Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Duff Interview: Ansis Purins on the Return of Skavoovie (and "Zombre")!

During the heady days of the 3rd wave of ska, if you liked vintage-jazzy-big band-y ska, then you loved Skavoovie and the Epitones, because few did it as well as they did. I think I probably first encountered this Boston-based band when I was putting together the original Skarmageddon compilation for Moon Records back in 1994 (they were all still in high school and making this magnificent music!). And I've been a rabid fan ever since.

When rumors started to surface last year that Skavoovie was reforming, I was, obviously, incredibly happy about this development. Around the same time, I happened to be in touch with Dr. Dan Neely, Skavoovie's guitarist, who had been involved with recording The Jolly Boys' new album, so I asked him about what was up with the reunion and he directed me to make all inquiries of singer Ans Purins, who was gracious enough to answer the questions posed below.

Re-connecting with Ans also coincided with the publishing of the second issue of his extraordinary comic "Zombre" (about the adventures of a laid-back, nature-loving, slightly klutzy zombie!), which was published through a grant award from the Xeric Foundation! When not fronting Skavoovie, Ans is a gifted freelance illustrator (see a short bio here)--and he was making all sorts of cool comics, logos, and album covers throughout the 90s. (This fantastic print of his in green hangs on the wall above the desk where I do all my writing).

So read on to find out what the band has in store for their new album and live gigs; why they've dropped "and the Epitones"; and who or what is "Puckers"--plus check out two live tunes recorded when the band played at the 1998 Warped Tour!

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The Duff Guide to Ska: I’m psyched that you’re back, but why reunite Skavoovie now? What led to you get the band back together?

Ansis Purins: We are all friends and have remained in touch through the years. Everyone in the band is doing music in some way. We’ve always talked about playing together again... We have studio space and we have label and festival offers coming in. Plus, I keep getting emails from fans! I think we’re all touched and humbled that people still want to hear our brand of ska. It’s kind of a personal project for me as well. I want to hear how we sound now after 10 years. I’m an expressive, creative type so it’s like scratching an itch for me. I still love ska and have a baaad case of the reggaemanitis. So this project seems really natural.

DGTS: Who is in the current line-up?

AP: It’s going to be all Skavoovie members 100% from past and present. No filler.

DGTS: What are your plans for recording and live shows (will there be any NYC gigs)? Is the album going to be self-released?

AP: We have a couple offers from labels, but there has been no serious discussion about playing shows. If we did, it would most likely be a couple of shows in New York and Boston.

DGTS: What does the new material sound like—and what are its influences? Who wrote the tunes?

AP: We are going for a roots ska sound. I know that sounds cliche... On our Growler record, we experimented with stuff outside of Ripe’s sound with doing ska-Devo and pushing the arrangement and composition beyond the constraints of what is considered ska. We want to emulate the tricks the old ska musicians employed that we never did, but with the typical brand of weird Skavoovie style ska. I wrote two tracks. I know Rob [Jost] and Benny [Jaffe] were working on something called “The Main Event.” Eric [Jalbert] and Jesse [Farber] have been working with Garageband and sending everyone their tunes. Its a slow, long process as the whole band is split up by countries and states. I just the hope the fans are patient with us.

DGTS: The music industry has experienced some radical changes since you were last part of it. How has this affected your plans to market, promote, and sell your new record? What are your thoughts about music file sharing?

AP: Skavoovie was active when the Internet and file sharing was in its infancy. I’m hoping to release a fancy version of the album with some cool schwag to help promote a purchase instead of stealing it from a pirate website. I personally don’t really like file sharing. I recently saw a website that had posted every issue of Asterix and Tintin, among others. Knowing how long it takes to draw a comic book like that, it was kind of upsetting to see... It’s the same thing for a band in many ways. Great exposure, but is it impossible now to make money without touring and selling merch?

DGTS: I’ve read that Skavoovie is planning to make some old live material and rare tracks available on the band’s website. Are these going to be sold or be there for fans to stream?

AP: We’ll be posting free downloads of old material on skavoovie.us, including a few songs from our 1998 Warped Tour performance in Northampton, MA.

"Highball" (Recorded live, 1998 Warped Tour, Northampton, MA)

"Japanese Robot" (Recorded live, 1998 Warped Tour, Northampton, MA)

DGTS: I was listening to “Ripe” recently—over a decade later, it’s still fresh and vital. Which is your favorite Skavoovie and the Epitones album? What song best represents the group’s sound and attitude?

