We make our way down Martin Luther King Jr Way, passing the corner of West Grand Ave where the Social Starline Club sits in hip-downtown Oakland. It’s 30 minutes to showtime and it’s 30 minutes past sundown.
With resounding approval, we agree that vocalist Cammie Lund’s old Toyota would be a great place for our interview. Cramming ourselves together in a yet-to-be ventilated situation … I’m surrounded by a beaming band. We’re sailing high, both the elation of having released their sophomore album “Por Que No Los Dos?” and the prospect of my first interview.
In the backseat sits drummer Samantha Gagliardi, bassist Joseph Zamjah, and guitarist Philip Katague all in studious, schoolkid fashion. They smile and look around, contrasting themselves to Camille’s impish passivity. Ever the amused onlooker, she waits for the right moment to interject.
Me: So tell me a little about your guys’ formation … I know that Cammie came later, but how did you guys all come to be?
Samantha Gagliardi: It started off as just for funsies. Basically, Joey and I had been doing our other band full-time for like, 4 or 5 years and that was kind of dissipating a little bit. So we decided to start jamming for fun. Our other band was more grunge, and we’ve always been super huge fans of ska.
Joseph Zamjah: We were just fuckin’ around with ska.
Samantha: Yeah! We were kind of just fuckin’ around in the garage with some riffs and we were like, “you know, this sounds pretty good actually!” And my friend at the time, she was into Sublime, and a little ska so she messed around with vocals … and we were liking where it was going, so we just kinda kept jammin’ on it. And then it just went from there. Basically, we were jamming more and more … and we’d been friends with Phil for a long time ’cause he was in like a … Philip Katague: The most punk rock band … Joseph Zamjah: The most punk rock band in Walnut Creek.
Me: Oh I believe it!
Philip: Yeah, we were pretty out there in Walnut Creek, definitely. I mean Contra Costa County, in general, had a really good scene maybe 5, 6, 7 years ago.
Me: I agree.
Philip: … because all the bands were just easy to find. They were so tight-knit, and everyone knew everyone- we were all kinda centered around Red House. (Permanently Closed)
Samantha: So we’ve all known each other for a super long time in a grunge band, Phil was in his punk band, and Cammy, who was probably a sophomore in high school- I’ve seen her open for this band called Trippin’ Flies, and I remember because they opened with White Rabbit, and I thought that was really cool and that Cammy was super punk rock, so I just thought- (voice dipping down into an ominous murmur) “Who are you?” So fast-forward 5+ years-
And this is when Cammie makes her swoop.
Cammie: And then I see you guys at the Stork Club, and I thought “They sound cool”, thinking “Who-who are they?!” And then they were like, “WE NEED A SINGER!” And I was like….(hissing) “Yes.”
Joseph: It was the summer we started smoking weed- that’s important to this.
Samantha: That’s where the phrase “leftover bowlskis” came from, actually.
I pause good-naturedly with a “No, shit.”
Samantha: So even though everyone thinks we’re trying to steal Leftover Cracks swag, we’re not! And we could make 1/8th last like, a month. So Phil, we pretty much knew him, and we were like “Hey, you play guitar, we need a guitar player; lets jam!”
Philip: The first couple shows were pretty promising. I think our sound, it was pretty different, and there were definitely influences from both Sam and Joey’s band Dare to Suck and my band Strain Zero. So we figured we had something. It was not your typical ska band.
Me: That’s pretty damn cool. And I don’t know if you’re aware of this, I don’t know how deeply you’re into grunge history but-
Joseph: We’re so deep into grunge history, it’s disgusting.
Me: Six Deep?
Me: So you’re aware of the whole ‘Green River splitting off into two different bands because they couldn’t make it work’ … sounds like you made your sound work though. On the parallel you guys made those two differentiating sounds come together.
Joseph: Yeah, we’re weirdly democratic.
Philip: But every instrument in this band is unique, every part from the drums to Cammie’s singing, to my upstrokes, to Joeys bass lines; it’s all very unique. That’s how I would describe it.
