An Interview with Robert “Bucket” Hingley of The Toasters

The Toasters, Threat Level Burgundy (SKA) - Thunder Road

When we think back on bands that have been truly influential and meaningful, there are certain ones that come to mind. Depending on the genre we’re talking about, different cache’s artists will come up. It’s true that taste can come into play, but when we talk about genres and the bands that shaped and influenced them, there are certain artists that simply aren’t up for debate. When it comes to Ska, more specifically, the second wave, The Toasters are one of the most important, if not the most important. More so, the third wave simply would not have taken shape in the way that it did if not for the influence of Robert “Bucket” Hingley and his band The Toasters.

The Toasters are one of New York City’s quintessential bands. They are pioneers in the way of Ska as we know it today, and their overlap with Punk music is as undeniable as it is important. Bands such as Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish and Mustard Plug owe everything to The Toasters. Robert Hingley’s Toasters are the true bridge between the first wave and the third wave. Their fusion of aggressive, NYC Punk into the genre of Ska is something that we are still hearing from new bands to this day.

Having the opportunity to have Robert “Bucket” Hingley “with us” today is one that I do not take lightly. As far as musical heroes go, he’s up there for me. The respect I have for him as an artist, as well as an activist for political and social change cannot, should not, and will not be understated. If you would like to learn more about The Toasters, you can head over to their website here. In the meantime, enjoy this interview with Bucket. That’ll do for now. Thanks.

Andrew:
Bucket, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Bucket:
2020 has been a doozie. I had my last gig on Feb 29, which is also strange enough, and since that time have been cancelling, rescheduling and cancelling again about 200 shows in the US and Europe. So, it has been a huge exercise in futility. Kind of an endless today with no tomorrow. Apart from that, my house is as clean as a whistle, and I have been able to grow a bunch of stuff in my yard over the summer.

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

Bucket:
My father was always into music and had a huge collection of 45’s which included bands like The Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent, Bill Haley, Roy Orbison and loads more. He was a radio engineer in the army, and so he had shortwave radios that he would tune in to global music shows, and every week, he would record the top 40 on reel to reel tape. So, he was my first portal into all things Rock and Roll. Living in England in the 60’s was also a fertile ground for Pop music of all kinds. I bought my first Ska record in 1964. My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small. I still have it. Thick as a dinner plate. Besides the Trojan Explosion in the Reggae world, I was also a huge fan of Motown, Stax and blues. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 16. I got into bands at college. So in that respect, I was a late bloomer.

Andrew:
My understanding is that in the 1970’s, you were the manager of the famous NYC comic shop, Forbidden Planet. Is that true? What was the experience like? How did it inform your music, if at all?

Bucket:
Yes it’s true. I started working for FP in London at the back end of ’78 having graduated from York University with a Linguistics degree in ’77. I spent a year working with my friend who was renovating row-houses before moving back down South having been offered the FP job by another university pal who was already working for them. I ran their Science Fiction department there amongst other things, and was also in charge of buying collections of comics, toys, books and other collectibles. One of my clients was Joe Jackson for whom I procured EC and Silver Age DC books. I became friendly with him, and coincidentally he ended up moving to NYC at the same time as I did in 1980 when I was asked by the FP directors to go to the recently opened New York branch, and help them set up their ordering/buying/mail order systems. So, I landed in Manhattan in May 1980 in the cauldron of the Lower East Side which at that time was rich in artists, musicians and other creative types. On any given day we would have Johnny Ramone, Rik Ocasek, Glenn Danzig, Steve Stephens (of Billy Idol) in the shop chewing the fat. Robin Williams used to come in to buy Japanese robots and throw impromptu performances in the basement. That place was really alive. Meanwhile, my local pub was the Park Inn Tavern on Avenue A. Patrons there included Wayne Kramer (MC5), Richard Hell (Voidoids), and Ivan Julian. Scene was cracking there back in the day.

The Duff Guide to Ska: Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Toasters "Skaboom!"  Reissue

Andrew:
In 1981, you formed The Toasters. Tell us how the group came together.

