An Interview with Chuck Robertson of The Mad Caddies

The Mad Caddies are one of the most musically interesting ska bands in the world right now. Stemming influence from several genres, the band effortlessly blend elements of Latin, polka, and swing. Right before their Toronto show, which you can read my review of here, I had the chance to sit down with Chuck Robertson, guitarist and lead singer of the group to discuss what exactly goes into their music, and what we can expect from the band in the near future.

The first question I’d like to ask is, what’s with this one-off show, and why in Toronto of all places?

I’ll be completely honest. A couple of us needed more miles to reach the 50,000-mile mark for our mileage partnership with our airline. We realized we had to go somewhere on the Eastcoast to get enough miles for our status next year. This might seem really weird for people who don’t travel for business, but if we don’t hit our status level, we’ll get charged thousands of dollars next year for baggage fees, because we’re always travelling with guitars, and horns, and equipment. Like, a normal person gets, what, one free bag? If we hit our mileage level that we normally hit, we get three free bags. So, we thought, “Okay, let’s go play a show.” It was either going to be New York or Toronto, and Toronto had an opening. It’s not about the money, just about the miles. And we wanted to play somewhere where it’s fun and cold, and do something stupid. Let’s go to Toronto in December.

You guys have been teasing an album for the last little bit, how is that process coming along?

It’s going great, and we’re approaching it in a different way. We’re not all there in the band room, everybody with their instruments in hand working on a song. We’ve been at it long enough to know that’s not always the best way. We’re fabricating the songs a bit more now. Until we all know the song and like it, we’ll sit down and play it on acoustic guitars, work out all the harmonies until everything sounds good acoustically and then you know, you have a good song. Recording it becomes easier that way because, in the past, we’d figure out the harmonies in the studio. We’re building the songs more now. Sascha [Lazor, lead guitar] is a producer, Todd [Rosenburg, drums] is a producer, so lots of engineers in the kitchen. I, myself, am not included. Once we get a collection of four or five songs we’re planning on releasing them early.

But, to answer your question, it’s going really well. We’re excited, and some of these songs are kind of a new direction, but definitely still Mad Caddies style.

Awesome! I was just going to touch on that, actually. You have had a number of different styles influence your music. How is that different or similar than your past albums, and has this new writing process altered those original ideas in any other way?

Well, I should say it’s not really a different writing process, it’s more of a different recording process. So, that’s what’s changed I think is, organically, if you know a song is good, just track it right then. Get that organic feeling that’s natural. We actually went back and listened to a bunch of our demos from the last Dirty Rice sessions. Tons of songs that weren’t on the album and a few of them were actually better than some songs that were. So, we’ve been working a few of those, too.

I’ve actually noticed that, as a musician, I’ll write a song, spend months trying to figure all the little things out, and by the end of it, I think it’s not that great of a song to begin with and throw it off to the side.

Right, and we’ve found that the best songs always come right off the cuff. When someone’s got three chords, someone starts humming something. We decide if everyone likes it, and if they do, we turn it into a song for the whole band to play. So, that’s the best way we found to do it organically was. It goes back to The Beatles with acoustic guitars, a harmony, and the simple human emotion of liking a song or not. Does the melody move you? Does the rhythm move you? Do the lyrics affect you? It just depends on everyone’s schedule based on how long these songs take, but at this rate, we’re hoping to have our full album released by early summer/late spring, and start putting songs out in the new year.

Wicked! You mentioned scheduling; that’s actually something I was curious about because, Mad Caddies aren’t a small band at all, there’s a lot of members to the name. Everyone’s always doing their own things in life. What do you think is the best way to make it work between all, is it seven of you?

Six now. We can’t afford a keyboard player right now in the album cycle. So, it’s kind of barebones. I mean, the band’s been together for 20 years, so what can I say? We make it work. As for as scheduling, and that’s another thing, songwriting is kind of broken off into small groups where there’s myself and Sascha, and now that Todd, our original drummer is back, he’s also a songwriter and producer, and Graham is also a songwriter, a teacher, and a multi-instrumentalist. Bass is like his fifth instrument. Now, there’s kids in the mix now too, so scheduling is really tough. But, we chose two or three weeks where we know someone will be in the studio for four to five hours on any given day tracking and recording. That’s what we try to schedule. Luckily, my wife’s a school teacher, and my kid’s in preschool, so we’re doing straight up dad-rock. Studio time is like 10 am to 4 pm, whereas in the old days we got to the studio at like 4 pm and stayed until 4 am.

You guys, as a band, have been at it for a while, since way back when CDs were the way to get music. How have you guys adapted to all the constant changes in the music industry?

