maxwell barna delivers an epic and engrossing interview with ska/reggae stars Slightly Stoopid …
I’ll be the first one to say that Slightly Stoopid has never been one of my all-time favorite bands. To the untrained eye, they may appear as a generic, Southern California-bred ska/punk/reggae outfit. However, to make this assumption is to deal them a great injustice. To anyone who knows really just about anything about music, it becomes evident almost immediately after hearing a couple tracks that this band is a variable smorgasbord of musical talent.
Citing influences in everything from rock to jazz, reggae to hip hop and punk to funk, Slightly Stoopid delivers some of the most complex, diverse and different sounds out right now. But what’s the best part about it? They’ve been doing it with unnerving consistency for over 15 years, and have seen and done just about everything, including touring with Snoop Dogg.
Slightly Stoopid drummer Ryan “RyMo” Moran was kind enough to take an insane amount of time out of his busy schedule earlier this week in between the sound check at their show in Salt Lake City, Utah, to discuss everything from their current Seedless Summer Tour with Rebelution, Shwayze and Cisco Adler, to Slightly Stoopid’s method for battling hangovers, to the current economic state of the music industry and its rapid progression into the digital age. Yes, it got that crazy.
And for all you Sublime fans, RyMo was also kind enough to share a very interesting, lesser-known history of Skunk Records, how it was started, and how Slightly Stoopid is graciously fulfilling their duty of passing on the torch to younger bands via their own Stoopid Records.
At the end of the day, RyMo was maybe one of the most intelligent and down-to-earth people I’ve ever interviewed for Pop-Break. Our conversation was very casual and laid back, but it was easy to see that RyMo recognizes wholeheartedly that music is his life. That’s really saying a lot, given that I’m not Slightly Stoopid’s biggest fan.
In other words, enjoy …
Pop-Break: So what is the Seedless Summer Tour?
Ryan Moran: The Seedless Summer Tour is us with Rebelution as main support, based out of Santa Barbara doing kind of like a reggae thing. And then we’ve got Shwayze also on tour with us. He’s doing kind of like a pop-hip hop thing.
PB: You’ve still got quite a hefty schedule ahead, but how has the tour been so far?
RyMo: It’s been really fun, man. All the guys in all the bands are super cool. Everyone’s been hanging out every day and we’ve been barbecuing together every night. After almost every show we throw a barbecue, so everyone kind of gets a good chance to get to know each other a little bit and drink a couple beers, shoot the shit. You know? It’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of like a summer camp for adults.
PB: You guys just played for your hometown, San Diego. From what I heard, it’s always a pretty big deal for Slightly Stoopid. How was it this time around?
RyMo: Yeah, we had a really big show a couple days ago -– super fun. It was great, man. We had all our friends, all our families were there. We sold around 14,000 tickets which was, I think, good for us. We were really happy with the result. The show went off without a hitch —- no technical problems, no issues, no nothin’, so it was definitely a win-win.
PB: So, I was pretty partied out when I woke up this “morning.” For some reason, even though I’d only drank beer the night before (albeit a ton of it …), I managed to catch a hangover. After staring at my ceiling for about 15 minutes, wondering why the Gods plagued mankind with hangovers, I figured this would be a good question: After being together for so long, Slightly Stoopid HAS to have developed its own patented hangover remedy. What is it?
RyMo: Honestly, man, the only thing you can really do is just try to stay hydrated. In all seriousness, we sweat fuckin’ bullets every night, so we’re able to actually drink a good amount. I drink more, way more, then when I’m at home and I get a hangover here and there, but I think because we sweat so much, the key thing for us to prevent or reduce the hangover vibe is to just stay as hydrated as possible and just force yourself to pound 20 little bottles of water a day and just try not to go too far beyond your limits, you know?
PB: A detail of Slightly Stoopid’s music that I’ve always been keen about is that the band utilizes a drummer and a percussionist. Is it difficult for you to groove with a percussionist on the congas or whatever OG’s using? How do you guys work together?
