Sunday, March 15, 2009

Duff Interview: Chris "The Kid" Acosta of The NY Citizens

(Editor's note: Chris "The Kid" Acosta of the late and great NY Citizens--he is pictured at the center of this promo shot, sitting on a table--was kind enough to submit to the following questions from The Duff Guide to Ska. If you are unfamiliar with the band, back in the late 80s and early 90s, the NYCs were amongst the top bands on the New York ska scene, along with The Toasters and The Scofflaws (when Mike Drance, now of The Bluebeats, was in the band). Be sure to click on and read their press kit, which is a blast, since you have to read between the lines to figure out that they are a ska band! A fairly comprehensive NY Citizens' discography can be found here).

The Duff Guide to Ska: Exactly when and how did The NY Citizens form (and how does Legal Gender fit into things)? What were the band's primary musical influences?

Chris Acosta: I met lead singer Robert Tierney in college [NY Tech], where we were both studying graphic design (which helped out since we both designed the NY Citizens' album covers, and I went on to design a few album covers for The Toasters and some Moon compilations as well). Rob already was in a band called Legal Gender and most of the original members of the NY Citizens where already in that band (drummer Mike Hicks, guitarist Dan Marotta, bassist Paul Gil). Dan Marotta was at Manhattan College and there is where we met soon-to-be keyboard player Jerry O'Sullivan and saxophone player John Q. Pavlik for the NY Citizens.

At that time, Legal Gender had a nice danceable "new-wavesque" sound (with punk and rock in the mix for sure) with some songs that definitely had a Jamaican influence, like "Key Largo." At that time, I was into ska and immediately liked the band and tried to help out with some gigs. Legal Gender later went on to record "Overcast," which aimed towards the direction of ska/mod influences and that is where you get to hear me play the coconuts for the very first time! (Rob thought it was great to imitate the horse galloping sound like in the Monty Python movie "The Holy Grail").

As we progressed more into ska type of material, we decided to change the name of the band to the NY Citizens. I suppose since we all came from different parts of the city and all had our own unique musical tastes (Dan loved metal, Paul like punk, Rob and I liked dance music and Jamaican stuff, etc.), it only made sense.


DGTS: With each release ("On the Move", "Stranger Things Have Happened," the "Brooklyn's on Fire" red vinyl single), The Citizens seemed to incorporate more musical genres into their sound than other NYC or American ska bands during the late 80s and early 90s (with the exception of say Fishbone or The Untouchables)--was this something that happened organically, was it just a New York City thing (the downtown scene at the time broke down all kinds of musical barriers), or a conscious decision to reach audiences beyond the ska kids?

The Kid: Like I said earlier, we were all individually into different musical genres. We all liked each other's musical tastes and it showed as we practiced new songs. I don't really think we ever said "we're going to be a ska band." Instead, we wrote songs that had that influence. I suppose in our earlier tracks you heard more ska, but as we continued to play, especially live, our repertoire incorporated more sounds.

It is true that growing up in NYC you are exposed to more sounds than you can even handle. Luckily, at that time, we had a lot of great music around us (New Wave was not completely done, hip-hop had groups like A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, and De La Soul; and some of my personal favorites sounds, dub and "deep-underground House," were at their height!).


DGTS: To me, The NY Citizens are one of the great lost American ska bands of the pre-internet age--there is very little information out there about the group. What are three things that everyone should know about the band?

The Kid: I can tell you that we definitely wanted people to dance to our music. It didn't matter so much which song genre it sounded like, as long as you could dance your ass off to it (we loved to see a mixed audience). Although our live shows captured that message best, perhaps listening to "The Truth About the NY Citizens" might give you an idea where we were coming from.

DGTS: I only saw the NYCs live a few times--and the band's performances were always amazing. Are there any recordings of shows that are kicking around in the Citizens' vaults, just waiting to be released?

The Kid: We probably do have some tracks that were recorded, however I'm not sure if they will ever be released.


DGTS:What are some of your favorite NY Citizens songs and why?

The Kid: I loved "Boxer Shorts" personally because it was a little "up-startish ska" at the time with the ska beat really, really fast and this really cool "heavy metal/dance beat dub" break part in the middle made it so much fun (especially live). I think that song opened the way for other bands to change the tempo on how to play in a "ska" band and not be afraid to incorporate other sounds (which we can still hear today).

DGTS: An old issue of George Marshall's great "Zoot" skazine noted that NYCs did at least one national US tour after "On the Move" was released. Where did you go and what were some the bands that you played with? Did you ever make it over to Europe?

