As a fan that never got a chance to catch them back in their heyday, I am ecstatic to report that Ska’s favorite demonic sons, Mephiskapheles, are reuniting to perform at this year’s inaugural edition of The Apple Stomp, taking place in NYC at Irving Plaza on May 31st and June 1st. I don’t know whose idea it was to bring devils and Ska together, but I think we can all agree that it’s gonna be a great thing to watch go down.
Formed in 1990, Mephiskapheles were frontrunners of the scene for many years, quickly inking a deal with Moon Ska Records and releasing three records (God Bless Satan, Maximum Perversion, and Might-ay White-ay) before abruptly disbanding. Man, whassupawitdat?
I caught up with Greg Robinson (trombone, producer) to talk about a bit about the band’s history, their upcoming reunion performance at Apple Stomp, and whether or not they still love Bumblebee Tuna. If you’re going to the show and plan on dancing, don’t “Break Your Ankle, Punk.” Hail Satan! \m/
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! Please introduce the members in the group… Who is everyone, what do they play, and where does everyone come from?
GR- For the show on June 1 we will have our regular lineup of A.W. a.k.a. Nubian Nightmare a.k.a. Invidious on vocals; Dave Hahn on guitar; Brian “Underpants” Martin on keyboards; Dan Jeselsohn on bass; and Wayne Dunton on drums. The horn section will be myself on trombone; Bourbon Zeigler on alto sax; and Les Rogers on trumpet. For those who don’t know, Mephiskapheles was formed in the East Village of NYC, in 1991, by friends who met hanging out on the local punk scene. They attracted some jazz musicians to play with them, and when the right combination of players was hit upon, combined with Nubian Nightmare’s inimitable vocal stylings, the Mephiskapheles sound as we know it was born.
G- Getting right to it, let’s talk Apple Stomp! There are a lot of people who never got to see you perform back when you were full-time… How and why did you decide to get the group back together for the performance, and how excited are you to be a part of the lineup?
GR- We decided to reform about a year ago, after being inactive for about 13 years. Mephiskapheles had originally started as a neighborhood band, with 80% of the members living in the same neighborhood, but by 2012, everyone had left the East Village, except Invidious and myself. While Mephiskapheles was on hiatus, we both continued to play in bands and to be active on the local scene. At one point, I joined the Toasters for about three years, and while touring with them became convinced that Mephiskapheles’ fan base was still out there. Also, it surprised me how many of the ska bands from the ’90s were still out there, playing shows, sounding better than ever. After some discussion, we called a band meeting, which led to reunion shows happening, which led to where we are now. So we are thrilled to be playing the Apple Stomp.
G- In addition to your own performance, which band(s) are you most excited about checking out at the shows?
GR- We are interested in checking out the whole vibe and what the after effects of the show are going to be, maybe more so than any one particular band. That said, we are really looking forward to seeing our friends in Inspecter 7, Pietasters, Scofflaws, Murphy’s Law, Spring Heeled Jack, Slackers–the list goes on. But any way you look at it, nine or ten ska bands per night, that’s a lot of energy in the room. That’s a lot of upbeats. It’s going to be something to witness.
G- Is this reunion performance a one-time thing, or does Mephiskapheles have any plans to play some additional dates or hit the studio in the future?
GR- This is not a one-time reunion. This will be our fifth show of 2013. We’ll have a few more this year, after which we’ll start ramping up for 2014, when we have plans to record our fourth album, as yet untitled.
G- Are you still active within the Ska scene and do any members have other projects that we should be on the lookout for in the future?
GR- During the time Mephiskapheles was inactive, we had a guitar-based group with Mike Bitz called Skull-A-Ball, that released a three-song EP and played a few shows. Also, Invidious and Bitz had their group called Burn Guitars that featured three electric basses in the front line. Invidious also played bass and sang with two other bands, The Mixed Signals and Brother Earth. Our guitarist Dave Hahn has a reggae band, Dub Is A Weapon. Dan Jeselsohn is a familiar face on the New York scene; he recently played with Ken Boothe, and he works with the Brooklyn Attractors, however we are proud to say he got his start in 1998 with us. Our keyboardist, Brian Martin, while living in Arizona was very briefly a member of the 2-Tone Lizard Kings. However, in 2013, everyone’s focus is on Mephiskapheles.
G- What should your fans, both old and new, expect of the performance when you guys take the stage on June 1st?
GR- If you’re not familiar with us, try to leave your expectations behind and just enjoy the experience of being at the show. If you’re already familiar with Mephiskapheles, or saw us in the old days, then you know what to expect.
G- Though I can only imagine how much fun it was to be in the room with you guys when writing, can you tell us about what your writing process was like back in the day? Who in the band typically came up new music, and did you have a primary songwriter, or write music more organically through jamming during rehearsals?
GR- In the early days, we would all get together about once a week and people would bring in their song ideas, which would then be worked on by the group. We had a very democratic process and no one took offense if they brought in an idea and the others voted it down. The songs on our first album started as simple ideas that sprouted horns from being played a lot in front of an audience. We were always messing with the intros and outros, or making slight alterations to the brass lines, with the goal of improving the final effect. We never indulged in a lot of jamming. Usually, one person, or a couple of people, would bring in the core of a song idea, and the other band members would offer suggestions. Whoever brought in the main idea for the song would get songwriting credit for it on the CD.
G- Do you have a favorite song you have ever written? If you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard of you before, to try and make a new fan, what song would you give them and why?
GR- I’d probably play them “Doomsday,” which I did not write, but it’s a good song, and one of our bigger hits. It has cool lyrics and the dancers always seem to lose their minds when we play it.
G- Are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? If you could pick out a feasible 3-band dream lineup that would get you to go back out on the road more extensively again, who would you want to join up with?
GR- We just played a great show in Pittsburgh opening for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Hopefully, we’ll get to play more with them. Another great band, old friends of ours who we’ve been working with lately, is Inspecter 7 from New Jersey. If you like ska and you don’t already have Inspecter 7’s new album “Escapes and Illusions,” you should get it.
G- What is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
GR- We’ve had plenty of crazy shows. The most crazy? Hard, if not impossible question. As far as memorable shows, there have been a lot. I remember those early days, before we made the first album. We had a string of sold-out shows with bands like the Scofflaws, New York Citizens, Toasters, Pietasters. Those were some of the most intense shows ever, from a ska-revival point of view. Ska was completely underground then, it was a hipster scene and the dancers were seriously committed–they would really go off when we would play “Mephiskapheles” or “Center of the…” Shows at New Frontier, the long-gone TGIFriday’s location at 13th Street and Fifth Avenue, were probably the most intense. I remember being concerned that the wooden floor would give way from the energy of the dancers.
G- Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
GR- Haven’t you seen our album covers? Isn’t the answer obvious?