“Americans like to identify themselves so much with artists and musicians but the culture right now doesn’t really help artists and musicians that much, unless you’re famous.”
For more than 25 years, Big D & the Kids Table have been one of the pillars of Boston ska. Led by Dave McWane, the act has gone through many changes in terms of membership but has always brought an energetic horn-driven sound to the stage. They also have a knack for lifting people up, and with that attitude in mind, the band is releasing its 10th album, Do Your Art, via SideOneDummy Records on Oct. 22. It’s their first album of original material in nearly a decade, and to ring in the release, Big D & the Kids Table is throwing a party at Brighton Music Hall the following night.
McWane and I recently spoke about how COVID-19 affected the making of the album, weird b-movies, surprises in store for the upcoming show, and how people shouldn’t be afraid of getting creative regardless of social class and financial standing.
Do Your Art is Big D & the Kids Table’s first album of original material in eight years, so was there anything different about making this record versus the ones you’ve done in the past?
There’s two things that were different from every other record that we’ve done in the past. When we started, we recorded the drums, bass, guitar, and organ piano, and then we went on tour with Reel Big Fish and Keep Flying. I describe it as if you ever saw Pirates Of The Caribbean when Captain Jack Sparrow gets off his boat and it sinks right when he gets on to the dock, it’s pretty much like that. When the tour was over, it finished on a Sunday and then Monday was the lockdown.
Yeah, we went to bed, woke up, and we found out we couldn’t do things anymore. We had just finished that tour, which was good, but then we thought about our upcoming recording dates to finish the album. We had to cancel recording dates, which we had never had to do before, and regroup. I gotta say, even though there were so many bad things that happened to people during the lockdown, when it came to Do Your Art, the lockdown really helped the record. Sometimes it’s hard to work at your job and then after your job go through traffic, find parking, go to the rehearsal space and go with your buddies and start creating for a few hours after a long day, but what’s fun when you’re young is that you have a little bit more freedom and you can hang out a lot together.
During lockdown with Zoom, the band just started hanging out a lot in these virtual chats talking about the record and talking about what we want to do more so than during a typical weekly practice. The dialogue and amplified friendship from bonding really, really helped the record with the horn parts and various other parts getting more attention. When it was ok to do so, we rebooked the recording dates and finished up the record. As far as the content goes, we did a lot of new, weird things. It’s 20 tracks and they’re not all three minute songs like most songs are, we did some of them but we also had fun doing 30-second and 40-second songs just to kind of break out of the arrangement that’s the standard.
We wanted to write some fun songs that are just to enjoy and not trying to change the world. Tracks like “You Buggin,’” which we did with Melt Banana, “Race Car Song,” “Metal In The Microwave,” and “Dead Bottle” are all kind of like a little wolverine of songs, they’re small and vicious. Then we also did four tracks of sampling. I like to go back and watch b-movies from the 1960s such as James Bond-type films that weren’t good, Teenagers From Outer Space, and She-Devils On Wheels just for the hell of it. They have fun, weird dialogue. I like to watch them and cut some of the dialogue out so we made four sample tracks of sound art including clips of us on tour. My wife’s great grandmother singing a song and Danny O’Day from the River City Rebels saying funny stuff. We sewed up some really good sampling so the record has a lot in there.
It definitely does. Are these film clips that you used for the record part of your own personal collection of these weird movies from the ’60s? Or did you find them online via archive sites? Did you find them in a library? How were you able to find this material to include in the album?
Right when Quentin Tarantino hit the scene with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction during the ’90s, I was sold. He’s always talked about watching these old kitschy films so I’ve always been gathering this stuff and it’s always been a part of my life since high school. It really got easier to do when I found this glorious website called Something Weird Video, the owner Mike Vraney sadly died a few years ago and he was such a great guy. He had all these movies and it was old-school style in the way you ordered them, there’s this huge phone book list of titles and I would go through them. I wanted to buy every single one but I can’t so I have to sort out which ones I want in somewhat of a list form just going by title.
They would jam as much content into one DVD-R as they can so you’ll order one title and there will be five in there. I just sit in the dark with a pen and paper and watch them while writing my favorite lines down. I swear to god, my wife even said that I’ve never laughed so loudly by myself outside of watching these movies. It’s just my kind of stuff, so that’s how I got them.
Outside of music, you’re a prolific poet while also being a short story and screenplay writer. How did you get into these different forms of writing and how often do you find these creative mediums intertwining themselves within the lyrics for Big D’s music?
