Now That You Know Better
by Julio Diaz
It's plain to see that this is a hard time to be in a ska band. The talented Long Island band Edna's Goldfish came to St. Pete recently -- along with tourmates Slow Gherkinand the Stereo -- and a mere handful of people showed up. Why? You can name any number of excuses -- bad weather, weeknight show, a horribly ignorant and needlessly insulting blurb in the local "alternative" newspaper, Weekly Planet (which ably demonstrated the writer's complete ignorance of the band's music) -- but the bottom line is that now that ska's no longer trendy, it's an uphill battle to get anyone to listen to a new ska band. In short, it's a perfect time to be Edna's Goldfish.
Confused? You wouldn't be if you'd seen the band live, or picked up one of their records. You see, Edna's Goldfish are at the forefront of an exciting new wave of ska bands, one that takes its cues not only from the rich history of ska music, but from other, diverse musical and social influences. I don't want to go too far into describing the "new movement," as the band calls it -- lead singer Brian Diaz (no relation to yours truly) and trumpet player David A. Galea do so much more eloquently than I -- but suffice to say, Edna's Goldfish are a welcome shot in the arm, and fresh sounds like theirs can only help bring ska to new heights.
The by-now infamous quote about Bruce Springsteen and the future of rock n' roll certainly comes to mind. Are Edna's Goldfish the future of ska? Read on, and don't be surpised if you find that the answer is yes...
Where did the name Edna's Goldfish come from?
Brian Diaz : Well, to be honest with you, this band was a different style band before I joined it. It was the name that they had, and I never got rid of it. Unfortunately, it causes me great pain, including what they had to say about us in the... Weekly Planet , is it? They had a few things to say about, "oh, silly ska band with silly name," so... I know it sucks, and I don't know where it came from, so [laughs] we're not even gonna bother with it.
Does anybody remember?
Brian : Nah. I might be the most original member -- even though I'm not an original member, there really aren't any original members [left] in the band, except -- if you want to take it back to when we started playing ska, like straight up. Now we've sort of progressed again, but when we started playing ska, I was in the band, and I had no idea where the name came from. I don't think anyone else does. We just make up stories. [laughs] We make up all kinds of different stories, like for the West Coast, we'll say "oh, it's two nonsense words put together that sounded right, so we just kept it." Kind of like Slow Gherkin does.
Last time you were here (on the Independent's Day package tour with the Toasters, Slow Gherkin, and the Skoidats), the crowd was pretty hostile, for no real apparent reason, but I was really impressed at the way you guys kept up your enthusiasm, and put on such a great show. How do your enthusiasm in the face of something like that, or in the face of something like tonight, when there aren't many people here?
Brian : Honestly, we knew, specifically, why the crowds were like that on that entire tour. We were one of two bands on the tour that didn't fit the sort of traditional-to-third wave kind of stuff that may attract more of a skinhead crowd, or whatever. There were a few skinheads here that didn't really give us a problem, there was a couple of people that were a little more vocal about how they felt about us. By the end of the tour, it was happening pretty much in every city. You just forget about it, you overlook it. You can poke fun at it without actually pointing anybody specifically out -- even though I did, a couple of times [laughs]. Like there was some dude with braids, and I said something about being "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)," or something like that [laughs], but I don't think he caught that, thank god, because I know he would've pummeled me later.
I remember David yelling out "I bet we sell more CD's than you."
Brian : It gets rough, but...
David A. Galea : We actually sold a lot of CDs!
Brian : Yeah, I don't understand this tonight. Even though this guy was a little belligerent, there were people there that liked us, and where are you now? [laughs] But I mean, whatever, it doesn't matter. It's a little disheartening if you're in the middle of the third week of a tour, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a show like this happens, and it's like... Bad things have happened today, already, and...
David : It's happened to us like every other day. Like last night was a really good show, in Orlando at D.I.Y. Records.
Brian : Like, a show like that happens, and it's like "cool, hopefully tomorrow night, in a place that's a little bigger..." If that many kids showed up, it would have been a small show, but it would have been a little more... having just come from the Midwest, where kids drive three and four hours just to see a show, I mean, we're not that far from Orlando, and I know a kid's not going to drive out here [to St. Pete], but it's weird.
We're spoiled here.
Brian : Yeah, it's like New York.
Do you want to talk about the bad things that have happened today?
Brian : We lost a bass. We went back to the place we played last night this morning, and it was gone. It kind of sucks, because I mean [holds up loaner 4-string bass from one of the other bands on the tour] this is alright, but our bass player plays on a 5-string, so he had to kind of adjust, to do this. We had to cut a couple of songs, and he can't physically play [on a 4-string]. It was a brand new bass -- he hadn't even finished paying it off yet -- and now he has to go buy another one.
