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20 Jul 2016

Ska and Beyond: Spankshaft Throws Rock and Reggae Sounds Into Its Upcoming New Album

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Spankshaft. Spankshaft.

Spankshaft is often labeled as a “ska band.” However, the group, which calls Yucca Valley home, is much more than that.

Brandon Simpson (vocals/guitar), Brent Simpson (bass/vocals) and Russel Waldron (drums) recently sat down to discuss the band’s in-the-works new album, Beasts and Goddesses.

“We started, in March, layering down the drums and guitar sounds, and we’ve almost finished up the bass right now,” Brandon Simpson said. “The first album we recorded (Great Job, released in 2011) was just a collection of songs we had written. We were trying some new things. This one is more like an actual album, where we knew we were going to record a number of songs. It feels more like an album than an EP.”

Beasts and Goddesses will include songs both old and new.

“‘If We Lose Our Heads’ is a really old Spankshaft song. It’s never been properly recorded until now,” Brandon Simpson said. “We have another one called ‘I Was Just Leaving,’ which is a new one. That was written in the studio just from a guitar riff that we had.”

Spankshaft’s music definitely has ska elements, but the members also include a heavy-rock element in their sound. During live performances, it’s not uncommon to hear a cover of the Arctic Monkeys’ “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor,” as well as songs by the Black Keys, Lit, Sublime and many others.

“There are a lot of reggae bands locally, but we are actually trying to be punk/ska. It definitely feels lonely in our genre,” Brandon Simpson said. “But we’re more than punk/ska; we do a lot of other stuff. We sound a little Queens of the Stone Age on some tracks, and Streetlight Manifesto and Blink-182 on others. A lot of ska songs use major keys. … I have a love for minor keys and dissonance, so we have a lot of dissonance ska.”

Waldron said the upcoming album is quite diverse.

“A lot of this album is branching off the ska genre,” Waldron said. “Every time we have a show, people are like, ‘Oh my god! Ska is still around!’ Ska is huge in San Francisco and in Mexicali, or even in Orange County or Los Angeles.

“We’re trying to be not just known as a ska band. Travis Barker from Blink-182 is my main inspiration. … You’re going to hear a lot of influence on that aspect. … Every song is different than the last, and that’s what I really love about it. Each song is different, but it’s still cohesive.”

Reggae is also included on the new album.

“We have some actual reggae jams on this album,” Brent Simpson said. “Russ and I spent a year learning how to do that reggae-feeling thing. Andy from Warsaw Poland Bros. showed me a lot of cool stuff to do on the bass. Everybody loves reggae. We started experimenting with different sounds and tones. For us, it’s really opened us up to anything.”

Waldron compared playing reggae to playing the blues.

“You have to have the soul and the heart, and if you don’t, you’re just going to sound like a fucking tape recorder,” he said. “You have to have that feel. I’ve also added a lot of electronics on my kit. I’m still playing with the octapad and trying to fit that in. Every time we go into the studio, I come out of it a better musician. It’s amazing, because you’re sitting down and dissecting every little part and thing you’re doing.”

Yucca Valley is home to a surprising number of fine musicians. Spankshaft’s saxophonist, Clint Stoker, and trombonist, Scott “Drago” Kisinger were touring with Gene Evaro Jr. at the time of our interview.

“Living in the desert, when you find as great of a group of musicians as we have … it’s easier to keep a group together,” Waldron said. “In a city, people are going to say, ‘Well, I’m going to go play with this band.’ We’re experiencing that right now with our horn-players, but it’s cool, because we still have our core. We’re not going anywhere; we’re still playing shows and sound tight as a three-piece. There’s a lot more patience and loyalty in the desert.”

The band has been together for almost 10 years, and has been through both trying times and great times. Some of the good times have included sharing the stage with bands such as Voodoo Glow Skulls, The English Beat, Unwritten Law, and many others. As for the trying times?

“We’ve been through lineup changes, different horn players, deaths in the family, births in the family and just about everything. I don’t know what else there is left for us to go through,” Brent Simpson said.

Brandon Simpson said Spankshaft will likely go on for quite some time.

“Both Russ and I have the band name tattooed on us,” Brandon Simpson said. “That’s probably the only tattoo I have that I have no regrets or second thoughts about. Russ and I have had conversations about how we’re going to keep doing this band until we’re too told to do it anymore, like the Rolling Stones, just because we like doing it.”

For more information on Spankshaft, visit www.spankshaft.com.

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