Though most bands adhere to a genre — or at least get lumped in somewhere — it seems the overwhelming majority strive to be classified as having their own sound, unique from the others that crowd the road to Xanadu. However few bands achieve that autonomy. Like it or not, they are what they are and fans perceive them as such.
Rochester ska darlings, Mrs. Skannotto has broken free, goosing it's ska with doses of curious exploration beyond the strict parameters of the sound. This perhaps has a few pairs of panties in a bunch but it serves a greater good, i.e. fresh, good music like what the band has burned to tape on its brand new — and seventh overall — CD, "Outlier." The band just finished tearing up stages throughout the U.S. as a supporting act to The Mad Caddies. Around for more than 15 years, Mrs. Skanotto is one of this town's hardest working bands as it moves closer and closer to that coveted, self-titled genre. Dig Mrs. Skannotto as Mrs. Skannotto plays Mrs. Skannotto.
The band — Joe Harmon, singer, Dan Carter, bass, Evan Dobbins, trombone, Mike Frederick, guitar, Justin Lloyd, trumpet, and Alex Bochetto, drums — piled into our City offices like a clown car to discuss ska, and its own evolution therein. Here's what was said.
CITY: "Outlier" is definitely showing a push beyond ska toward a more varied rock sound. Is this Mrs. Skannotto's new direction?
Justin Lloyd: I think it's straying further and further from what people consider a ska band to be. And I think that's a very positive thing for us as a group of musicians. We're really letting our influences take more of a direction. Now, more than ever, we're letting our backgrounds shape where the music is going.
Does that rattle ska fans? Do they let you know?
Joe Harmon: Oh yeah, we meet them on tour all the time, depending on who we're touring with.
But change is good. Adapt or die, right?
Lloyd: All music evolves and pushes forward. But I think ska in particular has needed to reinvent itself a number of times.
Is the genre held back by those who don't reinvent?
Lloyd: No, I don't think so. Every band has its place and if it works for them and their fans, that's awesome. We may not have found what works for our fans best yet, but we make music for us and this is what's exciting to us right now.
Dan Carter: When we're touring, we definitely see fans that don't understand us. They're used to 90's ska and don't understand why we're not doing that. They don't understand ska's roots, they think 90's ska is it.
Alex Bochetto: Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Lloyd: Because without the 90's ska boom anyone who wanted to play some form of Jamaican-derivative music would really be shit out of luck.
Is this a disconnect? Does it translate to problems live?
Mike Frederick: The awkward part for us when we're playing a gig and the hardcore ska fans start to skank to one of our ska sections and it lasts for like 10 seconds. Then we go into another meter and they're like "Come on!" So for them it can be a little frustrating.
Is this evolution in Mrs. Skannotto's a conscious effort or is it happening on its own?
Frederick: It just sort of happened naturally. I think before, when we wrote a song, if it didn't have up-beats on the guitar we would shove some in there. Now it's become more organic. When I joined this band I hadn't listened to a lot of ska, so going out with bands like the Toasters or the Mad Caddies, it just sounded like rock 'n' roll to me, and you don't have to force up-beats into every song.
Give us a tour highlight.
Lloyd: I think this most recent Mad Caddies tour was a highlight for us. It was probably the most enjoyable time I've spent out on the road. Yeah, there was the everyday grind, but being out with the Mad Caddies was a pleasure. The fans were much more receptive — we've never really had a bad reception — but they were expecting music that took really abrupt left turns and did random things, had weird influences. So they were way more receptive to what we were doing. I think we had some of our best shows ever because the energy was there.
Left turns, random things, weird influences; is Mrs. Skannotto moving away from ska?
Lloyd: I would never want to say that we're not a ska band, because we very much are. I think it's more accurate to say we're writing music we want to write and we interpret it through this ska lens, because that's kind of what the band's paradigm is. We're a ska band but we're not trying to write ska songs.