The Slackers Annual NYC and Boston Cruises August 12th and August 13th
Plus Fall Tour Dates in Europe and US
NYC rocksteady veterans – while leading the 1990’s 3rd wave of ska with NYC brothers Toasters, Scofflaws, Skinnerbox (Jeff Baker aka King Django) and LA’s Hepcat and DC’s Pietasters – have flourished for three decades and continue to release sensational sonic salvation for those seeking. Unfortunately, lumping them with other 3rd Wave novelties comprised of college nerds sporting plaid suitcoats and argyle shorts, blasting horns which simply echoed the simple and choppy guitar riffs complaining about goiters and acne eschews the genuine and ardent commitment to roots, rocksteady, and ska. The Slackers wrote timeless albums meandering through ska, reggae, roots, rocksteady, NOLA jazz, boogie, and early R ‘n’ B (which spawned Jamaican ska anyway). Experimenting with various influences and singing about adult complexities of relationships, police, politicians, and unemployment’s entropy.
This year’s offering from the boys is Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool Ya, on Pirates Press. Dave Hillyard answered the phone ready to chat. Talking about any recorded in the previous two years has to plan to involve Covid -19. The pandemic certainly shaped an eager album from this sextet. In their tenure, The Slackers are known for engaging, fun live shows which are globally perpetuated by this relentless troupe. In late 2021, Slackers were touring the Midwest, the Pacific NW, and California in November; East Coast in December.
Hillyard notes, “All the shows were vaxxed and masked. It was stressful; just trying to get past the PTSD. It’s different now, to look out and see people’s faces. But we pulled off 25 shows in two months. We finished in New York and Boston just as omicron was coming in. The week after we finished everything was closed again.” Personally, Hillyard did his job, but had to be safe at all costs. “I got off stage and didn’t mingle. I told people if they came to a show, it would not be a social one.”
As 2022 began, by March, Hillyard did shows with Void Union featuring Riki Rocksteady in New England. The Slackers were back at it in May. They played NC, VA, ATL, Central Canada, then the southwest US; Texas to LA. Even now, as they prep for their annual August Cruise shows which launch out of NYC and Boston, vocalist/organist Vic Ruggiero has August shows (with Kepi Ghoulie of Groovie Ghoulies and B-Face of The Queers) coming up in August 17th – 20th in CT, NH, RI and NY.
Hillyard sums up the motivation. “Live shows. That’s where we really exist.” But Covid certainly illuminated certain realities. “We’re obviously middle aged. As we get older, it will be harder to keep up the touring pace. Hopefully, we can do 50 or 60 shows a year. But I don’t know if it’s ever going to be able to be the 100 a year. Clubs are alternating between shutting down and then overbooked, conversely. People are piled up at shows. It’s chaotic out there.”
In June of last year, to spiritually survive, Hillyard and the crew – Ruggeiro, Agent Jay (Nugent), Ara Babajin, Marcus Geard, Glen Pine; also on the record: Simon Chardiet, Larry McDonald, Rich Graiko, Tommy Mattioli, Marc Critelli – found ways to exorcise the cabin fever. Hillyard exposes, “We were doing live sets at private parties; spring 2021 was spent setting up speakers in different locations: backyards, roofs, cars. We wanted to play and were just being creative.”
Before those were options, The Slackers’ tenacity manifested through technology. The band found themselves doing live streams during Covid. Hillyard easily confesses, “Music is important and to keep making music is important. To keep it alive instead of going into a hibernation state for two years, we needed to make music and people wanted to hear music as well. (The livestream) was a way to do both of those. We found ways to do it safely. Our sound man has a house in Jersey. So, we could be in different rooms before we were vaccinated. It was stressful whenever we got together. We could not be interactive.”
Hillyard reports having about 18 full songs, of which, 12 became Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool Ya. Mark Critelli (baritone sax, percussion) engineered the sessions. Hillyard also credits Agent Jay, Ruggiero, Mitch Rackin, and Vic Axelrod with mixing some tracks each. They “worked it into the assembly line,” he jokes.
