Once upon a time, I was a ska-hungry college student. I ate up as much of the stuff as I could, both skanking to old Bluebeat and jumping around at 3rd Wave ska-fests at the Abyss or Fitz. Over time, though, my tastes changed, and more and more of what I heard from American ska bands just plain bored me; it felt like it was all just the same old song. There were exceptions, sure -- The Suspects, The Scofflaws, and pretty much anything from the U.K. beyond Bad Manners (I've never been able to get past Buster Bloodvessel, I'm afraid) -- but I didn't like most of what I heard, even from stalwarts Moon Records.
So, with that in mind, I picked up The Adjusters' second album, Before The Revolution, with some trepidation, fearing that I might be in for yet another dose of Reel Big Fish-esque ska-junk. Within the first fifteen seconds of "Special Prosecutor," though, I'd forgotten about all that -- what I got instead was beautiful, jazzy horns, coupled with excellent Motown-style vocals, thoughtful, provocative lyrics, and a stylistic mishmash of ska, R&B, and reggae (with a bit of dub thrown in for good measure). By the time the CD made it to the soul-style love song "Number Three" (the third track), I was completely hooked; this was definitely not just more of the same.
Two years on down the road, The Adjusters have a third album in the works (their first, The Politics of Style, is also still available, by the way), so I cornered guitarist Jason Packer and threw him a few questions about the band, the music, and the politics, and he was kind enough to answer.
SCR: How did the soul/ska combination fall together? Can you give us a bit of history of the band?
J: We started playing together in the fall of 1995, while we were in college at the University of Chicago. There was always the intention of playing soul and ska, we started out with more ska (some of it pretty fast and bad-sounding), but we've been continually adding more soul and reggae. We played our first show outside the University in the summer of '96 for our first release on Jump Up's American Skathic 4. We put out our first 7" later than year, our first LP (on Jump Up records) in spring of '97, our second in summer '98 (on Moon Records), and hopefully our third in fall of '00 (also to be released on Moon).
What kind of reaction have you gotten over the years? The reason I'm asking is because you've almost carved yourselves a unique little niche in modern ska -- there are only a few other bands that I've heard that do what you do (The Pietasters come close at times); do the trad-ska and ska-punk kids out there relate, generally?
We've had pretty good reactions from fans, for the most part. Our shows are almost always very well-received. As far as the records, we've gotten lots of good reviews of both CDs, especially the second one. There are a fair number of people that disagree with our politics, or simply the fact that we're political, but that doesn't upset or deter us very much. It is suprising though how receptive an audience of ska-punkers can be to us if they let themselves -- we play very accessible music, I think, especially if you know a little of what to expect from us; most anyone can enjoy it.
No bad responses at shows (fights and whatnot) to the political stuff, I'd hope? Any interesting discussions, or is it mostly just people coming up to you and telling you "hey, man, you're wrong"?
We've definitely had our share of political confrontations with various people, but it doesn't usually happen at shows. People tend to be more willing to write bad things about our politics rather than come up to us to discuss their views. I'm not saying that a show is necessarily the best venue for that -- it is still a rock and roll show rather than a political rally -- but being at a show doesn't preclude that. We're up for dialogue. People just yelling at us or whatever just doesn't do much for either party. Plus, writing bad -- and largely inaccurate, I might add -- things about us is just lame.
The Adjusters -- firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.theadjusters.com/
Moon Records -- http://www.moonska.com/
Democratic Socialists of America -- http://www.dsausa.org/
International Union of Socialist Youth -- http://www.iusy.org/
Working Families Party -- http://www.workingfamiliesparty.org/
Photos #1-3 by Andrea Sims.
What's the new album going to be like? Is it going to lean more towards one aspect of Before The Revolution (i.e., soul, ska) than the other?
The new album is going to take a lot of similar stylistic influences as our older stuff, but in many ways it'll be much different. There are some songs (mostly reggae) that are very similar to stuff we did on Before the Revolution, but we're also introducing a lot of electronic styles that we haven't really touched on before. There will be one or two songs that are ska-based, but nothing really in the '60s soul style that we've done before.
