By Adam Lovinus
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Photo by Jeanne RiceThe waitress has finally brought out lunch, but for the next three hours, Tazy Phyllipz and his half brother Albino Brown (we'll spare you their not-as-colorful real names) will barely touch their food. Not that they're not hungry, not that there's some small, hairy critter crawling through their pasta or anything. It's just that chowing down —even for some quick nibbles—means they'd both have to stop talking long enough to chew.
They areradio guys, so they're naturally hard to shut up. And they have a lotto talk about. For on this very Jan. 12 afternoon 10 years ago, Tazy and Albino innocently birthed a show on KUCI (UC Irvine's anemic-signaled college station at 88.9 FM) they called The Ska Parade, a program that would go on to spark OC's '90s ska craze, give first-ever radio spins to No Doubt and Sublime, host more than 300 live in-studio performances, and expose an untold number of ears to bands (both local and non) that would never have been able to get heard on any commercial, non-college frequency —and definitelynot on KROQ.The Ska Parade has evolved over its first decade, moving from a strict ska playlist to one that features the fast-rising indie-rock/ emo scene. Despite its title, The Ska Parade is no longer 100 percent ska, routinely playing bands that run the stylistic gamut from Ozomatli to Gwar to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to At the Drive-In (though ska still gets generous play).
Tazy, too, at least on this day, has changed: gone are the thick-rimmed black glasses, once his trademark, replaced by contact lenses, a short beard/mustache combo and a slickly spliced 'do that makes him look like the winner of a Dana Rohrabacher look-alike contest. For his part, Albino sports a hipster soul patch on his chin and is so passionate about tunes and bands that it's hard to imagine him discussing anything else.
"It's kind of amazing how far you can take something," says Tazy, reflecting on the show's double-digit birthday. "If you had told me 10 years ago that we'd be playing 17 different styles of music on a show called Ska Parade—let alone have live bands—I would've said you were crazy. But you hit a point where the music does change—and it ischanging."
Albino pipes up. "Ten years, and look how strong we're going," he says. "We've had some major ups and downs, but we're still here. We're discovering new bands every day that excite us. Even if their music may not be of the best recording quality, we usually can see their potential."
It's been told before, but the short history of The Ska Parade goes like this: Tazy was a jazz snob until Albino dragged him to a Dance Hall Crashers/Let's Go Bowling gig in 1989. Also on the bill were the New York Citizens, a young, traditional ska band that would change Tazy's perception of a music he figured was limited to the kind of poppy, two-tone skank rhythms made famous by such late '70s/early '80s groups as Madness.
"Here were these guys my age playing essentially a jazz-type thing over a ska rhythm—improvising!—and the crowd wasn't made up of people five times older than me," Tazy remembers. He eventually got into other new ska bands via Albino's extensive record collection.
Tazy was then a music major at UCI with a jazz show on KUCI. He and Albino got the idea to make a radio documentary about ska, focusing on its history as well as on the younger ska bands that were springing up (a spurt some were calling "revival" ska, as in a revival of two-tone; Tazy takes credit for coining the "third-wave" term that would stick). The documentary aired on KUCI in November 1989 and became the most listened-to program in KUCI's history at the time, says Tazy, thanks to several advance plugs on an OC music-video show and healthy word-of-mouth. Spurred by the response, Tazy applied to do a ska show—The Ska Parade—which debuted two months later.
By the brothers' account, their humble, weak-signaled college-radio show became an instant smash, attracting such a rabid, loyal following from what was then a fairly underground scene that people from as far away as Riverside and San Diego would drive to Irvine and park across the street from the campus at the In-N-Out Burger, just to listen. "Folks used to tell me that if the wind was blowing the right way, they'd take hangers and do all sorts of crazy extension things with their radio wires to pick it up," Albino says. (These days, they can save themselves the gas money and get it live on the Net: www.kuci.org/listen.html.)
At first, The Ska Parade was mostly Tazy and Albino spinning their favorite records, but soon they started bringing guests into the studio to play live on the air. With the exception of their first, all 477 shows have been preserved on tape, which has become quite a valuable archive. The first performance of No Doubt doing "Just a Girl," half a year before Tragic Kingdom came out? They've got it. An extremely rare, exclusive set from Fugazi, who never, everdo radio? Got that, too. The first public broadcast of Sublime's "Wrong Way" (not to mention "Date Rape," which, through Tazy's efforts while interning at KROQ in 1995, helped get the band signed to MCA)? Yup. And volumes more.
