Keep Calm and Carry On
By Alex Distefano
If you’re into Ska music, then you know of Madness, The Specials, and later No Doubt and Sublime as being the bands to help push Ska to the mainstream. But, some credit should also be given to Mustard Plug, a band formed in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1991 that to this day keeps the positive vibes and upbeat pace of Ska alive and well, by touring all over the U.S., Japan and even South America.
Guitarist/singer and founding member Collin Clive recently spoke to the IE Weekly over the phone, about the band’s early days coming up in a mostly punk-oriented scene, the cultural differences of crowd reactions in Japan, his favorite places to tour and the band’s pride in rarely—if ever—missing a show in their 20 plus year career. This 20 plus year career for Mustard Plug has involved a healthy amount of cross-country touring, including several years on the Vans Warped Tour, and even a stint on the 1998 Ska Against Racism Tour.
Clive said that Mustard Plug is a well traveled band, and plays to huge crowds in South American and Japan. “We’ve been able to travel a lot over our career,” Clive said. “We’ve been to Europe as well, and we found that the crowds are the same, for the most part wherever you travel. People are people everywhere, kids want to have fun and music fans are all over the world. The only place where it was a cultural difference was Japan, but in a good way, we all loved it.”
Clive said that the shows in Japan with Mustard Plug were fun and the crowd’s reaction was energetic, but that reaction was a huge contrast than that of America, where, in between songs fans are generally loud and rowdy. “They are very respectful over there, and all we remember is silence in between songs,” Clive said. “We had never experienced it before, where it was like loud super crazy then silence. That contrast was interesting but we had fun.”
Clive told the Weekly that on the current tour with Los Kung Fu Monkeys, one show in Michigan was unfortunately canceled (2/8/13) due to bad weather, and too much snow, but he wanted to emphasize that it was not a decision made by the band but by the promoter. “That was totally not our decision to cancel the show, “Clive said. “We’re used to the snow; you have to be where we’re from. But in this case, the promoter made the call to postpone the show, and it sucked since we were ready to pack the van and drive out there. In 21 years and only one of those was our fault.”
Being around more than two decades as a Ska band, Mustard Plug (also featuring Rick Johnson on bass and keyboards, Dave Kirchgessner on vocals, Brandon Jenison on trumpet Nathan Cohn on drums and Jim Hofer on trombone ) came up with mostly punk bands. “Where we were from in Michigan, we weren’t near major cities, it was more Midwest, and it was interesting to see that scene while it was happening. We lived it,” Clive said. ”But we did have Ska bands like the Toasters and the Mighty Boss Tones come through our area… but we played with mostly punk bands and for us it was uncharted territory, there were no Ska bands from our area; when we toured it was different.”
Clive said fans have been pleased so far on the current tour with Los Kung Fu Monkeys. He added that the Mustard Plug will be debut several new tunes, from an upcoming untitled album. “We will be playing a handful of new songs on this tour,” he said. “We have 16 new songs now, which is strange to us, so we might have a double album later.”
Clive did confess one of the best parts of touring with Mustard Plug is traveling. “We all love traveling the world, but in particular we love Southern California,” Clive said. “We can’t get enough of the food, and good weather.” But, Clive added that the East Coast does have its upsides. “The best part about touring back East, is that everything is close. This means that shows are two to three hours apart, rather than eight to 10 hours away, but we are all just grateful to be on the road.”