Friday, March 14, 2008

Interview: Bucket of The Toasters

Much like The Ramones--an iconic band that soldiered on over the years despite numerous personnel changes--The Toasters have been keeping faith with ska music ever since 2-Tone flamed out in the early 80s. (For the uninitiated, background on The Toasters may be found here.) Since they have a new live album recorded in 2002 at CBGBs coming out on CBGBs Records, we though it might be a good time to check in with guitarist/vocalist/songwriter/ founding member Bucket, who was gracious enough to take the time to do the following e-mail interview...

Duff Guide to Ska: After 25+ years of leading The Toasters through numerous cycles of feast and famine, what keeps you going?

Bucket: My mortgage! Seriously, I am still having a lot of fun doing what I do. I have the good fortune to be surrounded by some very talented people and that helps greatly. Once you get bitten by the ska bug, it is definitely in you for life. The music and the genre have a lot to say socially and politically, and I am very proud to be a part of that continuum.

DGTS: Why did you move your base of operations to Spain, and what else are you doing apart from The Toasters and Megalith?

Bucket: Mostly personal reasons, but in part also a rejection of the politics. For me the city had lost its edge. NYC had ceased being a place which encouraged an indie music scene. This was in no way more greatly epitomized than by the closure of CBGBs, which for me said it all about the increasing cultural void. You have to be a millionaire to live in the East Village these days. Having moved to Spain, I have the double advantage of being able to focus more on developing European operations for the band and label, as well as broadening my kids' horizons. For example, they now all speak three languages.

Aside from the band and the label, I also started a consulting company (Cubo Consulting - shameless plug!), mainly helping bands and labels in the European theatre of operations with booking. Tour management and logistics, you name it. Right now, I am working for Meg & Dia for example. Other clients include bands like Easy Star Allstars and Skatalites and I have also organized European tours for the likes of The Pietasters, Westbound Train, Go Jimmy Go, etc.

DGTS: What do you have planned for The Toasters in 2008 and beyond?

Bucket: More gigging. It's impossible to make a living from selling recorded music these days. (It's all a conspiracy by the major labels to destroy the independents hahaha.) We have tours in America and Europe lined up through December 2008. We will also play in South America to support the release of the new record on Enemy One Records in Brazil.

DGTS: How is Megalith doing these days--and what is your strategy for navigating the ongoing implosion of the music industry? Can bands ever hope to make a living in the iPod age?

Bucket: Megalith is building slowly but surely. Our aim was to grow the label organically. Running a record label is difficult in the face of limited CD sales and the chronic underfunding that perennially plagues the indie scenario. Digital distro is slowly picking up, but it is nowhere near replacing the lost sales of physical product. Unfortunately, putting product into record stores is increasingly the preserve of the major labels, as no-one else can really afford to join that playing field. The market forces you to be creative and so the model that Megalith is pursuing is now more of a joint venture with artists that includes live concerts as a vital component. For me, that was always the most fun part of the business anyway and without that idiom it's very hard to promote artists as there is such a tremendous glut of bands these days competing for an ever decreasing share of the pie. I get hundreds of MySpace links every week from bands looking for deals, gigs or just plain advice. The glass ceiling has been lowered with deleterious effect to the aspirations of start-up bands.

DGTS: I've rediscovered my love of vinyl--what releases are planned for Drastic Plastic this year?

Bucket: Yes, the vinyl revival is quite a phenomenon. I think that it is in large part collector driven, but people like the tangibility of the product. Plus you can't download it for free! Drastic Plastic is in the negotiating phase to license quite a bit of punk and glam 70's product. The two releases so far are from The Briggs and The Toasters.

DGTS: As the band continues to tour all over the world, which local/regional ska scenes appear to be thriving?

Bucket: It's always interesting to see that the epicentre of regional support shifts from place to place. Right now there are emerging hotspots in Eastern Europe and South America, but also the scene in the USA has become more defined with grassroots outfits in most major cities. I would cite groups like Phillyska and CTska as being perfect examples of how such operations help the ska scene tremendously.

DGTS: In general, how would you assess the state of the US ska scene, 10 years after the dramatic rise and fall of ska in the late 90s?

Bucket: Well, it's certainly different, but in large part the faces are the same in the sense that the scene has shed the band-wagon jumpers and now is once again comprised of hardcore fans, and that's a good thing. Say what you want about the 90s ska explosion (or implosion more like), but it had the effect of introducing ska music to the nation and now there are more people than ever who are familiar with the genre. On the other hand, I think that we are in a rebuilding phase and I would point to the development of some excellent new bands like Westbound Train, the Aggrolites and even Big D as an indicator of where we are heading. There are new bands and new scenes sprouting all over the country, so in my view the curve is now upwards.

DGTS: I read a bit on the Toasters/Megalith forum about your tour through what used to be Yugoslavia republic before the war--it sounded kind of harrowing. What was it like to be a band treading though a world still very much affected by war, widespread genocide, and a history of ethnic hatred spanning several centuries?

Bucket: It's no picnic over there for sure. But I would point out that in the 80s it was still a political statement for The Toasters to take the stage with a mixed race band in some parts of the USA, so we are talking about a global issue there. Seeing the reality of Kosovo was an eye opener and it is true to say that they are still locked in a holy war there with roots in the 16th century. That is all about to kick off again with the unilateral declaration of independence of that province from Serbia. We had to alter our tour routing for May to avoid that road through Mitrovica. Unfortunate, because it has been very emotionally uplifitng to have been able to take the music to places like Mostar (Bosnia) and Dubrovnik - where we played in a bombed out hospital.

DGTS: On a much lighter topic, which ska and non-ska bands are you listening to right now?

Bucket: Red Soul Community from Granada, Spain. Raimundo Amador--great flamenco guitarist from a gypsy family.

DGTS: When do The Toasters hit the US again--including NYC?

Bucket: We won't be back in the states until Hallowe'en, as the upcoming calendar is all European through October. Having said that, we are just coming off a big run primarily in the western states and Hawaii (thanks for the poke recipe, Shon!).

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