The Guilty Parties are a native Riverside ska band at a time when ska music is virtually obsolete in the mainstream scene. That is, they’re at least semi-ska, or mostly-ska, predominantly ska, if not altogether-ska. In the mid-90s, the genre as a whole exploded with bands like No Doubt, Sublime, Goldfinger, The Deftones and Smashmouth rocketing to huge popularity, only to eventually shed those identities for more homogenized sounds as soon as they reached the hilltops. It seems that ska, with its roots in reggae and ska-core—its punk fraternal twin—is just not meant for longevity.
Back in 2000, Josh Franklin and James Baylor, both singers and saxophone players, and John Martinez, a baritone sax player, were in a marching band at King High School. Shortly thereafter, they got together and played Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder covers like “Brick House” and “Superstitious” using those same instruments, and just like that they were onto the ska.
As ska bands are never small, the Guilty Parties soon grew to nine members to skank the house with, featuring, among others, Bobby Perkins and his essential signature sound on the trombone. Citing diverse influences ranging from the Suicide Machines, the Police, Stevie Wonder, Rage Against the Machine, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, it’s no wonder such a splicy amalgamation of wiring makes such frenetic noise. As the band’s chemistry proved to be not only danceable but special, they put together their first major demo in 2003 at Rock the Dome studios in Moreno Valley. Since then, they’ve gained recognition and esteem with live performances across the Southland, playing venues such as the Whisky and B.B. Kings Blues Club in LA, the Showcase Theatre in Corona and Chain Reaction in Anaheim. It’s been over two years since 2005’s You’re Out of the Band, and in that time they’ve been doing some thinking.
So, I asked them why the ska bands that exploded in the ’90s dropped the genre as soon as they became mainstream. They cut to the quick:
Josh: “The record companies have too much control. They’re selling an image and a label.”
Anthony: “I think too many bands are put together by companies.”
Josh: “The record companies pushed bands to keep up with trends. They think bands have to keep up with labels and change.”
Anthony: “The bands change their sound for the money. They taste the mainstream and don’t want to make music, they just want to put out a record.”
Even still, the Guilty Pleasures can’t help roaming away from their original ska roots. Which stings, because if you’ve had the pleasure of listening to You’re Out of the Band you already know that it’s a damn fine album. Imagine traditional, progressive ska beats, ferocious modern reggae energy, screaming guitar licks that rival any modern rock ensemble, and, snickering beneath it all, a sort of jocularity that gives definition to its quirk. The album’s chock full of classic share-alls; for instance, “My You’ve Changed” talks about running into the girl who dissed you in high school and discovering that, years later, she’s as wide and ugly as a manatee. Or how about “Room Service,” which makes fun of Kobe Bryant’s 2003 Colorado rape charge with an ode—“A Message to You, Rudy”—to the legendary ska band, The Specials, in the form of a lyric that goes, “A message to you, Kobe.” It’s just manic stuff that makes you crave a new offering.
But thus far none are forthcoming. These days the Guilty Parties are busy promoting the IE scene—their upcoming January 12 show at Red Planet Records in Riverside is not only intended to bring publicity to a kickass independent music store, but also to introduce younger, less prominent bands that haven’t made a name for themselves just yet. Just looking out, y’know?
Franklin admits that the band has moved away from its original ska sound, and it wasn’t a monolithic record company that forced the change—theirs has been an entirely organic evolution. “We’ve written a few more songs and are more experimental rock/ska,” he says of the genuine sound lab. “We are going for a more upbeat and danceable mix of our many types of styles from the past albums: ska, rock, soul, punk, hip hop, and some metal.”
The Guilty Parties still intend to serve up the old style their fans turn out for. Franklin says it’s all about the music. “We like keeping it fun and upbeat at shows, so we want the dancing fans to be able to dance, and the listen-only fans to be able to enjoy it as well.”
Do check them out, as when it comes to putting on a memorably high-octane show in whatever genre they’re in, these cats are guilty as charged.
The Guilty Parties, Christgun, Chase Long Beach, The Hightops and the Johnstones at Red Planet Records, 6192 Magnolia Ave., Rancho Cucamonga, (909) 686-9544. January 12; doors at 9PM, $8.