Bucket:
The band got started primarily as an after-work jam band for laughs in the fall of 1980. The line-up was my room mate Steve Laforge on keys, 2 or three guys from the FP store, and a couple of guys from the bar. I showed them how to play Ska music which in itself was quite an undertaking. After a few sessions, we rented a regular space at 181 Avenue A, which was Jerry Weems’ place, and started rehearsing twice a week, quickly changing up the musicians into a much tighter unit and playing an all Ska set. That rehearsal space was shared with the Cro-mags and Bad Brains (HR was living there at that time) amongst others. Our Drummer at that time was Scott Jarvis, who had just worked on the Beastie Boys Cookie Puss EP. So we were in the mix. By the time 1981 rolled around, we had played our first gig at the Avenue A club on 7th and A opening up for the Bad Brains. We recorded our first demo as Not Bob Marley in 1982, and changed our name to The Toasters shortly thereafter. By 1983, we had auditioned at CBGB on their talent night that Hilly used to run on Tuesday nights to showcase local bands. He liked us so much that he offered us a weekend slot. That put the band in a great position to move forward.

Andrew:
What were some of The Toasters earliest influences as a band? Who were/are some of your greatest personal influences?

Bucket:
Most of the original guys in the band were coming out of a Punk Rock background. Steve Hex was into Roxy Music and Bowie. Most of my influences were from Motown, Soul, Blues, Reggae and Ska. Obviously having lived through the 2 Tone Movement in the UK, and been involved in that as well as the Rock Against Racism movement, I was heavily leaning towards those sounds. I liked the harder edge of Punk and I went to see the Anarchy in the UK tour at Leeds Poly at that time. Best band there for my money was The Damned by a long chalk. In any case, what was happening with The Toasters was me showing the American guys how to play Ska and then them playing it like Punk Rock. That’s how The Toasters’ more aggressive Ska sound was developed and which we called the East Side Beat.

Andrew:
Initially, The Toasters had a hard time securing a record deal. Why do you think that is?
 When The Toasters were unable to find a record deal, you formed Moon Ska Records, in 1983. What went into the decision to form your own label?

Bucket:
By the time 1983 had rolled around, The Toasters had sent our three-song demo consisting of 3 tunes: ‘No Respect,’ ‘Brixton Beat’ and ‘Nick’s Fish Shop’ around various labels and media contacts in NYC. The demo had been produced by our buddy Rich Thomas of the Lower East Side Rockers, the pre-eminent Rockabilly act in the city at that time. To no avail. One A+R rep told us that we’d never get anywhere “playing that circus music” and even Bob Christgau of the trend-setting Village Voice said that he would never review our releases because we were “just a bar band.” So, there was no other choice than than to release our first single ourselves on the Icebear label, later to become Moon Records. We felt that it was a mistake to wait and keep shopping the band around instead of taking advantage of all the interest we we getting from college radio stations, mom and pop record stores and regional promoters as well as club owners. I could tell there was something there, even if the record label execs didn’t.

The time was not right for Ska music in the USA at that level. There was no convenient pigeon hole to put the style into, the A+R guys didn’t get it, and they had no clue how to market it, or who to try to promote it to. The political side of it went right over their heads. They were not seeing what was happening in the underground, and were too conservative and timid to take a risk even though we were offering license and P+D deals which would have been very low risk for them.

So, the Beat Up 7 inch was released in 1983. That garnered some great reviews in fanzines (remember them) and a lot of spins on college radio. One of our allies was Bleecker Bob who, despite his rough demeanour, was really a great guy who cared a lot about music. We ended up selling hundreds of that release through his shop. Whilst all this was going on, we were working up a new batch of tunes for the Recriminations EP slated for May 1985 release which was going to be produced with a real budget, in a real studio by none other than Joe Jackson himself, who also appeared on stage with us around that period at CBGB’s and the Cat Club.

We had another ally at IRD distro in NYC. Mark Lipsitz was our buyer there, who gave us a large pre-order on the EP, which was to be the first major push for a release on the fledgling Moon Records label.

CD Album - The Toasters - Skaboom! - Moon Ska - USA

Andrew:
Over the years, Moon Ska Records pressed over 1,500,000 copies of Ska-related music. How proud are you of that accomplishment? Why did Moon Ska Records end up folding?

