"HaSkaLA is explosive! Undeniably unique. A boisterous rallying cry for reason, liberty, and freethought. HaSkaLA brings a jolt to the heart, and a tear to the eye. If the world’s current Endarkenment will ever transmute into another Renaissance and Enlightenment, then it will be in no small part due to Renaissance bands like HaSkaLA obliterating the false alternative of profoundness and fun with increasingly uncommon skill, melodic sensibility, and passion".
-Jeffrey Falk, "Menken's Ghost"
So what is "HaSkaLA"?
Valid question Comrade! Haskala means "Enlightenment" in Hebrew, and that's just what this brand spankin' new L.A.-based ska band aims to do: illuminate your mind, set fire to your soul- and most importantly do it all while making you dance!
Frontman Steven Schub summarizes the choice of band name thusly: "Let's see, ya got the sound of laughter- "Ha", the word "Ska" snuck in there, and our home city of L.A. HaSkaLA is all about all three: Laughter, Ska and bringing Joy, Mirth & Madness to the City of Angels".
Though HaSkaLA is merely months old, they are well on their way to accomplishing this self-imposed merry mission! HaSkaLA will appear on the Ska Stage of The Vans Warped Tour in 2010, and in point of fact, some have already deemed HaSkaLA a sort of "Ska Supergroup". Lead singer and lyricist Steven Schub comes from the 10-piece "Afro-Celtic Yiddish Ska" band, The Fenwicks- a band that played the Vans Warped Tour in 2005, has 3 nationally released critically acclaimed CDs to it's credit, and has toured with ska legends The Selecter, as well as "brother band" Big D and The Kids Table. Schub's "day-job" is as a working actor in TV & Film, having starred in over 15 feature films and everything from the hit show "24" to yes, "Sesame Street".
But when talking about the line-up in "HaSkaLA" that's just the beginning! Curtis Pollitt "The Boy Wonder" (Guitar/Vocals) has been a professional vocalist and musician for over ten years, working with such musical projects as "Benchmark", "Stock Autopilot", and a brief stint in "Digital Vampyro". "Supa Dupa" Dave Mastas (Guitar) was plucked from the big band "BigAmy". "Jumpin' Jiven'" Julie Gibbs (Bass) graduated from Berklee College of Music, and has played in all sorts of assorted bands, including the No Doubt cover band "No Doi". Slapping the skins? Drummer Tony Pagano. As a boy from the Bronx, Tony's played everything from Hard Rock to Prog Rock, Metal to Motown- and as a sought out "session" player Tony has played, produced, recorded, mixed & mastered every instrument known (and unknown) to man. On saxophone: Matthew "Mad Matt" Thompson. With a background rooted in jazz, Matt's versatility has taken him through many different genres and bands, with his most recent being the touring latin/reggae/rock band MANDORiCO. On trumpet, Danny Kay. An L.A. native and a fixture in the Los Angeles music scene, Danny's played in bands ranging from Mr.Ectomy to La Sonora Santanera, and ultimately with living legend legend Herbie Hancock himself. On trombone: "Mighty Mighty Xtine" Christine Cheung- formerly of The Fudogs, she's also an L.A. native & ska fanatic! Lastly, but certainly not leastly, on the B3 keys and piano, we find musician/comedian Brad Watson. Brad has played with Miranda Lee Richards, The F.O.C.K.R.S (Friends of Canter's Kibitz Room) and is a regular performer at The World Famous Comedy Store.
So there you have it friends! Steeped in the best tradition of classic 2nd Wave Two-Tone ska, this family of spastics is guaranteed to make you sweat, and make you smile.
HaSkaLA is here: Prepare to dance or die!
HaSkaLA: Steven Schub's Danceable Bliss
by Jeffrey Falk for "Menken's Ghost"
The term “Renaissance man” may be trite and overused these days, but the phrase “Renaissance band” is not.
Steven Schub is a Renaissance man (in two senses of the term, at least) who has put together not one but two Renaissance bands.
The singer/lyricist and actor (you may have seen him on television—he has appeared on NYPD Blue, 24, and Sesame Street) has been the frontman of The Fenwicks, “the world’s greatest (albeit only) Afro-Celitc-Yiddish ska band” for “around 45,000 years” (as he said recently).
The Fenwicks is an East Coast band and have been in a state of semi hiatus while Schub has been living the actor’s life in Los Angeles (he has appeared in several indie films as well as the aforementioned television hits). While visiting the home of Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman during Thanksgiving, the thespian/chanteur, in a bit of wishful thinking, waxed enthusiastic about the state of his new, West Coast ska band, HaSkaLA (Hebrew for “the Enlightenment”).
There was one problem. He left out the not-insignificant detail that the band only existed in his mind.
