Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Interview with Smoke Like A Fish

Interview by Gabe

Do The Dog Music is the UK's longest running and leading label putting out ska and reggae music. They have a rich history of bands breaking new ground with their sound and influence. This interview with Smoke Like A Fish kicks off a series of interviews we are doing with bands on the Do The Dog Music label. We will be talking with these bands about the history of the UK music scene, where it's going and more.

Formed in 1994 SLAF built up a strong following gigging around mid Wales. They are one of the longest running bands in the current UK ska scene, they have been through a lot, and seen a lot. We talked to vocalist/guitarist Tran, here is what he had to say...

What is
SLAF up to at the moment?

We've played dates up until August and now we've stopped for a wee while till December. Hopefully using the time to rehearse up new material for the new album without the pressures of gigging. We've just recently (well 9 months ago now) released 4 new tracks on our myspace site, which we've called the ..My Space EP.. Myself and ND the keyboard player who has sadly just recently left, have been involved in producing 3 Minute Warning's new album ..Scooters Loose Change.. released shortly on Megalith. .

How did SLAF come together as a band?

Here in our hometown of Newtown we had been quite lucky (not so now) to have secured some pretty cool rehearsal space for bands. After a cock up between the social services and education departments on who owned the building, we got left to do our own thing with a fairly large building, an old canteen for the old Boys school in the 60's which was known as the Canteen.It became a hangout where most of us sort of stayed for many years. It was a big social scene, not just the bands that rehearsed there but with loads more people who all became part of the scene. Although 50% of all non-band people at first would end up trying to form a band.

SLAF came together from 2 of the bands that used to play there ..Thou Subversives ltd.. and ..Cucumber Fusion.. The Subversives played big guitar punk with elements of reggae and Ska, as did Cucumber Fusion. Although both bands sounded very different.

What is your approach to writing music? What are your influences?

I write most of our stuff, but everyone has their input and will bring their thing to the songs. A couple of others write or co write with myself to make up the rest. Those often being the best ones. I personally seem to write stuff not in any particular order. It could be a riff, a whole tune, lyric, a rhythm or an idea or sentiment for the overall thing. Then gradually stick all the bits together in no particular order, just as it comes. I suppose we all have our influences, and inspirations.

Although if any seem obvious it's not a conscious thing, it's just what we do. I suppose as a band that plays Ska we will always be compared to certain others, which in some cases will probably be the case. I know when we first started, from an arrangement perspective anyway, the way in which the keyboards and the 2 guitars work on the first Selector album ..Too much Pressure.. ended up being a loose blueprint. And seeing the effect of being a Ska band with horns when we first supported Bad Manners was another eye opener too. But not really in the way we wrote, looked or the sentiment that the band was all about.

The band started just as much a punk band, as it was a Ska band. Although after originally going from late 93 and then splitting up around 96, it was really strange to come back around 2000 trying to get gigs describing ourselves as a Skapunk band. Which by then was an all together different genre that wasn't us either. The whole Two-Tone tag that we get is probably the easiest way to get an initial explanation. Although wide of the mark on a lot of other points. But the Two-Tone thing at first was all faster paced Ska, a mash up of the Jamaican Ska beat, but in a punk style. And that's what we started off trying to achieve.

We wanted to use the most danceable beat of Ska, but also a more aggressive and sinister side, especially at the start. And of course most bands will aspire to have the monumental gigs fuelled by a turbo charged energy that the Specials generated live. Also loads of other stuff probably affected things, from the Clash, SLF to the Subhumans.

What is your view of the U.K Ska and reggae scene? What changes have you noticed over the years?

We seem to operate in a circle of bands that touch on all the different sides of what would be termed Ska in a general sense. Like a Ska scene within the Ska scene. It's almost like a little family thing, which is really good. There seems no backbiting or bullshit. Most gigs that we all do together, whoever gets the headline spot is the bum rap, as it means staying sober enough to play without letting your hair down to some of your fav bands. That's the other thing about it to, well for me personally anyway, but I know it's true for a lot of the others.

But most of the music we listen to at home and in the van are the bands we play with. Albums by 3 Min Warning, the Catch it Kebabs, Splitters, Too Hot, the Big, Rebelation, Newtown Kings, Skalinskis, Cracked Actors to name a few, some of the finest music ever made in my opinion. All with a different take on the Ska angle, but first and foremost just really good bands with great songs. We hold our own Kippertronix fest every year and it becomes a really good knees up for all of the bands and for all the familiar faces that we see up and down the country throughout the year.

On a larger scale, one of things I have noticed is that there is a big resurgence in the more traditional side of Ska. A lot of the UK bands that popped up following the American Ska punk explosion a few years back seem to have formed new bands in the more trad vein. And of course there is still the demand for the older bigger bands, like Bad Manners, the Beat. And again the originators like Prince Buster, Symarip, etc. all draw large crowds.

Festivals like ..Skasplash.. capture all these different forms of Ska..ness, showing a large overall following without any current mainstream success. Which is interesting since especially the more original forms of Ska are used on advertising, films and countless other stuff for mass consumption. It's funny but you can get an indie band that can be quite successful and maybe have a song that touches on Ska. And that will be seen as some big breakthrough to a Ska scene grateful for exposure. Yet the Ska bands will never be hip enough to ever have main stream success over here. But mainstream success is not needed, because there are always enough people to keep the whole thing going in all its different forms. And of course it makes it all more genuine.

What advice would you give to younger musicians today playing Jamaican influenced music?

Ha, ha advice. Well apart from don't have a brass section, because they're the ones that always leave. I reckon the most important thing is the groove of the band. That little something that means whatever you do it has that little bit of magic that makes people dance. Maybe more non Ska cynical muzos would say that it's just an off beat, but it's that little groove where the offbeat is not strictly all on the exact same time that creates the roll.

Tran, on behalf of those good people from Smoke Like A Fish


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