This is an interview I did with ‘Go Jimmy Go’, a ska band from Hawaii, for Bling Magazine. The whole thing was for a 500 word article, I asked around a dozen questions in the expectation that (like most bands) they would email me back a quick standard answer and I’d just about have enough material to put the article together from. Eric, who is the bands trombonist, turned out to be a complete legend and sent me far more material than I could ever use. It seems a shame not to put all the effort he made into something, so I thought I’d post it on here. You never know, some fans might stumble across it through search engines!
What/ who do Go Jimmy Go sound like?
If James Brown and his band had sex with Bob Marley and his band and they made a baby….nah, just joking. Basically, Go Jimmy Go plays Jamaican music – ska, rocksteady, reggae – with American soul and a Hawaiian feel. That’s a tough sell, ain’t it? To top it all off, if you look for us in the record store you’ll most likely find us in the rock section!?!
It’s really hard to put our sound into a simple explanation, to categorize it so neatly as to makes interviews simple 😉 Because we really don’t sound like any one person or band in particular I just call us “The Island Sound Known The World Around.” We’re from one island (Hawaii) playing mainly the music of another island (Jamaica) and we get to take that sound all over the world to places like Japan to most of the 50 United States, Canada and most of the countries in Europe.
Here’s a challenge: listen to our albums and you tell me what we sound like and I’ll use it 😉 Nobody really got it just right so I’m still searching. After 12 years, nobody has quite nailed it down yet to my satisfaction. You add that to all the year’s we’ve been together learning and evolving as a band, touring, living life to the extremes then it gets even harder.
So back to the original question, what does Go Jimmy Go sound like…and the answer is it’s totally up to you.
Is there Hawaiian influence to your sound? If so, explain.
Since the majority of us grew up here in Hawaii, I’d say we have a Hawaiian influence to the sound but more out of feel than actual physical notes and chords. Growing up on an island you inherit a laid back attitude, a chill vibe that lends itself to everything you do and especially music.
How did the band form? How long did it take to get your first shows, and to start winning fans?
Success came quickly to us back when we started the band back in October 1996. By the very next month I believe we were already playing live on one of the most popular island radio stations (Radio Free Hawaii) and opening up for MTV touring bands (Goldfinger) a few months after that. I’m not saying we were fantastic or anything but I think the idea of a traditional-style ska and reggae band, one that takes their notes from the roots of the music, not the branches and leaves, had mass appeal at the time we started. It was the style that was fresh and people from all walks of life dug into it as did we. The musicianship came later as we kept it together, gigging regularly from coffee shop to backyard parties to bars to legit venues. And the great thing about living on the island is that all the different music scenes really blended together to give you this cocktail of rastas, skins, rockers, skaters, surfers, college kids, emos, young, sometimes old, but all there mainly for the music which is all we could ever ask for at the time.
Where is your favorite place to play, and who are your favorite artists to play with?
To tell you the truth I think our favorite place to play is Anna Bannana’s. It’s been there near the University of Hawaii since 1969 and is hallowed ground for any local band if you think about it. I can’t think of too many local music venues that have that kind of history that people regularly go to. With that being said, our band practically grew up at Anna Bannana’s and we still gig regularly there. It’s a place where everyone from all walks of life can dig because it’s unpretentious and stays alive to do the right thing – give the people music! I sometimes think of all the sweat and spit and beer that have stained it’s walls and I say “whoa!”…that’s 40 years of sweat, spit and beer!
It’s hard to say but our favorite band to play with would be The Toasters from New York City. I think we’ve toured with them four times now and had several individual gigs throughout the years together. They are practically living legends in the ska world and rock harder than most half their age – no joke! They come up on stage and jam with us on certain songs and vice versa. We’ve been all over the east, middle and the west coasts of the U.S. and Canada. We’ve brought them down to Hawaii a couple of times so Bucket, the lead singer/guitarist, could eat proper sashimi. And they’ve taken us on a 16 country tour of Europe…places like Bosnia, Kosovo, and even Albania! We’ve had some crazy times together – dangerous times! – and that’s why I say that’s our favorite band to play with.