Samantha: And we always try to get noisy, that’s just the grunge shit, but if it gets to be too much we’ll throw in a little reggae, or ska-sounding riff to tie it all together. If it’s too noisy, too much on the end, we have to throw some balancing element to bring it back to the ska, ’cause that’s kinda the vein that runs through all of it. Ska is not dead!
Philip: At the same time, if you listen to our music, from recordings of our first performance up through our first EP up to our new album “Por Que No Los Dos?” you’ll see the evolution from a band that goes ska and heavy grunge to a band that finds their sound to a band that knows it has that unique sound and pushes the boundaries to what they can do with it.
Joseph: Exactly, and as Sam was saying, I don’t necessarily agree; I don’t think it’s that much of an obligation to have ska included, but it does always come back.
Samantha: Obviously I could bang away on those drums all day and it could be noisy and loud, but it could get too jammy, too noisy, too whatever. But one of us, whether it be me, or Phil, or Joey, or even Cammy sometimes will throw the wrench in like “eh! Tie it back together.” We’ll even revisit a previous riff, and that’s really fun.
Cammie: I’m actually amazed because I don’t put that much thought into it … I just like to feel the song and then just.
Me: That’s creativity.
Cammie: … try to do something that fits. They really, (hysterical choking), thought about what they’re doing.
Samantha: That’s what I think is so good about our band; we’re all really intuitive and really into the vibe. Joey and I will establish the backbone, the rhythm, and then Phil will add his …
Cammie: Phil juice …
Joseph: His seasonal …
Samantha: (smiles) Yeah, and what’s really cool about Cammy, she’s really awesome at coming up with lyrics on the fly. She’ll have an entire notebook filled with shit … and they’re good! They aren’t basic. They’re intricate, with usually a really amazing message.
Joseph: Amazing imagery, metaphors.
Samantha: That’s what’s been cool since we’ve had Cam in the band … how easy it is. It makes our job easier to keep creating. What, you know, we like to do.
Me: It totally propels it forward. Which leads me to the question of the two albums. Obviously, they’re very distinct. The first one was very young, almost exclusively ska. It was definitely testing waters. Whereas this second one is just..it just explores so many different themes. What would you say is kind of like the overlapping … what would you say you were trying to encompass with this album?
Samantha: It’s the progression of our country, our world, our age group, how we feel … how I think a lot of people feel. So the last song on the album, Sold Jamz.
Cammie: … and dichotomy.
Me: That one’s my favorite actually!
Samantha: … we wanted to end with that song because it’s something that just happens over and over again. Police brutality hasn’t gotten that much better. So our goal with “Por Que No Los Dos?” was basically just…in a way we want to comfort people. Our first album was “Yeah, we’re having fun, there’s some ska, there are some serious notes”, but basically with the second one where we’re saying “Hey, you can be sad and happy. You can be angry, but you can be content,”
Cammie: (sing-song voice) If you’re high enough.
Joseph: Yeah, “Por Que No Los Dos?” Because it’s the second album we kind of have this running joke of everything, like, 2? So that’s mostly what we explore in the second album. The concept of dualities, opposite sides of the spectrum.
Philip: It’s both in the lyrics and the song structures…
Joseph: We go for extreme contrasts and texture, and even like rhythms. It’s contrast, that’s what it’s about.
Me: Almost like a congealing of all of these different concepts?
Joseph: Kind of … but it is focused around the duality of life. The relationship between extremes. Life/death, red/blue.
Cammie: Chunky and smooth peanut butter.
Samantha: … and it’s also us learning, too. It’s autobiographical in a sense; you’re taught growing up things are super black and white- that’s wrong, that’s right. What’s actually true is that it’s sooo fucking complex and that there are so many sides to every story. Things aren’t as black and white as you’d think they are.
Me: Especially now. You have all kinds of blurred lines across the spectrum. You’re talking about gender, you’re talking about moral principles. I see what you’re saying.