I would say it started not before the internet, but definitely before smartphones. Back in those days, instead of people staring at phones while we were performing they were reading books with a nightlight. Having a good night light was something to be envious of and we would just read and read and read and read. When you’re touring as much as we did, with 200 to 250 shows a year, and you’re driving at night, books can be really important. After a while of reading some of my favorite poets and my favorite authors, I started thinking that if I could make a CD then I could probably write a book.
I spent years putting myself through my own little school of how to write through reading about writing, reading about screenplays and the nuts and bolts of it. I read those books for about two years before I really started going at it myself because I wanted to represent the guys well too, I didn’t want to write a book and have it not be very good. While I was touring I would write and write and write and it was good because not all the things inside me that I want to say are proper for a Big D song. I would put them into books of prose and poetry but then sometimes it would leak out and I couldn’t stop it. We have backup singers called the Doped Up Dollies and we back up them in their band as well, but the Doped Up Dollies have their own style which leads more to some of this writing.
I started putting some of my poems and prose in the Big D album Stroll, it started to leak into it with songs like “Knife” and “Doped Up Dollies on a One Way Ticket to Blood” with the latter having a major pulp comic influence. I’m basically always trying to write, whether it’s music or books, so I try to figure out different ways or the best way to package it up and get it out there.
Big D & the Kids Table has gone through many lineup changes over the years with you being the sole original member. With this in mind, how would you describe the band’s evolution since 1995?
Big D may have not always been the same lineup but when we started out, it was really just the 10 guys in the band being 10 friends. That was our circle of friends and we were limited with the amount of girls that would take the time to talk to us and we were so young that we weren’t old enough to buy beer so we were at that age where we hung out and played music together all the time. That’s why there were so many members because at first, three or four of us weren’t in the band and they had nothing to do if we practiced so they eventually grabbed an instrument and joined up. It was just fun for us to hang out, it wasn’t everybody’s dream genre to go into. We’re all still really good friends and everyone has gone off to do their own things but most of the newer members have been in the band for over 10 years, which is longer than some bands have been existing.
It’s still the same thing, it’s just a band to have fun and get your creative ideas out. We’re not trying to get more popular, we’ve already made it past whatever we have hoped so we’re in a really good spot where we enjoy being in a band. We try to encourage each other to write, if someone in the band hasn’t written a song we’ll let them know they can do it. We’re very different with our goals than what other bands have, our goals are just to find the creative side of ourselves within each of us, try to make music that impresses each other, get on the road and try to see the world. If it weren’t for the band, we wouldn’t be able to afford to tour Europe, Japan, and China, so the band allows a certain culture.
I’ve joked about how I have more friends in Austria than in Allston or in China than in Colorado. It’s been a really great way to be free and artistic for us all.
What do you hope people take from Do Your Art when it comes out and do you have anything special in store for the album’s release show at Brighton Music Hall?
The main thing I want people to take away from Do Your Art is that I’ve spent so much time on the road with lots of musicians and I started to notice that the successful people around me in the industry often are from fortunate families or are from connected families. Their uncle, aunt, father, or mother works for Sony or something like that. Then with all my friends from the New England area and around the world, I started to get really sad that the most talented guitar players, the most talented singers, the most talented illustrators and others would start to hang up their caps and put away their talent. Other than that being terrible, they walk away thinking they weren’t good enough to make it. Some of these people’s talents I can’t illustrate but I look at them as superpowers and you can’t put them away.
I’m trying to let people know that they are good enough, it’s just that the deck is stacked, some people were born on third base and it’s not wrong of these people who are fortunate and connected to become famous. I’m not saying it is wrong, bravo to them, but I don’t want the people who think they weren’t good enough to think that. I want people to keep doing their art, it’s the number one magic in them. Americans like to identify themselves so much with artists and musicians but the culture right now doesn’t really help artists and musicians that much, unless you’re famous. If you were an 18-year-old kid looking to go to art school, your parents might not be able to afford it, but I want that kid to know to keep doing their art and to never let it go.
As far as the show, there are a couple secrets coming up. We got a lot of artists to help us with this new record and with new merch designs. We have this puppeteering video coming out soon as we’re trying to incorporate as much art and artists with the release of the record as we can. We’re going to play a whole bunch of new songs that we haven’t played since lockdown, which is the longest time I haven’t played live since I was 17 so we’ll be roaring and ready to be on stage.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.