Long-running Rochester, NY Ska band Mrs. Skannotto have recently taken a serious leap into the world of full-time musicianship. Though a staple of the 518 scene for almost a decade and a half, only now has the group decided to pursue their craft on a more serious level.
And if you want to talk about a ridiculous start, how about back-to-back tours to close 2012 and enter 2013? Which tours? One with Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, and Mad Caddies, directly followed up by a HUGE jaunt providing direct support for The Toasters?! Yeah… That pretty much says it all.
As you can probably tell, I’m very excited that Mrs. Skannotto has decided to quantum leap into the touring game on a more consistent level, and it’s far beyond time I got one of them on the line for a little Q&A. I caught up with trumpeter Justin Lloyd to talk about the tours, their latest release, All These Evolutions, and when they decided to go for broke. Catch them on their May run of the East Coast, starting May 2nd!
G- Hey Justin! What’s going on, man?
J- Not much, Greg. How are you doing today?
G- Hanging in there, you know. Little “Case of the Monday’s” earlier today, but I work in a job where I won’t get my ass kicked for saying so.
J- This grey upstate weather not doing it for you, huh?
G- Not so much, but I think it’s just the office environment dragging me down.
So, we go back a pretty good ways and you guys have done some tremendous touring lately! For some of our readers who may not know everybody in the band at this point, if we could, let’s go ahead and introduce everybody… Who are they, what do they play, and where does everybody come from, bro?
J- Well, we have Alex Bochetto playing drums, and he’s from right here in Rochester, NY, as well as myself, Justin Lloyd, on trumpet. We have, from Marcellus, NY out by you guys, Dan Carter. We have a guy named Michael Frederick playing guitar for us, and he is from Spokane, Wa. And Evan Dobbins is also from Rochester, so that’s all 6 of us.
Oh… Joe Harmon! He’s also from Rochester. That is the 6 of us right there.
G- Dig that, and you have a cat from Spokane, Wa. With you now… That’s a hell of a commute!
J- (laughs) Seriously, right?! He’s been in town for a long time going to Eastman School of music doing his post-grad work. He’s actually been graduated from that for a while now, and just working with us and playing a few things around town.
G- Right on. Now obviously, we go pretty far back, and I think you were actually involved with stuff before I was with any of my bands back in the day… If you could, how long has the band been around and when did you first get started?
J- Oh man… Mrs. Skannotto started way back in the winter of 1998.
J- A very long time ago. I wasn’t actually in it then. It started at a college in Lewiston, Maine, and it was based on the school year, so they started in the second semester, when I was still a senior in high school. Then, I joined them when I first got to the college the next fall.
G- Very good. Now, you guys have a new record coming out and I took a listen. It’s good, and it’s different from what I’m used to, so if you could, for our readers, let’s talk about it! Give us the name, and are you working with any record labels at this time? How do you feel about the final product, and give us the skinny, man?
J- Oh yeah. We’re super excited about this album! It’s called All These Evolutions and, like you said, it’s our newest studio album. This is a unique product, in a sense, that we had the time and the opportunity to basically lock ourselves in a studio and write this album start to finish, which is considered one of those traditional album cycles. We didn’t write them over 5-6 years and play them out until we finally had enough tunes to make an album… We did this the other way.
So, it’s really projecting what these 6 members were feeling for 3 months when we write this thing, and it kinda has this energy and unique feel to it, and I think it’s a really cool product because of that.
G- Right on. And you said it took you 3 months, so I wanted to talk about the writing process. You went into the studio just straight from scratch, correct?
J- Well, it was more like 5-6 months of straight writing before we really went into the studio to record anything. We started writing in October of 2011, and we went into the studio I think… The very first couple of recording sessions were early March 2012. So, that was the writing and beginning of recording right there.
G- Ok, and tell us a bit about what that writing process was like. Do you guys typically have a primary songwriter, or do you kind of jam out grooves and put the songs together that way? How do you guys usually work it?
J- It’s kind of a combination of both of those, Greg. Anyone can definitely come in and bring an idea, and we prefer to have ideas, not fully composed songs. So, the way we work is there’s usually 1 or 2 people, usually Mike or Joe or Dan, usually bring in a major song idea. And Alex Bochetto has been doing it, too.
So, we’ll have an idea like a verse, or a chorus, or even just a jam, and we’ll play it together after hearing it. Different people use different things, Garage Band or whatever, to come up with demos at home. We just kinda start jamming on them, and it flows more organically from there.
So, it starts as with a root songwriter, and then everyone starts to contribute, and sometimes it goes in a very different direction from the initial song. So, we kinda write in this weird way combination of root songwriter, and then everyone changes the song.
G- Right on. It sounds like you have a nice little method to your madness over ther, and it certainly is Madness. Ha! Injecting Ska bands into the conversation in a Ska band conversation.
Anyways, I guess we have to talk about these 2 mammoth runs that you guys were just on. You were on tour with Less Than Jake and Mad Caddies, and you just got off the road from a huge jaunt with The Toasters… Let’s talk about those a little bit! How did you link those up and tell us about it… Give us some deets!
J- It was incredible. We started with new management about 6 months ago, and that has given us a lot more visibility. And because of that, we were able to go on the 20th anniversary tour with Less Than Jake, their 20th anniversary US tour, an eastern half and a western half in September and October. It was just incredible!
