bill bodkin interviews one of the most famous tribute bands in country …
Tribute bands are the new hotness on the cover scene — it’s not a new phenomenon, but check out any bar or club at the Jersey Shore or around the country and you can find a tribute bands ranging from all female tributes to Metallica and Judas Priest to all-male tributes to Lady Gaga to local pub acts paying homage to Neil Young or The Beatles.
However, there are very few tribute bands that can garner national attention and the same love the band they pay tribute to had. Badfish: A Tribute To Sublime is one of those bands. Starting out as a one-off tribute to a band they loved, Badfish have become a touring phenomenon. Selling out concert venues around the country for the last decade, Badfish have established themselves not only as the premier Sublime tribute band but one of the most famous and recognizable tribute bands in the entire country.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with lead singer Pat Downes days before Badfish’s return to Joey Harrison’s Surf Club in Ortley Beach, N.J., on Friday, May 6. He spoke not only about Badfish but about the band’s original music project, Scotty Don’t.
Pop-Break: Can you take me back to the impetus of the band? You guys all started out at the University of Rhode Island. Where did the idea come out that you wanted to play Sublime songs and make a band out of it.
Pat Downes: It’s kind of a funny thing for me to answer because I wasn’t in the band when they first formed. I joined a few years later and now I’m singing and playing guitar for the band, but I was a saxophone/keyboard kinda guy they picked up after they were a little bit established. They were all buddies in school — Joel [Hanks] and Scott [Begin], who are still in the band playing bass and drums. They were in school together, they were doing original bands together and separately and they kinda had the idea of, “Let’s put on a show of Sublime songs” because it was one of their favorite bands and it [the music] wasn’t being performed because the band just hadn’t around. So they figured why not do a one-off show, and it went really well. So they saw an avenue and took it and they started booking more shows, and it became more of a thing, and before you know it became what it is now.
PB: So, to bring you into this, when did you come into the band playing saxophone in the background?
PD: They started in 2001 and I met them in 2005 when I was playing in a band that was opening for Badfish. I had my saxophone and I was like, “Oh cool. I’ll play a couple songs with these guys.” Then it turned into a couple of shows and that turned into, “Hey, learn how to play keyboards and we’ll give you more of a fulltime spot.”
Those guys were touring full-time and I was working and playing in bands too, so I ended up quitting my job and jumping on full-time with those guys, and we’ve been together ever since.
PB: Where was that show that you opened up for them?
PD: That was in North Hampton, Mass., at this club called The Pearl Street. It’s actually funny: We just played there last night, so it was a little bit of deja vu just going back in there.
PB: I didn’t realize that you weren’t in the band originally, so one of my questions was going to be what is it about Sublime that has made it want you to make this your career. So I’ll re-propose the question: With you coming into it Badfish later in their run, how does it feel that your job is to just play Sublime songs? What’s your take on Sublime? Were you a fan before you joined the band?
PD: I was definitely always a fan of the music. I always thought it was great music and I was playing in bands that had influence from the band Sublime. I just wandered into it [Badfish] as a fun thing; I didn’t set out to do this, but it’s definitely part of my past and I definitely have a lot of fun playing these songs. It’s a real fun experience, the crowd energy is amazing, the fan-base is huge for the band and there’s still a demand for the music. To be a musician full time it’s kinda been my goal since I was 5, 6 years old, seeing bands on TV, picking up instruments and trying to make it my thing. I’m grateful every day and I try to make the best of it.
PB: That leads me into my next question: You’re in a tribute band to Sublime and the band your cover has a more limited catalog than, say, when The Machine tours and they’re covering all of Pink Floyd’s songs. Does it ever get monotonous or tired?
PD: If it starts to hint getting towards that, I go kinda, “OK, we gotta do something different to make this a more of a fun experience.” I mean, we have to be having fun doing this in order for anyone to enjoy what we’re doing. So, we’ll tweak songs here there, pull some songs out here and there, do some stuff we don’t play very often. It’s all about the energy and the vibe from the crowd. If you see a whole room full of people singing along with you and having the time of their life, it’s hard not to have fun with it.
PB: Sublime was and still is very popular. What do you think it is about their music that has kept you guys in business as a tribute band? Or is your longevity and popularity based partially in their catalog and partially on the spin you guys give it?
