An Interview with Jeremy Pena of The Bandulus

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The Bandulus are the brainchild of Jeremy Peña, a musician from Austin, Texas. Formerly of Los Skarnales and the Trenchtown Texans, Peña ventured out on his own to create the traditional ska, reggae, and soul sensation that is The Bandulus.

The Bandulus have shared the stage with yesterdays and today’s top Ska and Reggae acts, including Ska originators The Skatalites, Inner Circle, The Wailers, The Slackers, Easy Star All-Stars, The English Beat, The Aggrolites, Collie Budz, The Skints, Save Ferris, New Kingston, The Suffers, Western Standard Time, The Pietasters and Los Lonely Boys. They were also a featured artist at the 2019 Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival and will feature at the 2020 Freedom Sounds Ska festival in Cologne, Germany.

Jamaican patois for bandit, The Bandulus will steal your heart and always leave you smiling. If you would like to learn more about The Bandulus, head over to their website and dive in.

Bio courtesy of bandulus.com.

Andrew:
Jeremy, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough. How are you holding up?

Jeremy:
Yeah man, WHAT A YEAR! We’ve been hangin’ in there. We only played 3 gigs in 2020. 2 of which were our record release party for Love A Woman. The other was for a non-profit in Eugene, OR backing the Studio One legend Norma Fraser. So really this was the year of hanging with my family and trying to write new material. I’ve been lucky enough to start collaborating with people like Sean Flowerdew of Happy People Records in London and Smoke and Mirrors Soundsystem (Ex New Normal Collaboration) a kind of supergroup made up of Ska and Reggae musicians around the world. Happy People released a Bandulus 7,” and I played some Ska guitar and sang on some songs from both Pama International & Smoke & Mirrors Soundsystem.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway?

Jeremy:
Well, I grew up in a musical family in a small town 20 miles outside of Austin. I’m probably the 4th or 5th generation in my family to go the musical route. My great uncle Juventino Rosas was a genius composer and violinist. Google him to check out his incredible story. Growing up, my grandpa owned a bar/restaurant that my dad not only managed, but also ran the house band. They played everything Tejano, Blues, R&B, Country, etc. My pops also played with several Tejano legends since he was in high school including Alphonso Ramos, Little Joe Y Familia, Augustine Ramirez, Sunny Ozuna, Laura Canales, the list really goes on and on.

So, when I was about 12, I used to go hang out with my best friend Jarrod at his dad’s place in Austin. Jarrod’s step mother was Susan Antone, sister of Clifford Antone who opened the legendary Antone’s blues club in 1974. This is the spot that Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Maceo Parker, Buddy Guy etc would all frequent. Anyways, one time that I was there, Antone’s was having a matinee show featuring teenagers. The show was Derek Trucks and Jake Andrews. They were both sixteen-years-old guitar prodigy’s. When I heard Jake play the tune Sleep Walk from Santo & Johnny, I was hooked! When I got back home, I told my dad about the experience, and immediately asked him to teach me.

From there, I kind of went out on my own started listening to Nirvana and other Punk bands. Learned the art of power chords and really tried to play anything that was loud and fast. In 1999 or 2000, my buddy TJ had the Give ‘em the boot from Hellcat Records, and there was this tune that was a “Slow Ska,” and I was like, who is this? Turned out it was The Slackers tune called “Watch This.” But it wasn’t until I saw them live in 2001 that I was bitten by the traditional Ska bug. The music reminded me of all the Tejano, Conjunto, Salsa, and Cumbias that my pops would play. Ska is definitely a cousin to all those genres. 

Andrew:
As a band, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? How did the group develop its signature style?

Jeremy:
Definitely The Slackers, but also the band who opened for them the first time I saw The Slackers was The Stingers ATX. The Stingers were a local Ska and Reggae band who were similar to The Slackers. Sound Patrol from Houston also was a top influence. Mark Speer and Patrick Kelly together was and is something special. Unfortunately, not very many people know them. But Mark’s current band Khruangbin is a global phenomenon.

I think our signature sound is probably vulnerable soul lyrics sung over standard chords with guitar solos instead of horns. This kind of came around by accident. I always wanted a horn section, but could never find players who were available to be in the band.

Andrew:
The Bandulus formed in Texas, right? What’s the Ska, Reggae, and Soul scene like out there?

Yup, every city is a little different. Houston has a dope scene, especially when I lived down there. There is Los Skarnales, another band that influenced me. I was lucky enough to play guitar with them for about 8 months. Ryan Scoggins & The Trenchtown Texans, another band I played in that really helped me with my ska & reggae chops. There is also a vibrant skapunk/ gutter punk community in Houston.

San Antonio has a really dope scene as well. In the late 90’s and early aught’s, there was a monthly called Ska Explosion that would mash up ska, punk, and psychobilly bands. Drawing about 500-600 people every month.

Dallas also has a great scene. There are quite a few two tone and ska punk bands that came out of the area. As for Austin, it’s more of a roots reggae scene. Other than the Stingers being there until 2008, there were no other traditional ska bands. I had to drive to Houston every week for 5 years to play in a ska band.

The Bandulus – Ska, Reggae, Soul (2010)

Andrew:
Your first album, Ska.Reggae.Soul was released in 2010. Tell us about the recording of that record. Looking back, what are your thoughts on your debut?

