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Dan P and the Bricks rise from the ashes of third-wave ska greats

In Music

Third-wave ska legends Dan Potthast of MU330 and Slow Gherkin thought they had put skanking behind them years ago. But it all came back to them in 2009, when Potthast joined up with four ex-Gherkin members (A.J. Marquez, Matt Porter, Brendan Thompson and Phil Boutelle) and his fellow MU330 bandmate Matt Knobbe to form Dan P and the Bricks, who play X Bar in Cupertino on Saturday.

“I’d been living in Santa Cruz for eight years, hanging out with these guys that have ska flowing through their veins,” Potthast says. “Both of our bands, Slow Gherkin and MU330, as they grew older, moved away from traditional-sounding ska. When we got together many years later, it felt like this guilty pleasure to just play ska songs.”

In reality, neither MU330 nor Slow Gherkin had ever played only ska songs. Like the other prominent bands of the third-wave movement, they were fusing ska with punk and other genres.

“Gherkin was aggressive. It was that ska-punk thing. Everyone was playing at every moment during every song, just hammering,” says founding Gherkin member Marquez.

MU330 took the ska-punk sound to a whole different level, dubbing itself a “psycho-ska” band and mixing manic punk energy with crazy circus music and hyper-ska. In later years, indie rock made it into their sound as well. It was all counterbalanced with Potthast’s penchant for writing in an Elvis Costello-esque New Wave style.

“I have more of an appreciation of the bounce of ska rather than just the really fast punky stuff, the groove where it makes you really want to dance,” Potthast says.

When Dan P and the Bricks formed, they decided that, rather than reach back to the third wave movement of their heyday, they’d return all the way to ska’s source—back to that sweet, soulful, midtempo groove like it used to be played in Jamaica in the ’60s by artists like the Skatalites and Prince Buster. <!–nextpage–>

“It is such a powerful musical genre. It’s so fun to play and watch people explode. My ears have grown a little. We’ll take some space and play less,” Marquez says of the new approach.

After a few shows, they added three more members to the mix: Liam Ryan, Eric Johnson and Kevin Zinn (horn players from the local reggae band Soul Majestic). Now a 10-piece, the Bricks are a powerhouse ska machine.

Both Gherkin and MU330 spent the ’90s relentlessly on the road, but the Bricks were never intended to be a serious, touring project. Everyone in the band is in their 30s and has other commitments, careers and/or families. So most of their shows are for the community, meaning that they stay in the Bay Area, but also that they donate a majority of the money they make to local charities.

“With the Bricks we wanted to increase the fun factor. That’s what we’re all about. If we can help some different charities along the way, even better,” Potthast says.

When the opportunity came up to record an album, they jumped on it. The hardest part was coordinating schedules. Potthast took the rhythm section down to Los Angeles to record with his friend, producer Chris Murray, famous from his days with the Canadian ska band King Apparatus, then spent the remaining part of the month recording horns and vocals. He’d then drive down to L.A. to mix the record with Murray.

The result is Watch Where You Walk, a lush, well-crafted, traditional ska record that remains authentic in its production and arrangements but still has Potthast’s early-’80s New Wave approach to songwriting. The album has already received positive reviews on several music blogs, including a “2011 album of the year” nod on Upstarter.com.

Potthast says he put more work into Watch Where You Walk than on any of his post-MU330 solo albums. It’s also the first ska album anyone in the Bricks has made in over a decade.

There’s a sweet full-circle sense to the whole project, he says.

“When MU330 really started going in 1991, we were always the odd band on the bill. There would be a metal band, a punk band, a whatever band. We were the anomaly. Then suddenly in the mid-to-late ’90s there were five ska bands in every small town in the Midwest. Now there doesn’t seem like as many bands doing what we’re doing,” he muses. “Maybe we had to get away from it, give it some time and get back to where it didn’t feel trendy.”

Dan P and the Bricks
Saturday; 8pm; $8
X Bar, Cupertino

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