Riding a career spanning 15 years, the guys in Mrs. Skannotto are no strangers to their brand of third-wave ska-rock. The Rochester, NY-based six-piece recently released its fifth studio release, the 14-track full-length effort titled All These Evolutions.
Ranging from huge-sounding choruses on tracks like the blistering opener “Just As Well” and the forceful “Lost and Found…” to more mellow sounds (think RX Bandits meets The Police) on songs like “The Blame” and “Fair Weather Foe,” All These Evolutions sees Mrs Skannotto continuing to break ground even after more than a decade as a band.
Ghettoblaster contacted trombonist Evan Dobbins to talk about one of his foremost inspirations, Frank Zappa. This is what he said about him…
Who is your favorite artist?
I was nine years old when my father played Frank Zappa’s “Electric Aunt Jemima” for me. I remember thinking it was the funniest song I’d ever heard and went on to play it for all my friends in school (our teacher was not thrilled that I created an army of 4th grade Zappa fanatics). I began listening to other songs on the double LP (Uncle Meat) and discovered that some contained (thrill) swear words, bizarre conversations, long instrumental improvisations and sounds that I had never heard before. I didn’t quite get everything I was hearing, but I knew it was the most creative music I had ever heard and that I wanted more.
What is it about his output that resonates with you?
When I got older and began to study music more in depth, I kept returning to Zappa’s music to see if I could better understand how in the hell someone could create something so beyond category that still rocked. I found out that his musical heroes in high school were the classical composers Edgar Varese, Igor Stravinsky, Anton Webern and the R & B guitarist Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Once I heard some of that music, I found myself comprehending a bit more of where Zappa was coming from.
Most people who don’t know much about Zappa find it hard to believe that he didn’t drink or do drugs. He thought it was funny that everyone assumed if your art did not conform to popular standards, that you must either be insane or high. He liked to tell the story about Mick Jagger stopping by his NYC apartment now and then to drink tea and discuss European history. He had no tolerance for stupidity or ignorance.
His music reflected his own personality: eclectic, intense, bizarre, disciplined yet free, cynical, intelligent and hilarious. If you wanted to play in his band, he would ask you what you could do that was incredible. If he was satisfied with your answer then you were in. Steve Vai once described his own audition for Zappa’s band when he was 20 : “I learned all these tunes and then he just picks up his guitar, plays this cryptic line and says “play that at this tempo”…so I think fast, play it and he says, “now add this note and play it in 7/8” which somehow I did and then he tells me to “play it in 7/8 reggae”. After pulling that off he tells me to add another note to it, which was impossible…nobody could play it and I told him so to which he replied, “I hear Linda Ronstadt’s looking for a guitar player”. Vai was hired on the spot of course.
Every musician develops a healthy cynical side when they enter the professional world. Zappa’s music is full of this type of cynicism, to the point that listening to it is the musical equivalent of watching The Daily Show so you can laugh instead of cry about the state of the world.
Zappa walked the walk. He devoted his life and his music to the causes of free-speech, self-education, political participation and abolishing censorship. He was a self-taught composer, guitarist and engineer…and he was one the great innovators in all three fields over the span of his career. For me, the bottom line is that every time I hear his music it still makes the hair on my arms stand up and it always makes me laugh.
What are some of the most profound messages you’ve uncovered while studying Zappa as an artist?
Here are some comments from the maestro himself:
–On Rock & Roll’s negative influence over youth: “There are more love songs out there than anything else. If songs made you do something we would all love eachother.”
–On theatrics in performance: “You can’t always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream.”
–On armageddon: “It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork and the other is nostalgia.”
Are there some album suggestions you would make for those wanting to take the Zappa plunge?
Album suggestions for those willing to take the plunge: We’re Only In It For The Money; Absolutely Free; One Size Fits All; Joe’s Garage; You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore (any volume); The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life; Make A Jazz Noise Here.
(Catch Mrs. Skannotto on tour this summer at one of the following stops:
Jun 28 KC’s Tap- Pawtucket, RI
Jun 29 The Sad Café- Plaistow, NH
Jun 30 The Space- Hamden, CT
Jul 01 242 Main- Burlington, VT
Jul 02 447 – Cambridge, MA
Jul 03 The Sidebar Tavern- Baltimore, MD
Jul 05 The Black Cat Lounge-Fayetteville, NC
Jul 06 Kingdom-Richmond, VA
Jul 07 Jack Rabbits- Jacksonville, FL
Jul 08 Will’s Pub- Orlando, FL
Jul 09 Tir Ra Nog- Daytona Beach, FL
Jul 10 The High Dive- Gainesville, FL
Jul 11 Swayze’s- Marietta, GA
Jul 12 The Nick – Birmingham, AL
Jul 13 The End- Nashville, TN
Jul 14 Vino’s Little Rock, AR
Jul 16 TBA – Denver, CO
Jul 17 Triple Nickle Tavern- Colorado Springs, CO
Jul 18 Cunningham’s- Kearney, NE
Jul 19 Knickerbockers- Lincoln, NE
Jul 21 Vaudeville Mews- Des Moines, IA
Jul 23 7th Street Entry – Minneapolis, MN
Jul 24 High Noon Saloon Madison, WI
Jul 25 THE ULTRA LOUNGE- Chicago, IL
Jul 26 New Way Bar- Ferndale, MI
Jul 27 McCarthy’s Downtown- Cleveland, OH
Jul 28 Smiling Moose- Pittsburgh, PA)