Ska history is commonly referred to in terms of waves. The first wave was a combination of American jazz and R&B, fused with Caribbean sounds that came out of the Jamaican dancehalls in the ‘60s. The second wave was the “Two-tone revival”—fueled by Jerry Dammers 2 Tone Records, and his seminal band, The Specials. This wave accentuated the cultural mix of rock and reggae in British working-class neighborhoods in the ‘70s. The third wave was mostly American, injected with West Coast flavor that was part of the ‘90s alternative movement. Now, ska’s latest reincarnation—the Los Angeles-based group The Interrupters—will pick-it-up, pick-it-up, pick-it-up at the Stone Pony on March 15.
The Interrupter’s first full-length release was in 2014—a good 20 years since the start of the third wave. With a handful of bonafide alternative radio hits to their name, they’re really the only game-changing ska outfit of the past decade. So, would that make the Interrupters the trailblazers of a “Fourth Wave” of ska? 32-year-old guitarist Kevin Bivona isn’t ready to wave that flag. “We don’t really think of ourselves in terms of a new wave. Basically, we grew up on that third wave and that’s what influenced us the most. That has always been our scene. In the ‘90s and ‘00s, ska just got really big commercially. But even as that trailed off in the mainstream, it never died. We’ve toured with the Bosstones, Less than Jake, and Reel Big Fish. They’re still selling out venues. Those bands have just been so welcoming to us, and the punk bands too.”
The band consists of three brothers—Kevin, Justin, and Jesse Bivona—who were a band called the Telecasters when they met singer/songwriter Aimee Allen in 2011. Both parties were on tour with Sugar Ray. There was obvious chemistry, as the boys welcomed Aimee as their new frontwoman, forming the Interrupters, who got picked up by Hellcat Records. Kevin and Aimee would eventually get married. Their 2014 record, Say It Out Loud, featured the commercial hit (as in, it was in commercials for T-Mobile and Major League Baseball) “Take Back the Power,” and they became a contemporary band filling the house by playing ska. Kevin Bivona also played keys for the Transplants and other bands before becoming a sound engineer and getting the dubious honor of playing on and mixing Sacred Fire, the Jimmy Cliff EP produced by Tim Armstrong of Rancid. “There’s music that I’ve worked on in the studio that I never listened to again. But that Jimmy Cliff record is on constant rotation in the Interrupters dressing room,” he laughs.
The Interrupters have been on the road since February and currently have tour dates into July. “At this point, we’ve done headlining tours. We’ve done some runs on the West Coast, but this is our biggest yet, certainly in terms of length. We head to Europe after the U.S., and we’re pretty much going to be on the road for the rest of the year—and no one is complaining about that. We’re super grateful.”
They released Fight the Good Fight last June, featuring the hit single “She’s Kerosene.” The Interrupters are simply breathing new life and energy into the upstroke tradition. With generally positive lyrics about growing up in a scene of misfits and friendship, the songs are rebellious and political without getting too deep into specifics. And they make for great sing-alongs. “If you look at the crowd coming out to our shows, it’s not just people who were going to the Warped Tour and listening to ska in 1995. You look at the faces and it’s all generations. We have eight- and nine-year-old’s who come out to see us play.”
The Interrupters were a big part of the Tim Timebomb and Friends project back in 2013. Armstrong’s vocals are featured on the song “Family.” Bivona certainly doesn’t hide the debt of gratitude they feel toward Armstrong and Rancid. “Even if I hadn’t played with Rancid and we didn’t tour with them, that music is still so important to us. It goes all the way back to Operation Ivy, which had a huge influence on the third wave. They have been really good to us.”
The Interrupters have tapped Rat Boy and Masked Intruder to warm things up before they hit the stage. “Rat Boy is a talented kid from the UK that a lot of people haven’t heard. Masked Intruder are so fun. They certainly have a great live show, but those guys have really written some great songs,” Bivona adds.
Bivona’s also pretty excited to play the storied Pony. “I was familiar with the history with Bruce. Then when I came through and played the Summerstage with Rancid last summer I went out on the boardwalk and I could really feel a special history. And it’s important as a town gets built up to maintain the scene that’s been there all along, so we’re super excited to come through.”
Catch the Interrupters at the Stone Pony on March 15!