Vocalist Frank "Potatohead" Casillas claims there's at least one sure sign on the Voodoo Glow Skulls' latest CD that they've grown up: no cuss words.
After 10 years of accenting Voodoo Glow Skulls' ska-influenced punk-rock with occasional four-letter words, Casillas kept it clean on the band's fourth album, The Band Geek Mafia. But that doesn't mean the seven-piece from Riverside, Calif., is mellowing out.
"It just really ended up that way; it wasn't intended," Casillas, 31, said. "I guess we're not as angry as we once were. I think it's really cool that we can put out an album that has good hardcore, metal, ska and punk-rock elements, but we don't have to use bad language to get that point across. ... Everybody gets older, you know."
The Band Geek Mafia, which was released Tuesday, finds the Voodoo Glow Skulls not only in a less combative state, but also a more accessible one.
Bringing the tempo down in spots and cautiously venturing into the land of harmony -- virtually unheard of on their previous releases --Voodoo Glow Skulls reconcile their position on the outer crest of ska's third wave without selling themselves short or softening their stance. "We're not into wacky, cheesy, poppy ska," Casillas said. "We're more into the darker side. We like to think of ourselves as the Metallica ska --a little more on the heavier, hardcore level."
While the Voodoo Glow Skulls put on a tenacious performance on The Band
Geek Mafia, Casillas offers up tales excerpted from life in Riverside as well as commentary on the world outside the Southern California town.
On the album's calypso-style first single, "Left for Dead" (RealAudio excerpt), Casillas ruefully addresses the heroin epidemic within the entertainment industry. "Used to be such a precious young thing/ but got caught up in some mixed up things/ took a bullet to the head/ now he's left for dead," Casillas sing-shouts in one of the verses.
Meanwhile, the proto-punk "Love Letter" (RealAudio excerpt) shows a much lighter side, pivoting on the phrase, "I wrote her this love letter/ but she don't know how to read." Casillas said the song was inspired both by homesickness brought on by months on the road as well as by the stereotype of the California dumb blonde.
Voodoo Glow Skulls came to life in 1988 when Casillas and his younger brothers, guitarist Eddie and bassist Jorge, began jamming with their neighbor, drummer Jerry O'Neill, in a tiny bedroom-turned-studio in the Casillas home. A horn section was later added to the clamorous mix, featuring sax player Joe Hernandez, trumpeter Joe McNally and trombonist Brodie Johnson. Though Voodoo Glow Skulls have yet to attain the commercial success found recently by other ska-based outfits such as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the band has withstood the ups and downs of the music industry by standing on its well-nourished grass roots.
"They're not a band that has jumped on a bandwagon," John Avila, The Band Geek Mafia producer and Oingo Boingo bassist, said. "Over the years, through all their touring, they've remained an entity all their own."
Part of remaining all their own, Casillas said, has required using ska as an influence, rather than a format. "We try to leave ska as a sacred thing and don't mess with it too much and ruin the music," he said, adding that many present-day "ska" groups mishandle the genre simply through overuse, draining it of its charisma.
Voodoo Glow Skulls will tour stateside and overseas in support of The Band Geek Mafia, including a multi-date slot on the Vans Warped tour, beginning Saturday. Casillas predicted his band will bring its share of misfits to the punk-skater package festival.
"Because our live show has the power of a hardcore show and the vibrancy of a ska show, we get a big mixture of long-haired kids and hardcore kids and whatever kids," Casillas said. "We get all the kids who don't hang out with anybody because they listen to Voodoo Glow Skulls."