"If you get played on the radio show—and, in most cases, if you're a solid band with good songs—it's gonna open up a lot of doors, and we've proved that time and time again," says Tazy.
"Quite often, we're doing world premieres, whether it's the Donnas or No Doubt or any number of other bands," says Albino. "They feed us first. They know we're not only a springboard to the underground but also a springboard to the overground as well. We want to support our favorites and bring them to a higher level."
Still, for all the support and love that bands and listeners have shown The Ska Parade over the years, the show remains a largely cultish, local phenomenon, something cherished and fiercely protected by those who know, unblemished by the evil mainstream.
That may change soon, if Tazy and Albino have their way—and as long as they can keep total creative control, they say. The plan is to start releasing some of those exclusive performances on CD—possibly as enhanced discs, with equally exclusive video footage that Albino has gathered—ŗ la famed BBC DJ John Peel, who captured many a rising new-wave and punk band when they were still in their infancy.
"It's only natural for us to start moving into that realm," says Albino. "We've got incredible, incredible stuff."
They'd also love to open a ska museum, putting to use (not to mention clearing their house of) the hefty archives they've kept on all the bands they've worked with. They're looking to get The Ska Parade syndicated on commercial stations—though if that vision peters out, there's always the dot-com route.
"We get mail from people all over the world who listen to the show on the Internet," Tazy proclaims. "It's mind-blowing. And I think that's the direction radio is heading. KNAC is back on the air through the Net, and I hear they're doing great. You don't need to be on the actual airwaves anymore to make an impact, and it opens things up to a worldwide audience."
Whatever form it takes, Tazy and Albino seem primed to keep The Ska Parade—and the music that initially inspired it—alive for at least another decade. The show is sure to diversify even further (Tazy name-drops Long Beach rockers the Killingtons and Kansas City's emoesque Get Up Kids as being among his crop of current faves; Albino likes LA's Tsar), but ska will remain the show's backbone. When ska's fourth wave hits, they'll be ready.
And it will hit, Tazy and Albino promise. Contrary to what you might think, they say, ska isn't dead —just hibernating.
"You had the hottest bands come out first, in terms of genre-breaking—No Doubt, Sublime, Goldfinger, great tunes that'll stand the test of time," explains Albino. "But then we had the same problem that happened with two-tone, which happens all the time: the copycat effect. Everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon, to crawl under that ska umbrella—not for the music's sake, but for the money's sake. Bands were using it as a launch pad, but they were lowering and diluting the standard. That's what kicks it to the curb until, finally, the media and the industry moved on. But the thing is the rhythm's still there; it still grooves. Like any other tool, it's how you use it. You incorporate it into your can of soup.
"You can call it whatever you want, but when people all said that ska music was dead, the biggest fucking hot-piss single of last year was Ricky Martin's 'Livin' la Vida Loca'—a full-on ska song."
"Love it or hate it, that was a ska tune," agrees Tazy. "They just called it 'Latin pop' instead."
Albino continues. "And that's just a small indicator of ska's power and reach. If you remember back in the day, the '80s and early '90s, with hip-hop and rap, a bunch of people said that it wouldn't last, that they couldn't play instruments, that it was just a fad. Well, billions of dollars later, rappers are some of the richest folks around."
Ska, rock, emo, jazz, whatever—they will still listen to each tape and CD that gets sent to them, an average of 30 per week, from people who recognize the brothers' track record, hoping to become the next big Ska Parade-blessed band. They've gotten to know their local post-office people so well that they took one of the guys who works there out to see the new Star Wars movie on opening day last year ("They've been really good to us," Tazy says).
And Tazy swears he test spins everything at least once.
"In my mind, that's my job. I make it a point to listen to every single thing, no matter what style, because I'm always looking for those gems out there. I've learned that the rule of thumb is to not discount any band. I've seen it time and time again, even though the first time I hear them, they may not be so good, but if they keep working at it, you might see them a year later—it might be the same people, the same songs, but you can't believe the difference. To be in a band, what you put into it is what you get out of it."
The Ska Parade can be heard every Sat., noon to 2 p.m., on KUCI-FM 88.9 or through www.skaparade.com.