Any longtime Slackers fan will notice the usual jaunt through tracks infusing varied influences. But the adherence to ska and rocksteady stands strong on Sunshine. The first four songs, including the title track, prove this. Then, the fifth track, “They Are Losing”, captures a smoky atmosphere with a Spanish flare and tempo. Fans will also notice brevity in favor of indulgence. Tracks are shorter, concise. Hillyard says, “That’s just where people’s brains were at. The LP format was the thing we are aiming at. We had 18 tracks, but we had to fit into 40 minutes. So, we had to decide what works as a collection. We have strong hooks. We all have grown up listening to AM Radio and the singles format, like a 45 single.” The aforementioned “They Are Losing” sits at 4:44, but most songs dive into the music quickly, do the job, and get out within two or three minutes.
Ruggiero’s reflective and sullen voice supported by Hillyard’s seductive guitars and Geard’s bass lines, captures the usual introspective character of Slackers’ albums. The layered percussive rhythms and flowing horn lines embrace all strengths of roots and reggae. “Boogie Nowhere” is obviously a nod to boogie. “Second Best” is loaded with horns. “Time Won’t Save You” and “Ways of a Woman” deliver the reggae groove. “Nobody’s Listening” is an upbeat rocker.
Notably, The Slackers’ debut, Better Late than Never, was on Moon. Along with Hepcat, they made the jump to Brett Gurewitz’s and Tim Armstrong’s new upstart, Hellcat for their following smash record, Redlight. Both bands appeared on the ambitious and seminal Give ‘Em the Boot comp with Hillyard’s Rocksteady 7, and King Django’s Stubborn All-Stars and Skinnerbox. The Slackers ended up sticking with Hellcat for seven albums. 2022 had them releasing the album on Pirates Press Records. (Check their own label, Special Potato, for a bevy of other albums.)
Hillyard explains, “Labels in 2022 is a partnership. We teamed with Pirates Press for distribution. Plus, they have a certain production aesthetic. They own their own plant, which is one of the cool things. They’re vinyl-centric and they have really good quality. You want to work with them for quality control.” He continues, “it’s a partnership and not a traditional relationship with a label where you sign a five record deal. You come together for a project. They managed to get records out, they got singles out, during the pandemic. That was a big deal for us. They have been amazing. It really was quite an achievement.” The “Nobody’s Listening” 12” was a picture disc. Plus, there was the Blue 7”, and Dub Classics compilation 12” LP. *(also check the split 7” with The Aggrolites on Badasonic Records.) Those remaining songs, the six will end up on a follow up ep, Hillyard reveals.
The Slackers maintain their signature variety within this album but still harness the same vibe over 30 years. Hillyard agrees, “We’re growing into our sound. We just became more ‘us’ over time. We aren’t worried about a genre. (For Sunshine…), we didn’t even talk about ‘hey, should this song be more rock or reggae?’ (Members) came to sessions with the tunes. It is funny because we didn’t talk about it, but the songs are more ska and rocksteady on this album than the last album. We just wanted to play. We didn’t discuss it. Everyone just did it. We didn’t change it up. It was relatively quick. We just decided we were going to do it and knocked it out.”
Additionally, one of the many splintered side projects from these cats, Dave Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7 have been dropping albums since 1999’s, Playtime. In May the vinyl dropped, along with digital streams for their latest, Plague Doctor LP and The Frog 7” single.
The Slackers play their annual Cruises on August 12th (NYC; Rocks Off NYC) and August 13th (Boston; Rock On Concerts)
Sept 26th to October 22nd sees the band in UK and Europe on the Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool Ya Tour
November 11th/12th is a weekend at Reggie’s in Chicago for their Slack Fest.
Then they end the year hitting five shows in Cali, one in Philly and one in DC.