That’s been the grand question for us, and all musicians in the past five, ten years really since Napster and downloads and all that. It’s been a challenge, to say the least, when we watched physical CD sales plummet. But now it’s interesting to see that people are really into vinyl. That’s coming back. We’re not really bringing CDs anymore to sell. We’re bringing vinyl, and when you buy vinyl, you get the download code. The consumer gets, in my opinion, a much better product, because vinyl sounds better than CD. CDs kind of were the biggest scam ever. They should have just skipped them and gave us the digital chip, or whatever. They got scratched, they were so hard to keep, literally 8-track tapes sound better than CDs in my opinion. But the connoisseurs are getting into vinyl, and they actually surpassed digital sales, so people are actually paying for music again, and that’s totally cool.

We’re planning on potentially crowdsourcing our next record now, and when we get into the nitty-gritty, and need some money to promote it, and make some music videos, and do stuff you have to do to get ready for a release. But, it’s really cool because it’s coming into house. So, we can charge less for a product and the artists can actually be compensated better when you’re cutting out the record labels and the middle man and all these things that you don’t need anymore because you’re going directly to your consumer. We have almost 100,000 Facebook fans, whatever that means, and we got on Facebook late. But say we have 100,000 Mad Caddies fans around the world, if 20,000 people give us a couple bucks to pre-order the record, we can make an album. Our new model is, yeah, to start releasing singles every couple weeks to the people who preordered, and really embrace the digital platform.

So, you guys are finding you’re relying on record labels less to give you that money since you have that social media interaction? Are you guys still with Fat Wreck Chords?

Well, we’re not planning on releasing our next record on Fat, but we are going to continue a relationship with them because they’re family. They don’t really have a lot to offer our band right now because we’ve been around for twenty years. Labels have been great for older bands, but it’s a model that’s kind of phasing out. But what Fat Wreck Chords is great for right now is younger bands. New punk bands that need $15,000 so they can buy some guitars and a van, and record and go on tour. That’s great, and Fat’s gonna continue that. They’re a wonderful label and family. We’re still going to work with them to put out single’s collections and fun stuff like 7” vinyls and cool shit. But for our next album, we’re going to try something new. We’ve been doing the same thing for twenty years, so why not try something new? They totally support us. We love Fat, Fat loves us, so we’re going to try to self-release our new album.

That’s great. I’ve got a couple of fun ones for you before we wrap up. If you had to estimate the amount of upstrokes you’ve ever played on your guitar, where would that number be?

[Laughs] Oh my God. That’s funny. I don’t know because I’m really pragmatic about math, so I’d have to get out a pen and paper. I don’t know, how many upstrokes are in one three minute song? Millions upon millions.

I’ve been raised on classic rock, you know, Beatles, Stones since I was eight. Then we got Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, the grunge thing when I was in junior high. I used to play with my legos to Metallica at eight years old, big Metallica fan, too. Anyway, we didn’t discover ska until we were 15, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Fishbone, bands like that. It was ’94 we were like, “Oh my God what is this ska music? It’s like really fast Bob Marley reggae, woah!” So, I walked into our local guitar store Jensen’s Music in California, and asked them how to play ska, and it changed me forever.

Last question. You guys have been at it for a while, is there anything left on your Bucketlist?

Well, one Bucketlist item for us as a band is to play one of the nicest venues on planet earth, and it happens to be in our hometown; The Santa Barbara Bowl. It was built in the 1930s after the depression and is just this stone amphitheatre that they built in the riviera up in the mountains of our town. It holds about 5,000 people and is a natural stone amphitheatre with two-hundred-year-old redwood trees next to the stage, and it’s all modern now, but you can look down at about 800 feet up on the mountains, and see the harbour from the seats looking down at the ocean. We’ve played there twice now, but only as opening acts, but our real bucket list lifelong goal is to become a band that’s popular enough to headline that venue in our hometown, which Eddie Vedder calls his second-favourite venue in the world besides Red Rocks in Colorado, but we call it the mini Red Rocks. Hopefully, with this next record, we can write some songs that will connect with enough people that we can fill our hometown amphitheatre.

Written and Compiled by Mathieu Perrier
*edited by Danielle Kenedy

About Mathieu Perrier 86 Articles
A multi-instrumentalist, and aspiring producer, Mathieu Perrier lives for music. He’s a recent graduate of Centennial College’s Music Industry Arts & Performance program, and is currently juggling a number of jobs from different aspects of the music industry, hoping to solidify his place as a prominent figure in the Toronto scene. Despite having a broad and diverse taste, Mathieu thinks that for whatever reason, ska is the best genre of music out there. It seems no amount of logical reasoning can convince his stubborn ass otherwise.

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