The fact that Riverside ska punk troupe Voodoo Glow Skulls are fast approaching their 30th anniversary is something that needs to be swilled around the old noggin for a minute. The explosive nature of the VGS live experience, the undeniably youthful vibe — this isn’t a band that was supposed to carry its members into middle age. Yet here they are, preparing for a 10-date West Coast tour that includes a stop at the Roxy on Friday, Jan. 6. Besides a few wrinkles and sore bones, they’re still the same wild loons once the stage lights are on.
“There’s a lot of stretching going on before the show,” frontman Frank Casillas says. “We’re in a van all day, and it’s important to do that. At the end of the tour, and in fact every night, we're pretty sore. We feel the music, and we try to relay that to the audience and get that reaction back. We still have an old-school, hardcore, audience-participation mentality. We feed off the audience and each other. It wouldn’t be the same if we were just standing there.”
No, that would certainly be weird. This is a band that has retained a strong work ethic throughout three decades together. Offstage, the guys have naturally matured — getting married, having kids, all of the sensible “adulting” stuff — and the fact that the core of the band is brothers (Frank, plus Eddie and Jorge Casillas) adds some longevity glue. (Not that it helped The Kinks or Oasis.)
“It can get a bit testy for some of the other guys in the band — going on tour with three brothers isn’t always easy,” Frank says. “We don’t fight and argue as much as we used to, but there is that sibling thing going on, so sometimes some of the other guys are subjected to it. Most of our arguments are because we’re passionate about what we do, and either somebody screwed up onstage or we’re just critiquing ourselves pretty badly. It’s definitely the secret to our longevity. We’re brothers and we can get over things. Other bands would get into an argument like we do, and the next day it’s over. People are flying home. We just get over it and continue.”
Nowadays, Voodoo Glow Skulls are happy to exist as a veteran, DIY ska-punk band with an impressive history. They relish it, in fact, despite knowing that the chances of any mainstream success at this point are minimal. They had their brush with fame two decades ago.
“We were on Epitaph Records in the mid 1990s to early 2000s,” Frank says. “We ventured into the commercial stuff a bit, with being on a record label that could get you on movie soundtracks and Taco Bell commercials. But even after experiencing that, we’re back to being self-managed — doing everything ourselves, working on our own records and producing them, for at least the last 10 years.”
Fame or no fame, the band isn’t going away in a hurry, much like ska punk itself. The genre ebbs and flows, goes in and out of fashion. but it never disappears — especially here in Southern California where, thanks in part to the glorious cultural diversity that we have on offer, the music is inexorably linked to the region.
“Ska music just has this appeal,” says Frank. “The rhythm and the vibe, the underlying Jamaican music. It has a lot of similarities to Latin music. We’re a product of our environment. Right now, particularly in L.A., there is a very strong Chicano/Latin American underground scene. A lot of these younger bands consider us the godfathers of what they’re doing. We’re been fortunate enough to have people across the music [scene] who have handed the music down, so we have families now at our shows. There are a lot of people that were doing what we’re doing before us. But there will always be an audience for ska.”
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The Roxy isn't the sort of DIY gig they’ve been enjoying of late, but the band jump at the opportunity to play one of the historic Sunset Strip venues when the offer is there.
“It’s always nostalgic playing one of the clubs on the Strip,” Frank says. “You always have a sense of accomplishment when you play these places. We don’t get to play Hollywood as often as we used to. We do it once every other year or so. This is going to be a good show, and give some of the old-school ska fans something to come out to. Hopefully we’ll be able to play a new song or two, although people still like to hear the old stuff so we mix it up.”
With a new record deal sealed with Canadian label Stomp, and more tour and festival dates being nailed down, 2017 will likely see Voodoo Glow Skulls busting their asses, playing one live-wire show after another, and releasing some solid new material — all business as usual for one of Southern California's most reliable, durable bands in any genre.
Voodoo Glow Skulls play with Buck-O-Nine and The Porkers at the Roxy on Friday, Jan. 6. Tickets and more info.