Pilfers Interview with Coolie Ranx
I gotta say… It’ll be a cold day in Hell when I stop thinking about the insanity and amusement of my many experiences watching The Pilfers perform. Formed when members Coolie Ranx, Vinnie Nobile, James Blanck, Anna Milet-Meyer, and Nick Bacon left their spots in The Toasters, Bim Skala Bim, Skinnerbox, and The Erratics (respectively), the 5-piece unit was a beacon of the Ska scene from their very first recording.
In their heyday, The Pilfers were unstoppable! Their sound was something that hadn’t been heard before and hasn’t been seen since. The powerful combination of Ska and Punk, combined with a stage show the rivaled the most energetic performance a person could’ve asked for made the group instant legends in the scene. Coolie’s signature delivery, Vinnie’s ability to blow your head off with his trombone, James’ calculated drumming, Anna’s huge sounding bass, and Nick’s tasty guitar chops thrust the group into the spotlight immediately. Their rigorous tour schedule and impressive DIY demo and first album release got them a record deal with Mojo Records for their sophomore release, “Chawalaleng.”
But the road is a difficult place, and after years of nonstop work and abrupt lineup changes, the group went on permanent hiatus in 2001. Aside from a few reunion and benefit shows, the group has remained dormant for several years, but that’s all about to change! As one of the headliners for the Skalapalooza 2012 Tour, taking place in several East Coast cities, The Pilfers are getting ready to bring their infectious, crowd moving sound to the masses once again.
And even better, their self-titled first album is now available on very limited vinyl courtesy of Instant Classic Records, Asbestos Records, and Underground Communique Records, which you can buy HERE if it’s still available. I managed to track down Coolie prior to the tour to discuss the group’s impact, their unique sound, their years on the road, and whether or not we can expect any new material from the group. Elevation!
G- Hey Coolie and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! It has been too long… How are you doing and what is going on with The Pilfers?
C- My pleasure to be interviewed by someone who is actually knowledgeable of our contribution to the scene. I’m well, and have been living in the world… Not the life of a musician.
Pilfers are embarking upon a mini tour with a bunch of friends (bands) that supported us and encouraged us to do music.
G- I know, right?! Those shows are going to be so wild and I can’t wait! So, The Pilfers formed from the ashes of several high profile music endeavors on all of your parts. How did you guys wind up coming together in the beginning, and what was it like in your rehearsal studio during those initial sessions?
C- I wouldn’t say ashes. The Toasters are still going strong, and Bim Skala Bim is still going strong. In fact, we formed out of a necessity to create, not that our prospective bands were crashing and burning.
Rehearsals at the time were extremely free flowing with vibes. We had nothing to restrict us. I knew what I wanted in terms of musical styles, and the players brought it all out. I was fortunate enough to have demoed a few songs with the rhythm section of Steady Ernest.
By the time Pilfers band selection was made, I had a few songs penned. What The Pilfers did was turn up and polish the concepts. Then, we went on to create a new sound. We wrote songs in one day. We formed and in two weeks had our 1st show. Great bunch of musicians!!!
G- Do you guys still get a chance to speak often? Where is everyone at in their lives and what is everyone involved in musically at this point?
C- We speak perhaps not everyday, but we invite each other out or text here and there. You never can just X anyone out of your life that you’ve spent so much time with working, living and playing together. It would be extremely hard to cut off a family member that hasn’t wronged you in anyway.
Well, as far as where we all are, we all have jobs in some form now but have never left music. Whether it being teaching or touring, we all are involved in music.
G- Awesome! You guys have entirely too much talent to leave the game all together. But getting back to it, The Pilfers have been tapped as one of the headliners of this year’s Skalapalooza festival, and the response has been outrageous! What can old and new fans expect from the performances?
C- Fans can expect the unexpected I would say, but for sure a good show regardless!! If you’ve seen us before, then you know you can’t leave with your voices in tact or without a wet shirt (laughs). No props or stunts… Just natural energy!!
G- Yea I remember those day vividly. Thank the lord for dual action laundry soap and Throat Coat herbal tea. Certainly, performing artists fall on hard times and The Pilfers stopped performing full time in 2001. Can you tell us a bit about why the group came to an end, and what it is like when you all get back together for your far-too-infrequent reunion shows?
C- I’ll take the responsibility of the disbandment of Pilfers. Pilfers toured constantly over 200 shows a year without proper rest, and the strain took a toll on my vocals. We lacked the proper equipment like ear monitors for all of us to balance the stage sound, and I was constantly over extending my vocals. Got the lack of confidence from the group. It was for the best that we part before we never spoke again.
The reunion shows to me are a blessing… To see old faces and share the love of music and speech with those who are in attendance.
G- See folks, you can learn something new everyday if you just ask. Personally, I am very proud to say I helped release your self titled first record on vinyl via Instant Classic Records, and this is an important release for a lot of folks out there who were active in the scene, then and now. How long did the record take to record, and what memories do you have from the recording process?
C- Well, we were touring and recording at the same time. We met Reel Big Fish in our 1st year of touring and they offered us a tour. At the time, we only had a cassette demo selling, so we rushed to produce a CD to sell on this upcoming tour with Reel Big Fish. I want to say it took 3 months to produce and package. We would go out do shows, use the profit to produce the record and purchase more merchandise.
When we played the Jersey Shore, a club owner of “The Ketch,” John Baptista, asked when we were coming out with a CD? I said soon, but that we were just a little short (on money). He then offered to loan us the money to pay for the final production and pressing of the record.
G- That’s so rad, especially after experiencing all the horrors by venue owners I’ve encountered… I gotta look that guy up (laughing). Can we expect and/or discuss a pressing of the first demo cassette on vinyl, as well?! I’d be glad to try and make that happen on Instant Classic Records!
C- I’d be glad to try and make that happen on Instant Classic Records! The 1st Demo (laughs)? Well, that’s for another discussion perhaps.
Some things should just remain unattainable some times. Having said that, I won’t rule it out because I may want to share it with a new generation at some point… That’s the reason why this whole project is actually being released.
G- Well, we’ll take the discussion offline in the near and see what we can do. Do you think The Pilfers will ever get back together on a more frequent basis to perform and record, contingent upon the ability of the members to play and the demand for another record?
C- Well, one never knows.
G- Eloquent in its brevity… Here’s to wishful thinking! So, though every show I ever saw The Pilfers play was incredible, what would you say is the craziest or most memorable show the band has ever played in your opinion? Can you tell us where was it and what was it like?
C-To me, the shows were all memorable and have a special place. We’ve played from a venue of consisting of 5 people when we 1st started, to selling out that venue in Ct. We’ve played in North Hampton, Cleveland, London, Poland and Venezuela… (They are) all memorable shows for me, for different reasons.
But i’ll give you something… We played West Palm Beach and had to save a drummer from another band from getting stabbed to death!!
G- Yikes! At a Ska show? I’m kinda glad I missed that one. To finish up, I have one more question for you before we go… As a seasoned professional front man with innumerable experiences in the music industry, 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?
C- Pace yourself, arm yourself, and surround yourself with as many positive people as you can. Ask questions and seek advice with someone who has done it before.