PD: I think it’s definitely a mix. It’s a very strong catalog of music. It’s kinda like one of those you discover it in high school type things like Led Zeppelin or Bob Marley. Maybe you have an older brother or sister who played it, and it just resonates. We’ve got kids who are 14 and 15 coming out to the show who are rocking out with people who heard it the first time it came out and they’re in their late 30s, early 40s. Everyone’s just having fun together. It has one of those strong vibes.
I think another great thing is Badfish picked up right as Sublime still had their songs fresh on the radio but weren’t able to tour due to Bradley Nowell’s death. It just kinda staked out the spot basically. There’s other tribute bands playing this stuff, but we have the 10 years of experience, taking these songs and making them fun. We’re really good at knowing what works with them and what doesn’t and what reactions we’re going to get out of the crowd even in different areas. We know how the crowd is going to react to certain songs even in different areas. We can play in the northeast, southwest and midwest, and we kind of know how the crowd works in different spot. We know how to showcase these songs and make them sound and look the best and that all comes with time, experience and hard work.
PB: When you’re performing, what are some of the songs that the crowd just goes nuts for? Or does it vary by region?
PD: The first song on that self-titled album, “Garden Grove.” It starts with that single synth that ushers in that whole album. We can play one note of that song, and the crowd just starts to erupt. We’ll open a set with that song pretty frequently. It’s a pretty popular song, but it wasn’t necessarily one that was one on the radio, so it’s a cool in-between tune. People that are weaved into their whole catalog, you can just start a song and they’ll erupt. You can see in some places, we’ll play occasionally that people might only know the radio songs. We end up talking to people to those people after the shows and they’re like, “We only knew a few of those Sublime songs, but now that we’ve heard them from you, I gotta go out and buy all this music.” They’re kinda discovering this for the first time, and they just came out because they heard we put on a fun show. Then there’s people who know every song and fact about the band — they just want us to play anything.
PB: What are more some of the more obscure songs you’ll pull out for the diehard fans?
PD: There’s definitely stuff from the Robin’ In the Hood album and the Secondhand Smoke album. It’s like everyone has the 40oz. To Freedom and the self-titled album, but anything like some off-beat acoustic songs, or sometimes we’ll pull out an acoustic guitar and pull out some deeper B-sides. It throws out a different vibe — you can certain people are there to hear certain songs and some people are there because of the mood we put out there. We pull out songs that people might not know, but if they know they’re Sublime songs, they’re a little more receptive.
PB: We’re based out of the Jersey Shore, and it seems almost every year without fail that you guys play the famed Joey Harrison’s Surf Club in Ortley Beach. I’ve seen the crowds you draw — they stretch out down the block into the next town. What is it about that room and Badfish that creates this sort of magic?
PD: It’s a mix of the songs are very beach/surf/reggae-type friendly. It’s like a summertime-type band. It’s what that place is all about. I know in the winter people are always waiting for Jersey to thaw out and get themselves out there and start partying. It’s funny, especially in the beginning of the year, people are anxious. Last year it was pretty cold, but people were like, “No, I still gotta go and get to the show.”
PB: Which is funny because you guys are the sign summer is starting when you play Surf Club, but you also the sign of the New Year as you seem to play Starland Ballroom is Sayreville, N.J., every New Year’s weekend. But you guys have also played The Stone Pony and Atlantic City a lot,, too — it seems New Jersey has this huge love for Sublime and Badfish. Are there other states that are like this?
PD: Jersey for a long time was that way. And we’re not picking up other states with the same enthusiasm. It was a pretty landmark state for us. We were like, “We can come back to Jersey and play all these spots and see all these repeat fans and tons of new fans, just as excited.” It’s always fun getting down there.
PB: Have you ever gotten any feedback or reaction from members of the original band?
PD: The drummer from Sublime, Bud, he actually lives out in Reno, and three years ago, we were playing a show in Vegas. And we contacted him through Myspace, you know at the time when Myspace was trumping Facebook, and we were going back and forth with him. We ended up locking up it and he had another side project so we co-headlined a show at The House of Blues in Las Vegas. He ended up coming up and playing a few songs with us and we had a great time together. The following year we booked a gig in Reno where he lives, and we did the same thing, he came out. We’ve done that a few times with him, he digs it which is a very fun thing.
I’ve met the bass player before too at a show and he seems pretty cool, down-to-earth dude. There was actually the sax player, who did all their sax stuff, he’s actually a doctor now and he came out and did a tour with us. He hung out on our bus for a week and he played Michigan and Ohio, some real random places, and it was a lot fun.