There were 4 bands every night, and we were the first act. We had Less Than Jake, we had Mad Caddies, with had Reel Big Fish, A Wilhelm Scream, flatfoot 56… We had TONS of bands, and it was really an incredible tour. That was our first time on the west coast, and that was awesome… I’m really, really proud of that.
G- And did you get some In N Out Burger when you were in California?
J- I had my first In N Out burger in California!
G- It’s a life-changer, isn’t it?
J- The Double Double Animal Style is an incredible life-changer.
G- That’s what I get, too! So, that was the FIRST tour… What about this chaotic Toasters run that you were on that went for forever?!
J- We had some down time, and then we left for this big tour with The Toasters… 42 dates in 43 days, US National Tour.
G- Yeah buddy!
J- We took one day off. It was Superbowl Sunday. We camped out in the motel and watched the game, and that was the only day off. We raged every other night!
G- That’s beautiful! And how were the responses out there? You guys move some good merch and make some good friends and contacts?
J- We are! It’s been incredible. We’re really liking going on tour with other bands. Being direct tour support for The Toasters was one of the best things we’ve done so far as a band. The Toasters are still going strong all across the country, and I feel really proud for them. While we are, quote unquote, in the Ska genre, we are a different style of Ska.
J- So together, it made a nice show. People didn’t get bored with one style hitting them in the face every night, and it was a nice difference between the bands. I think it worked out really well.
G- Great, glad to hear it! Now, since you’ve done these 2 pretty epic tours already, with some of my favorite bands might I add, I wanted to know are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? Or, if you could curate your own feasible 3 band dream lineup for Mrs. Skannotto to be on, who would you want to go on tour with and why?
J- My dream lineup?
G- Yeah man.
J- I think it would be incredible to play with The Police, if they played their hearts out to make it a good show. I feel like it’d be hit or miss if you played with them. I hear their last tour was good. But, I don’t know.
A lot of us are very influenced by them, especially their earlier stuff, but a lot of the work. A lot of their cool experimental stuff really influences us.
But for modern stuff, an incredible tour would be with Big D and The Kids Table and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, something like that. We’ve shared the stage with Big D before and we’re doing it again May 2nd, but we’ve never been on tour with them and it’s something we want to do.
The Bosstones? I don’t know how realistic that is because I don’t know how much they’re touring right now, but that would just be awesome! They’re one of my favorites bands that I haven’t played with yet, and I really want to do that.
G- I’m with that. So Big D, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Police, and Mrs. Skannotto. I’d check that out!
J- That’d be an incredibly weird but awesome lineup! Every band is a bit different enough to bring some cool to it.
G- Hell yeah, man! If you can’t keep your eyes and mind open to a lineup like that, than you’re boring and not cool.
J- I would agree.
G- So, this might be a little difficult for you given the amount of shows you’ve played in recent months, but tell us about the craziest or most memorable show you’ve have or played with Mrs. Skannotto. Where was it and what was it like?
J- The one that’s really sticking in my head right now, probably because it just happened, but on tour with The Toasters in Albuquerque, New Mexico was insane! We don’t know why… I think it was a Thursday, not even a weekend, but the club was packed since the beginning! The openers really got things moving, and when we took the stage, the place just exploded! People were going crazy and Alex, our drummer, had panties thrown at him. I mean, that doesn’t happen at Ska shows! It was a crazy night!
And when The Toasters took the stage, it was just over… It was just an awesome night in Albuquerque.
G- Now, was that at The Launchpad, by chance?
J- Yes it was.
G- I played there myself before, and they really do go insane at that place! Lots of fun, great stage, great management, and I highly recommend, to any of our readers out there who may be going on tour or just in that area, you go and do it!
J- Yeah it’s a great place!
G- So, to finish up today, and I’m sure we’ll have a part 2 somewhere down the line, but as a trumpet player who’s been doing this for a long time, there are lots of kids out there that want to play, go on the road, and do what you do… What advice would you give some of the upcoming bands out here who want to make it in music, go on tour, and get on a steady build like Mrs. Skannotto is doing?
J- There’s a couple of key points, and one of the is a lot of people overlook the simple fact of needing to be a good frickin’ band. A lot of stage show and a lot of hype and flash won’t do it. People lose sight of the fact that you have to be really good at what you’re doing. You need to practice a lot! You need to make yourself bored with your music almost, and that’s hard to do. It takes a lot of mental power to sit down and play one song 8 times through or whatever, to get it perfect so you can be running around backwards at a show. You don’t want to be ‘Oh there’s this really hard line coming up’ onstage, and that’s a big deal for a professional band versus when you see a band, you know, isn’t doing a great job. I’m not going to go into what that is, because you’ve all been to shows where the opening band is not cutting it. You gotta work at it.
Everyone does this because we love it, and that’s a fact. No one is getting rich off of Ska music, but if you want to be a professional at it, you have got to treat it likes it’s work. You’ve gotta set aside the time and do the work, and that’s hard to do.
G- Very, very true. I’ve been in many Ska bands and spent money and spent time, but they’re some of the best memories I’ve ever had. I loved it, and I still love it, and I’m glad you guys are doing it! You’ve made that quantum leap to the next level and I’m glad you’re making it happen!
J- Yeah man! We’re going out in May for 10 days, and then hopefully in June and July for a summer thing.
G- Dig that! Let’s talk after that one as well. Maybe I can put together a little project and you can put me on an opening slot!
J- Sounds like a plan!
G- Well dude… Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today, and keep us in the loop as to what’s going on. Travel safe and keep on doing what you’re doing!
J- Absolutely, Greg. It was a pleasure.