Q & A with Nicky Bomba from Melbourne Ska Orchestra

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Only three years from Melbourne Ska Orchestra’s debut album sees the release of their second album, ‘Sierra-Kilo-Alpha’, on April 22, 2016 – picking up where they left off, taking the age old style of Ska and adding to it
with aplomb. The band’s debut resulted in sell-out shows both in Australia and abroad, many high profile
festival appearances internationally, a slew of award nominations and some wins both here and in the UK.

After becoming regular favourites at the Caloundra Music Festival, MSO are coming back to the Coast to do their own show, squeezing into Solbar on April 24.  We caught up with main man, Nicky Bomba to see what’s up.

Hi Nicky!  So good to see the Melbourne Ska Orchestra coming back to the Sunshine Coast! My first experiences with MSO have been seeing you at Caloundra Music Festival (where you’re always a massive crowd favourite), so I do need to ask…

How the hell are you all going to fit onto the Solbar main stage when you come through on April 24?

That’s a very good question. I think we’ll be going for the layered cake approach and do all our moves like synchronised swimmers going for Olympic gold. Short answer? We’ll make it work somehow. We always do. Probably not a great deal of waving arms and star jumps. We might get the audience to hold some microphone stands.

Congratulations on ‘Funkchunk’, the latest single from the upcoming ‘Sierra-Kilo-Alpha’ album (ha! Took me a while to realise what that was).  It’s almost sinister in tone, and I’m loving it.  You have mentioned previously that new album was going to have some grit… So how gritty, and why head towards a tougher sound?  Even the first single, ‘Satellite’ has a little darkness to it (such an ear-worm of a track too).

It’s very important for us to be moving forward with our sound and compositions.  It keeps us fresh and makes the journey exciting and adventurous. As far as being gritty and tougher I would say its a step towards having a sound that can stand alongside any international release. Our first album was us paying respect to the style and sound of the tunes that had brought us to that point.The common observation was that it sounded vintage. It was exactly the album we wanted to make. Now we’ve set sail we feel a responsibility to keep the genre relevant as it reflects the multicultural mix of where we live and the actual make up of the band. When you have a palette like this orchestra there are so many musical places to travel that you would have to be deemed lazy to deal the generic card.

After watching the clip to ‘Funkchunk’, I’m a little disappointed to learn that the orange double-decker bus you used isn’t the actual tour van… (How cool would that be, pulling up to the venue in that, warming up on the top!?)

Well in an ideal world it would be kinda cool, rocking up with the wind blowing in your hair, breezing with the brothers and sisters as we roll into our next performance.In the real world, the bus would break down every 167 km, it would be raining and the instruments would get damaged, Dean’s hair would just be a mess, we would lose numerous fedoras, you would have to travel at the speed of sound to make it from Brisbane to Adelaide overnight and at $1000 a day we would have to take second jobs to balance the books! Eeeeek!

Ska seems to go through cycles, reaching out to a new generation each time (though I remember hearing Madness, and The Specials as a little one in the early 80s, Ska really reached out to me in the 90s through Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish etc).  You can see elements of Ska & reggae seeping into today’s bands now too, but my question is, what do you think it is about this genre that resonates within each generation?

Ska is about community, hope, fresh energies, independance, danger, dancing and having bucket-loads of fun. Universal timeless themes really. We all pretty much got into the music via the 2Tone wave from the UK. We soon discovered that many of the tunes we thought were originals (i.e:Message to Rudy-Specials) were in fact covers from the first wave in Jamaica in the 60’s. Ska was born concurrently with the independance of Jamaica from Great Britain so the fresh intent was part of its DNA. The Bosstones,Reel Big Fish,even Sublime, Rancid, Fishbone and No Doubt exposed a whole new generation and culture to the genre. Ska is the seed that brought us reggae, rocksteady, lovers rock, dancehall. The toasting (spruiking) culture of the sound systems of the day has also been recognised as inspiring Rap and Hip Hop. For us having the word Ska in our name, at this point and time, we feel a connection with a new international wave that embraces universal musical themes, rhythms and melodies. Global Ska brothers and sisters!

With such a large ensemble to work with, how does the writing process begin, and then evolve? It’s not like you’re dealing with a standard line-up, so I’m wondering how much ‘traditional’ composition is involved when it comes to making the songs work.

I’ve learnt that the gold of any group lies in the collective brain-trust of its members. An all-inclusive mentality not only keeps the vibe up but you end up with many great ideas.We are lucky to have a truly active flock of musicians in our ranks with a genuine love of music and a great sense of family. There is also a realisation that there needs to be a captain of sorts so it’s not a bumbling democracy. With this album all ideas were welcome in whatever stage they were in. Badly sung ideas on a phone, melody lines on a Casio keyboard, instrumentals that needed lyrics and fully blown completed songs.
When we hit the 20 mark we went into development mode which usually consisted of a smaller group nutting out a basic template to take into the studio. I’ve learnt that a lot of the magic happens in recording mode so we always tried different things on the spot. You could tell very quickly if an idea was an improvement so we’d go with that. Or not! Lyrics are usually the last thing(and the hardest) so as we were tracking there was a lot of nonsensical gibberish that would make for a good comedy.

With touring such a large group, obviously financially it could get difficult, so how do you make it work?  I’m assuming you have those moments (as most of us touring musicians do) of ‘why the hell am I doing this?’, followed by stepping on to stage, playing your first song, and going ‘ooooh… Yup… THIS is why I do this!’.

When it comes to finances it’s very simple. Dean Hilson our sax player gets all the money and he gives us food stamps. He’s fair,generous and even gives restaurant recommendations.I can’t recall anyone ever being hungry, though Dean’s hair is always tip top.

Thank you for your time, Nicky.  Have an amazing tour, looking forward to when the album drops later this month, and will see you at Solbar on April 24 (with Cheap Fakes too!!!)

Bless!

The Melbourne Ska Orchestra pull into Solbar on April 24 with Cheap Fakes.  The new album, ‘Sierra-Kilo-Alpha’ will be available from April 22.

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