PB: Was that cool for you, since you started out playing sax in the band that you have a fellow sax guy on the road with you? Did you guys talk “sax shop”?
PD: Oh yeah, yeah. It was fun, real cool and this last time we were out West, we met up with this kind of spin-off band of Sublime Long Beach Dub All-Stars. They actually had a different sax player, Tim Woo, and we ended up hooking up with him and then he came out to a few shows with us and was partying up in Vegas with us. So funny hanging with those guys, the ones who originally wrote the parts, playing the parts of the songs on stage with us. It’s kind of a headtrip, but still fun, you know?
PB: And my final question about Badfish: Now that Sublime With Rome is around, will you be playing any of their tunes in your set?
PD: I honestly don’t even know. They haven’t released anything yet. So it’s hard to say. I know they’re currently in the studio. We’ll play it by ear. I mean, we’re a tribute band, and if our crowd wants to hear, we’ll play what they want to hear.
PB: Where did the idea to create the original band Scott Don’t Come?
PD: We started in 2007, and I had been writing these songs on the side in my free time. It was nothing serious; I just love writing music. I had this backlog of songs, and once I started taking over singing, we saw all these bands opening up for us at all these club and it sparked in us were getting kinda popular in their regions just opening up at Badfish shows due to high exposure. So instead of pumping these others bands why not pump something that was … us. So we started opening for ourselves as an alter ego type deal. It’s working quite well. I mean, every band wants to get on a good tour and get exposed nationally and that’s we’re doing. We’re just pulling double duty, playing 2 1/2 hours a night. It gets pretty crazy, but the work’s definitely worth it.
PB: Does the name have any connection to the song from EuroTrip that Matt Damon sang?
PD: No, it’s actually from Austin Powers [from the scene where Doctor Evil repeatedly says "Scotty, don't], and our drummer is named Scotty, and in the past, we’ve had to tell him “Scotty … don’t!”
PB: Could you describe the sound is there a stark contrast between the Scotty Don’t sound and Badfish?
PD: Definitely it’s own thing. We’re not trying to replicate any Sublime vibe. There may be a hint of it here and there, but that’s because the Sublime style is so ingrained in us from playing it so often. There’s a little hint of that, it’s all over the map. We kind of laugh about because we’ll be like this song kinda sounds like straight-up rock tune or a reggae tune, or it’ll be an acoustic tune with a harmonica and a mandolin and it’ll sound like it’s a country tune. The purpose of the project is to play music we like and the way we like to play it. So it’s our own collective influences put together in a stew — which I think is kinda neat because that’s what Sublime ended up doing. They had the whole punk, ska, reggae blend, and we’re just blending our own stuff in our own way, too.
PB: What was the initial reaction from the crowd that you guys were like. “Hey, we’re doing original thing, too”?
PD: Really funny at first. When you come up with these ideas and no one’s really done it before, there’s no example to show your a proper way to do it. Do you announce who you are, as like we’re Badfish and we’re going to do original songs? It was kinda tough at first because we didn’t know how to do it, but now we’ve had a few years under our belt and we’re working the kinks. The main thing is people go to a show to be entertained and have fun and enjoy themselves. If those elements are happening the entire time we’re on stage the job’s getting done.
Scott Don’t is gaining its own identity. We’re getting to that more fine-tuned area where we can really put on a fun show and interact with the crowd, banter back and forth, talk to people. If you’re trying to win people over and they’re not familiar with you’re catalog of work, it’s great to interact with them so they can come to know and like you. It’s trying to make friends with a 1,000 people at one time. It’s tough, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fun.
We never want to take anything away from the Sublime thing we’re doing. We don’t want to taint that or ruin that. I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We’re don’t want it to be like we’re pushing own agenda on the band. It’s like, “Hey, we’re going to Jekyll and Hyde, we’re going to be two different bands at the same, and we’re going to give each 110 percent at the same time.” It’s not for the weary. I mean, for me it’s worth it.
PB: Have you ever hoped that Scotty Don’t becomes the main breadwinner, or are you content with Badfish?
PD: I’d say with the word “content,” that’s not the case, because when you’re content you’re done. I honestly love both. I’d love for Scotty Don’t to be huge and be this amazing act that people are clawing to see. I’d love to keep them both that way. Why not have two awesome things?