RyMo: It’s not difficult at all so long as we’re on the same musical page. OG [Slightly Stoopid’s percussionist] and I have known each other for a really long time and we know how to flow together, so it’s all good. We both listen to each other, like he’ll encourage me. He’ll say, “Oh hey, on this one song, let’s try this,” or, “let’s do this little hit together –- it’ll sound cool.” Or vice versa, I’ll be like, “Yeah, let’s try this,” or, “let’s alter that,” or, “let’s just leave this part open.” We’re always working to make our parts more cohesive and more sort of beneficial to the overall music. We try to make our parts fit as well as we can. We’re always working on parts, even on songs we’ve been playing for years. We’re always working together … and I definitely think that’s important, you know?
PB: One thing I believe bands have a hard time with, particularly those bands that play ska music, reggae, or even ska-punk, is keeping their music sounding original and crisp. Many feel as though the music can get somewhat redundant or even monotonous after a while. But with Slightly Stoopid, it seems like there’s always something more going on; there are just so many different things going on at one time to help bring your songs together. How would you rationalize for how complex Slightly Stoopid’s music really is?
RyMo: I think a lot of people don’t see that if they’re not musicians. I think they just go, “Oh yeah, I like this band, they’re just a reggae band, and that’s it.” They don’t realize that in Slightly Stoopid, we’re sort of schizophrenics musically. We like punk rock, ska, hip-hop, rock, reggae, we like so many different things, like electronic style and all this other stuff. We basically bring a little bit of that into every song.
And also, with the reggae thing, you’re right –- a lot of bands that play reggae just make it, you know, you’re just skanking on the guitar, and playing a cool bass line and keeping a simple rhythm with the drums. And that’s true, to an extent. Technically, it’s not as complicated as other styles of music, but what people don’t realize is that to play it well you have to be a good musician.
I think a lot of people just think, “Oh Slightly Stoopid, yeah, they just smoke pot and play reggae.” Well, we’ve all done our homework. We’ve all listened to a lot of different stuff and honestly, within our band, you can probably spin off four or five different genres and we’d be able to pull them off. We could probably turn into a salsa band for a night, or a jazz band or an ’80s cover band, because we have that much knowledge collectively. All the guys have done a lot of listening, a lot of studying and everyone basically devoted their lives to music. I think that’s one of the reasons why Stoopid is able to sort of weave in and out of different genres while still getting respected [by] other musicians and stuff.
PB: So then let’s set the record straight right now. I’ve read so many articles describe you guys as just about everything under the sun — everything from reggae rock to acoustic hip hop to even ska funk and ska punk. The only genre I’ve really never heard anyone peg you as would probably be disco. So what would you, a member of the band, describe Slightly Stoopid’s musical genre as.
RyMo: I mean [laughing], that’s funny, and that is a question that I get a fair amount. I would say, just in the least amount of words, it’s reggae — rock-funk-punk. We do cross all those genres pretty much most of the time. We throw in some ska, we throw in other different styles like hip hop and all that stuff. But I’d say just if you wanted to generalize us in as few words as possible, I’d say those four genres sort of cover the gamut of what we do at this point.
PB: If one goes to shows by bands like The Wailers, Pepper, 311, Sublime With Rome, it seems like many of the fans these shows draw are very single-track, if-it-doesn’t-sound-like-Sublime-I-can’t-stand-it type of listeners. But Slightly Stoopid plays such complex music. I’d go as far as describing you folks as a band that plays music for musicians —- it’s always so complex, but you put it in such a simple package. How do you guys bridge the gap between the “music for musicians” standpoint and the “if-it-doesn’t-sound-like-Sublime-I-can’t-stand-it” type of fan.