David : $1500 bass.
Brian : He had about $300 left on it. He's our new bass player, too, which is even worse. He's so upset. I've never seen him sad before. It's kind of upsetting, because [normally] he's a bundle of joy. He's Baldwin, our little bundle of joy. [laughs] It's not a money-making venture, at this point.
I was checking out your Web site (http://www.ednasgoldfish.com), and on the site you talk a lot about what you perceive as a "new movement in ska." Can you tell me a little about the movement?
Brian : I think it's more like... I don't want to say it's bands that are straying away from playing straight-up ska, but it's more like bands that are incorporating more, like, rock influences. As long as you can still move to the music, it's just good music. It doesn't have to be necessarily labeled "ska," or be that specific about it. I think a lot of the bands, like ourselves, or like Animal Chin were doing it, Slow Gherkin's doing it, bands like the Pilfers, Siren Six!, they're all throwing that other edge into the music, which brings it a little bit away from straight-up ska music. That's what I feel is the "new movement," that's like the next thing. Whether or not it's being well-received right now, it will be one day.
David : I think this tour is a great example. There's a purposefully rock band on it [the Stereo] that has absolutely no elements of ska whatsoever. I think it was a lot better received in the Midwest, because that's where they're from.
Brian : It's been well-received everywhere, people kind of give us, "The Stereo was awesome, but they're not ska." Obviously not. I think another part of that whole movement of bands is associating yourselves with bands outside of the ska scene. Just straight up rockin' bands, bands that are writing good songs, and you just want to play with them. Like, I have no qualms with going out on tour with a band that's not a ska band. We've done the ska tours, and they're a lot of fun, but we want something else, too. We want to reach a different audience.
If this was the same tour we were doing before, when it was us, Slow Gherkin, the Toasters, and instead of the Skoidats they had the Stereo playing, they definitely would not have been well-received. There's a specific crowd that wants to go see that genre, that style of music...
It seems like there's very few non-ska bands that can fit in on that kind of tour. Like if it was the Amazing Crowns, or Dropkick Murphys, they'd probably be accepted.
David : Any band that has that kind of press in the ska movement, [the crowds] don't care [if they're on the bill]. The Stereo kind of has that, and I don't think they want that. If they do, then they will be well-received, but if not, then they won't.
Brian : Any press is good for anybody. I mean, any press is good, unless it's the Weekly Planet [laughs]. I have nothing but bad things to say about you guys, believe me! No, I mean the Stereo, especially, gets a lot of this press, especially coming from their background -- one guy from the Impossibles, one guy from Animal Chin -- you're definitely going to get those kids that are expecting to hear like "Animal Chin 2." I think what you're getting overall, with them, is rock, it's straight-up. But that's what the new movement is, it's associating yourself with something outside of that, breaking out of the pigeon-holing of genres.
Along those same lines, you were discussing how you're not just influenced by ska bands, but you have a lot of influence from bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, or Fugazi. Where do those influences come in?
Brian : I don't think it's immediately apparent. Obviously, we still sound like a rockin' ska band with horns. But I think that from listening to that kind of music, you sort of learn from that, you throw a little of that edge in there, where maybe some other band would be like "well, we can just play 1-4-5 upbeats, and throw some horn lines in, and sing about beer and girls, and there's your ska band." It's been done already. Some people did it well, some people did it poorly, and I want something different.
I think you can definitely hear the Sunny Day influence in your lyrics.
Brian : Well, yeah, I guess. It's not like... I want to write about something personal, not something like...
David : It's interesting when people ask, like, "what are your influences?" It's more like, I don't know, "I broke up with a girl," or "I read this book that really affected me." It's so funny, if you go up to every band on this tour, the CD collections are all the same. We all like Sunny Day Real Estate, we all like Blur...
Brian : I don't like that stuff, man, what are you talking about? [laughs]
David : Of course, we all like the Specials and we all like the Toasters, you know.
Brian : Yeah, that's another thing. On this tour, some of us are a little older. The average ska band is mostly like kids. To them it's like ska -- that's it. There's definitely a time that I was like that. I was 16, 17, and I was like, all ska, all the time, that's it. But then, you know, you start listening to everything, and I think the common thread that holds everybody together is that we all were that [kid] at one point. We were all like "this is what I wanna do now, I wanna be in a ska band." That's what the common thread is, but the influences are just so wide and so varied.
I really think everybody goes through a period of time, like anyone who's a music lover now, if you just love all types of music, you definitely go through one period of your life where you're stuck on one style or one genre. Eventually, you open up to everything, and now we're all the bands that, sometimes, we're playing for the crowd of people who are stuck in that one thing, and you want to break them out of that. I think maybe seeing bands like us, maybe that might help a little. Maybe people don't want to break out of that, that's why they aren't coming [out tonight]. [laughs]
David : I actually look, especially in the Midwest, to see if there's a different [type of] kid, and in the Midwest, there was totally different kids, and as we got to the east coast, it happened -- it's like all ska.
