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The Voodoo Glow Skulls Keeping Ska Alive

In Music
The Voodoo Glow Skulls never asked to be a part of the ska explosion. All they care about is having fun and playing music.

The Voodoo Glow Skulls never asked to be a part of the ska explosion. All they care about is having fun and playing music.

It can be hard to believe now, but two decades ago ska had a pretty big moment. It was a time before Gwen Stefani’s solo debut and Bradley Nowell’s overdose, when alternative radio stations were spinning bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger and Less Than Jake with regularity. And then there were the Voodoo Glow Skulls.

The Riverside, Calif.-based six-piece ska-core band wrote hyper-fast street-punk tunes with distorted guitar upstrokes, and punctuated with bright horns, dark lyrics and hardcore-style shouting vocals—in English and occasionally in Spanish. They even released an all-Spanish version of their Epitaph debut (1995’s Firme) well before groups like Ozomatli carved out a substantial American market for rock en Español.

The Glow Skulls never got heavy rotation, but they toured hard and packed clubs. When the ska boom busted, a lot of the bands from that era broke up, changed their sound or altered their marketing strategy, but not the Voodoo Glow Skulls. They just continued doing what they did best: playing the distinct and kinetic fusion of ska and punk they’d been playing since the late ’80s. And they haven’t stopped.

“I don’t feel like we’re part of any scene. We’ve always been floating in our own little bubble,” says Glow Skulls guitarist Eddie Casillas, whose band comes to The Blank Club this coming Monday.

Even during the ska boom, it came as a surprise to the band when they MTV would play their videos. They never saw themselves as having any commercial appeal, according to Casillas, who says getting signed to Epitaph was equally as surreal.

“We’ve never tried to be commercial, or tried to be poppy,” Casillas says. “I like pop-punk. I grew up on the stuff. There will always be some Voodoo songs that have a little bit of Descendents in them or Green Day. Ours is just a little different sound. It’s not positive. It’s not poppy, or uplifting.”

Casillas and his two brothers, Frank and Jorge, founded the band in 1988. They released four albums on Epitaph, then three more on Victory Records. Their ninth was on the smaller Smelvis Records, and they are undecided for their 10th, which they are currently in the middle of recording. They are considering self-releasing a series of EPs and seven inches like they used to do in the early days, before they released their debut, Who Is, This Is.

“It feels like we’ve come full circle. Casillas says. “We went through this whole thing where we were on a couple successful labels, had full support. Now we’re back to square one. It’s like 1993 all over again. But the thing is, the band is known now, there’s a name behind it.”

The band’s writing and recording process has changed a great deal since those early days. The last three Voodoo albums were recorded by Casillas in his ever-expanding home studio. The band now record bits and pieces at their leisure, instead of on some executive’s clock.

The group have always been DIY advocates. Even in the early years, they opened their own record store and live music venue in Riverside. That not only gave them better footing in the scene, but also provided them an extra source of income—always welcomed by professional touring musicians. Ever business savvy, the band recently started a label of their own, called California Street Music, and have released a few albums of friends’ bands so far.

The Voodoo Glow Skulls’ touring schedule isn’t as jam-packed as it was back in the ’90s, but they stay busy, doing mostly short tours. Casillas continues to find motivation and inspiration in working on making better recordings. And the band keep an eye out for better gigs and festival shows that will expand their audience, but at this point that isn’t really what keeps them playing.

“Our goals have never been financial,” Casillas says. “We want to have fun and play music. I still just want to make that one next level record. I know people think we probably already made it. But there’s always more. I still think I can top it.”

The Voodoo Glow Skulls play The Blank Club, Monday, Oct. 6. More info.

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