The Slackers aren’t a ska band. They aren’t a reggae band, or a punk band, or a garage rock band. According to vocalist/organist Vic Ruggiero, they’re a “Jamaican rock n’ roll” band. In listening to the band’s vast discography, you’ll find bits of The Velvet Underground crossing over with The Upsetters grooves, psychedelia mixing with dub, and Motown taking some heavy hints from Studio One. The band’s fusion of Jamaican, American and British styles is true rebel music, and it has always lent itself well to cover songs. Prior albums have featured songs originally performed by Johnny Cash, The Yardbirds and even Bon Jovi, delivered in the signature style of The Slackers. Their latest release, The Radio, is a collection of 11 cover songs and was funded entirely by the band’s fans via Kickstarter. This time, the band delivers solid covers of The Misfits, T. Rex, The Rolling Stones, The Sonics, and more. I spoke with the sharply-dressed and finely-mustachioed bassist of The Slackers, Marcus Geard, about The Radio and the band’s amazing live show, which will be hitting Salt Lake this month.
SLUG: The Slackers have always done a really good job of making cover songs sound like Slackers songs. How did the band decide which covers to include on The Radio?
Geard: For most of the songs we cover, we just start playing with each other and recognize these familiar chord structures and someone will start singing the lyrics to one of these famous songs over one of these reggae jams that we’re doing. For this particular release, the guy who runs Whatevski Records [Tom Gibbons] actually had the idea of putting together this project that sounds like you’re listening to the radio. He came to us with a big list of songs, some songs that we were already doing live and some new songs, and we just recorded a bunch of them and: Kazaboom, we have a new record called The Radio!
SLUG: My favorite track on the album is “Ganbare,” and I had never heard that one before at all. Why did you guys decide to cover it?
Geard: That one’s by a Japanese band called The Blue Hearts, and in Japan, The Blue Hearts are kind of like The Ramones: everybody in Japan knows who they are and thinks they’re super cool. When we went over to Japan, we started covering a couple of their songs, “Ganbare” and “Linda Linda” and the fans would just go completely bananas. [“Ganbare”] is a really fun song to play, so we decided to give that one a chance and recorded it.
SLUG: When I saw The Slackers play in Southern Utah in 2007, you guys played something like 25 songs in about two-and-a-half hours, and I know that you switch up the set list every night on tour. How do you decide which songs to play every night?
Geard: Well, we have a master set list that has [about] 217 songs on it. From that, I write up the set every night—we do the same three songs to start the show and the same three songs to end the show, but everything in the middle we try to mix up.
SLUG: That’s really cool. When I saw you, people were screaming out requests that I was sure you guys would’ve forgotten how to play or wouldn’t be able to play live, but you seriously played almost everything they were requesting.
Geard: Yeah, it’s fun for us, too. We don’t necessarily know all of these songs as well as we might think we do, so it’s fun to try that stuff out sometimes.
SLUG: The Slackers tour a lot—I noticed that you guys already have dates booked up until the middle of this year. Having seen The Slackers live and based on all of the live recordings of the band, you always seem to put on a good live show. How do you stay motivated and how do you keep up the energy and enthusiasm night after night?
Geard: We just love what we do. I wish I had a more entertaining answer than that. We love the music we play, and I love playing the music I play with the guys I’m playing it with. Sometimes we play for a real long time and we get tired, but when you’re onstage doing it, you don’t even feel it.
The Slackers will perform in Salt Lake on February 16 at In the Venue with Folk Hogan.