Tell us a good tour story – what goes on off the stage when Go Jimmy Go take to the road?
Well, there was that time in Japan when someone accidentally ordered the live fish sashimi….and also that time our bass player washed his face with the bidet in the Japanese hotel…or the hundreds of times we could’ve died traversing America in the freezing cold and ice….or that time we got lost in Albania.
Albania and Kosovo aren’t on that list of 16 countries we toured in Europe for a good reason! For one, Kosovo still had armed NATO troops in the streets to make sure there were no riots or anarchy or people shooting at each other and Albania didn’t even have paved roads or streets signs. In fact, in my travel book about Europe, Albania was the only country that was blacked out! It wasn’t even on the GPS!!!
Basically, we had been on tour in Europe for 5 weeks already, very tired and weary from all the drinking and long nights into mornings. The last leg of tour was Eastern Europe and the Balkans with gigs in Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and ending in the Czech Republic. Up to that point we’ve never seen a war zone before, only in movies. It was when we got to Bosnia that we came upon the ugly truth of war. It was the real deal just outside our tour bus and I had my face glued to the window staring at blown up houses and other buildings littered with AK-47, .50 strafes and rpg fire (all I had to go by was the difference in size of the various holes they made in the buildings). I could write a book about all the things we saw but it immediately got more worse than you could imagine when we ended up in what some call the armpit of Europe, Albania.
From Bosnia we were supposed to cut across East to Macedonia. What happened was that we got routed through the wrong city on the GPS and instead of arriving to our destination, Macedonia, on time in the morning we ended up driving on the bumpiest, rockiest roads we had yet encountered. The situation was grim when I awoke that morning and then assessed the reality we were in – lost somewhere in Albania!
First of all, the roads weren’t paved, there were pillboxes from WWII still doting the landscaping which really creeped me out, and the “villages” we encountered were more like shanty towns being held together by string. Even worse, the GPS didn’t work in this country so we were driving blind. Oh, did I mention no road signs; I seriously think they scraped them all for the metal.
We eventually arrived in the 2nd biggest city in Albania after driving what seemed like forever. The place was called Skhoder(?) and it was still stuck in the iron grip of Soviet bleakness and depression. For instance, near the main square I saw a guy selling four sacks of onions and maybe his cow stuck in between nameless streets. There were kids running after our bus as far as they could because I don’t think they’ve ever seen a double-decker tour bus or vehicle of that size ever before. Right after that we almost got stuck in the car-sized mud puddles that inconveniently took up the road ahead. When I looked out the side window I saw a woman with a wheel-barrow trying to find dirt to shovel amongst all the trash strewn around. The statue of some communist figures still doted the city landscape, lonely, stubborn and still full of pride after all these years.
Anyway, to make a long story short the lead singer of The Toasters, Bucket, got out several times to ask for directions with his book of maps in the five European languages that he knew and nobody could understand him! Each time the crowd grew larger and we too grew, but nervous for several reasons: #1 we were going to miss our gig in Macedonia, #2 the diesel was certainly running low, #3 we couldn’t communicate with anyone, #4 there were no maps, no GPS and it seemed maybe there was no way getting out of this hairy situation anytime soon safely.
Eventually, one man in a very broken German pointed to the East and said “you don’t go there. Bus break. Mountains too big” and he simply pointed back in the direction that we had come and said go back. Fair enough: Albania 1, The Toasters/Go Jimmy Go/Macedonia 0. We eventually, found our resolve to make it back to Bosnia and call the loss a draw because we were at least alive and able to play on another day.
After all that, I’m not quite sure if that’s the story you wanted but it’s definitely the one I will never, ever forget.
What are your songs all about?
Our albums are a collection of original songs on the subjects of love, breakups, friendships, stories we’ve heard, stories we’ve made up, of drug abuse, of living life to the fullest.