Which was a bit of a problem when he received an E-mail shortly thereafter listing HaSkaLA’s dates on the upcoming Vans Warped Tour.
Rising to the challenge, he rectified the problem with the help of some of Los Angeles’s best musicians and ska enthusiasts. HaSkaLA is a jovial, energetic nine-piece band that can bring a jolt to the heart, a tear to the eye, and a tap to the foot of any music fan, regardless of their affinity for ska or even rock.
For those wondering if there is a meaning behind the unusual name, Schub explains in the band’s promotional material that there are a few (beyond “The Enlightenment”): “Let’s see, ya got the sound of laughter—“Ha,” the word “ska snuck in there, and our home city of L.A. HaSkaLA is about all three—laughter, ska, and bringing joy, mirth & madness to the City of Angels.”
Those familiar with The Fenwicks who were fortunate enough to be in the audience at HaSkaLA’s first show, an explosive, fluid, and compact forty-six-minute set at the Los Angeles club Molly Malone’s on April 15, could note that, while some strong currents run through both of Schub’s bands (not the least of which are the singer’s eye-catching sartorial habits, which included a bright polka-dot getup and an American flag suit this time), HaSkaLA is undeniably unique.
At a Los Angeles restaurant recently, Steven recounted some of the differences (and commonalities) between his perennial band and his new one: “Everyone [in this band] is coming from the same place in terms of sense of life; there’s a lot of joy in this band, as in The Fenwicks. I think you can tell … onstage, you can see it and feel it.” Indeed, the new band is even more sanguine, rollicking, and benevolent than the happy-go-lucky Fenwicks. Expounding on this band’s differences, he notes, “These songs seem to be simpler, and in that way, possibly more initially accessible.” He also noted that, overall, HaSkaLA’s lyrics (at least to this point) deal more with emotional topics and relationships than The Fenwicks’, which can at times be heavily philosophical and political.
The original tunes debuted that night (Beatles and Rolling Stones covers bookended the set) included: a song called “HaSkaLA” (aurally reminiscent of The Clash’s “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais”); “Neither Her (Nor There),” a breakup song with a life-goes-on twist and Schub’s trademark wordplay; and “Our Love (is a Car Crash),” in which the wordsmith compares a relationship to the titular catastrophe. The lyricist, an admirer of Objectivist and pro-liberty novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand, could not avoid more political (and topical) fare, however: “Woke-Up. Woke Up!” laments encroaching censorship and out-of-control taxation in a personal, close-to-home fashion: “I tried to read a book but the good ones had been banned/I tried to sing this song but my band has been banned.”
And then there’s “Cyrano’s Nose.”
Unique among recent (if not all) popular songs, it is a boisterous, breezy rallying cry for reason, liberty, and freethought replete with literary allusions (as the title suggests) that could only have come from one man’s pen:
"Like "Invictus" William Henley's poem- Master of my Fate, I'm Captain of my Soul
"'Cause my heart is bigger than Cyrano's nose, my rhymes are tighter than a Haiku poem
"Life is shorter than a garden gnome. Gonna milk it, 'till the cows come home
"Better than money- Better than fame
"Better than playing Society's game
"Better than ice cream, better than sex
"I'm talking 'bout life and a song like this
"If you ain't buying- you can't be bought or sold.
"If you ain't lying- than you'll never grow old.
"The only way out- is never opt in.
"You've got your guns- I have my my pen.
"Truth is on my side- let's see who wins. Who wins."
In fact, “Cyrano’s Nose” exemplifies the dichotomy-busting at the heart of both of Schub’s bands; it demonstrates that art and entertainment are anything but mutually exclusive.
The ensemble providing the compositional and performance artistry and entertainment behind Schub’s lyrics include two guitar players (the physically-and-musically muscular Dave Mastas and the physically-and-musically lean Curtis Politt) a Berklee College of Music alumna on bass (Julie Gibbs) a protean drummer (Tony Pagano), a sometime comedian on keys (Brad Watson), and a three-piece horn section (Matthew Thompson, Danny Kay, Christine Cheung). Such a potential cacophony actually results in a seamless blend, with punchy, puissant guitar upstrokes and articulate horn solos accentuating the ska undertones.
The band does not have an opportunity to enter the studio prior to their Vans Warped Tour appearances. Fortunately, the April 15 gig (which opened, appropriately enough, with the Beatles’ “Taxman”) was recorded and will form the source for their debut CD entitled: HaSkaLA: Untethered & Undone, with a release scheduled just in time for the tour. (The CD will be available on CDBaby.com by mid-June).
If the world’s current Endarkenment will ever transmute into another Renaissance and Enlightenment, then it will be in no small part due to Renaissance bands like HaSkaLA obliterating the false alternative of profoundness and fun with increasingly uncommon skill, melodic sensibility, and passion.