During this year’s Ska Weekend event in Knoxville, TN, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rick Johnson of Mustard Plug and conduct not one, but two amazing interviews. The band just released “In Black and White” this past Tuesday so be sure to check it out!
So, let’s get ancient history out of the way…. You guys have been around for 17 years now. How did the band form and why?
Dave (singer) and Colin (guitarist) met at an English Beat show. They both talked about starting the first ska band in Grand Rapids, MI. Seventeen years later we are still going strong!
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to being such an old band?
The advantages are there is a little respect that comes along with age. Nobody really wants to beat us up anymore. The disadvantage is that we have families and other obligations that make being in a full time band very difficult.
Your new record “In Black and White” has been getting a lot of good reviews. What did you do differently on this one compared to previous records?
I don’t know if we did anything that differently. I know since this is the first record I made with the band I personally went in trying to make the best record that I could. You know I didn’t want to let anyone down.
Is there anything you would have done differently on this one or on future records?
I don’t think I would have done anything different on this one. On a future record I would like to try and get more of an organic 70’s style sound going. That is a pretty horrible description but I think I would like to have a record that sounds sonically like the Specials first record or Elvis Costellos “This Year’s Model”. Both have that organic 70’s sound.
What’s it like working with Bill Stevenson? Is he constantly drinking coffee? He has recorded a surprisingly large amount of ska-punk bands, is he a closet rudeboy?
Bill is awesome! Everyone that is involved with the Blasting Room are good people. I did see him drink some coffee but it is not as much as one would have assumed. I did see him play a lot of air drums and air bass. I saw more of that then drinking coffee. I don’t think he is a closet rudeboy. I think it is more he knows how to get the sound that bands like Mustard Plug want to hear.
Why’d you name the album, “In Black and White”?
I think it was an idea that we are returning to form. Maybe we should have called it Yellow and Black then right? I think black and white seemed more classy!
Since “Pray for Mojo” you put out a full length and a greatest hits CD but stopped doing videos until this album. How come?
There is a video for the song “Not Enough” it was in the process of being filmed and in the middle of that two members quit and it never got finished. We are working on a DVD right now and parts of that video will be on that. But, sadly there isn’t enough footage to finish it. I guess people will have to wait for the DVD to see that. By the time the greatest hits record came out we had two new members (me being one of them) it didn’t really make sense for us to shoot a video for a song that the two new guys didn’t play on.
You’ve gone through some member changes. How did that come about and what effect has it had on the dynamic of the band, your songwriting and performing?
Seeing how I am a new guy I can’t really answer that. But I will try. Hi I am Rick Johnson I am the new bass player. I like writing songs, long overnight drives, and jumping around.
When you guys hit the road, how do you travel? Van? Tour bus? Cart and buggy? What is a day on the road with Mustard Plug like?
We have a 12 passenger van and a trailer. We used to have a 15 passenger but we got downgraded when our 15 passenger broke down. Touring with us is pretty boring usually we get gas eat some food and show up to the club early.
Do you have any favorite bands that you like to play with or favorite venues?
I really like playing with MU300, Deals Gone Bad, Westbound Train, and the Planet Smashers. There are so many venues too! The Trocadero in Philadelphia, PA, The Metro In Chicago, IL….the list could go on.
You guys hail from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Is there a good music scene there? Are you guys the godfathers or ringleaders of the scene there?
I don’t know if we are godfathers of the scene. I think we are more like the drunken uncle that shows up and hits on you at the family reunion.
Ska has seen more than it’s fair share of ups and downs over the past 40 some years. What do you see as being the future of ska music?
I don’t think it will ever be as big as it was in 96/97 but I think at the moment it is real strong. I also don’t think that at this point if it stays the way it does it can’t crash again like it did when the swing came in.
What are you plans for the rest of 2007 and 2008?
Lots of touring! Hopefully we will make it around the United States and make it to other parts of the world. I would also really like to start working on a new record. I have started demoing some songs and hopefully after the new year we can start working on them as a band.