RyMo: Yeah, I understand that kind of fan. That’s typically a younger fan that’s saying, “If it doesn’t sound like this one band …” I mean, I think as most people grow a little bit, become a little [wiser] and get a little older physically, they start getting a little more open to different styles. I grew up on Led Zeppelin and Rush, Aerosmith and Dead Kennedys and stuff. But these days, I mean, I listen to classical if I’m in that kind of mood, or I’ll listen to world music, Ravi Shankar, or hip hop. Music becomes a mood at a certain point. So I’m not always in the same mood, so I’m not always going to listen to the same kind of music to reflect that mood. If I’m pissed off, I’m going to listen to some metal, straight up, or some punk rock. Or if I’m feeling cool and it’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m barbecuing with my friends, I’m probably not going to put some metal on, I’m going to put some reggae on or some rock ‘n’ roll. You know what I’m saying?
I think that the limited viewpoint of the listener is kind of their own limitation. I think what we provide is an accurate cross-section of a lot of different [types of] music that we all like to play. I mean literally, like we said, a ton of reggae, a ton of hip hop, to even straight ahead jazz, to some meaner ’70s dirty funk Parliament shit. We’re all looking a little bit older now. We’re not 18 or 19 years old, you know? We’re in our mid-30s now. We’ve been around and we’ve had some up’s and down’s and at this point, the music that we play reflects the broader sort of back-drum of stuff that we’ve had to deal with in our lives and music that we listen to as opposed to just being 18-year-old kids playing punk rock for a fifth of the world.
I would just say for the listeners that if it just doesn’t fit their thing, then that’s fine -— we probably have at least a couple songs that they probably would still like. Maybe they wouldn’t like the whole show, or maybe we would kick them out to some new shit that they’ll really like, you know? A lot of the younger kids haven’t checked out other stuff that’s a little more obscure that’s not on the mainstream wave-length.
PB: I think it’s safe to say that you guys have been pretty fortunate. Slightly Stoopid has played live on Jimmy Kimmel, toured with Snoop Dogg, signed to Skunk Records right out of high school –- that’s some pretty crazy stuff that a lot of people can only dream about. Having said that, what would you say is your all-time most memorable experience?
RyMo: Let’s not forget that there’s a lot of blood sweat and tears invested in all that good luck. Yeah, we’ve had great luck, but let’s not forget that the band has dedicated all of our collective lives to really doing this. A lot of bands like to go, “oh, how did you do this, how do you do that?” And it’s like, you know what, man, we don’t even know. We just worked our asses off and we were lucky that we’ve been able to come across the right people, but I think we came across the right people because we were working our asses off. I would just say there’s really no short cut outside of hard work. No matter what you do in life, if you bust your ass, you’re going to get some success at some point. It might not be as much as you want, it might not be when you want, but you will get it.
I don’t know, though. Just off the top of my head, there’ve been hundreds of those, you know? Touring with some landmark acts like the Snoops or the Dave Matthews. We did Lollapalooza this last summer and it was absolutely insane. We got to play in between Social Distortion, who was one of our favorite bands growing up. They’re another band from Southern Cal that we all grew up listening to, and still do to this day. We got to play between them and Green Day, and Green Day is awesome. We never thought we’d be able to be anywhere near that type of a lineup, and here we are smack dab between two of our favorite bands.
I guess the high points really for us have been to meet some of our idols and actually just throw down and hang out with some of these people that we’ve grown up listening to — to get the odd chance for a head nod, a hand shake or a high five. That’s really what makes us all happy.
PB: When I was growing up, Skunk Records really became more like a dynasty or a dream to me, you know? Can you tell me a little bit more about Slightly Stoopid’s relationship with Skunk Records, what it’s meant to you guys and what it was like getting signed to them so early on.
RyMo: In a nutshell, Skunk Records was two people. It was Brad Nowell from Sublime, and Mike Happoldt. Mike Happoldt is still one of our producers to this day, we work with him all the time. Basically those two guys started that record label as an underground Long Beach record label. It was basically two friends who just put their heads together and said, “Hey, we’re going to start recording.”