Samantha: It totally is. Like Joey was saying, it’s not one side or the other. It’s all the same coin.
Cammie: Chunky or smooth.
Philip: Red salsa or green salsa.
Me: Okay, so if you guys have the opportunity to collaborate with anyone of your choosing in order to add on to your sound…either to be produced or to work with other performers…
Cammie: I bet we all have different ideas!
Samantha Gagliardi: I’m going to say something super topical- I think it would be really cool for us to work with horn players, honestly.
Joseph: Oh noooo …
Samantha: Not like permanently, but I think it would be cool to feature a sax or a trombone …
Cammie: To have a horny phase in our adolescence.
Samantha: (suppressed snorting) Yeah we could have a horny phase.
Joseph: I think it’d be cool to collaborate with like, rap or hip-hop.
Me: She’d (Cammie) rock the shit out of that! I can definitely see her taking that one. So, where would you guys like to take this? Obviously, this is an enormous passion for you, and you have your day jobs as well, but, I mean, would you like to get to a point where a major label was to approach you and say “man, we love you.” Would you want to get into the machine and start working for them?
Joseph: The only thing that could make me quit all my other jobs. That’s what I want.
Me: Bearing in mind also that it’s been coming more and more to light lately just how unfair the industry can be, especially when you’re contracted.
Samantha: Personally, I don’t think I’d enjoy any level of, like, famous. I would like to just have enough of a following that if I were to do a US tour for a month, that we would get people at the shows. Being able to travel and play music every night, that just sounds like the best job ever.
Me: That’s the dream, right?
Joseph: I’m very much down for it to be my main thing. It would be cool to get to a higher place … because I do think that we say some interesting stuff. Cam, you say some really good fuckin’ words, and I think people should hear it. I feel like we should get a little higher.
Me: She’s definitely full of her proverbs, isn’t she?
Cammie Lund: But in every single band that we’ve played with, I think…like for me, getting up there at all is so absolutely horrifying that I have mad respect for every single person that we ever play with for just doing it.
Samantha Gagliardi: But something I’ve noticed, because ska isn’t as big of a genre anymore, I feel like it ends up being tired. The same thing with grunge, honestly.
Me: Well I’m really curious to know; when people think grunge, first of all, they think of a particular decade; they think of the Seattle sound, they think of a certain amount of freedom, to be honest. What in 2019 do you think of when you hear that genre?
Joseph: For me, a more emotional punk rock.
Philip: I‘m thinking of like a faster doom-metal.
Me: Fuckin’ Melvins, man!
Philip: I feel like it’s kinda nostalgic. There was a certain place, and a certain time, when grunge peaked. A lot of people are trying to bring that back, even though it’s long gone. Same deal with ska. There were two weeks in 1998 when ska was everywhere; a lot of people are trying to reminisce about that, and we’re here in Oakland, CA in 2019, y’know, doing our own thing, and it’s a question of “Is it going to resonate with people? Is it going to define this time and place that we’re in?” We’re in a very interesting time and there are a lot of changes going on. A very uneasy time politically. Locally here in Oakland you’re dealing with gentrification, and you have this whole generation, ass-end of the millennial generation just being flung out into the world. Does our music speak to that? Are we gonna be the defining soundtrack of that?
Me: I can say right now from what you’ve told me about where you wanna take it that I would not be surprised. Especially if people follow what you’re doing if a new term is invented. I could definitely see that.
Cammie: Potato rock?
Me: What’s your guys’ favorite song on your new album? If you possibly can.
Samantha: I think collectively, it’d probably be Kaleidoscope Flowers. That was one of those ones where…I couldn’t let it go. It’s like pretty, and melancholy, and the first times we played it I just felt it, man.
Me: Well you’re definitely playing that one tonight, right?
Band: Yes, we are.
Me: One last question; what advice would you give to someone looking to break into music?
Cammie: Make sure you curate the band you’re falling into. Be in love with the bands you apply to.
Me: Good parting words. Exit car.