to be several bands plying your stock & trade like Hepcat, Pietasters and like always seems to happen in the ebb and flow of ska, some groups just quietly disappear while others like you keep on truckin’. What’s the secret?
GP: That's a good question. I don't know ... maybe we're crazy! You know, we love the music. We love playing ska, reggae, rock-steady you name it. And, I think we still get a kick out of getting up on stage and playing the music that we love and feeling the love from the audience. I mean, wherever we are as we go on, it still brings us back. It still makes us want to go out there and play the music.
WBC: As a trombone player do you notice horns finding more room to play in today’s music with the renewed interest in things like Afrobeat, funk and of course ska? I’ve always loved horns and I’m not too proud to admit the very first concert I ever went to was Chicago.
GP: Oh yeah! I think finally people are getting more accustomed to hearing horns in alternative music. I think in general, whether it's Afrobeat stuff or Eastern European or crazy combinations. People are getting hip to it; hearing different approaches and different colours that can be brought out in a composition. It's not just for your high school marching band! You can be creative within the alternative music environment and it's beautiful to see young people coming up, picking up instruments like horns, whatever and being inspired by the music that is coming out currently.
WBC: worldbeatcanada radio is on the pod with Glen Pine from The Slackers who’ve just released their 12th studio album called The Great Rock-Steady Swindle. Join their mailing list at theslackers.com. Or, that sounds too old skool for text flexed thumbs, follow them at the Church of Slack on myspace, youtube facebook or the tweety. Speaking of old school, Glen, you guys have certainly perfected the vintage sounds from the era this music originally came from. When you record, are you using old plate reverbs and astatic mics and all that kinda gear to make it sound authentic or are there virtual patches in Logic to do all that now?
GP: With this record, The Great Rock-steady Swindle, it was kind of a return to how records were made historically. We happened to be on the road in Europe, and at the end of it we arranged to go into a little studio in Berlin and cut the basic tracks there onto tape, because we miss some of those analog sounds. Although the technology is getting better and better in digital, we still miss that sound, especially in the rhythm section, that you get through saturation onto tape. In terms of old plate reverbs and stuff ... absolutely! Anytime we can get our hands on old microphones and stuff we do because that's a big part of what we bring.
WBC: That sounds so authentic! So you used two inch tape?
WBC: Very cool! I didn't know people still made it.
GP: Yeah, it's around. When we were in Berlin, we found this guy who had been recording all kinds of like Romanian brass band music, Afropop music and stuff. He's like this mad scientist guy who's assembled old tape machines and analog synthesizers and crazy old microphones he had acquired. I don't know where he got them, whether from former East Germany or what but it was definitely a treasure trove of oddball microphones and keyboards and stuff. And, we were like kids in a candy store for sure. Everybody getting into those tight, small little rooms and tracking a bunch of songs. After the basics were done, we were running around saying, "Let's grab this microphone, let's grab this keyboard, old tape reverbs that he had." It was like, "We have to do something with this." I guess, it was probably like the excitement musicians in the 60s must have felt during the psychedelic era when people said, "Let's just try stuff, let's be experimental."
WBC: On our television program, world.beats, we played your videos for Have The Time and Propaganda; one starts in a grave yard and the other looks like the Day of the Dead. There’s a real dichotomy to your music. On the one hand it’s so bouncy and happy and on the other, the lyrics are like film noir, dark and homicidal. Where does that come from?
GP: (laughs) Because, we're dark and homicidal! People have this perception of ska music, especially in America, as being very upbeat and party-sounding. But, if you go back, even to the two-tone era ... Terry Hall from The Specials for instance wrote very insightful social commentary on what was happening in England at the time, and dark realizations about what was happening. Or, you can go all the way back to The Skatallites; they were very dark with very deep, deep music. It might have the initial sound of something upbeat and happy that your can dance to, but I think historically it's a tradition of writing songs about a whole bunch of different subjects and maybe putting a few things out there about emotions ... you know, about love lost or social issues that are current. And then, make it danceable. So you can think and dance at the same time.
WBC: I’d like to take this home with one of my faves from The Great Rock-Steady Swindle on Hellcat Records, which also happens to be your song, Bo Evil. Can you set this one up?
GP: Again, I'm a big fan of old 60s garage stuff and when I was in the studio, in Berlin, I said, "You know, I want to sound like one of those old records like Ike and Tina Turner or The Sonics, you know, where you hear the limitations of the equipment like maybe the microphones are blowing up. I love that sound. I love that real rawness. And again, the mad scientist of Germany says, "I can make that happen for you." So I tried to make it an homage to the old R&B guys, Little Richard or whoever and tried to bring that flavour to the ska.
Glen Pine was interviewed by Cal Koat on April 28, 10 for worldbeatcanada radio.