At the time, Mike Happoldt was called Miguel. Miguel was going to Long Beach State and he was in a recording arts music program there … and so after hours there they would sneak into Long Beach State and Sublime recorded a whole bunch of stuff there. They would basically just sneak in after hours and use the studio from like, 8 p.m. ‘till 4 in the morning and then come back in the next night and do it all again. Skunk Records really was just a grass roots movement between those two guys.
Now sadly, we all know the story that Brad Nowell passed away in ’96 from an overdose on heroin, which sucked. At that point Mike, or Miguel, basically kept the label going, but it shrunk considerably. It went from like a full-on functioning label to just basically him doing stuff out of his house on a smaller scale. Basically, Skunk Records released quite a few records from bands like The Ziggens, one of Sublimes favorite bands from back in the day. They released a good amount of other stuff —- obviously the work they did with Long Beach Dub [Allstars]. Basically, Skunk Records is just Miguel Happoldt. It’s his project.
We still work with him, and now we have our own thing, Stoopid Records. We’re putting our own stuff on our own imprint now, and that seems to be working really well. But we basically modeled it in a certain way after … Skunk [Records] -— goin’ just grass roots, small-scale, keeping it kind of in-house. And now we’re doing the same thing. We’re basically passing that torch on to the younger bands, like Sublime gave some bands a chance in the mid-’90s, and now we’re able to give some of these bands a chance to record some music 20 years later. Now, we’re the older guys and the younger guys are coming up and they need support, so we’re able to kind of show them the ropes because we’ve been on the road for so long and have been doing this for a while now.
PB: A lot of bands release music under their own imprints so they don’t have their arms twisted behind their backs by labels.
RyMo: At the end of the day, a record label is a business. There used to be this myth, and I’m sure you’ve heard it, that says you sign a record deal and then you retire. You make a million dollars and you’ve made it. And then you never have to lift a finger again, you never have to work again, and that is like the biggest bunch of bullshit ever.
I don’t know how that myth was propelled, but basically record labels offer a lump sum of money. It’s almost like taking a loan out for a house. They’re loaning you money to create a product that, if they don’t like, they don’t have to release, they can change your band name, they can change everything really. And these decisions are made by guys in Hollywood high-rises. These aren’t decisions made by the band or the bands management, even. We’re talking about decisions that have everything to do with the band that the band has no say in. A lot of people don’t realize that when you sign to a record label, you’re giving up anywhere between a little bit of your creative control and you’re whole creative control. You can get fucked really easily.
Let’s say you sign to a major label and the flavor of the moment is Linkin Park and Papa Roach and P.O.D. But you have to make your music sound like that even though you might sound more like Metallica, or you might sound more like NOFX or someone that’s a little more edgy or punkier. They’ll say, “No, that’s not in right now, so we’re going to slow all your tempo’s down, [and] we’re going to change all your song lyrics to make them catchier.” So that’s what people don’t realize a lot of time: You basically have to sacrifice a whole bunch of stuff creatively to get your point across and get that record deal.
These days , especially with the internet and file sharing being a lot more readily accessible, there are a lot of people saying, “Screw that, man. We don’t need to go that way. We’re just going to record this music, put it on the internet, and hope people come to our live shows,” because that’s how the way the musicians get paid.
Most people think that every CD you sell, the money goes straight to the artist. Well, in actuality, usually, in the best case scenario, the artist might make one dollar off a CD you might buy in a store for $15, you know what I mean? You have to sell a hell of a lot of CDs before you start seeing coin, and you have to recoup that money the record label put forward.
I’d probably have to sell at least 100,000, maybe 200,000, copies of the CD before I even see one cent. That’s a hard thing to do. So yeah, when people say that when you sign to a big record label you’ve made it [and] you never have to do anything ever again, that’s actually usually where all the work begins. So a record label might get you in the public eye and everything, but you still have to work to pay off that loan.