Bucket:
Moon was the little engine that could, despite being constantly behind the 8 ball of not having any cash. The way the distro was set up with receivables sitting in the pipeline from anything from 60 to 120 days, it was a battle to be able to expand the label when all of our money was tied up in stock that distributors owed us for. That was the nature of the beast. So, to be able to put out so many great releases in a relatively short time was a tour de force, and to my mind a major accomplishment. Ironically, that same reliance on indie distro was one of the prime factors in us having to shut up shop. There was a spate of distributor failures in the late 90’s, and we lost a great deal of money when Greenworld and Rotz went under alongside several other smaller distros. The final nail in the coffin was Caroline being bought out by EMI, and stopping working with smaller labels such as ourselves. When they unilaterally decided to return all of our product, including hundreds of thousands of dollars of titles they had just ordered, they wiped us out. We had no other option than to close at that point.

Andrew:
In 2003, you began another label called Megalith Records. What went into the decision to begin another label? How is the label doing today?

Bucket:
Megalith was born out of the necessity of rereleasing The Toasters bacstock titles primarily. 20 years after launching Moon for precisely the same reason we found ourselves in that position again. We also released several titles for other bands. However, Megalith never got, and will never get, to the level that Moon Ska achieved.

Andrew:
The Toasters have a reputation for being a band that appeals to all races and creeds. Why do you think that is?

Bucket:
That’s one of the main things that Ska music stands for: Racial Unity and Respect. The 2 Tone tradition was steeped in a socio-political stance from the get go. It was just as much a political movement representing working class people of all backgrounds as it was a musical style. 2 Tone set out to resist the fascistic right wing Thatcher government of that time in the UK by sending the message that we couldn’t be divided by that government’s attempt to use racial discrimination and hate to pit the working class against itself in classic “divide and conquer” tactics. The Toasters have stayed true to that ideal. We have supported Rock Against Racism, Amnesty International and participated in the much heralded Ska Against Racism tour in 1998. The Toasters also support ARA (anti-racist action) and SHARP (skinheads against racism).

Ska Against Racism" Greeting Card by jacylngood | Redbubble

Andrew:
The Toasters’ last album, One More Bullet was released in 2007, but we haven’t seen any new music since. Any chance we see a new record soon?

Bucket:
Yes, the last album was One More Bullet in 2007. More recently we have released a 45 called House of Soul. The band has toured so much over the last 12 years that getting into the studio has been on the back burner. Having said that, there are a bunch of tunes that need to be arranged. Not this year though. 2020 is a bust all round.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Bucket:
I sold my first vinyl collection to cover the costs of my initial trip to the USA in 1980. My second collection, including all my 2 Tone releases, my world music titles (I am a big fan of African music) and the rest, were destroyed in a flooded basement at my house in New Jersey in 1993. My archive of Toasters releases is in Oklahoma with Jeremy Patton, our curator. I do have a complete set of the Moon catalogue, with some dupes and some odd bits and pieces, but now I am a Spotify junkie. If you can’t beat it, join it.

Andrew:
2020 has been a weird year, but we’ve still seen a lot of great music released. What are some of your “must have” albums of 2020?

Bucket:
Some releases I like this year:
-Alpheus – The Victory
-Maid Of Ace – Turn It Up Loud
-Elvis Costello –  Hey Clockface
-Brooklyn Attractors – Love Bombs

THE TOASTERS - The band that has defined the era of ska music | Hardwired  Magazine

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

Bucket:
-Toots and the Maytals – Funky Kingston – Seminal record that defined the sound of Reggae and Ska.
-The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed – First album I bought on cassette.
-The Selecter – Too Much Pressure – Classic release from the best 2 Tone band.
-Jimmy Cliff – Harder They Come Soundtrack
-Joe Jackson – Look Sharp – He’s the man.

Andrew:
What’s next for both you and The Toasters once COVID-19 is done with us?

Bucket:
Hopefully some touring. 2021 looks far off.

Andrew:
Last question. In your opinion, what is the current state of the Ska scene? Who is carrying the torch?

Bucket:
Ska is going strong. It is enjoying being back in the underground. The Skints and The Interrupters are making waves, but I prefer bands like the Aggrolites, Westbound Train, Panonia All Star Orchestra (Hungary), and Buster Shuffle UK. Meanwhile, many of the stalwart bands from the 90’s continue to support the scene: Mustard Plug, Slackers, Mephiskapheles and Pietasters. Things don’t look too bad from where I am sitting.

Thanks for the interview and here’s to another year of healthy vinyl sales. It’s great how the format has rebounded.

New York Ska Legends the Toasters Return to the Funhouse For A Packed Show,  by Holly Homan – East Portland Blog

Interested in sampling the music of The Toasters? Check out the link below:

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

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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