Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Duff Interview: Sammy Kay of The Forthrights!

Dubbing their ska/reggae sound "garage rocksteady," The Forthrights have quickly established themselves as one of the most vital and compelling acts on the NYC ska scene. As they prepare to head out on the Ska is Dead Young Guns tour in April, The Duff Guide to Ska thought it might be a good time to catch up with/help spread the word (we'll cop to being a big fan of the band!). Forthrights bassist Sammy Kay (Krajkowski) was kind enough to take the time to answer our many, many questions...

Duff Guide to Ska: When I bumped into you recently, you mentioned that The Forthrights have a slew of new vinyl coming out this year. Can you give me any details as to what we should be expecting and when?

Sammy Kay: This year we're gonna have some new vinyl treats for ya, as well as a CD! First off, we're currently repressing Camp Birdman [read The Duff Guide to Ska review of this EP here]! We moved the first pressing, and currently have the next pressing at the plant. It's going to have two variants: 300 silver and 200 gold. We are also going to emboss the art on the sleeve with gold and silver. The art's gonna be a little different too! Camp Birdman is also going to be repressed with new art, and new variants that are undetermined. Both versions are going to limited to 500 each, and all the profits that we make are going to be donated in memory of our friend Mitch Dubey, who recently passed away. Zak Kaplan over at Rogue State Design is going to be doing the art for the last pressing.

We are also planning on doing a few more EPs this year! We tracked a bunch of tunes in Ohio with Vic Ruggiero and Chris Murray this past summer, and we're going to be releasing those over the next year. First up is a summer release, which is going to be two tunes off the unfinished full length, and two cool versions. You will definitely see a collaboration with Maddie Ruthless on one of them, and some remixes and dubs and versions from some cats like Victor Rice and Agent Jay! There will be probably 1,000 of each EP, and will have some cool goodies on the download card! We also tracked about ten Vic Ruggiero tunes while we were there, and Panic State Records is going to be pressing a Vic & The Forthrights 10" or 12" as well! Oh, and a full-length LP and CD from The Forthrights, too! Bean over at Panic State has been nothing short of awesome, and is kinda letting us do whatever we want! Definitely keep your eyes out for summer, fall, and winter releases!

DGTS: Not that I'm complaining--since I love the format--but why has the band opted to release your music almost exclusively on vinyl?

SK: Reggae is meant to be pressed on vinyl. We have chosen to press vinyl for a few reasons. There is the collecting aspect of it, as well as the limited edition aspect. With all of the 45s and EPs, we don't plan to press more than 1,500 maximum. Most are going to be cut off at 1,000. All of the upcoming releases will have download cards, with extra goodies that won't be on a CD or I-and-I-Tunes. Oh, and vinyl's cool...

DGTS: The Forthrights are heading off on the Ska is Dead Young Guns tour this spring--in general, how have you guys been received out on the road--and what are you looking forward to this time out?

SK: I personally am looking forward to catching up with our buds out in the Midwest, as well as getting to see some old friends down South, and out West! We are all really looking forward to playing almost every night, and trying to win over everyone we can! The Vic and Chris Murray tour definitely changed us, and made us realize that this wasn't just a hobby anymore. It definitely made us want to think about making this our career. I think that coming out on our own will definitely be a different ball game. We're going to have to work harder, because people won't be there to see Vic and Chris. We're definitely looking forward to spending some time with our buds in We Are the Union, Stuck Lucky, The Brunt of It, and lookin' forward to catching up with Mark Cooper and the Green Room Rockers! NOLA and Blockparty are gonna be blast! Matt Wixson will be there, which is always a great time! We're going to Texas too, so those shows with Ryan Scroggins and the Bandulus are gonna be great!

DGTS: What have been your best and worst moments on tour?

SK: Well, there are really no worst moments. We're super lucky to be able to do this, so everyday on the road is a blessing. Any day we can say our job is playing our guitars is a good day! Some of the best moments on tour... tough one Mr. Duff! Ann Arbor, Michigan is definitely the best show I can recall on tour. There was not a soul in that room that wasn't moving! It was definitely a moment that I daydreamed about in school! Chicago with Deal's Gone Bad was a great time! Chicago's always been real nice to us! Anytime we get to play with The Slackers or Vic is a great time! One of the standouts for New York shows was definitely when we played with Mr. T-Bone at Slackfest a few years ago. At one point, I looked down the stage, and saw Jack, Matt, Mr T-Bone, Dave Hillyard, and Larry Mac, who is a really great percussion player, who played on all of my favorite records in Kingston in the 60s! That was definitely one of the first "what am I doing here?" moments.

DGTS: So many of The Forthrights' songs are like mood pieces--I'm thinking of cuts like "Nocturne" and "Stay Out Late." They're not really stories, but about being in a specific frame of mind, experiencing a certain emotional reaction. Can you give us any insight as to how the band's songs are put together? What inspires you?