Electronic styles? Uh...like what? Are you guys going Kraftwerk, here? No more James Brown soul jams? (Damn, I liked those...)
No Kraftwerk; think Portishead, Massive Attack, or Lionrock. Not focusing on the electronic sounds, just doing some electronic beat work and lots of sampling and cut & pasting; going further with the kind of stuff on "Loose Roots" from the last album. Unfortunately, there aren't going to be any Wilson Pickett covers on this album, sorry. We like them, too; it just sort of worked out that there weren't any.
Ah, okay. "Loose Roots" struck me as being very dub-sounding; more of that'll definitely be interesting, I think. Haven't ever heard Lionrock, but I dearly love Portishead and Massive Attack, myself -- I wouldn't have pegged you guys as fans of that sort of thing, though...
There'll definitely be a lot of dub work. It is going to be produced by Victor Rice, after all, and he's great with that stuff. I was specifically referring to the sampling work done on that track, or on "The Fightback Pt. 1" (yes, there will be a Pt. 2) -- just taken a step further, really. We're definitely into (most of us, at least) trip-hop and that kind of stuff. You should check out Battlestar (http://www.mp3.com/bstar) to hear Oscar's other band. And I'm sure you've heard the Lionrock song, "Rude Boy Rock"; it was everywhere about a year or so ago. It features a pretty prominent Skatalites sample.
Really? I must've missed it; down here in Houston we're pretty much stuck with mostly the usual "alternative rock" radio, so I think we miss out on a lot of good stuff. What I've heard of Battlestar is pretty cool, actually; do you guys all do stuff other than The Adjusters, or...?
Not really; some people are involved in other projects, but Battlestar is the only one that you can hear anything recorded from...yet.
So, when's the new album due out? What plans do you guys have after that?
Well, we don't have an official release date set yet, so I hesitate to give specifics, but I'm hoping to see it in September [ed. note: that's September 2000]. It's been a much different workflow than [with what] we've done before, with much more post-production work, lot of different musicians, and a different writing process. We've never taken this long to do a record, either; both of our earlier releases were completed in under six months (well under that, I think, for the first one). We'll have been at this one for almost a year by the time it comes out.
Why has this recording been different, just out of curiosity?
For a few different reasons. First, we wanted to do something a little different, rather than just trying to capture a live sound on tape. Also, we don't all live in the same city anymore, so spending months all together before recording writing material, then spending weeks together in the studio was pretty much impossible. So, a lot of tracks were done piecemeal, with the rhythm tracks based on work we all did together at Version City last September and October, and overdubs being done in a few different places at different times.
How much of a role does politics play in the music? Are the band members very involved politically?
Politics obviously play a pretty large role in our music -- just listening to the lyrics or reading the liner notes can tell you that -- but we try to take things further than just talk by actively working for the ideas that we espouse. The political organization that we've had the biggest connection with over the years is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Daraka (our lead singer) being the chief organizer for their youth section -- the Young Democratic Socialists. Oscar (drums and production) works for the Working Families Party in New York, and we're also associated with the International Union of Socialist Youth and the Modern Action Club.
Hmm...I'm afraid I'm not familiar with most of those; what does the DSA, in particular, do? If you'd rather not get into that, that's okay -- I'm just interested in what you guys do in the day-to-day workings and all that. How did you get involved?
The DSA is the largest socialist organization in the U.S., so they are involved in quite a lot of different actions, campaigns, and the like. Daraka has been involved in the DSA for quite a long time (as has Oscar), so that's how many of the rest of us got involved with the DSA. You could also check out http://www.dsausa.org, http://www.iusy.org, and http://www.workingfamiliesparty.org/. It's probably more efficacious than me paraphrasing.
Any advice to kids who want to get involved?
Don't go it alone! Wherever you happen to be, find people and actions that you can get involved with locally and go from there. The important thing is to get actively involved, sitting at home ruminating about social change doesn't get anybody anywhere. END