When we last left Fishbone, our heroes seemed to be vanquished by their longtime nemesis, the evil pseudo-music empire. Banished to the nether regions while whitewashed copycats were anointed with the keys to the kingdom, several members of the band gave up fighting the good fight. But the core-Angelo Moore, Norwood Fisher and Dirty Walt Kibby-persevered, surrounded themselves with new troops and launched a new musical salvo: The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx. Clones and corny jackfackers, beware! Fishbone is coming for that ass!
Q. Let’s bring everybody up to speed with some of the things you guys have been up to since Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge. What have y’all been doing the past few years?
A. Shit, man, since Chim Chim, we did a lot of touring. Mostly as a survival tactic, because that’s how the bills get paid. In between time, we have our own recording studio called The Nuttsack, and we cut a bunch of different projects. I cut a record for a side project called Trulio Disgracias. That’s a ten-year old labor of love project based on live performance with massive amounts of people on it. Right now, I’m negotiating a distribution deal ’cause we formed our own record label called Nuttfactor Five. We recorded a solo record for Dirty Walt [Kibby], Dirty Walt and the Columbus Sanitation Department. Angelo recorded Dr. Maddvibe’s Comprehensive Linkology. He put his poetry to a musical background, and played mostly all the instruments. I did an East L.A. all-Mexican band, doing alternative music. It’s balled Barrio Sartistas. I formed a label called “Mixed Nutt,” with a cat named Eddie Ayala, a Latino punk-rock pioneer, from a band called Los Illegals. But mostly, we lost a couple of band members in that period. Fish left the band. John Bingham left the band. We suffered greatly for a while. But now we got a new lineup with John Steward from Super 8. Then there’s John McKnight, keyboardist and trombone player. He was from a reggae band called Upstream. He was down with Ben Harper on his first record, he played a lot of the instruments on that record. He’s just a massive talent. Then we got Spacey T, who was a band called Sound Barrier, all-black heavy metal band. He also played in Mother’s Finest, Ras Michaels, Boom Shaka, and a bunch of other reggae bands. That brings us to about right now.
Q. What’s the vibe like with you and the new band members?
A. Right now, it feels like a band again. All the original members came together as 13 and 14 year olds. Those were all people I felt I would know forever. Maybe I still feel like there’ll come a time when we’ll all get back together and at least be able to be friends, even if we don’t do the band thing again. But there was a time when things were starting to get splintered and it didn’t feel like a band. Now it feels like we’ve got the right personalities in the band. Everybody’s really different-not a homogenous society-but everybody respects each other and we’re all old enough to know how to give each other space. It’s really exciting, because everybody is a really incredible musician.
Q. With all the changes, do you feel that you have to live up to a certain standard that you set, or is this just the next step?
A. This is just the next step in the comic book. The episode just keeps unfolding. When we were a lot younger, we never felt we were good enough musically. When I look back, I’m thinkin’, “Wow, we were doin’ some amazing shit.” But at the time we were goin’, “Man, we’ll never be good enough.” Overton Lloyd, who did all the art for all the old P-Funk records pointed it out to me. He said, “You probably don’t think you’re good enough.” And I turned around, like, “Yeah, we’ll never be good enough!” And he was like, “Uh, huh…” And just the way he responded made me think, “Wait a minute… maybe I am good enough.” (Laughs) There’s no obligation to what we do. We feel really comfortable with who we are as people and just human beings, man. As far as I can tell, we’re about the only all-Black rock band that’s still out there. Now I could get caught up in feeling obligated one way or another as that. But I know who I am. I know what I’ve done. I’ve been a part of something that had an influence on everything that has to do with music. It goes from No Doubt to Limp Bizkit. I’m really proud of the fact that Mos Def shouted us out on his record.
Q. Fishbone doesn’t get enough credit for all of the things you’ve contributed. There are so many bands that have come after you, blowin’ up all over the place: Chili Peppers, Sugar Ray, Smashmouth, No Doubt. Do you ever wonder what might have happened if you got the same kind of love as these other bands?
A. Yeah, somebody probably woulda shot somebody in the band. (Laughs). Let me tell you this. Right after George Clinton produced Freaky Style for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, there was a birthday party at Flea’s house. We all had a little jam, where I was playin’ upright bass, Flea was playin’ guitar, the Pepper’s manager, Lenny Getz was playin’ drums and George Clinton was singing. George took me to the side and he was like, “I know y’all started this shit, but y’all are gonna be the last ones to get paid, because you’re the pioneers. But if you stay together, and stick it out, you’ll get your reward.” And I was like, “Well, he oughta know, ’cause he went the same route.” So that’s always been in the back of my mind as I go on this journey.