Is that what you find back home?
David : At home we're a really big band, so you kind of get a cross-section. You get the totally regular kids, and the punk kids, and the ska kids...
Brian : You get the kids that are like "this is a local band that we should see," then you get like the die-hard ska kids, and the kids who like Less Than Jake, and are into punk, and they come to see us.
David : People ask us about our "sound" -- we just recorded a new record -- and I still think we don't have a "sound," yet. We will, eventually, but we're still getting there. As you go on, every record... I'll swear to god, right now, we'll never make two records that will sound the same.
Brian : You can tell it's us, but it's like the more mature us.
Then, going back to what you were saying about the "new movement," would you say that there's not really a "sound" that would define this movement?
Brian : No. Once again, it's not the similarity in the sounds, it's more the attitude you take towards what you're doing. Instead of going into the studio and saying, "alright, we've gotta record a 'ska' song, because we're a 'ska' band" -- no. You start with that base, because that's where you're coming from, but you sort of build on that, however you choose to do it. You know, like the Pilfers, they kind of throw a little hardcore, heaviness into their music, dancehall, whatever, that's their thing. We do a little more like pop, poppier rock kind of stuff, similar to Slow Gherkin...
David : I think it's also what influence it all goes back to. If you talk to the guitar players from the Pilfers, Slow Gherkin, Siren Six!, and us, they'd all mention Elvis Costello.
I know you guys are really committed to playing all-ages shows, and I know you've had a lot of success with that in Long Island...
Brian : Where we're from, there's no other options. Even if we wanted to be a "21-and-over" band, we'd get so much crap for it. I don't think it's fair to be like, "oh, you're not 18, or you're not 21, you can't go see a band that's playing." That's just my whole take on that. There should never be any age where you have to say "I'm old enough to see a band." That's stupid. We haven't played [a non-all-ages show] this whole tour.
David : I've turned down like 2 or 3 shows where we could have probably got more money...
Brian : It's not about the money, it's your principals. I know that if I was a 16 year old kid in some town, and I wanted to see us, and I show up at this place and it's 18-and-over, I'd be pissed, and I'd probably be like "I'm not going to see these guys, these guys obviously don't give a shit about their fans." That's why I would never do that.
Is it something that you can really successfully do on tour, or are there some times when you just have to eat?
David : In our history, we've done maybe 5, out of about 300 shows.
Brian : Sometimes you have to do it, sometimes it comes down to you need a date to fill, you've got a 12-hour drive between, you just have to do it, or it's a college town -- sometimes college towns are a little weird like that. Even on Long Island, when we did a college, it was like us, the [Mighty Mighty] Bosstones, and the Pilfers, and 150 people showed up. It was basically age restricted in that it was only open to college students of that college, and it was a free show. This was like 3 months ago. Kids would show up, and they were like, "no, you can't come in." We don't associate ourselves with shows like that, because that only makes people talk like "those guys did this, and that." We didn't do it on purpose. I mean, who would turn down a show with the Bosstones?
Do you think it benefited you to start out on [Moon Ska Records' budget-priced "new artist" subsidiary] Ska Satellite?
David : Yes and no. Yes, because we sold a lot more records, and it made us look like we came out of nowhere. No, because of the cost of the CDs, we got no promotion, which shows at shows like this. People still don't know who we are. We can sell out [a venue] in New York, and then we come down here...
Brian : We sold almost 10,000 records, and it's still like, "who did we sell them to?" But it was good, because we had no other options at the time. The only label willing to take a chance on us was Moon, with Ska Satellite. Towards the end, we started getting treated like -- well, now we're on Moon, but even before that -- we were getting treated like a Moon band. Whenever we needed this or that, Moon was there. Some of the straight-up Moon bands weren't doing anything, they were inactive, or they would put out a record and not tour. They saw we had a lot of heart, a lot of spunk.
Are you excited about the move to Moon proper?
Brian : Yeah, it's cool, it's definitely a cool jump. I mean, we got a little more money, a little more promotion. It's definitely cool, because last time a lot of the money, especially for the recording, came out of our pockets. But now we're on Moon, and there's definitely more options, just with the publicity of doing it. It's definitely better.
What can you tell us about the new album?
Brian : It's not a departure, but it's definitely a growth from what we were leaning towards on the last album. It's a little more rockin'. We just had a good time making it/ Hopefully, people look at it as a better album. You never know, second albums are important for a band, especially if your first album is well-received, which ours was. Hopefully, you can look at this one as sort of a growth.
Edna's Goldfish's new album, The Elements of Transition , is in stores now.