"Korea's got the best fried chicken," claims Dave Hillyard, longtime saxophonist for Brooklyn-bred ska band the Slackers. He would know. Over the past decade, the Slackers have performed across five of seven continents. "Never Africa or Australia," he says, "but when we performed in Korea, a lot of the people in the audience were Australians teaching English in Korea."
The ironically named band rode in on the so-called third wave of ska in the Nineties and made a splash in a kiddie-pool size scene that was slowly beginning to overflow into mainstream. "We were just a bunch of American kids into making Jamaican music," Hillyard recalls. "Third wave doesn't really mean anything as a style that defines you. It defines a time when all these bands came into the scene." He points to another successful third-wave group, Less than Jake. "If you consider bands like Less than Jake ska, then we're not ska. Less than Jake is just punk ... with horns."
The Slackers are anything but. Bits of jazz, American R&B, and Sixties rock can all be found in their rocksteady-based sound. And it's all topped with Vic Ruggiero's deep, raspy vocals that could convince any woman to dump her husband's body in a river. Basically all music is a hybrid of other styles of music, the band believes.
"Like a drum kit," Hillyard says, "all aspects of a drum kit are put together by different cultures." And it's the world's diverse cultures that seem to inspire Hillyard, who cites Miami as one of his favorite places to perform. "Miami's supported us through the good and bad times," says Hillyard, who confesses an affinity for Calle Ocho and the Cuban restaurants that line it. "We get people who fly up from El Salvador and Puerto Rico to catch our Miami shows," he says excitedly. "It's a very diverse scene."
Perhaps it reminds him a little of the New York City of yesteryear. Back then the Slackers were still on the now-defunct Moon Ska label, played dive bars, and had absolutely no clue they'd beat the odds and still be around a decade later. "Back then, in New York, you used to hear so much different music coming from people's apartments and cars — Latin, hip-hop, punk, jazz. Nowadays it's just so silent ... silenced by people who don't contribute any culture to the city."
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