When mutual affection for ska bands like The Specials and Madness brought The Pietasters together at Virginia Tech in 1990, the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind was still a year away. There was no such thing as an mp3, much less an mp3 blog or mp3 player. “When we started, everybody was mailing around Xeroxed fanzines and mixtapes, and there was no pretension about getting a record deal,” lead singer Steve Jackson tells us. “It’s crazy how much things have changed.”
But then record companies caught a whiff of Teen Spirit. “We saw how, when we were with Epitaph [Records] in the late ’90s, that was a direct result of Nirvana making subgenres popular and the marketers jumping on the bandwagon and trying to make ska a big deal, and then swing and garage and everything else,” says Jackson. The Pietasters held strong through the late ’90s ska hype, though, and even as the commercial fad waned, the eight-piece group kept doing what they had always enjoyed doing. “Around 2000, we could have fired the horn players and done a power pop record and tried to stay ‘viable’ or however you want to put it,” Jackson says with a chuckle, “but we managed to keep the band together, and I think we keep putting out good records.”
The Pietasters will get you dancing with ska, soul and plenty of horns at Satellite Ballroom on April 4.
The good karma paid off in 2003, when The Pietasters had the chance to serve as backing band for the late, great James Brown at D.C.’s MCI Center in 2002. “It was amazing,” says Jackson. “It was kind of out of the blue. They brought him in to do a show and he didn’t want to bring his whole band with him. The radio station that was sponsoring it called us and we went in the studio and did some karaoke versions of his songs, and the next thing we knew, James Brown was there in the studio with us, showing us his famous moves.”
|Video of The Pietasters performing.|
What we’re listening to
“I Don’t Want To Know,” by Fleetwood Mac (from Rumours)—Pure, energetic, dripping catchiness laced with handclaps, a light touch of twang and Stevie and Lindsey’s intermingled voices.
“U.R.A. Fever,” by The Kills (from Midnight Boom)—Sounds like Lou Reed’s evil step-children got a bag of Mommy’s prescriptions, bought real tight jeans, tickets to an art opening, some kitsch, and a drum machine.
“All I Really Want To Do,” by Bob Dylan (from Another Side of Bob Dylan)
“Love, Reign O’er Me,” by The Who (from Quadrophenia)
“Cold Joint,” by Royal Trux (from Sweet Sixteen)
How have the Pietasters kept things going for 18 years? By taking it easy, Jackson tells us. While the group used to tour for 11 months out of the year in the ’90s, they’ve now trimmed that back to weekend outings and a few longer jaunts to places like the U.K. and Brazil. The band’s latest album, All Day, a blend of ska and soul tunes, came out in August 2007 on the band’s own Indication Records. “It’s just the next logical step in the evolution of the Pietasters,” says Jackson. “It’s got a nice mix of styles, like all of our records have had, and it just kind of continues on the tradition of playing styles we enjoy listening to.”
What are the band’s crowds like these days? “They’re getting older, like us,” Jackson says. “But there seems to be a bit of a resurgence and a new interest in ska, so there are definitely some younger people that are coming out.” Whatever your age, join in the fun by catching The Pietasters at Satellite Ballroom this Friday, April 4, along with local punk rockers The Stabones, Rude Rock Family and Horn Dawg.
Interesting things are always popping up in Charlottesville, and sometimes in quite unusual places. This weekend hairstylist and musician John Carden will sing jazz tunes at Salon Druknya (where he works) with a backing band of Humberto Sales on guitar, David Sanford on saxophone and Dave Berzonsky on bass. Showtimes are 7pm and 9pm on Saturday, April 5, and 4pm on Sunday, April 6. The following weekend, renowned hip-hop mixtape maestro DJ Drama ( best known for his Gangsta Grillz series) will host an album release party for The PuppetMaster, the new album from H.I.M., The King of Kings (a hip-hop artist who hails from Danville) at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday, April 12. We also found out that local country rockers Sons of Bill have followed the path of their good friends Sparky’s Flaw and are now managed by Coran Capshaw’s Red Light Management. And lastly, we hope you’ve been tuning into WTJU 91.1 FM this week for the station’s Spring Fundraising Marathon. The folk section of the marathon kicked off on March 27 and the rock section runs from April 1 through April 7, with shows ranging from Prince jams to Russian industrial music. Tune in, enjoy and show your support!
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