SK: Jack [Wright] writes most of the tunes, lyrically. He usually writes off of specific pictures in his mind. "Nocturne" was written based on a painting he stared at for a few hours (see it here). "Stay Out Late" was written basically because we didn't have any ska in the set, and we were playing with The Toasters later that week. Most of the lyrics, Jack brings to the table. Matt [Burdi] will listen to old records and try to find some cool grooves, and styles we don't know. We tend to write rhythms together in a room, starting with simply a "tough bass line" or a chord progression or melody. Everything else just locks in after the basics are laid out. We try to pay respect to the roots of the music, while doing our own thing. There are tunes that are us listening to a Toots tune, or an Ethiopians tune, Upsetters, Uniques, Wailers, you name it, and us trying to recreate it. Whether it's those crazy Upsetters-style tunes, where they're on one chord for seven bars, and there's a second chord used in a turnaround, or a tune like "The Whip," where the rhythm is just great. We get inspired by the bounce in a Slim Smith tune, the way it just makes you wanna go with the music.

DGTS: There isn't much out there on the internet about The Forthrights' formation. Can you provide us with some background on the band (I think that some of you came from The Pinstripes and others from The Fad, right)?

SK: We found each other on the Craigslist.org "missed connections" page. In all seriousness. Jack posted on Craiglist. Kelly, our old bass player, and Mirhan, our MIA organ player responded. They found Matt at a Slackers show. Jack lost his number, and they ran into each other at another show. Mirhan was going off to college in Europe, and was talking to me about filling the organ player position. I ended up just playing lead guitar, and we forgot about the piano for a while. Kelly left to go back to school in Europe, which led us down a bassie and organ player. We were looking around, and found Jim [Doyle] on the side of the Long Island Expressway with a sign that said "family killed by rastas, need reggae lessons." We picked him up, and he just clicked. I moved to the bass, Jack went to organ/piano, and Matt got to stay on the instrument he knew.

DGTS: How did you get into ska and reggae? What was the first ska/rocksteady/reggae song that blew you away--and the first record you bought?

SK: I personally got into ska and reggae music the classic New Jersey route: Catch 22. My older brother was trying to date a blue/purple/orange manic panic hair dyed girl named Sasha. Seeing I was 11-ish, my brother being 13/14, my father chaperoned us to the local all ages ska show! My life was ruined from then on. My father also had a big part in me loving this music. One of my oldest memories is of me at about five years-old, driving to Seaside Heights in my father's piece-of-shit sky blue Suzuki Samurai Jeep, with the top down, shouting the words "black coat, white shoes, Cadillac, the boy's a time bomb." I also have memories of him putting on WFMU, a NJ-based free form radio station, which on Sundays has a few hours of reggae on. "Reggae Schoolroom" with Jeff Sarge was my first time hearing really straight Jamaican reggae, rocksteady, and ska. I started digging deeper in the history of the music around 13, 14 years-old. "John Jones" was a big tune that I remember figuring out the early reggae guitar chop to, Desmond Dekker, Justin Hinds, and Derrick Morgan were definitely important figures, as well as the NYC scene, interpreting Jamaican ska. The Slackers version of "Mellow Mood", Stubborn All-stars, King Django Band, The Radiation Kings, Cold Spot 8, and the Crazy Baldhead first record, definitely helped me understand that there were many people still playing traditional Jamaican ska, reggae, and rocksteady.

DGTS: What ska/reggae bands are you listening to now? Who are a few of your favorite all time acts?

SK: Modern: Ryan Scroggins just finished two records, they're fucking phenomenal. Bandulus' Ska, Reggae and Soul is getting played a lot. Green Room Rockers' new record is great! The Crazy Baldhead record at Whatevski is great! The Prizefighters' new record is cool! Looking forward to seeing them!

Modern/non-ska: Justin Townes Earle just put out a great record called Harlem River Blues; The Gaslight Anthem's American Slang gets a lot of plays; LA's newest mod/soul band, Suedehead just put out a great EP! It features Dave Warsop from the Beat Union singing and Corey Kingston from The Aggrolites on the drums!

All time favorite acts...Toots. Toots. Toots Toots. Always. Been tearing through The Wailers with Lee Perry, as well as at Studio One years, Justin Hinds and his Dominoes, Alton Ellis, and The Oneders, straight from Erie, PA!

DGTS: The Forthrights are one of the key bands on the Brooklyn rocksteady scene, which is centered around gigs at The Lake in Bushwick. While the shows there are doing really well, it's still a pretty "off the radar" thing. Do you think the NYC ska scene will ever emerge from the underground again? (And is that even something to wish for?)

SK: Whatever happens, happens. I am not looking to get rich, or even famous. We are all just grateful to have a great place like The Lake, and have a great crew coming out for everything possible.

DGTS: What else should we expect from The Forthrights this year?

SK: Strikkly big tunes, a terrible break up, a reunion show, and reunion tour. Repeat when necessary.

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The Forthrights' Vinyl Discography (to date)

- "Other People" b/w King Django & The Forthrights "Anywhere I Roam" 7" single (Stubborn Records, 2009)

- Vic Ruggiero & Maddie Ruthless "Policeman" b/w The Forthrights "Carla" 7" single (Ska is Dead/Asbestos Records/Underground Communique Records, 2010)

- Camp Birdman 7" EP (Panic State Records, 2011)

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