Stubborn All-Stars singer King Django has seen bad times and he's seen good times for ska bands such as his own. He's just glad he's here to sing about it still.
And what's more important, perhaps, is he's got a lot to say, musically and otherwise.
Despite a banner year for ska acts from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to younger acts Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris and Buck-O-Nine, the gravy train hasn't always been rolling for the genre, as New York ska vet Django, a.k.a. Jeff Baker, will attest.
For more than a decade, the 30-year-old Django has slugged it out as a member of Skinnerbox and more recently, the Stubborn All-Stars, whose new song "Pick Yourself Up" (RealAudio excerpt) serves as a testament to Django's enduring spirit: "God helps those who help themselves," sings Django simply over an infectious, traditional ska beat. "Nobody's gonna give you no free ride/ You've got to work real hard to have something of your own."
The singer and trombonist said he wrote the track after an especially rough
Skinnerbox tour, on which the band was often left in a lurch because of shoddy
booking arrangements. "Sometimes you get in these phases where everything
seems to be crashing," said Django by phone from his New York home. "You
get into these funks for no reason, it's really hard to keep the bands together. You've got the day-to-day rigors of not having a day job and trying to keep your bills paid, the battle against entropy. The only way to get yourself out of it is to keep work up. Keep working it, keep your goal in sight, keep moving forward toward it."
Right now the only thing crashing for the All-Stars is the sound of hands
giving each other high-fives for their new album Back With a New
Batch (Stubborn/Another Planet). The proof is in the album's pudding as Django uses his newly refined voice to detail world weariness on such traditional reggae tracks as "Tired of Struggling," or to tell a bad-luck girl off on the New Orleans-flavored "Because of You."
"The songs were a little more organically grown, and I think they're more
personal than the last album," Django said. "Our intent is to keep it a
pre-'80s sound. The new record has some rhythm and blues in it, a little
bit of New Orleans flavor in it, a lot of rock steady and skinhead reggae. Except for 'Because of You.' "
Among the 17 ska players who lend a hand on the disc are Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen and Matt Freeman from Rancid, and Dicky Barrett from the Bosstones. Considering the hard years these guys have worked themselves, it's only appropriate that their contributions include backing vocals for "Pick Yourself Up."
And Django was only happy to have them on the track.
"Dicky and the guys in Rancid were both really helpful to Stubborn
All-Stars when we first started," Django said. "I just wanted to have them sing on the record because they were so into it. I thought it'd be really cool to have Dicky singing with Lars and Tim."
It was Rancid, however, that extended the welcoming hand first when they
offered the All-Stars the opening slot for their European tour less than a
year after the All-Stars' debut album Open Season began making waves
in ska circles. Rancid liked the band so much that they brought the
All-Stars' horn section along with them on the 1996 Lollapalooza.
"Tim Armstrong's vocal style definitely was an influence on me," Django
said. "He really freed my vocal up. Just listening to him all the time
helped me to be a lot more less uptight, more expressive, and to try a lot
more things with my voice." [Thurs., Nov. 20, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]