The Kid: We went on three across the nation tours and countless gigging up and down the East Coast. We played in Boston (many times with the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones and the Allstonians); Trenton's City Gardens (opening up for the Ramones and once for Eek-A-Mouse); Chicago (at Medusa's etc.), California's Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach; the Whisky A-Go-Go in Hollywood; Gillman St. in Berkeley; Spanky's in Riverside; the Country Club in Reseda (No Doubt actually opened up for us!); Mudbugs in Tuzcon, AZ; St. Andrew's in Detroit; 9:30 Club in Washington, DC; and even up to Toronto for a ska festival with The Toasters and bunch of great ska bands at the time!

We also had the distinct pleasure of playing along with Mick Jones' Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.), Ziggy Marley, They Might Be Giants, Fishbone, APB, Murphy's Law, War-Zone, The Skatalites, The Unity Two (former frontmen Sean and Lionel of The Toasters), and a whole bunch of really cool bands we met on our travels!

DGTS: What led to the Citizens breaking up in 1994?

The Kid: Believe it or not, while we were playing gigs and touring, most of us were still in college. By 1994, some of us were graduating/or had graduated and decided to go on to pursue other ambitions (Dan Marotta is now a lawyer, for example). Other members from the latter days of the NY Citizens did go on to form other bands, most notably Dem Brooklyn Bums Swing Band, where bass player Rob "Stinky" Cittadino became the front man on stand-up bass with Dave Mullen on saxophone (he currently has a dj/jazz band called Butta) and Rich Zuckor on drums.

DGTS: If the NYCs had reunited in say 1996 or '97 during the ska-boom in the US, you would have been huge...was there ever any talk about reunion gigs back then?

The Kid: I think you're right about us probably being successful. The sound that was coming from some of the bands in '96 and '97 was something we had already done years earlier, but by this time it wasn't the same. We loved this band and were happy to leave it peacefully...

DGTS: After the band broke up, you went on to produce the "Latin Ska" compilations for Moon. Did any of the other members of the Citizens turn up in other third wave ska bands (Robert Tierney was in the Atwood 9, right)?

The Kid: I did two compilations and even scouted out potential Latin ska bands from around the globe for the Moon Records label. I had a lot of fun putting together those compilations because to some Latin countries the whole third wave sound was new. Also my parents are Spanish and it gave me a sense of pride for the culture. Aside from Rob's Atwood 9, I don't think I really know of some of the other ex-members joining/forming ska bands (swing yes, ska I don't remember).

DGTS: Lastly, can you explain your "Kid Coconuts" nickname for readers who may not have had the chance to see The NY Citizens live?

The Kid: I first played the coconuts on Legal Gender's "Overcast." I then managed to somehow play the coconuts on almost ever song (not always successfully). I did lend out my "nuts" and played cameos with The Toasters from time to time. But it was mostly a novelty, something to make the audience get excited (they used to go crazy when my coconuts would bust out on stage!). Mostly though, I was a dance man and the NY Citizen sure made me dance!

6 comments:

David T said...

Nice interview Steve! I became interested in ska after the Citizens had broken up, but am interested in listening to some of their work. I see they have a used best of CD on amazon.com for a good price.

Jeremy Toaster said...

Hey Steve,
Liked I mentioned before, in January of 2005, I started emailing back and forth with Robert up through February 14th of 2007. He told me a lot of cool and interesting details about the band and sent me a care package with a bunch of old demo and live tapes. I already had about 3 tapes from Bucket's basement. Maybe it's time to start the NYC SKA / Moon Ska tribute website? and get this info out there?...

Steve from Moon said...

David:

Thanks for your comments! Try to find a copy of their "On the Move" LP--great stuff on there.

Best,

Steve X

Steve from Moon said...

Jeremy:

How's tricks? Talk to Chris and Dan to see about getting some of that live material out there! The studio never really captured how good they were...

Chris is digging around for some live video NYC's footage that he's going to send to me--gonna put it up on YouTube for him!

Cheers!

Steve X

David T said...

The mail man brought me "The Truth About The NY Citizens" CD today. I'm listening to it now. Good stuff!

Steve from Moon said...

David:

Glad you picked up "The Truth About..." The Citizens were one of the more interesting bands to pop up in NYC in that weird period after 2 Tone and before the third wave really picked up steam in the mid-90s.

Cheers.

Steve