Sunday, October 25, 2009

Duff Interview: Megg and Jay of Across the Aisle

According to us, "Across the Aisle crank out loads of hooky, tart, and rambunctious ska-punk-pop in the vein of such 90s acts as Dance Hall Crashers and Save Ferris, but with Mighty Mighty Bosstones Devil's Night Out-type muscle and bite" and are one of the really interesting players on the resurgent NYC ska scene. Currently, the band is in the midst of recording its second EP or first full-length--it all depends on how things work out--but Jay Pintar and Megg Howe were kind enough to take the time to reply to some questions from The Duff Guide to Ska...

Duff Guide to Ska: How is the recording of the new album going? Is the ATA sound changing dramatically from what was captured on The Mercy EP? Who is producing it and which studio are you using?

Jay Pintar (trumpet): Recording the new album has been a steady process. We've hit a few hangups...illness with the seasons changing, and it's always a challenge to coordinate six schedules. Still, what we have thus far is sounding really great, and we're crazy pumped for it.

The sound itself, I don't feel, has changed that much since we recorded Mercy. Some of the tunes we're recording we've been playing for a year or more, so they're pretty much second nature to us at this point. However, we've had Aaron, our new guitarist, since August, and it's been great to hear someone else's new take on material. He's definitely a rocker, he takes liberties that the others did not. He also built his own pedal board, so there are will be a lot more guitar effects on the new recording. Also, when we recorded Mercy in early '08, I was the only horn player at the time, so I recorded three-part horns. Jackie, our alto sax player, came along five months later. It's nice to be laying down tracks with her by my side.

This new recording, in light of these delightful economic times, will be self-produced and recorded in our drummer's home studio. JV [John Vergara], our drummer, has education and experience in audio engineering, and between the six of us, we acquired everything we need to rehearse and record without breaking the bank. We dig it.

Megg Howe (vocals): Recording is so much fun! I really enjoy the process, 'cause you can really appreciate everyone's "part" in each song. Sometimes you forget to really listen to what each instrument sounds like, so when it's stripped down by itself sometimes I say, "Oh, wow, yeah, that's what you're playing there?! It's so brilliant!" So we're all in this basement recording together, so it's funny when I start recording vocals and I take off my headphones--at least two members say they had no idea what I was saying before. It's important for everyone to really hear the lyrics--then they can put my understanding of the idea behind the song and they can feel it too.

DGTS: Will the album be self-released or have you been shopping it around to some labels?

JP: We'll definitely do some shopping. It really depends on whether we end up recording a full-length album or another EP.

MH: Yeah, hopefully it'll create a buzz and, you never know, it could be really beneficial to have some backing!

DGTS: How did the Checkerboard Kids show taping go? When will your episode be broadcast?

JP: The taping went really well! A couple of us were a little under the weather, but all things considered, it went really well. We also had a handful of fans and friends who made it out to the studio to support us! We really appreciated that.

Still no word on when it's going to air [update: it will be on 10/27/09 at midnight!], but there are a couple of video clips from it on YouTube. Here's one of the clips.

MH: Taping was a blast and Phil [Esquire] is adorable. But I was so, so sick, I was getting over a cold/sore throat and losing my voice earlier that week. So here and there you can hear my voice cracking, 'cause I was really pushing it. I was upset that I couldn't give it 100%.

DGTS: What does "Across the Aisle" refer to?

JP: Well, we really wanted "Color Me Badd" (that's with two Ds, now) but, it was already taken...

Seriously,'s a new take on the political expression. Ordinarily, it refers to the difference between Democrats and Republicans, in that they're so far removed from the other party's interests and ideals that they're almost literally "across the aisle" from one another...yadda yadda... We reinterpret it to mean, quite basically, diverse. When it comes to our backgrounds, ethnicites, orientations, genders, religions, and especially our musical interests and experiences, we're all over the map. So, although we're "across the aisle" from one another, we've come together to make our own music.

It's VERY important to note that when this description is spoken with inflection and told with the use of hand gestures, it doesn't come off the slightest bit pretentious. :-)

DGTS: And how/why did you decide on Kelly green for the band's look/image? (What's it all about?)

JP: I think it was back in summer '07. Megg, our then guitarist Joe, and I were all on the subway. The conversation pretty much broke down like this:

JAY: Megg, what color are your eyes?

MEGG: They're green.

JAY: Mine, too!

JOE: Woah, me too...

ALL Weird.

JAY: We need a band gimmick. Maybe we should all DRESS in green.

MEGG: I like KELLY green.

JAY: Me, too!

JOE: I'm WEARING kelly green!

JAY: Done.