What has been the biggest challenge of your careers so far?
A band living on the island. We’re separated by 2,500 miles of unforgiving ocean to the nearest gig outside of Hawaii. The challenges of always having to fly out to tour has been a sacrifice we’ve always had to endure. Sure, we could happily stay in Hawaii for the rest of our lives and play the local circuit but our hearts yearn to travel and experience whatever the world has to offer us. And to do that for going on 13 years has been challenging but the rewards have always been great everytime so we keep on keepin’ on.
Ska bands are notorious for having a lot of members and a lot of instruments. Does this ever cause any problems? (eg are there any songs where half the band have to sit out, is the stage sometimes too small etc.)
Size has never been an issue with us. There are six of us in the band and that’s pretty reasonable. We always joke that if we were a three piece punk band we’d have it made but then again, we’d be a punk band 😉 Six is a reasonable number for a band and it’s a good medium for a full sound and for traveling as well. There are songs where the horn section doesn’t play but that just means it’s beer time or a bathroom break – just joking 😉 The horn will pick up percussion instruments or dance around or hype up the crowd for the stage show.
Describe your band in five words.
Determined, grateful, lucky, fun-loving, original.
You’ve already toured parts of Asia. How have you found the Asian music scene? (good point/ bad points, reaction to live shows).
So far we’ve only been to Japan so I can only speak from that experience. I’d say that the audiences there are a 90/10 ratio of reserved to hardcore nuts. I mean that in a great way, of course! About 90% come out to the shows and are very pleasant and polite; the other 10% are like punk rock in-your-face smoking and drinking beers and singing the songs and dancing like no tomorrow pushing people around the dance floor. I like ‘em both but that 10% really lets go and lives for the moment like we’d never seen before.
In fact, I remember one guy in the front row of a sold out show who was so stoked he dropped his pants and later dropped his boxers and was so proud of it! He was rocking out so hard he lost his clothes 😉 At some other shows they’d be grabbing us to dance and singing the night away — no holds barred, absolutely. That’s just the audience.
The bands we played with seemed to play their own styles of music, incorporating their Japanese-ness into the mix creating something totally new and interesting. We met some really great people in the bands we played with in Japan.
What would it mean to you to be ‘big in Korea’?
Of course we would like to be “big” everywhere, but that goes without saying 😉 We’d especially like to tour Korea because #1 we haven’t played there yet and #2 it would satisfy that curiosity of what Korea actually is. #1 is obvious, but #2 needs a little clarification.
Hawaii is a mix of so many cultures from across the world, especially Asia. Thusly, here in Hawaii we have a very large population of Koreans; some have families that have been here over 100 years, some just arrived. We all grew up with Korean food (bi bim bap, bulgolgi, mandoo kook soo, kim chee, taegu etc…) and also Korean friends and the culture. Some of us in the band are part Chinese, some part Japanese, but even though we don’t have anyone Korean in the band we still have so much in common by just growing up in Hawaii we’d like to find out even more. That way, when the subject of Korea comes up here with our friends and family in Hawaii then we can relate that much better and hopefully have good stories to tell….like maybe the one Korean guy in the front row that was naked and rocking out!
what do you get up to on stage? tell us what’s exciting about GJG’s live shows….
From the audience’s point-of-view, the first thing you notice is the horn section – saxophone and trombone. That harks back to the good ‘ol days where the band sounded so real and full — plus it just looks good too. From the first downbeat you’ll see our lead singer energize the crowd with his frenetic James Brown-like dance moves, winning personality and soulful singing. Once the song really gets moving they’ll see that our guitarist, bassist and even drummer sing backups which is a real treat, a signature part of our sound. And when the horns aren’t selling you on their jazzy licks and lines they’ll be jumpin’ around making the whole stage come alive. You all just gotta be there to get my vibe 😉
where does the band’s name come from?
We got the name from an old Bob Marley & The Wailers song when they used to do the ska. The song was originally from Jimmy Claton, hence “Go Jimmy Go.”