Bordering on the rickety edges of insanity is part of the creative engine fueling veteran L.A. punk and ska band Fishbone. Their poignant and impetuous performances has lead them through a madcap musical journey for almost two decades now and their vigorous dynamism hasn’t ebbed down yet.
“Everyone’s a little crazy and has the potential to be really crazy,” says John Norwood Fisher, the group’s bassist and co-vocalist. ” ‘Cause everybody got a thang, whether it’s freaky or like a super-duper powerful man who likes to get beat, spit on or shitted on by women. If there wasn’t football, most of those huge players would be thugs. Everyone has to find a way to channel their energy and have an undiscovered potential of insanity.”
Settled in the lounge area of BillboardLive as engineers go on with sound check for last Friday’s show, Fisher packs a small pipe and mulls over the prevalence of the word “nuts” in their lingo (“nutmeg,” “nutcase,” “nutwerxx”…).
“It’s like insanity is the last taboo,” he explains. “[A while ago], one of our band members lost his motherfucking mind and we all lose our minds in a way or another on a regular basis.”
Perhaps Fishbone also lost their tolerance of the music industry since they recently founded their own label, Nuttsactor 5, and severed most of their ties with major record companies. They’ve been at it for a while, since the original crew formed the band in 1979 while still in junior high. They played the local clubs around L.A. in the early ’80s and soon signed to Columbia, releasing their first LP, In Your Face, in 1985.
Combining a pulsating tour de force in their live shows with their freewheeling experimentation in music, prodding through the boundaries of funk, ska and rock, they generated a battalion of albums that amply contributed to the evolving late ’80s and ’90s alternative scene-notably, Truth and Soul in 1988, The Reality of My Surroundings in 1991 and Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge in 1996.
Despite a widespread following, they never reached mainstream success or substantial record sales, and after 2000’s The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx, disgruntled by the distributions of profits, they moved on independently (composed of vocalist/saxophonist Angelo Moore, Fisher on bass, Spacey T on guitar, John Steward on drums and Walter Kibby II on pocket trumpet). Lately, their Friendliest Psychosis of All EP features an extensive jam with Primus, Styles, George Clinton and Buckethead and Sony produced their Essential Fishbone LP this year. They’re shooting for a new studio album this fall. Having no fear of getting old, their demeanor is still youthful and they don’t give a damn that the music they play doesn’t always appear on Top 40 radio, as long as the right people are listening.
“It’s a matter of visibility and touching the kids,” Fisher says. “Ska was never big in the mainstream. It would have to go through some sort of metamorphosis or it’ll come back later as a revival thing. And, sure, it’s being electronicized. Jungle music is part of that.”
Amidst a proclivity to ironic mischievousness and playful nuttiness, Fishbone has always been a band spreading sharp social commentaries and uncensored political messages, advocating the legalization of pot and selling “Fuck Racism” T-shirts at their concerts, for instance. After taking a few more hits and explaining how the group has been Cannabis Cup judges two times in Amsterdam and always tastes the local herbal flavors wherever they go, Fisher gives his thoughts on current political situations.
“It’s amazing to hear a soldier saying to CNN, ‘Yeah I’m against the war, but when I talk to my troops, I tell them I still have to do this,” he says. “Something is bothering me deep down inside and it has nothing to do with what I’m seeing. People need to demand more info because there’s some backroom bullshit happening. There’s a war going on and the casualties are kinda low, but there’s a lot of destruction and, at the same time, a lot of our liberties are being taken away.”
The group also created a soundtrack for a porn movie, showing their affinity for sexual entertainment, and Fisher smiles puckishly when it’s mentioned.
“Most of us grew up watching some porno at some kind of level and, you know, you become a rock star or whatever you wanna call it and get to meet your favorite entertainers,” he says, laughing. “A lot of soundtracks to porn are shitty, so I figured it would be a lot easier to watch if it had cooler music. I also wanna do this side-project-a fully improvised 25 person jam with a porno going on at the same time for an internet pay-per-view film.”
Yet one of Fishbone’s greatest assets and what sets them apart from the rest is their tremendous vehemence and showmanship on stage-Moore has dived into the crowd from massive speakers, popped out his knee when performing histrionic acrobatics and, at their Miami show, stirred up crazy sound effects with a theremin, played by moving a hand between two electrodes.
“We watched a legacy of great entertainers when growing up,” Fisher remembers, “like KISS or P-Funk, and I was a teenager in the first few years of punk rock, watching the Sex Pistols, and everything around us was wild, even the streets we were in. When it comes to hit the stage, it’s like somebody just discovered electricity. Shit gets lit the fuck up!”
No doubt, there’s no better way to word it.
Omar Sommereyns can be reached at SOASIS@aol.com