I'm sure I paraphrased. Ultimately, it is, quite simply, a gimmick. Hopefully, we'll be remembered for our music, but if someone should say, "Oh yeah...aren't they that band with the green and stuff..." then we've done some good. And we started with the neckties just this year.

MH: Haha! Yeah, I forgot about that. Nice, Jay! That's totally 'howe' it went down! But seriously, everyone looks good in kelly green!

DGTS: I think I read that you and Megg both have backgrounds in the theater--how does this influence/affect your performing? Do you approach it from the perspective of playing out live or is it more about putting on a dramatic "show"?

JP: You read correctly, sir! Megg and I each have backgrounds in theatre. In fact, that's how we met. In spring of '06, we were in an original rock musical together. Long story short...the show was not the best, though we did get to revive it in concert form at CBGB's, shortly before it closed for good. Megg and I reconnected about a year later, and that's when the band really started to form. In terms of how it affects performing, I'd say we feed of one another's energy alot, and we're very comfortable onstage together. People often think we're a couple!

I don't think it's about putting on a "dramatic show" necessarily, at least not for me. Though it's an awful lot like being in a play, in that everyone has their role, you've rehearsed, and you try to find real moments. We've a few bits of choreography in several of the songs, and we do other other things like call and response and hand claps and whatnot, but they're mostly because we're a bit dorky and think it's fun, not because we want to be dramatic.

MH: Oh man, that musical was a nightmare, but a blessing because I met Jay. We stayed friends and eventually I convinced him to start ATA with me! I honestly can't imagine not having him as my side-kick on vocals, I truly don't feel like I'm the only lead vocalist. We're such a team, I always say we're a two person fronted band! We need him for sure--he's a better singer than me!

DGTS: Which are your favorite ska bands--and which ones have had the most influence on ATA?

JP: Favorites for four: The Specials, The Slackers, The Toasters, and Fishbone.

In terms of influence, I'm sure it's different for everyone in the band. I know Ashray, our bass player, is really into Rancid and Operation Ivy. For Jackie, it's Hall & Oates all the way (can you blame her?). For me, I listen for horn arrangements and vocal harmonies in any and all bands, not even necessarily of the ska variety. Oh, and I love Dance Hall fun.

MH: For me, since high school I got into No Doubt and just had to know who they all were influenced by and what they were listening to. I was so obsessed with their sound and this whole ska scene that I had never heard about. I found out they were friends with Fishbone. Oh, and I got into Spring Heeled Jack, so those three bands since 1995 have really meant a lot to me. I still listen to SHJ's Static World View! It's such a great album. Also it's come full circle, knowing that you worked at Moon Ska Records with them is so crazy to me, I'm just so honored that you're diggin ATA!! Without these three bands there probably wouldn't be an ATA!

DGTS: And who do you like playing with from the NYC ska scene? Is it my imagination, or are there starting to be a ton of ska bands around here again?

JP: NYC ska bands we've played with: The Bluebeats, Royal City Riot, Rudie Crew, Bigger Thomas, The Pilfers, The Toasters...

Yes! There are more popping up everyday. Some are not necessarily ska, but reggae and various sub-genres. Also, since we're not purely a ska band, the fact that we've punk and reggae elements opens us up to line-ups with other bands/artists outside the ska world, as well.

MH: We've also played with The Pilfers and New York Ska Jazz Ensemble. Although they're from Jersey, we've done a few shows with Hub City Stompers (and have upcoming shows with them).

DGTS: What are your thoughts on music file sharing?

JP: I'd be lying if I said I've never done it. In college, especially, everyone and their mother did it. Now that the shoe's on the other foot, I just will not do it. I don't condone it it any way. Bam.

MH: Yes, totally have done it, but I guess I'm on the fence. Now that I'm tryin' to make a living at it, of course I want to make some profit. But I also, at this point in the game, I just want more fans, ya know. I want to spread the ATA sound!! So, if kids hear ATA and want to share it with friends, I say the more the merrier. I want the world to have ATA!

DGTS: Any ATA plans for the coming months that you'd like to share with The Duff Guide to Ska readers?

JP: Two Brooklyn shows in November: Saturday, November 7th @ the new Knitting Factory and Saturday, November 28th @ Trash Bar. Keep checking our sites: MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and for all things ATA!

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According to Phil Esquire, the ATA Checkerboard Kids episode will be airing on MNN Time Warner Cable Channel 34 in NYC at midnight on Tuesday, October 27th. This is viewable live around the world, streaming on

Thanks to Phil, here's an exclusive clip that won't appear on the episode:

And Phil really liked this one...

1 comment:

Steve from Moon said...

Note: The wrong tape was played ('s public access cable!) the night ATA was supposed to be on Checkerboard Kids.

We'll let you know when the next time it is supposed to be aired...

As they say, stay tuned!