AP: Thanks Steve, I consider you to be a true ska ambassador, so that means a lot to me. My favorite Skavoovie tune is probably “Japanese Robot” (written by Eugene Cho, our keyboard player), or maybe “Desert Gold” (which Rob Jost wrote based on a Zane Grey novel, something he has done before). Both of those capture Skavoovie perfectly in my opinion. Skavoovie is filled with visual artists and we all loved watching old cartoons and anime on the bus. I think “Japanese Robot” was an homage to Force Five, a Japanese show we watched growing up in the Boston area. Here’s a You Tube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrmTNkeDUvg. I can’t find the composer’s name, but the ending to this song sounds just like “Japanese Robot” to me. Eugene recently told me he wanted to re-record it with an orchestra someday.

DGTS: For the re-launch of the band, why did you decide to drop “the Epitones”? (Where did they go?)

AP: It’s not official yet, but we felt it was easier because hardly anyone called us by our full name. Also, I was always being asked by confused people if I was ‘Skavoovie.’ Telling them I was Ansis didn’t help very much. Some band members actually suggested changing the name of the band entirely. Making 10+ people agree on one thing is always one of the hardest things about being in a giant band.

DGTS: You’re also a professional graphic designer, who has done a fair amount of work for Stubborn Records and Moon. Are you doing any ska design work right now?

AP: I’m mostly an illustrator and comic book artist, but I do graphic design as well. I designed the Travis Pickle character for Brooklyn-based Wheelhouse Pickles. I also recently did some toy designs for Magic Cabin and I did the illustrations for Piebald’s latest DVD, "Nobody’s Robots." As for ska stuff, I’m finishing up the layout and cover illustration for Victor Rice’s new album. Dr. Dan Neely, ska ethno-musicologist and Skavoovie guitarist, did the liner notes. It’s an album of Version City rarities. I’m working on the logo for SuperSka, a new ska band here in Boston, MA which is comprised of members of Bim Skala Bim, The Allstonians (whose logo I also did), Beat Soup, and the Agitators. I just finished the logo for my friend Kristen’s Forbes’ awesome new reggae band, The Scotch Bonnets, I also recently did some bottle and t-shirt designs for Ska Brewery from Durango, Colorado.

(Note: this is not the the final album design.)

DGTS: You were just awarded a grant to print one of your comic books. How did this come about?

AP: I received a grant from the Xeric Foundation, which is a resource for comics artists who self publish. It was founded by Peter Laird of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame and it donates money to comic book nerds like me. The grant went toward funding my new Zombre book. I applied about 3-4 times over the last 10 years and was psyched when they gave me the grant last year. It was a lot of work. Zombre #2 was the result of intensive labor over about a year and was completed with the help of many Skavoovie members and other friends. The book is available from my site at: www.ansis.tv

Here’s a nifty timelapse video from a photoshoot for the back cover of the book: http://vimeo.com/15088936 (with soundtrack by Roots Radics). The costume took over 6 hours to apply and get right. Evan Dorkin was kind to give this book a good review recently!

DGTS: Have you been actively following the ska scene over the past decade? If so, which bands are you a fan of?

AP: I haven’t been following it very much, I’m embarrassed to say. I still listen to ska, but my tastes have really gone towards dub, heavy metal, and jazz. I’ve spent most of my time hunting down Roots Radics rarities and the work of Electric Wizard, Black Sabbath, and Raymond Scott. I love The Aggrolites, and really enjoyed The Caroloregians and The Moon Invaders when they came to Boston last year. I don’t really hang in the scene much as I’m usually happiest drawing in my studio or collecting comics and Godzilla toys. Nerd practice.

(Click on image to enlarge.)

DGTS: Lastly, for anyone unfamiliar with the band, what is the one factoid they should know about Skavoovie?

AP: We loved buying dirty, ripped, ugly stuffed animals from thrift stores and treating them like absolutely sacred tour bus mascots/members/deities. This is Puckers, one of our many mascots.

There was also a macrame yarn cat. Jon threw the cat out the window in Nebraska somewhere. I never forgave him for that.

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Blast from the ska past...


danjo said...

Great interview Steve and Ans! I remember hearing about the Force Five connection when you recorded the album, but now through the magic of YouTube I can totally hear the Japanese Robot connection. Totally fucking awesome.


ps. the Warped Tour clips are from 1998 – that was one of my last shows with the band, actually!

pps. The Vic Rice album is going to be the full package. Great music, great art and fair-to-middlin' liner notes.

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Dr. Dan! Yeah, now that you mention it, I think I remember that the Warp Tour dates were 1998. I will update the post.

And I'm looking forward to judging your liner notes for myself!