With us, and with a lot of bands these days, you can make a quality recording on an in-house budget for considerably less [than to record with a major label] and it will still be a high quality product.
PB: And you don’t have to sell your soul…
PB: Exactly! And you’re keeping all the profits from each sale. So instead of making 50 cents to a dollar per disc, now you’re making like seven dollars a disc, after expenses, you know? If it costs three or four dollars to make each copy and you sell them for 10 bucks, you’re making six or seven bucks per unit. And then that money goes right back into the pot and once you sell 5,000 units, you’ve recouped $30,000 versus having to sell a million records just to break even.
PB: So would you say big labels are just out to fuck artists?
RyMo: Well, let’s not say they just want to fuck you, because then they wouldn’t be in business. Because at the end of the day it’s a business and they’re trying to make money. Basically, what they’re doing is hedging a bet. They say, “Alright, I’m going to bet on Slightly Stoopid. I’m going to bet they put out a real quality product for $100,000. Now, once we put that hundred grand up, then they owe us, right? Then we have them by the balls. Now, they’re going to go on tour and do all this stuff to support the record and we’re going to put more money in to make it like a press thing and a big publicity stunt.” At the end of the day, it’s not that they’re trying to fuck you. It’s that if you’re not successful, you’re going to get dropped. But if they’re making money off of you…
Let’s say you go huge and turn into Aerosmith and every album sells 10 million copies. Guess who’s the darling of the label and gets whatever they want?
So that’s the gamble that that a lot of bands are willing to take, or maybe more so 10 or 20 years ago. But that’s the trade-off: It’s not like every label is just going, “Oh, we’re going to fuck all these bands.” The labels need the bands as much as the bands need the labels. But now, with the advent of technology, the Internet, and all these new ways to put music out, now the labels aren’t as necessary because anyone can record a CD in their own house, put it up for sale on a website, and generate some income. And if you’re touring, you can do that tenfold. At the end of the day, the labels are trying to make money. And if you’re not making them money, you’re out.
This is all interesting to me because we’re watching this whole industry shift. Just look at [how] Blockbuster went out of business. We’ve got Borders book stores going under now. We’re seeing a shift in the way media is transferred, and that’s happening really, really quickly. The internet has revolutionized countless industries.
PB: So, from what I’m gathering, we can conclude that you’re a big advocate of the internet marketplace?
RyMo: Of course! See, the thing is, a band like [Slightly Stoopid], we thrive from that. We never sold a million records. We didn’t go huge and now the Internet is killing our sales. We were the other way around. We were just a touring band and we were able to spread our buzz and our word of mouth and generate some sales from the Internet. We didn’t shy away from it in a way that certain other bands are really anti-internet and anti-file sharing. You can’t stop that now —- look at Youtube. You can’t stop YouTube, it’s huge!
PB: There’s really no smooth transition to this next question, so I’ll just move right into it. You guys are playing in Asbury Park, N.J., on August 10. It definitely won’t be your first time here. What kind of crowd are you expecting and how do you like New Jersey?
PB: Yeah, we’ve done PNC [Bank Arts Center], we’ve played Asbury Park probably five or six times now the Stone Pony and the outside stage. It’s great. It’s one of our favorite venues because it’s right on the beach, you know? We can go across the street, go for a swim, walk around, and check out all the shops. It’s always a lot of fun to be there, for sure.
PB: Alright, well my last question is something I ask to everybody. You absolutely must answer. I read somewhere that you were a Guinness man. If you were stuck on an island or were on death row and you could only drink one more beer for the rest of your life, what would it be?
RyMo: I mean, you just said it. I’d probably be happy with some Guinness, man. I wouldn’t even need to eat that much food because I’d be drinking a lot of that shit. Yeah, I like that beer — it’s one of my favorites.