Depending on who you ask, ska on its deathbed. Though some have reduced the once-formidable genre to a cheap punchline, a small-but-passionate guild of musicians with horns and a proclivity for upstrokes are keeping the remaining fans of the world skanking year’s after ska’s golden era. Believe it or not, Mustard Plug is still playing shows. Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake will play this year’s Van’s Warped Tour. Even in Wisconsin, a handful of ska bands remain.
Perhaps the longest-running of those bands keeping the torch of Wisconsin ska ignited is Something To Do. Though they’ve consistently played out since 2003, the Milwaukee band hasn’t issued a formal (non-Christmas) release since 2012’s Music For Fine Dining. Despite existing as the state’s alpha of an endangered genre, don’t shed a tear for Something To Do. Not only is there a new S2D album slated to come out in September, that record was financed by selling music to Adult Swim for the network’s new Paul Reubens-hosted vehicle, Gigglefudge USA. Before the band opens for The English Beat in Madison Thursday and releases its new single at Company Brewing Friday, Milwaukee Record spoke to Something To Do singer-bassist Nate Tredinnick about writing music for TV, the band’s new record, and the state of ska in Wisconsin (and in general). Listen to the aforementioned single, “Don’t Take That Shit From Anyone,” below.
Milwaukee Record: You guys are on TV! How did the opportunity to have your music on Gigglefudge USA come about? Did Adult Swim approach you or did you submit music to them?
Nate Tredinnick: A friend of mine is friends with the folks who run Everything Is Terrible, which is a great and terrifying long-running Internet thing. They were making a pilot for Adult Swim and for reasons I felt it best not to explore, they wanted a “’90s style ska theme” for their show. They needed it super fast so we wrote the song in like two days, got them to sign off, recorded it with Dan Stoffels in Madison along with a bunch of instrumental music for them to use in the show, and used that to help pay for recording a new album.
MR: What’s it like to hear you music on TV, on a show hosted by Paul Reubens—Pee-wee Herman—himself, no less?
NT: It’s tremendous! Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was my favorite movie when I was a kid and Big Top Pee-wee helped me grow up by teaching me that sequels are often terrible.
MR: Beyond being the only ska band I know of with a TV theme song, Something To Do is one of the longest-running and, by my count, last remaining ska bands in Wisconsin. What’s the current state of ska here? Do you think it’ll always have a place in Milwaukee music?
NT: There are maybe less than five ska bands in the state, so there isn’t really a “scene” per se. There was such a glut of awful ska bands in the world back in the late ’90s and early 2000s and it really ruined things for a while. But there are a lot of famous bands with elements of ska and reggae in their music—Vampire Weekend, tune-yards, Jamie xx—and now when people hear that we’re sort of a ska band, either they’re generally pretty interested instead of immediately hating us like they did five years ago, or they don’t know what I was talking about.
Overall, Wisconsin has a lot of really great bands right now and Milwaukee in particular has a good scene that we’re sort of a part of. We played some horns on the new Direct Hit! album, we borrowed an awesome organ amp from Space Raft for our new album and we’re playing with some very solid Milwaukee bands at our single release party, The Bang Bang and Mortgage Freeman.
MR: But you guys aren’t only singlehandedly keeping Milwaukee’s ska scene alive, you’re still putting out new music. What can we expect from the new album when it comes out in September? How does it compare to past releases?
NT: Our new album is called Not Making A Sound and it’s the best one we’ve done so far. We’ve been together a long time. I was 18 when we started doing this. Some people are really great at music when they’re that young but I sucked and it took a long time to figure out how to be good. I’d say our new album steals a bunch of stuff from a bunch of bands we love like The Knack, The Selector, Spoon, and Shannon & The Clams, and it’s the best sounding one we’ve done so far. Also, there are two songs about Tina Fey because she’s great and she deserves at least two songs.
MR: Talk about the single. What’s the message behind “Don’t Take That Shit From Anyone”?
NT: So, I recently ended up with a daughter and this is more or less about her. As a lady, she’s going to have to deal with a lot of elements of patriarchal society, which is a drag and this song is basically a “F You World” on her behalf. I wrote it while staying home with her on paternity leave.
Something To Do will open for The English Beat at High Noon Saloon (Madison) Thursday, May 12 and will headline its “single release show” at Company Brewing Friday, May 13, which features support from The Bang Bang and Mortgage Freeman.