As the world of ska and I were just getting acquainted, I questioned my friend Ben about the words “It’s a total culture shock/ I’m the only rude boy on the block.” He seemed to have made it his personal motto by writing it on anything from his bookbag to using it as his personal quote online, and once I made the connection that it was probably ska-related, I wanted answers. To explain himself, he simply handed me the Scofflaws’ self-titled debut album and told me to listen to track four, “Paul Getty.” I was immediately hooked, and the song played itself in my head non-stop until I was finally able to purchase my own copy.
Since then, I’ve become an avid fan of the Scofflaws. Their catchy, high-energy songs are put together so masterfully that it’s hardly a surprise that the band has been together for nearly a decade, and are considered by most to be one of the best bands around. Not to mention that seeing them live is a great experience all onto itself. They hand out fruit, they make you sweat, and at the end, lead singer/saxophonist Richard “Sammy” Brooks tells you “We are Scofflaws, you are Scofflaws.”
After another amazing show at the Chili Pepper in Ft. Lauderdale, I had the pleasure of going backstage and talking with Sammy. As soon as we sat down, he immediately started questioning my preferences on the Pee-Wee Herman movies, and I’m still smacking myself that I didn’t tape that part of our conversation. But here’s the interview as is, right after we wrapped up the Pee-Wee topic. (Before I begin, I’d like to thank Scofflaw Tony Calarco for being so incredibly nice, and giving me a free shirt for the “inconvenience” of running the interview! Wow!)
Last time you were here, you came out with this huge plate of fruit and just started handing it out to the crowd. Is that a normal thing you do, and what’s the reasoning behind it?
I do it on occasion. Well, it’s on our contract. Ya know, oranges, pears, peaches. So, we eat what we wanna eat, and then I hand out the rest to the crowd. I figure, they paid admission, there’s food left over, so why shouldn’t they eat it? And it makes people happy. When ya eat an orange before you see a band, you feel good!
And your hand also smells like an orange!
Well, there are worse things your hand could smell like.
That’s true. So, does William Shatner know about the song “William Shatner?”
[Laughs] You’d have to ask him. We’re not really sure. We’ve heard that he has been aware of it, but we don’t know for certain.
Next time I see you guys, I’ll probably end up going up to you and saying something like “Hey, remember when… “ and so on. How many fans do you actually remember?
Well, some are easier to remember than others, because some are very colorful. Thing is, it’s an ever-widening fan pool, and for me, I’m one person for them to remember, and for them, they’re one of many. So it gets difficult.
You’ve only put out two studio albums. Why’d you decide to go with the live album all of a sudden?
Well, because we wanted to capture… like, we’re really more a performing band than a studio band, so we wanted to kinda capture that energy. So we did that. My only beef with that album is that we had some of the tunes together for the next studio record, and I wanted to release them on the live record because I felt that we could have used some newer material on there, rather than a greatest hits record with slightly re-worked versions.
So how’s the next album?
It’s cool. You’re gonna enjoy it. Like, all the songs you heard tonight. Those are all going to be on there. And that’s with Dave O’Donald producing it, who’s worked with all sorts of really heavy-duty groups.
How would you compare it to the older albums?
It’s a little more radio-friendly. It’s recorded better, recorded at a better studio. It’s just going to be one of those records that sound a little more pro rather than a high-quality demo.
During the show, a little bit of a pit broke out and I ended up moving to the side of the stage and watching you there. Does it bother you as a performer to see a mosh pit at a ska show?
Hey, ya know, those people paid to get in and that’s what they wanna do. I mean, I was never really interested in getting into the pit, but if they do it amongst themselves, I don’t give a shit. It’s just when they’re bothering, ya know, the female patrons and stuff like that. Then it’s a drag. If they’re getting into people’s faces with it, then I don’t like it. But if they’re doing it amongst themselves I don’t mind. They’re having a good time.
How does the writing process work, as far as instrumentals go?
Instrumentals? Well, they’re put together different ways. Sometimes the bass figure will be the first thing to come up, sometimes the drum groove. Sometimes somebody will just have the entire tune outlined.
What’s your preference: Tomago, Capamaki, or Tekamaki?
Me? Well, ya know, I don’t really eat sushi. I don’t like it. I eat vegetarian sushi if I eat sushi at all.
Are you a vegetarian?
No. I just don’t like raw fish.
Are you planning on joining the ska-to-MTV move?
Well, if they give us a call, we’ll go on there.
Have you ever been booed offstage?
Naw. We’ve done some gigs when we weren’t in our proper element, but people would check it out and everybody’s always been polite to us.
If you could be any fruit, what fruit would you be?
That’s quite an unusual question. I always see myself being reincarnated as some kind of furry animal or something.
Well what kind of furry animal would you be?
Maybe an elephant or something.
Are elephants furry?
Well, they have hair on them. Umm… I’d like to be a kiwi.
That’s good. Kiwis are furry. So you guys have switched booking agents now. Was there a big brawl?
No, we just wanted to be based out of New York. We still have a friendly relationship with our former agent. It wasn’t some big nasty thing. We just felt that with what we’re trying to do, especially on the east coast, we’d be better off using who we’re using now. But our old guy, he’s a nice guy. I’d recommend him to our friends.
[Now, I knew this was a bad question, and I knew they probably got it a lot. But I couldn’t help myself.] I know this is a bad question, but how old are you guys?
Owwwwwwww! Well, I’m only 41. Let’s see… I think Buford is around 37. Lemme see. Who’s the youngest of the group? Jerica? I think she’s about 26. [turns to a fellow Scofflaw member about 10 feet away] This guy’s askin’ us the ages in our group!
What were you all doing before the Scofflaws?
We were known as the New Bohemians before that.
How long have you been playing for?
Well, I’ve been playing since elementary school.
I mean as a band.
Ahh… I mean, the thing is, I’ve been a bandleader for a long time. None of these people were really working with me when I was the New Bohemians. Then I sold the name to that girl Edie Brickell. Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, they had a hit a few years ago. So I sold them that name, then we called ourselves the Scofflaws because we needed a name! We’d sold our name, so we couldn’t use it anymore! We no longer had legal rights to it! But I used the money to further my group.
Were you always doing ska?
Yeah, even back then.
What’s the deal with the side band, the Buford O’Sullivan Experience?
Ask him, I dunno! I’m not in it. Because it would be too much if I was in it. It would be stupid! It would be the Scofflaws with a bunch of different guys.
With my pool of questions drained, I thank Sammy for his time, and ask if I can take a picture for possible printing along with this interview. He agrees, and right before I hit the button to take the picture, Sammy calls over a random girl decked out in her clubbing outfit to pose with him. She shows her pearly whites, the camera flashes, and she looks at him and says, “Who are you?”
“I was with the last band,” Sammy replies.
“Oh.” And the girl walked off, still clueless as to whom she just posed in a picture with. She’ll probably never read this article, in fact. Which is unfortunate for her, being that she just unknowingly posed next to the leader of one of the most talented and enjoyable ska bands around. If she went to their show, she might have even gotten free fruit. And she would have been a Scofflaw. ◼