Q. When did y’all start getting to work on the current project?
A. The concept for the album came before Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge. But we needed to make Chim Chim, because of the way the band felt in general about the music industry. We had to exorcise our demons. That’s where the darkness of that album came from. We were addressing a lot of things within ourselves and about the record industry. John Bingham came up with the concept for Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx. “Let’s get all our friends to be on this record.” ‘Cause we had been doin’ the Trulio Disgracias thing which, you know, there’s about 50 mugs that claim Trulio Disgracias at any given time. So we were like, let’s do a record where we bring in different people in a Funkadelic style fashion. We hooked up with Dallas [Austin], made Chim Chim. We’d started writing for an album that would have been called The Nuttcase Scenario, when Rowdy severed ties with Arista and Dallas just put it to bed. Those tapes never saw the light of day.
Q. That was a difficult period for you guys. Arista’s blowing up now with some rock stuff. For whatever reasons, they never got behind the Black rock acts, like y’all, Corey Glover and Esperanza. They never gave y’all the same kind of push as, say, Sarah McLachlan and Carlos Santana now. It broke a lot of people’s hearts that they couldn’t get behind those records they way they should have.
A. But that was Dallas’ major beef! I always respect Dallas for standing up at that point and going like, “I can’t be down with this,” when he recognized that it wasn’t gonna be happening in Clive Davis’ house.
Q. The record sounds really tight. It’s probably one of the cleanest records y’all have ever done. It sounds like a Steely Dan record, to be honest.
A. The guy who mixed it had a lot to do with the way it feels. That was Bill Chenet. But it was mostly Steve Lindsey, the producer. When we sat down to pick a producer, we were like, “We’ve gotta pick somebody and listen to them. Do somethin’ different with our style.” Because the classic Fishbone modus operandi is, “Yo, we ain’t listenin’ to nobody!” We were like, “Well, let’s pay attention this time and see how much we learn.”
Q. Did you have specific people in mind to do certain things, or were people just kind of hangin’ out? How much of it was organized and how much was, “Fuck it, just go in and do this.”
A. A lot of it was organized, about 65 percent organized. We knew who we wanted to be involved. But some people, we just brought in, let ‘em hear a few tracks, and however they felt, we let ‘em go that way. Perry Farrell was one person like that. We knew what we wanted Gwen Stefani from No Doubt to do, but we also let her feel some other things. We put Blow Fly on a couple of different tracks, we only kept him on one. And George Clinton as well. We knew we wanted to put him on “Everybody Is A Star.” But there’s a track that will surface a little later-you might get it on the Internet, you might get it on a b-side, I’m not sure. But we got Fishbone and Primus doin’ the rhythm track, with Buckethead and it’s got the Alkoholiks, Blow Fly, George Clinton and Lonnie Marshall of Weapon of Choice and David Bearwald doin’ all the vocals. So one day that track is gonna surface. I’m looking for it to be loaded to let people get it for free on the Internet. I hope it makes it that way.
Q. You made it a point to get a lot of cats on the underground scene out in L.A. There’s a lot of really great shit comin’ out of L.A.’s underground that doesn’t make the light of day. ‘Cause everybody’s listenin’ to Dre, Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube records. And no disrespect to them, because I dig them too-
A. Right, definitely-
Q. But everybody thinks of L.A. as being “gangsta rap central.” Nobody recognizes there’s a whole bunch of cats coming out of the underground. Weapon of Choice, Freak Juice. East L.A.’s got a scene with Ozomatli and Malatov. Ben Harper came out of that scene. Cree Summer’s out of there-
A. Man, she’s suffering undeservedly as an artist who should be so huge! When I heard her record I was like, “Women worldwide should love her record! Just ’cause of her stance!” But anybody who’s got an ear can hear that the songs are fuckin’ incredible! I’d like to think that today the world is a little bit different when it comes down to diversity of artists. Fact is, there’s so many different expressions. Right now, we’re in a space to where, if you’re Black, you gotta be a thug, you gotta be a player, somewhere on the underbelly of society. That’s where you belong-
Q. If you’re a woman, you gotta be some kind of gold digger lookin’ for a guy to pay their bills.
A. Right. Fishbone and Cree and tons of people in the underground in L.A. bring it from a different angle. You can think in a diverse manner. You can love Snoop, but you can also love Fishbone.
Q. It’s hard to tell the way the music industry rolls sometimes. Just when you think you’re getting’ a little bit of somethin’, it’s like the old shell game-
A. Right. (Laughs)
Q. “We’ll give you a little bit of D’Angelo, we’ll give you a little bit of Erykah Badu,” and then everybody starts saying, “Music is changing.” Then they hit you with all the corny shit, and you can’t get any of the stuff you were feenin’ for in the first place. But my gut tells me that people want something else. Like they’re waiting for people to step up and represent.
A. Well, I was feelin’ that for a while. Then Dr. Dre did, “Been There, Done That,” I was like, okay, he’s feelin’ it, too. (Laughs). I think the current situation with pop music, like when things go so far to the pop side, there’s no place else to look except the underground. There is something happening that’s different. Shit, the three-year old kid whose parents listen to what’s happening now, where his head is gonna be is where I wanna be.