Jeremy:
Man recording that record was a learning process for sure. The Bandulus started more as a recording project. I didn’t have a real band together. By 2007, I had become friends with all the members in The Stingers and Vic Ruggiero of The Slackers. In 2009 Vic had me book the Texas leg of a solo tour he did, and he wanted me to accompany him on a few dates. Luckily, I had some time booked in the studio when he was in town. So I was able to get him in the studio to play organ on 5 tracks and sing on 2. I was absolutely in awe. I couldn’t believe that he wanted to work with me! And the cherry on top, my bassist and drummer were Willy Camero and Patrick Kelly of THE STINGERS! I definitely felt (still do) that they were out of my league. But stoked that they were down to work with me. Willy ad Pat both really pushed me to get a live version of the band going. They were so positive and really encouraging. I still have a text thread with Pat and Willy; we talk weekly. I still can’t believe that I was able to work with these guys and the rest of the musicians on my first solo recording project.

Andrew:
In 2020, you released a new record, Love A Woman. What changed this time around regarding the recording? How do you feel you’ve evolved since your debut?

Jeremy:
Everything has changed. In 2015, my family and I decided to move to Portland, OR. We picked Portland because I knew when we landed here, I could have a band already put together. In fact, we practiced before Mario (guitar player from the Texas line up), and I unloaded the U-Haul. My homie/bassist/producer Curtis Irie had been living in Portland for 5 years already and had a band and his recording studio going. So it took about 6 months to get the band to the live stage and 2 years into the studio. Curtis really is instrumental in capturing what we sound like on stage, in the studio. I am ecstatic, the way he mixed it and the response we’ve gotten.

Andrew:
You’ve shared the stage with the likes of The Skatalites, The Wailers, The English Beat, Save Ferris, and more. What was it like having the opportunity to share the stage with such legendary bands?

Jeremy:
Pretty surreal. Crazy to think our debut show was opening for The Aggrolites on July 4, 2008. Since then, we grew and grew. I think our 3rd show ever was opening for The Skatalites. And Doreen Schaffer actually complimented me on a Ken Boothe song we covered. In November 2019, we were lucky enough to tour with The Skatalites. It was nice to get a little validation like people actually like what we’re doing haha.  Now we have a great relationship with them. Can’t wait to do it again.

The Bandulus – Love A Woman (2020)

Andrew:
I’ve always felt that as a band, The Bandulus are at their best in the live setting. Would you agree? If so, what is it about performing live that brings out the best in you?

Jeremy:
Definitely, the feedback from the audience is everything. Plus, playing Ska and Reggae is soooo fun! [Laughs]. And singing with soul is everything. Being vulnerable is enticing I think. Showing your true colors connects people.

Andrew:
Your work has evolved over the years, but your delivery and style still shine through. What would you say the through-line is which overarches your work?

Jeremy:
Being true to yourself and just being real. I love putting raw emotion and vulnerability into the world. Honestly, If I can put out the same record over and over with just new tunes, I’d be happy. Just like Rancid or James Hunter does. New records, but the same classic sounds.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of the music industry a bit. What are a few things you would like to see change for the betterment of both the fans and artists alike?

Jeremy:
The main thing is it would be nice if the bands could make a little more money off of streaming services like Spotify or Apple music. Also, being able to just stay afloat on the road as we tour. It would be nice to get your own hotel on the road. Shit, sometimes we can’t even afford a room and have to ask people if we can crash on their floor.

As far as the betterment for fans, I’m not sure. I really like what The Reggae Podclash and ex Expanders singer Devin Morrison talked about on their podcast. There’s a new service called Backstagemusiclessons.com that a drummer from a newer band started where a fan can book time with their favorite musician for a hang, songwriting lesson, guitar, drums, bass lessons, etc. That’s a super dope idea.

Andrew:
In a world dominated by big business and social media, can indie artists really, truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Jeremy:
Yes and no. I feel like you still need some kind of financial backing to get ahead. Look at The Interrupters. I don’t know if they would be where they are today without Tim Armstrong. They are a killer band, but without the help and name recognition of Tim, Rancid, and Hellcat, I don’t know if they would be on the radio as much as they are now. I’m not sure how to keep the playing field level. Art is art, and it’s subjective.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music?

Jeremy:
Man, oh, man. I collect both CDs and Records. I also have a huge digital library. But I mostly focus on records. I enjoy Mississippi Records here in Portland, also Music Millennium. All the record stores in Portland are pretty great. Online I use millionsofrecords.com. They used to be EB Reggae. Great source for classic records.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Jeremy:
Both Ken Boothe – A Man & His Hits and Alton Ellis – Be True To Yourself. Trojan Anthology really got me into Rocksteady. Like hard! I didn’t listen to anything else for a while after getting those two.

Also, The Blues Busters – Behold! Trojan Anthology. Showed me how much I really loved Soul harmonies and really Soul music in general.

The Slackers’ The Question & Hepcat’s Scientific really propelled me into the genre, especially since they are contemporary bands showing how you can push the genre forward.

Sound Patrol’s Slowmotion taught me how to blend the sounds together. This record is incredible. Blends American oldies with trad Ska, killer Rocksteady, and showcases Dub with poetry like no other record I’ve heard.

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you.

Jeremy:
I’m gonna echo my last answer here. Ken Boothe and Alton Ellis continue to rule my stereo. As well as The Slackers, The Stingers, and Victor Rice. He is the best producer in the genre these days, in my opinion.

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve maintained a strong DIY approach throughout your career, which is awesome. That said, what advice would you have for young artists just starting? How do bands stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Jeremy:
Keep moving forward. Even if one of the best members of your band quits or moves or needs to be fired. I’ve had over 40 members in the Bandulus. Really it’s my solo project, but I never wanted to go by just my name. I’ve always wanted to have a democratic band, with input from everyone else that I’m currently playing with, but it hasn’t worked that way for me. Luckily, I have a group of fantastic musicians and singers that trust my process. I think running the band the way I have, has lead to the sound we achieve.

Interested in learning more about the work of The Bandulus? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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