Six Questions for ... The Slackers

Actually some pretty hardworkin' dudes (Vic Rugierro, far left).

The Slackers were around in the '90s and had a horn section, so naturally they got the lumped in with bands like Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake as part of the brief and unlikely third-wave ska revival. Frontman Vic Ruggiero - who possesses the greatest, rough-throated Brooklyn accent you'll ever hear - simply says the band plays "old Jamaican R&B." But the Slackers really cover the entire spectrum: rocksteady, reggae, jazz, rock, boogaloo, ska, blues, you name it. They don't play the "metal with horns" that was popular a decade ago, so while their star didn't burn as bright as other acts they didn't flame out, either. The Slackers are the opposite of their name - they continue to tour incessantly (at Falls Church's State Theatre on Sunday) and release fine albums. I talked to Ruggiero about ska's brief moment of popularity, the pleasures of European touring and whether he's ever used his great voice to make some extra money.

Was it weird being part of that brief ska boom in the late-'90s?
Well we were lucky, and that's part of the reason we are what we are. We weren't really part of that crew of bands that was really benefiting, that were hot from it. We had good luck with the record label, but I don't think they were necessarily trying to cash in on the third-wave ska thing that was happening. They just happened to have a couple of people that had the taste in the bands. They liked the Pietasters and they liked Hepcat and also us. It was kind of weird. Hellcat was funny like that because the guys over there knew about ska from two-tone and they didn't even know that there was this metal thing happening. If anything, Operation Ivy was more of a 2-tone band, that's where their taste was. We circumvented that whole thing and it always kept us out of the main loop which is good, in the long run.

"Married Girl"

Do you ever feel like the songwriting gets overlooked because you play a type of dance music?
You know what I like is that whole English revival that's been happening. The soul thing with Amy Winehouse and all them.That's kind of where we always found our little niche, too. You want music that people can dance to but you don't want it to be just repetitive crap dance music. It's like Motown. You wrote songs, but they were songs that had a beat that people could relate to. They come to a show and they're going to dance, it's not going to be like some kind of headbanger situation.

You guys play in Europe a lot. I mean, you have a Belgian booking agent, not many bands can say that. What do you like about it over there?
Europe is good because they're pretty open-minded when it comes to music. And they also like bands that they can go and dance to, and drink a few beers. I don't know what it is. They're a little less pretentious, in some ways, about their entertainment. Think about this - we play shows over here and it's mostly kids. And there are shows that are kid shows and there are shows that have folks maybe in their late-20s. But then you play a gig somewhere in Germany, just a regular city in Germany. And you'll get everybody from teenagers to old guys that just happen to be hanging out in the bar next door. And they'll all come hang out. And if they like it they'll all come back next time. So there's not a cut-off point where it's like, "Yeah, I stopped going in the mosh pit so I don't go to shows anymore." It's just an acceptance that music is part of every day life. It's more than just something for when you're a teenager.

How did you get into Jamaican music in the first place?
It was out of the punk scene, there was a lot of reggae. That's where I got my initial exposure, at punk shows. People would play reggae and there were bands like Bad Brains that were always flirting with reggae. Every hardcore band had, if not a reggae song, they had a reggae reference. So all the punks, you started to read about stuff and were like, "Oh, Don Letts." Somewhere along the line I got a Prince Buster record from somebody. They said, "Hey, listen to this, it's like some spy music or something!" And it sounded a lot more like the music I liked when I was a teenager, right before I discovered punk. The music I liked when I was 13 years old, I used to listen to these old blues shows and a lot of Motown stuff and soul stuff. And I thought, well this is cool. It's edgy music that sounds like a soul band. And it just opened up a whole world of writing and expressing yourself that wasn't on the menu before.

Have you ever done any voice overs?
(Laughs.) Well, somebody asked me to do a McDonald's commercial once, about 10 years ago. And I was like, well, that would be the most bizarre thing in the whole world. So I knew that they were making demos. And I figured, hey man, it's time for me to get some of that money back that I spent at McDonald's when I was 12 years old. (Laughs.) A friend of mine had me go in and make a demo, a commercial demo. I knew they were never going to use it. But somebody has a copy of it, somewhere. I was trying to get a copy of it because it was hysterical.
Do you remember what you said? Were you just promoting an Egg McMuffin or something?
They were trying to come up with a new slogan and it was supposed to be something like, McDonald's is old school, some kind of hamburger Americana thing. And I forget what it was called but it was something like, "Get you a hamburger today!" or something really goofy. I don't know how it got as far as it did. But either way McDonald's was throwing out some money for demos and I felt like I got a little bit of the corporate money back. For the people! We're trying to redistribute the wealth! That $200 I put towards a Slackers record.

"Wasted Days" (live)

Were you shocked when there wasn't a band that already was named the Slackers?
We got the name by accident. It just so happened that it preceded the big slacker craze where everybody used the word "slacker" for about five years. It was just before everyone was like, "Oh, it's the Slacker Generation." So we kind of lucked out in a way. But in a way we were kind of bummed out that the word got used so much. We said, "Oh no, everyone's going to think that we're one of these Generation X grunge bands!"

By David Malitz |  September 5, 2008; 2:05 PM ET Interviews
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And I Wonder? = awesome

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