Fifteen years ago, eight friends and former members of big-name ska acts like Save Ferris and No Doubt came together to help re-invigorate the Orange County ska scene and their own dedications to the scene.
Today, the Anaheim-based Starpool – comprised of vocalist Alan Meade (ex-No Doubt), trumpeter Oliver Zavala (ex-Six Feet Deep, Los Superspies), trombonist Tbone Willy (ex-Save Ferris), bassist Bill Uechi (ex-Save Ferris), saxophonist Kyle O’Donnell, guitarist Brian Mashburn (ex-Save Ferris), keyboardist Jason Isley (ex-Six Feet Deep and the Imperials) and drummer Evan Kilbourne (ex-Save Ferris) – is arguably known as one of the county’s best and most popular ska acts, annually bringing fans together at the Ska Luau and donating their time to help their “ska family” in moments of need, like when they played the 2016 Carterpalooza festival, benefitting six-year-old Carter Ankeny, who died from complications of his cancer treatment last October.
Starpool will celebrate its 15th anniversary with two shows in the Constellation Room at the Observatory in Santa Ana on March 16 and March 17. Tickets cost $12 and are available at www.observatoryoc.com.
OC Weekly: What can you tell us about the history of Starpool? How and why did it get started?
Brian Mashburn: A number of months after Save Ferris broke up, Tbone approached me about creating a new project with some of the other former SF guys, Eric Zamora and Bill Uechi. Most of the SF guys were pretty close as friends, and we all missed hanging out and performing at shows together. So we decided to start something new that fit where our lives were at. Tbone brought in Oliver Zavala on trumpet and Phil Hanson (original Starpool drummer) who were big fans of vocalist Alan Meade’s from the old ND days. When I mentioned the idea of bringing him into sing for us, everyone was super excited. I had known Alan for most my life. Growing up, our brothers were best friends from junior high and high school, so we had kind of grown up around each other. Alan and I had been trying to work together for years, but we were both always busy in other projects. So when SF broke up and Alan’s former group Freakdaddy broke up, the timing worked out that we could finally team up and create some music. We had our first practice sometime around February of 2003. I think I brought in like two songs to the band to start with. Being ambitious, after just that one practice, we spoke to Vince Pileggi (Reel Big Fish’s manager) who was putting together the Ska Summit festival in Las Vegas, and we pitched him our new band and he agreed to put us on the bill. We literally wrote a 30-minute set in two weeks in order to play the Ska Summit for our first official show!
OC Weekly: Starpool is known for having former members of No Doubt and Save Ferris. How have your experiences in those bands helped shape Starpool? What lessons did being involved in those groups teach you and how have those lessons helped form the Starpool we know today?
Alan Meade: Being former and original members of those bands have helped shape us musically into what we are and what you hear today from Starpool. It’s where we got our start, and we value the time we spent in those bands. The lesson for me, personally, is to never give up on what you love doing, learn from mistakes and grow off of them and just keep moving forward.
Mashburn: For those of us who were in the original Save Ferris, I think I can say that we were very fortunate to have had some amazing experiences during that time. We hustled our butts off to create something that people really connected to. And we were lucky to have worked with some great people who believed in us, and it paid off with us finding a degree of success. We traveled the world performing, learned how the business worked and discovered what things we loved about playing music professionally and what things we didn’t. I think we took those lessons with us into Starpool and decided to create something new on our own terms. We would write the music we wanted to write and work with the people we wanted to work with. And ultimately we wanted to be a part of something that was fun again and connect with audiences the way only a real band can.
OC Weekly: The Ska Luau is something OC ska fans look forward to each year. What has it been like putting on those shows, and how do they compare to other gigs for you?
Mashburn: Putting together and performing at the Ska Luau over the past eight years has been an amazing experience. The idea for Ska Luau started when my friend John Pantle and I were talking one day about how it would be fun to do an old-school type of an event show where there would be a theme, a cheap ticket price and a ton of great local bands. At about the same time, John’s former high school music teacher Paul Schiada had approached him for help finding a place for his Polynesian Dance Troupe students to perform. John suggested to me that we put both groups together to create an event, and the result was the Ska Luau. While we appreciate and love all the gigs we play, the Ska Luau is pretty special. It has become something bigger than a Starpool show; it’s an annual tradition almost like the [Mighty Mighty] Bosstones’ Hometown Throwdown. It’s a show that people look forward to every year, and hopefully, we will be able to continue the Luau for years to come.
OC Weekly: Oftentimes, fans will learn of upcoming ska bands by attending Starpool shows, especially the Ska Luau. What is it like being a catalyst for people to experience new bands?
Mashburn: It’s been really rewarding for a number of reasons. Besides just being a ton of fun to perform at each year, putting on the Ska Luau over the years has allowed newer bands, or out of area bands, a chance to play a big stage like the House of Blues Anaheim when they might not have had an opportunity to do so. As a result, the Ska Luau helped breathe some life back into the local OC ska scene. It also allowed the students who were in the Magnolia high school Polynesian dance troupe a chance to perform on a big stage, and have their families come see them. According to the former director of the troupe Paul Schiada, after we started the Ska Luau, the number of kids who wanted to join kept doubling each year! Over time, they started being able to perform at different events all over Southern California all because of the clout of having performed at the House of Blues Anaheim. So the Ska Luau is this really rewarding event that was created for fun, but has also ended up doing some good things along the way. We just had our seventh annual Ska Luau this past November. We love that people still enjoy it, and hope to continue putting them on in the future.
OC Weekly: What excitement do you have for these upcoming anniversary shows? Will the two shows have different set lists?
