Band of the Day

2012.09.22

Voodoo Glow Skulls

Pioneers of West Coast ska-core are just as rambunctious after nearly a quarter of a century
I used to love her, but I had to kill her. I knew I’d miss her, so I had to keep her. She’s buried right in my backyard.
lyrics from Used To Love Her

Voodoo Glow Skulls is a ska punk band from Riverside, California, formed over twenty years ago in 1988 in the three Casillas brother’s family home. The band members sold their first recording, a four song demo, on cassette tapes they duplicated themselves using a home stereo. Since that time the band has released nine studio albums, with four albums on Epitaph Records and three released on Victory Records. For their ninth album, Breaking the Spell, the band departed from Victory Records instead returning to their DIY roots by recording the album in a home-studio and releasing it on Smelvis Records, an independent label run by their friend Elvis Cortez from his bedroom. The band also pays tribute to their roots in Southern California, from the beginning they have incorporated aspects of Latin music they grew up with and often write and sing in Spanish as well. Though their sound may defy a simple description, the band refers to their ska/punk/hardcore aesthetic most accurately as California street music--after twenty years they still haven’t forgotten where they’re from.

Except for, perhaps, in Bizarro World, you might never think that Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth, has an association with hardcore punk music. But there is an unlikely connection with Voodoo Glow Skulls, whose name was inspired by the glow-in-the-dark shrunken head toys that used to be sold in the souvenir shop in Adventureland. Not only that, the ska-core pioneers also once recorded a cover of “I Wanna Be Like You,” from The Jungle Book, for a Japanese-release of a compilation of ska/punk Disney covers.

Don’t let these facts mislead you, however--Voodoo Glow Skulls are not a novelty Disney punk band. The Southern Californian group have been together for nearly a quarter of a century now, and are pioneers of the West Coast ska-core (a combination of hardcore punk and horn-heavy ska) scene. The band is centered around the Casillas brothers, Frank (lead vocalist), Eddie (guitarist), and Jorge (bassist), who first started jamming together in their family’s Riverside, California home in 1988.

Since then, they’ve released nine full-length albums, have appeared on more than thirty compilation records, toured all over the world, and have gone through various line-ups. The current line up also counts Vince Sollecito (drums), Mark Bush (trumpet), and Dan Albert (trombone) among its members. Along with fusing ska and hardcore punk, Voodoo Glow Skulls are known for singing in both Spanish and English, paying tribute to the the Casillas brother’s Mexican roots.

Their sophomore album, Firme was released in English in 1995, with a Spanish-language version released the following year. Live, Frank even performs in a luchador mask, taking on the persona of a Mexican wrestler. Lyrically, Voodoo Glow Skulls tackle a range of political issues, from rising gas prices (“Oil, gas and prices/Rise above the U.S. masses/Say good bye to middle class” in “We Represent”), to the anti-immigration attitude in the U.S. (“go back to where you came from/question your nationality/Pay dues to the government/come to find they can’t stand me,” from “Ethnic Cleansing Day”).

Though Voodoo Glow Skulls have been around for longer than many members of up-and-coming bands have been alive, their latest album (2012’s Break The Spell), especially with highlights like “Creep Tonight,” “Bro Truck,” and “My Girlfriend Is A Chola,” shows that their spell has not been broken--these guys are holding onto their rightful place as the kings of ska-core.