Meade: Without being a spoiler, let’s just say that both sets will have something old, something new, something different and something fun!
Mashburn: Yes, there will be sets that pull from different song lists, different opening acts each night and it’s St. Paddy’s day weekend, so there will be a whole lot fun shenanigans going down!
OC Weekly: The OC “ska family” is close, with Starpool being no exception. What does it feel like to have such a close relationship with your fans? Do you have any words about the “ska family” fan base?
Meade: I can’t tell you how cool it has been that over our 15 years as a band, the amazing connections and friendships we’ve made with people. There are fans who are friends that continually come to shows and support us, and we return the favor. We could not do this and have this much fun without the ska family!
OC Weekly: Piggy-backing off that close relationship, you were a fairly instrumental support system for Carter Ankeny and his family these last few years until he ultimately lost his battle due to his cancer treatments in October. You played Carterpalooza and recorded a song benefiting his treatments and family. What was it like being part of that strong support system and why did you decide to involve yourselves?
Meade: There’s just no way I wouldn’t have been involved! This was a way to not only show love and support but to let our friends and Carter’s parents know that we care and they are not alone. Carterpalooza was a show of shows for Carter. He always showed support for his favorite bands so it was such an honor to be able to give back to Carter and his family.
Mashburn: Carter’s situation really hit home for me. I have a daughter who is just a few months older, so when I heard his story, and that some of the ska family were looking to do a benefit show, we said Starpool are down to help if you’ll have us! Over time, we got to know the family a little bit, participate in the CHOC Walk with his team and see him at some shows (which was always a treat). Performing at Carterpalooza was amazing. One of my favorite moments was seeing him on Alan’s shoulders on stage at the end of the encores while the crowd chanted his name. It was such a great moment. He had a smile beaming from ear to ear. He loved the music and through his battle brought together so many people
OC Weekly: For outsiders, ska is such a silly concept. But you seem to embrace that, with Alan in his checkered gear and Tbone constantly performing new ideas for his theme song. What is your relationship with ska nowadays and how would you describe the state of ska now as compared to 15 years ago?
Mashburn: For us, if we had to boil what we do down to three words, it would be fun, energy and inspiration. The ska scene we came out of was all about having a good time and mixing things up. There’s no more positive energy than a good ska show where everyone is dancing. Fifteen years ago, the ska scene was coming down from all of the attention the late ’90s brought to OC. By the early 2000s, many veteran bands had either broken up, weren’t touring as much or reformatted their sounds (more rock, less ska or horns). Outside of the major label bands like Reel Big Fish, groups like Suburban Legends and Starpool kinda kept the local scene going in OC, along with bands that formed up along the way like Chase Long Beach (R.I.P.) and Half Past Two. In recent years, it has been fun watching the cycle turn and now we are seeing new groups form up, which is what needs to happen for the scene to evolve and grow. In LA, there’s a scene that has been growing over the past 10 years, and that is awesome. It is great to see new generations of fans getting into the music.
OC Weekly: It’s been about seven years since your last album, “Living in Transition.” When can fans expect new music, and can you give a glimpse of what the new songs might be like?
Meade: You can definitely expect a new song or 2 at the Skanniversary shows. Again, without being a spoiler, we think and hope that the new songs are crowd pleasers that make you wanna dance!
Mashburn: Yea, we are just putting the finishing touches on a few new tunes that we hope to perform at the shows. We definitely had the ska family and the scene in our minds as we composed these songs. We hope people like them as much as our older songs.
OC Weekly: Have you faced any struggles as a band over your 15 years? If so, what were they?
Meade: I wouldn’t label our challenges as struggles but as growing and learning pains as with any relationship. Mostly it’s been finding the time among seven to eight different lifestyles to be a band and play shows, but the cool thing is that we always manage to pull it together.
OC Weekly: What have been some of your greatest accomplishments?
Mashburn: For us to have been able to do what we love to do on our own terms has been satisfying. We have been able to build an awesome fan base that allows us to headline shows at venues like the Glasshouse, the House of Blues Anaheim and the Observatory without ever having had a hit radio song, a label, a manager or any of the usual music business apparatuses. That feels like an accomplishment. We love the ska family and all the people who come to our shows. They inspire us to keep doing what we love, which is performing.
Meade: There are a few moments that really stick out. In 2004, we put on the Save Eric benefit show for our friend and former saxophonist Eric Zamora who at the time was gravely ill, but thankfully recovered. For his show, we were able to get a lot of old friends’ bands, like Reel Big Fish, Lit, The Aquabats, Home Grown and Suburban Legends, to perform. It was truly amazing night. As mentioned earlier, we are very proud of the annual Ska Luau shows that we have been doing since 2010. I’d also say having the opportunity and honor to have been part of Carterpalooza was amazing.
OC Weekly: What are your goals now as a band? What does the future hold for Starpool?
Meade: We want to keep playing live shows when we can and put more new music out there.
Mashburn: We’ve just restarted the songwriting process again, and it feels good to be back in the saddle creating. It would be great to put out either a new E.P. or full album of music later this year. Ultimately, we continue performing in Starpool because we truly enjoy hanging out and playing shows together. Hopefully, we can find a way to continue doing so for many years to come.
By day, Brittany covers hard-hitting city news in San Diego. By night, she’s prowling the Orange County music scene, and is usually a regular attendee of local ska and punk shows. Reporting and music have always been Brittany’s passions. She wrote for her middle school and high school newspapers and studied journalism at Cal State Long Beach, where she graduated in 2012. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her French Bulldog, watching probably too many Disney movies for someone her age and napping.